Dissent in Democracy

The AAP protest was not anarchist. But leaders must know how to choose the moment to launch a strike and the moment to withdraw

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his supporters launched a sit-in against the city police on Monday, creating traffic chaos and a standoff. (Reuters) Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his supporters launched a sit-in against the city police on Monday, creating traffic chaos and a standoff. (Reuters)
Updated: January 23, 2014 1:11 pm

By Gurpreet Mahajan

As Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called off his dharna, analysts and party spokespersons stepped in to pronounce judgement. If some called it a victory for the Aam Aadmi Party, others called it a sellout. Some spoke of the climbdown by the Delhi government; others welcomed the end to anarchy. Had the chief minister and his team given up too quickly? Had their demands been met fully? As the stock-taking began, what was forgotten is that success in a democracy rests upon the ability of the leaders to balance different values satisfactorily. They must pursue their agenda without forsaking other, equally desired values that may be foregrounded by the opposition.

Not all actions and decisions of the AAP can be defended; one might also accuse the AAP of not being adequately true to Gandhian principles. But that hardly makes them anarchists. The methods the party has chosen may be unusual, but common wisdom and traditional modes of action hardly find favour with the liberal disposition.

Anarchists, we know, have little faith in existing institutions — be it the family, the corporation or the state. They resist all forms of institutions on the ground that they are a form of organised power. The Delhi government’s expressed objective is to change the structure of power. Far from being disillusioned with the institutionalised form, the AAP hopes to change the way institutions of the state and government function.

The test before Kejriwal and his men was whether they could achieve accountability of institutions (in this instance, the police) without jettisoning law and order. Could they have their voice counted without undermining the national pride associated with Republic Day celebrations? Could they make their voices heard while minimising the inconvenience caused to the general public by their actions? Had they pursued one goal unconditionally and absolutely, they and Indian democracy would have lost out. Determining success in terms of the number of demands met simply misses this point, just as labelling the Central government’s decision to accede to some of the AAP’s demands as selling out overlooks the fact that willingness to negotiate is an essential component of democratic politics.
Democracies need men with practical wisdom at the helm of affairs: leaders who know what to pursue when and how; leaders who can choose the moment to launch a struggle, and the moment to withdraw. One could debate whether the suspension and transfer of a few public officials is sufficient cause, or whether compelling the authorities to take cognisance of the legitimate complaints of the Delhi government is a step forward for the AAP. But what is clear is that this dharna has put the spotlight on the …continued »

First Published on: January 23, 2014 12:35 amSingle Page Format
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