By Ashwini Kumar Rath

Reinterpretation of Democracy
Reinterpretation of Democracy
Some people called it as the August Revolution, and others called it anti-democratic. A great deal of discussion has taken place in India during the last several months – it’s all about an approach to anti-corruption. If you had switched on your television, or you had looked for the trending topics across Facebook or Twitter during the latter part of August, you would inevitably find a distinct phenomenon. It was an “Anna Syndrome” that was prevalent across quite a few cities in India – an apparently revolutionary drive in India to eliminate corruption. It created a perception of prevailing anarchy and displayed a sign of failure of practicing democracy in India. There have been attempts to draw similarities of happenings in India in this context with those across Middle East and North Africa.

Is it true?

India is already in the path of experimentation of its young democratic system. There are many issues to be tackled. Though cast largely in the line of the British system, repeated collective efforts by Indian people have resulted in an evolving parliamentary democratic system. And, here are a few people who get together to declare themselves as the voice of the whole country, and have ridiculed the basic democratic process.

A protest, with the sole objective of pushing a bill through the Parliament, emerged in front of media glare, and took the form of a mass protest with a more common cause of anti-corruption. Though the happening cannot be ignored by calling it an erratic singular event, it is scary to think of events of similar magnitude with such deceivable intention to dominate our popular psyche. Although there had been protests across Britain and elsewhere for certain community causes, this protest claimed strength for its non-violent nature except a few incidents. This protest has involved self-sacrifice through fasting by an individual bringing him and his team members to the center-stage of Indian political arena in a matter of a few weeks though their claim of being apolitical. This protest has successfully negotiated with the Government of the day to declare their victory though the cause has taken a backseat.

How different is this protest when similar large protests have been common in India during the past few decades, be it by a community with their specific demands or even to reassert the popularity of a political leader?

The fact remains that the anti-corruption battles have been fought through the last few decades through a rare breed of honest people. They have led by example and have illustrated through their exemplary actions. Many political heavyweights have been punished by people even with a simplistic perception of being corrupt. However, there has been no attempt by the general populace to be aware about own acts of corruption. It would be, of course, a major social transformation if self-awareness happens about this Frankenstein syndrome. They still pay small bribe to get their work done in spite of their burning anger against the people whom they bribe. You hate those people whom you honour with your hard earned money, because you want to sail through in your social life smoothly. And then you would wait for a messiah to arrive in epic style to remove corruption and to punish the culprit except yourself as you believe to have done a smaller crime than the others. This is a falsehood that we live with perpetually.

Moreover, we never verify the past, authenticity or even current intention of these messiahs as we are in absolute hurry to be branded as being non-corrupt. We are simpletons! Fools may be the right synonym.

Well now, has the August protest against corruption succeeded in creating awareness among populace? No, it has not. Rather it has strengthened this falsehood by imposing a few thoughts into our popular mind, and by shouting aloud so that people believe about our intentions and actions. “Haala Bolo” is the key for this success.

A conglomeration of people with a declaration of anti-corruption crusade has aroused interests of a certain section of people by blaming the political class as people do not find their messiah due to lack of a tall political leader at present to their own disappointment – a trend they are used to live with since centuries (though an antithetic approach to the success of any democracy). They could draw the attention of mass with a man with dhoti and a Gandhi cap sitting under a larger than life poster of Mahatma Gandhi. It’s a perfect stage show for us and to meet our pan-individual perception. Well, it cannot be better when we view the show on TV 24X7 and come out to participate in the grand reality show covering our own act. After all, democracy has given us power to show solidarity to any cause that we like and believe!

But what is about the means of protest? They have chosen a person to fill in the vacancy in the Indian popular psyche. They have chosen a method of fasting as ascribed to Mahatma Gandhi. We do not remember much as the popular memory is too short for a half-a-century comparison. To revisit the old story, we need to understand that Gandhi never fasted against the government of that time as he did not believe in its intention, rather used this weapon of self-sacrifice to prevail upon the people who believed in him and loved him. In contrast, the August protest has been against the same Government and parliamentarians who the leaders of protest do not believe and rather engage in a series of blame games. It is not a dignified way of Gandhian protest. Still, we shall be glad to call it a Gandhian protest; after all, our Gandhian principles have been drawn from the movies like “Lage Raho Munnabhai”. The reinterpretation has already been done, and we would like to live with this falsehood.

Why do we proclaim that India is seeing the second freedom struggle when the first struggle is yet to be realized fully except the success of a few dramas and movies that reinterpret different aspects of freedom struggle and personalities on continual basis?

It is to be noted that the Indian context is quite different, and the nature of protest is distinct too. Indian representative democracy has thrived through these years, and has progressed from regimes with paramount central control to a federated system with increased dominance of regional political entities. Our democratic process has progressed in a zigzag trajectory with great deal of negotiations and reconciliations with the ambitions of various interest groups and the practical feasibility in the framework of our constitutional system. At the same time, we still value our constitution and parliamentary form of democracy as it has given us certain level of freedom to decide our destiny in contrast with the scary stories from neighbouring countries or elsewhere.

In short, while some group can ascribe the name of “mass movement” to a well-managed and well-exposed reality show with a popular cause as their mask, this cannot be termed as valid without requisite commitment and accountability to our democratic system. Perhaps a salute from the Prime Minister will not sanctify it. It has to go through a democratic process to prove that it is a reality sans the “show”. And whatever is the outcome, our reinterpretation of democracy will always cast painful consequences for us as a Nation, and will strengthen the falsehood that we stand for.

The author is the editor of More about author may be found at his website.