Gandhi statue behind Anna Hazare protesters, photo by Kannan B.
Anna Hazare is calling off his anti-corruption fast after the Indian Parliament agreed to some of his demands. I shan’t get into his demands or the response too deeply, the NYTimes link before or this Hindu link should help with that. The broader question is, what is democracy? Is it representative or deliberative? Are laws the domain of a Parliament or of the people?
What struck me was this:
There was unanimity that Constitution was supreme and Parliamentary procedures supremacy in law making cannot be questioned.
Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister.. asserted that Parliament was supreme and law-making was its domain alone while others could give suggestions. (The Hindu)
Most people arguing by privilege are arguing for privilege. They stand on formalities because they can’t stand on principle. Whether it be Sri Lanka’s Opposition Leader refusing to step down till a proper meeting is held, or 1800s Americans claiming slaves because of states rights, it’s all besides the point.
Of Indian Parliamentarians under 30, 100% inherited their seat. In this democracy of princes, something has obviously gone off the rails.
Democracy was originally meant for city-states where every citizen participated. It wasn’t a matter of electing someone to go really far away and only checking in at election time. Democracy was lived, it wasn’t received. At some point population grew faster than our ability to communicate and coordinate, but it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. We can fit more people into the process than the bureaucracy and legalese implies.
And this isn’t just India.
There is also another vision of democracy, the one which normative theory has recently defined as deliberative democracy. It is an attempt to create high quality discursive democracy, recognising the equal rights of all (not only delegates and experts) to speak (and to be respected) in a public and plural space.
It is the opposite of accepting a ‘democracy of the prince’, where the professionals elected to govern must on no account be disturbed, at least until fresh elections are held. (Donatella della Porta, discussing Europe)
Now that slowing global growth can’t let them eat cake, powers all over are realizing that they have to give some agency to the people before the people take the streets and take it all. Which is a good thing, in the end, insomuch as it leads to positive change. Civilizations collapse because elites drain their resources. Equality is not just a good thing, it’s necessary for a society to survive without falling apart. The narrowly self-interested, however, (like the Indian Parliament) have to be pushed really hard to realize this. Which is why this makes my blood boil:
Mr. Mukherjee said, “If we want to get back the confidence of people, we shall have to ensure that premier institutions should function as per norms and rules. If we do, many issues will be corrected automatically.”
Hailing the Constitution which has been described as the biggest ‘Magna Carta’, he said, “It is our responsibility to abide by the Constitution so that there is no conflict with the desire of our masters, so that there is no conflict. Our constitution is flexible enough to accommodate various ideas, it can accommodate various thoughts.” (ibid)
Really Mr. Mukherjee? The Magna Carta was a deal between a king and feudal barons. It had little to do with the average people. Is that your view of Indian governance? It actually does describe the reality, but I think that’s not what you intended.
There is a conflict between civil society, the people and Parliament and it’s not over because Parliament gave in to a few demands. Throughout the world – be it this fast or the Arab Spring or the financial crash or the London Riots – things should not go back to normal because normal is not sustainable. The vested interests which preserve an un-evolved system do need to be dragged into this century, clinging to whatever paperwork and lucre they can on the way down.
Kudos to Anna Hazare. The Indian people still need to win a lot more.