A couple of months back a Gandhian went on a fast unto death for our country. Within no time thousands joined him. Anna Hazare, an already noted Indian social activist, became a household name thereafter.
It is not the first time that somebody went on fast. So, what was so special about this man that so many connected with him? Is it his simplicity? Is it his clean background? Is it his apolitical stance? Is it his words of wisdom? Or, is it the cause that he espouses? The answer lies in the combination of all. Suddenly, people saw a silver lining emerge from the dark clouds of corruption that engulfed our skies. People could identify with him as he seemed to be one of them. The cause that he supports struck a chord with all. Anna Hazare became an icon.
There is no doubt that Anna Hazare has helped highlight the problem that has been ignored for many decades but, inadvertently he has done some damage too. He has set a trend that can have grave consequences. The Anna team’s demand of having unelected representatives in the Lokpal Bill Drafting Committee and the government’s giving in to the demand, has set a dangerous precedent.
What is the guarantee that this fasting strategy shall not be misused? Proponents of the strategy argue that if a cause is not genuine then there would not be enough followers. History shows that in reality many times the reverse is true. Irom Sharmila has been fasting for over ten years against human rights abuses in Manipur. Medha Patkar recently ended her nine-day fast seeking amendment to Maharashtra Slum Dwellers Act after the state government agreed to her demands. Are these concerns not genuine? How many people supported these causes? How many people are actually aware of these? Thus, the argument that the genuineness of a cause can always attract people is weak.
Anybody who has a decent number of followers can take up a cause and go on a fast. And, Baba Ramdev has done just that. He is a very popular Yoga Guru and is financially strong as well. All he required to go on a fast was to give a call to his followers and they followed suit. Whether his intentions are good or not is a debatable issue. But, a dangerous chain reaction has been begun.
Just because the government listened to Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev went on fast. We do not live in an ideal world as is evident by the cause for which the two are fighting. Chances of increased cases of blackmailing the government are very high. It may not be appropriate to compare the Anna movement with the Naxalite movement, but the latter group also thinks they have legitimate demands. It is just that they have gone to the other extreme.
If things were to continue on this path then our democracy would be at risk. Would it be correct to give important decision making powers to unelected representatives? Are we not creating another arena for corruption? Is this not a threat to democracy from mobocracy?
The recent event of senior ministers going to the airport to receive Baba Ramdev paints a very sorry picture. Is this not ominous of elected representatives being held hostage by the acts and wish-lists of unelected people? The Anna team has set a deadline of 15 August, 2011 for the passage of the Lokpal Bill and if unmet, he would again resort to agitation. Is this not unjustifiably coercive?
The biggest threat to such movements would be politics. Anna Hazare may have kept politicians out of his movement, but that did not stop Baba Ramdev from doing so even though they both are fighting for the same cause. The latter claims that he does not have any political motivations, but can he be trusted? He has already announced his intentions to launch a political party, so this could also be a pre-launch build up.
Today, the government is at the receiving end and all the Opposition parties seem to take a moral high ground. But, the tables can turn any time. Today’s Opposition can be tomorrow’s ruling party and then they may have to taste their own medicine. Why wait for the tables to turn? It could happen now also. What if the UPA-II sponsors a fast unto death by some popular leader for a speedy trail of perpetrators of Gujarat riots or Babri Masjid demolition? What if they demand that they would not break their fast till all the guilty are punished? What if the common man joins them in huge numbers? The excessive increase of anything can cause unwarranted reactions.
The government and the Opposition should be very careful in its actions. What it does today shall have ramifications in future. The government considered giving Anna’s team powers equal to the elected representatives then, Baba Ramdev came up. A few years back, an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at former US President George Bush to vent his anger at him. The latter pardoned the journalist, who instantly became a hero. This started a new trend and India was soon to catch up. Shoes began to be thrown frequently at other politicians like Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and recently, at Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi.
It is not the event or the cause of the event that is a reason for concern. It is the reaction of all that is ringing warning bells. The common man can come together to draw attention to their problems but, should desist from dictating terms to the legally elected government representatives. All this for the sake of a healthy democracy, for democracy is the only system that persists in asking powers whether they are the powers that ought to be.
(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer)