Kisan Andolan and Bharat Sarkar
(A Sure Way to “Grammar of Anarchy”)
India i.e. Bharat has entered into its adulthood of democratic set-up enshrined in its constitution which came into effect on January 26, 1950. India got its independence from Britain on August 15, 1947 after a long struggle which we proudly term as the freedom movement. So far so good, India has remained India because of its constitution. It is a matter of satisfaction. Over the years, India has come a long way under the rule and governance by successive governments led by a number of political stalwarts as Prime Ministers. But it still has to go a longer way to reach though it can be
safely said that ‘India has arrived’. The journey in the process has been instructive and interesting under the constitutional framework so wisely and laboriously given to us by our forefathers led by visionary leaders like Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Babu Rajinder Prasad to name a few among others.
With this background, let me elaborate a bit as to why I said that ‘India remained India’ because of the constitution? In the 1950s and even early 1960s, some sort of skepticism was made to linger – Who after Nehru? - A subtle message that perhaps there will be chaos after Nehru. But the power was handed down and transferred in a democratic way after Nehru’s demise in May, 1964 from Lal Bahadur Shastri to Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi remained a powerful and effective PM for a long time. She took momentous decisions during her tenures as PM. Under the constitutional arrangements, the strongest PM Indira Gandhi was unseated from the Lok Sabha by the court in an election petition. In the aftermath, the constitution came under stress which resulted in Emergency in 1975 in the wake of a public awakening under the JP Movement. Our constitution stood the test of time in spite of attempts to undermine it; Indira Gandhi could not digest more and had to declare elections in February/March, 1977 which she and her party lost miserably to the new resurgent political outfits. It could happen only because of the constitution of India. The new outfits could not hold and face the emerged challenges. People brought Indira Gandhi to power again. Another test came; Indira Gandhi was eliminated from the scene violently in October, 1984. What happened? Nothing; there was smooth change of guard. Yet another test happened; Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in May, 1991. Again the system remained on track; democratic miracles happened, good leaders like Narsimha Rao, V.P. Singh, I.K. Gujral, Chadra Shekhar , Deve Gowda held the fort ably, with an abrasion of Charan Singh who had no agenda except his misplaced aspiration to become the PM, and made way for the stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. The constitution could hold the system with or without full majority in the parliament for the ruling elite under consensus and political alliances. The only flip side which could be noticed was that our political democracy could not evolve political culture and polarization on the basis of ideology or agenda. Another type of undesirable communal polarization came to the fore which brought to power right wing Hindutva leaders under the umbrella of BJP with Narendra Modi in the lead and blessings of RSS in May/June, 2014. In this exercise, the matter of gratification remained as all this happened under the provisions of the constitution. The opposition and some marginalized and minority groups have been alleging subversion of the constitution and negation of its values. And on the other side, the right wing BJP and RSS have been sounding to revisit the constitution to accommodate the Hindutva aspirations of the majority Hindus. These assertions are debatable but at the same time dangerous. We should not be oblivious of the warnings of the chief architect of the constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar given in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly when he surmised whether India would lose its independence again. If we don’t pay heed to these warnings, we would do so at our own peril.
With this longish backdrop, I come to the subject – Kisan Andolan and Bharat Sarkar – the ongoing farmers’ agitation and government of India not as an expert but as a concerned citizen of India. The thrust of my presentation would mainly be to bring the thoughts of Babasaheb Ambedkar to focus to deal with the challenges. I think besides many more assertions and statements, Dr. Ambedkar’s speech of November 25, 1949 in the Constituent Assembly is as relevant today as it was before. Farmers are agitating against the new agricultural laws made by PM Narendra Modi’s government,
allegedly without prior consultations with the entire stakeholders and hurriedly/undemocratically passed in parliament. The agitating farmers demand to repeal the laws and sit with them to address the issues afresh. The agitating farmers have been blocking the entry points to the capital city of Delhi for the last nearly two months in a peaceful protest. Government tried to dissuade them and subtly branded the agitation as ‘conspired and propped up by the opposition’ for political brownie points and sometimes tried to tarnish the peaceful protest by terming it as ‘overtaken and high jacked by anti-national forces of Khalistan, Urban Naxals, illegal funds from abroad, supported by Pakistan and China etc. on one hand and officially talking and negotiating with the farmer leaders on the other. Even after 11 rounds of talks so far there is a complete deadlock and standoff. No solution seems in sight. The situation is getting tense and worrisome in the run up to the Republic Day on January 26 in the wake of the farmers’ decision to have their Tractor March on the streets of Delhi to observe the Republic Day in protest against the farm laws. It may be said, to cut the story short, farmers profess to exercise their democratic right to oppose the laws which, they think, are detrimental to their interests and demand repeal of these said to be ‘black laws’. Government of PM Narendra Modi has been maintaining throughout that the laws are good and beneficial to the farmers and the country at large on one side and showed willingness to amend these to satisfy the agitating farmers on the other. It seems a contradicting approach on the part of the government. Either the laws are good and should remain or these are bad which may be amended or repealed. It means the problem lies somewhere else. The agitating farmers are adamant on their demands and are braving the harsh cold weather on the outskirts of Delhi under trying conditions. Government, it seems, is standing on its ego under their notions of ‘majoritarian’ approach which itself is a negation of democratic principles. Even the Supreme Court could not offer any acceptable solution and way out. The situation is getting dangerous by each passing day which is really a matter of concern to the society and the country. Unfortunately, most of the media particularly the electronic media which is called the fourth pillar of the democratic polity is totally biased in favour of the ruling dispensation and people tend to term it as ‘Godi Media’. Yet another disturbing factor which undermines the unity and integrity of the country is that the vested interests, knowingly or otherwise, are increasingly trying to make the standoff as conflict between the Sikhs and the Hindus and some others as war between the poor and the rich. It has resulted in avoidable acrimony and animosity adversely affecting the social fabric of the society. There is a real danger that the agitation may turn violent, if not handled deftly, resulting into real crisis detrimental to the security of the country. These are dangerous trends which would tend to put our democratic set and independence into ‘jeopardy’ as apprehended by Dr. Ambedkar in his speech referred to in the proceeding narration. Some sane voices are emerging to deal with the situation as the Hindustan Times in its editorial note on January 22 stated – “Farmers must shed rigidity – The Government retreated (with the proposal to withhold the laws for 12-18 months). Protesting groups should have reciprocated.” I personally could not understand how holding the laws in abeyance would help? Only time would tell as to which direction the situation heads. But we have to alert and cautious.
Now I come to the crux as to what should be done or could be done in the light of the democratic edifice of the country and spirit of the constitution as visualized by the great visionary of contemporary times, Babasaheb Ambeddkar. I will touch upon only on two points made by Ambedkar which are most relevant to ward of the lingering danger in the prevailing and emerging scenario. One, the increasing communal divide and priority and acceptance to conflicting ideologies over national interests tend to create problems. Referring to these and his worry about the independence of our country Ambedkar said, “Will history repeat itself? It is this thought that fills me with anxiety. This anxiety is deepened by the realization of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.” Is there any need to elaborate this? I don’t think so. The sooner, our political leadership and intellectual class understand this, the better. The common citizen would tend to follow suit. It would bring in the much needed cohesiveness in our polity and society. The second is rather important with reference to the ongoing farmer’s agitation. In the same speech, the father of the constitution further said and gave these three warnings, “If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do?
The first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions”. There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O’Connell, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.
The third thing we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy.”
Again, I think, there is no need to add anything to these thoughtful assertions made by Babasaheb Ambedkar. The message is clear and candid. India is passing through a difficult phase. We the people of India must understand this seriously. I conclude this with Hearty Greetings on the Republic Day and a poetic warning in the words of Allama Iqbal:
Chupa kar aastinoo mai bijliyan rakhi hai gardon ne
Anadil bagh k gafil na baithey aashiyanoo mai’
(The sky has kept thunderbolts concealed up its sleeve; garden’s nightingales should not slumber in their nests.)
(Blog of Ambassador Ramesh Chander)