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This anti-politics juggernaut is both contentless and dangerous

Written by The Indian Express |
April 9, 2011 1:40:57 am

By now,it’s been compared to Tahrir,to 1968,even to Woodstock. For those who have never experienced the energy of a mass movement,the Anna Hazare-led movement over the Lokpal bill feels like catharsis,like revolution,a tidal wave that will sweep away the entire venal political class and replace it with those who feel their pain. What connects this crowd of ex-servicemen,yoga enthusiasts,autorickshaw unions,candle-light vigilantes,actors and corporate big shots and students? That they all feel let down,in different ways,by the political apparatus,and they are mad as hell. And it is indeed satisfying for them to wrest compromise from the government,force it to correct some flaws in the draft of the Lokpal bill.

There is a clear rationale for tough measures on corruption. And it is difficult to deny that over the years governments have made the rules and made sure that they go unpunished. But this movement dissipates its own case with its thoughtlessness and its vaulting demands. What,after all,is civil society,and what privileges one group over another to speak for the nation? The only irrefutable proof that you represent the people is that they have voted you in,through a free election. If we have an imperfect democracy,popular energies must be directed to making it better,not rejecting it and replacing genuine political representatives with a coalition of self-appointed spokespeople. Of course,this government pretty much planted the seeds of that idea,undervaluing representative democracy with forums like the National Advisory Council,an assortment of “civil society” who imagine they can supplant and speak over the voices of our legislators.

But such generalised invective against the entire political class is both empty and dangerous — our representatives are as we are. Besides,such anti-politics nearly always serves as a cover for politics. As Edmund Burke memorably wrote,this cynicism about politics and,by extension,Parliament only makes you “think ill of that very institution which,do what you will,you must religiously preserve,or you must give over all thoughts of being a free people”. Those who seek radical insta-solutions to the tortuous processes of democracy would do well to ponder the alternative. They may see why the solutions to so many of our problems lie in empowering our legislatures and holding them more stringently and transparently to account.

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