Aug 19, 2011

Response to comments on the Anna Hazare post

A lot of people have reacted to my last post where I presented my views on the Anna Hazare situation, and implored them to think twice about what they do. I have seen a few common themes among the negative responses that I shall address here.

1. 'Anna was denied the right of effective protest', 'How can govt dictate where and when he protests', 'The restrictions were unreasonable'...

Sorry to be rude - but stop parroting what you hear on TV and use your own heads. The restrictions were for one particular venue. 5,000 is a significant number. And no matter how retarded someone is - 3 days is enough to make them understand whatever point you're trying to make. If Anna had accepted these conditions, would his points have become less valid? Would people not support him, as they're doing now? Could protests not be held simultaneously at multiple other venues, with smaller crowds, as is happening now? Does this need to go on indefinitely for any good to happen? Going by what I've heard on TV, there hasn't actually been a gathering of more than 5,000 people in any single venue - yet the movement has been bigger and more effective than what Anna would've realistically expected. So why was that essential in the first place?

The Delhi Police says they'd suggested other venues where bigger crowds could be accommodated, but Anna & team wanted this venue - because of the symbolism of JP Narayan, and its proximity to the Parliament. Political reasons. Delhi Police told him how many people he could gather, and how long he could stay at that venue, based on logistical considerations - as they have the authority to. Their authority is a fact, who's orders they were acting on etc. is speculation, and doesn't change the fact anyway. While the rule of law exists, you cannot do what the police has told you not to do. You don't have the right to disregard the law. If you think the conditions are unreasonable - go to court. Better still, if your intentions are genuine, just try and find workarounds.

Moreover, this 'right to protest' also has to have reasonable limits. Anna protested earlier, got the govt to a discussion table, made his suggestions about the Lokpal etc. The govt. took his inputs, and went ahead with a Bill they felt was right. The proper process has been followed, and the govt. is now acting within its rights. Anna is free to say what he likes and doesn't like, talk to political parties, contest elections... but he cannot go on a fast-unto-death, call on the masses to court arrest, talk about a second freedom struggle and coerce the govt. to do what he wants if he disagrees. Right now he's protesting the govt's decision to not present his version of the Bill in Parliament. Even if it is presented, in pretty much every conceivable scenario, it will be rejected by Parliament. Who is to say he will not resort to the same tactics then? In fact, if he really believes in his version, and refuses to accept the govt's decision not to present it - he will have to resort to the same tactics when Parliament rejects it. Otherwise, the whole drama will all have been pointless and hypocritical.

It's not about whether people think what he wants is right or wrong - he must act within the constitutional, democratic framework. Protest cannot be allowed to impinge on the rights of the govt and the parliament

2. 'Why should Anna obey the law', 'People of India support him, not the govt', 'We can make an exception given the circumstances', 'Quoting constitution is for politicians, not citizens' ...

This set of questions genuinely worry me, and the reason I'm taking a stand is that I feel people are ready to cross lines that must never be crossed. In India we have the 'rule of law' - which' is the most basic feature of a democratic, free country. Not the rule of kings, or dictators, or an army, or a religious body... but the rule of law. It took a lot of effort for our forefathers to get us here, and no matter how cynical one may feel - our system of democracy and constitution are regarded as one of the very best in the world. Look at our neighbors. Most would rather be in the situation we are in, than their own. Our parliamentary democracy, and our constitution - things that people are speaking of so lightly now - are the firm foundations of India as a free country where an Anna Hazare can even attempt what he's doing.

We can't lose perspective and throw all this away over Anna & a Jan Lokpal Bill. The rule of law is a fundamental principle that cannot be compromised, no matter how much popular support there is for a cause. In this regard, we must be - and I choose the word deliberately, given the context - incorruptible.

Keep in mind - the only alternatives to the rule of law are slavery or anarchy. For a population of more than a billion, that is a scary thought. If you feel I'm over-reacting when I mention anarchy, please listen to Anna's first video message - where he asks children to skip school/college, working people to take a few days leave - and fill up jails to the point where they cant accommodate any more people. All this for Parliament to take up his draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill. This would be textbook anarchy.

3. 'Someone has to do something, and Anna is doing it... we must support it'

'Someone has to do something' is a valid notion, but not a sound reason. It does not absolve you of the responsibility of distinguishing right from wrong. It is irresponsible to say we all must support Anna just because he's doing something. You should only support him if you believe he's doing the right thing. Don't just follow the herd - you're human, not cattle.

Think about Germany in the 1930's. A country paying a heavy price for defeat in WW1. An economy where Jews - somewhere between 10-25% of the population, controlled somewhere between 75-90% of the economic resources. I don't remember the exact figures, but they were in the range I've quoted. German non-Jews were frustrated by unemployment, poor quality of life, bleak future etc. The 'someone needs to do something' sentiment produced Adolf Hitler. You know what happened then.

Never mind distant history. Consider the Kashmiri people today. The region has been strife-torn for decades now, and life for them is nothing like the 'free, many opportunities...' story most of our lives have. A lot of them are disillusioned and disaffected. 'Someone needs to do something' is a widespread feeling there. A lot of people talk about a 'freedom struggle'. Some of these carry out terror attacks. Do you think they're justified in doing so?

Before anyone goes ballistic, let me explicitly say 'I AM NOT EQUATING ANNA WITH TERRORISTS'. Anna uses non-violent methods. So let's say, tomorrow, a large group claiming 'popular support' (locally within Kashmir, if not nationally) wants to peacefully fast-unto-death in New Delhi demanding secession of Kashmir from the Indian Union. I'm not being anti-national here. My father is an Army Officer - decorated for his contribution in Kargil - and I've witnessed the Kashmir situation first-hand. So, the scenario I'm sharing here is very realistic. How will you deal with that situation? Why should the standards be different?

My point here is not to equate Anna with Hitler or Kashmiri terrorists - it is only to say - support something for good, 'right' reasons. 'Someone has to do something' is not one, and without further considerations, can boomerang spectacularly.

4. 'We need a strong Lokpal', 'Govt is trying to pass a Jokepal Bill, we must ensure Anna's version goes through'. 

Again - stop parroting whatever the media tells you. The Lokpal is NOT a magic pill. Anna's version is NOT perfect. Whether or not the PM or MPs should be included should be debated - but within the framework of a constitutional democracy - and either way - your life is NOT going to change too much. So, please stop making this a bigger deal than it really is.

These are just my opinions - I want a Lokpal, but I prefer the govt's version. The Judiciary should not be included. And if the Lokpal is to be effective, it's focus should be limited to Grade A officers. To create a body covering all govt employees from grades A to D - as Anna wants - is simply not practical. Nor is it even desirable - we do not want to create a whole 'parallel system', when the police, CBI etc. already exist. Lokpal will be much more effective as a small, high-impact, focused task force, rather than a large, parallel police organization. Also, remember that we - the taxpayers - have to finally bear the costs. I already hate paying to keep Air India afloat.

5. 'Why is only Anna being targeted',  some points about Rahul Gandhi in UP and sec 144, and various arguments against the govts actions, questions about the legitimacy of the govt itself, including 'they only had 28% vote share'...

Let's be clear - I'm not endorsing all of the government's actions. Honestly, I was shocked when this govt came to power - in spite of the NDA doing good jobs in Pokhran, Kargil and with the economy. I was even more dismayed when they got re-elected in spite of a Lame-Duck PM, Mumbai 26/11, inflation etc. Keep in mind - most of the scams etc. that are coming to light now had happened during UPA-1. I am no fan of this govt, or the Nehru-Gandhi-Sycophant Party. But whether or not I like the govt, they have a mandate to govern and they have some powers - at least while they hold the majority in Parliament - and we all, inc Anna, have to respect that.

True, our elections may not be 100% free and fair, but the result does generally represent what the people want. Nobody has ever said that the process was so messed up that the wrong govt had come to power, against people's wishes!

It is also fallacious and irrelevant to use the stat that only 28% people voted for Cong. This does not mean the remaining 72% are all opposed to anything and everything the govt does. Whether or not this 'first past the post' system of electing representatives is the best or not - is a whole, separate discussion. All that matters right now is this is the way we elect governments, and unless the laws change, everyone has to work within this system and respect it.

In any case, even if I disagree or dislike some of the govt's actions, that doesn't mean I have to support Anna Hazare. My support and opinions are based on principles, not the people involved. My education has taught me to take decisions rationally.
As I don't agree with some of Anna's ideas or his methods, I refuse to support him. Whether others have been allowed to use similar methods elsewhere - these are the kind of arguments used in what we all call 'dirty politics'. We - the educated responsible citizens of India - have to set a higher standard, and not stoop to the same level of politics that we're disgusted by. Two wrongs do not make a right. We only support something if we genuinely believe it is right, not because someone else has done worse.

6. 'Armchair idealism achieves nothing', 'You're writing from an AC room. You should be out on the street', 'People like us never do anything, that's why things are getting worse'...

Since I published my post yesterday, it has been visited by nearly 1,700 people across 270 cities in 31 countries- and more than 450 of them have shared it further on Facebook. Some have endorsed the ideas, some have countered them - 100s of discussion threads have started, and - hopefully - a few opinions influenced. I don't see how this can be dismissed as 'doing nothing'. I also don't see how I - as an individual - being out on the street, holding a candle or shouting slogans could possibly have achieved more. This is not to say that we don't need feet on the street when there is a worthy cause. But to say that is all we need is akin to saying armies only need foot soldiers, no commanders or generals, no intelligence agents, no supply corps, no medical corps... Being physically inconvenienced doesn't make your point more valid, and doesn't necessarily achieve better results - not for everybody, at least.

When there is a cause I believe in, I might take to the streets - if I really believe it will achieve something and is the best course of action. In this case, I DON'T support Anna's version of the bill or his methods - so the question of 'doing more' does not arise.

To say 'people like us do nothing' is also ignorant & irresponsible, especially if it starts getting used as a reason to justify wrongdoing. I quoted the example of Takhat Singh Ranawat in my original post. Another friend of mine from IIT,M - Supreet Gulati, an Elec engineer with good grades etc (anyone who has been to IIT will know a person with such qualifications can do anything he wants) - is also working with the government. My ex-manager, Sudarshan Gangrade, is also an engineer from IIT KGP and MBA from IIM,B. He quit his job to volunteer full-time with the UIDAI. This is 3 people just from my friends circles - who can do anything - and have chosen to be part of the system and do good work. So, please don't get carried away with one Anna Hazare and dismiss a whole generation, especially those with education and means as 'people doing nothing.'

Personally, I feel what these guys are doing is more meaningful than being an activist. Activists typically make noise about problems, rather than create solutions. Most of their rhetoric is protest against something, rather than working for something. When they do offer solutions, they aren't necessarily good ones, nor do these people own up all the responsibility - just like this Jan Lokpal case. Working within the system takes much more patience and courage - like forming a party, contesting elections, running a government with all its machinery and constraints. It's much easier to just proclaim 'the system doesn't work' and then do whatever you please - taking shortcuts and breaking rules - but it is not better for the country in the long run.

7. 'You lack clarity of thought', 'You are ignorant', 'You're just trying to be different'...

This section ONLY for those who, for reasons best known to them, decided to make this personal and/or presume they know or understand me.

First of all, I don't understand why this discussion should be about me at all. It's about the issues, and while you're free to agree or disagree and express your views about the issues/points, you have neither the right, nor the information - to pass judgment on me as an individual. But since you have, I will respond.

It's easy to pass judgment on someone, and write a smug, sarcastic comment. You don't need any basis, logic, arguments, reasons or vocabulary. It doesn't earn you any respect, though. If you care enough about what is being discussed, and have the ability to articulate your views on the subject, please do so. I'm ready for an open debate. Are you?

For those questioning my ability to think, knowledge of facts etc. etc. - let me tell you a bit about who I am. I grew up in an Army family. Not in Delhi or Mumbai - but small towns like Gurdaspur, Siliguri... and moved every two years with my dad. I saw people die for this country. I accepted the possibility that my father may one day be one of them. Then I received an education at IIT Madras, followed by IIM, Lucknow. I have an IQ of 140, and advise Fortune-100 companies on marketing issues based on complex data analytics and consumer insights. If you want to comment on me or my abilities, let's first hear your credentials.

For those who think I was just trying to be different and capture airtime - neither is true. I have mentioned the communities I belong to above, and I wear the badges with pride and responsibility. I think for myself, and express my views honestly, making my best attempts to justify them with facts and reason. I have no need or desire to just 'be different'. Also, my blog is usually read by only about 50 people - who are mostly from within my friends' circle. I did not expect this post to be any different. I just consolidated my views on my blog, because explaining the same ideas over and over in multiple facebook discussions was going to be tedious. I never planned or expected to get this much attention, and I certainly wasn't 'pretending' among my friends. The fact that so many people have shared the post - and so many of the readers agree - is proof of its substance. That's what you ought to focus on.


  1. Brilliant Post again Nik. I think the most eye-opening thing about this whole thing is how hard people find it to distinguish right from wrong. The ends - lesser corruption - is right. The means - blackmail - is wrong AND illegal.

  2. what the fuck? who is anna hazare? and why the fuck are you amping his importance? support or not support anna is not the question and nor is anna hazare's approach. the question of the hour is "most indians are pretty much fucked up with corruption, so what needs to be done here?".
    1- should we fight corruption?
    2- doesn't the government know that its highly corrupt?
    3- can anyone really bring about a change to the malignant system?
    4- why not we shut our fuck up and accept corruption as the status quo and get along with it as we have been doing it?

    frankly I think people will blah-blah-blah-ber for sometime and take up number '4'

    My sole intention is to save the digital space from getting wasted in a meaningless tautology. the pace at which people are consuming digital memory, the world is soon gonna run out of memory. PLEASE SAVE DIGITAL SPACE.

  3. Interesting blog. The writer seems to have too many assumptions about India being governed by real democracy. Every thing that happens in Inida is democratic and in my opinion thats not true at all. Democracy is all about freedom and equality which unfortunately is experienced differently in various sections of indian society. Corruption is inevitable in any governance structure and it is the responsibility of the government to have laws in place to eradicate it. And today it is rampant and allowed freely in democratic India as if it is the birth right of every body who gets power from people. Right from the elected representatives to the public services officials. There is no effective law in place to keep that in control and a Lok Pal bill has the potential to reduce or eradicate corruption throughout india. Anna Hazare is a catalyst to achieve this faster before it permanantly damages the entire country. There is a big gap between the people and the elected representatives and therefore the parliament should ensure that all eligible people have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law.

  4. hi
    I read your article in which you have in a very articulate and intelligent way tried put a point against the current movement. In a way you have tried to stay against the current tide of opinion and taken a stand which is laudable but does your position tenable? Lets see..

    Credentials of Ambedakar whom you have quoted was neither a freedome fighter nor participated in any activity related to the freedom movement. As late as
    1946 he was pleading, to A V Alexander member of (British)cabinet Mission, for continuation of British Rule. After independence he pleaded to Jagjivan Ram to talk to Gandhiji so that he can be included in the cabinet (entry "Ambedkar ki sifaarish", Diaries of Indrani Devi wife of Jagjivan Ram).
    "Sir, my friends tell me that I have made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody...." this is the quote of the speech given by Dr Ambedkar on 2nd September 1953 in Rajya Sabha(Council of States, as it was known then) on the debate regarding the Bill for establishing the state of Andhra.
    Even at the time of quit india movement when Gandhiji did a fast unto death, Dr. Ambedkar stood behind then Viceroy of india and quipped " if the old man dies, well he dies..". So his opposition to any sort of protest against the govt of the day and the "constitution" at that time is understandable. By the
    way Constitution of India is verbatim taken from Govt of India Act 1935, all the 235 articles. And Dr. Ambedkar's contribution to the rest of the articles, well thats another story.

    Coming back to Anna, is his protest illegal? But then all protest are illegal in one form or the other, becuase the legality is a discretion bestowed upon
    the local authorities by the constitution. Article 19(b) says All citizens shall have the right, to assemble peaceably and without arms; Nothing in sub clause (b) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes, or prevent the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause.
    So the "reasonable restriction" is the discretionary power which decides the form of the protest in terms of how many, how long, where, etc. . So that means a pliable government department (unti unless you believe, that the delhi police, is independent, logical and follows the rule of law in letter and spirit), under the aegis of home ministry of india, decided to impose some 22 restrictions, and then reduce them, was initailly doing something legal and is now doing something illegal. And if it was right both the times then this protest is also at least in terms of legality seems right.
    But then the purpose of the protest is to change something which is there or needs to be brought in, then by that logic any dissent can be stiffled by imposing "reasonable restrictions" and you would end up arguing against all the protests then.

  5. Cont, from previous.....
    Regarding fast unto death, well thats a gray area, and it can be a matter of opinion, but i feel the person has in hands the right to his own life and death. And in this case the govt would be within its right to take leagal action against Anna. But then again looking for legal answers for a political issue may have its consequnces for the govt and it should be ready to face it. After all the govt. have resorted to police firing and lathicharge many times. So why not now? And this argument that govt. does not want to let him die is a silly argument. If it would not have been for popular support it
    would have given a damn about any protest. So lets not fool ourselves into believing that it really cares. People on fast unto death have died (Swami Nigamanand), been forced fed(Irome Sharmila)) and arrested before, so nobody is stopping the govt to take action or look the other way.

    So is Anna subverting democracy?? I dont understand how. By demanding a govt to enact a law which can create an authority which can independently investigate, only the crimes related to corruption (which come under Prevention of Corruption Act and nothing more) and prosecute all the public servants including politicians, buerocracy and judicial officers, is subversion of democracy. Bringing the institutions which currently do this job (investigative wing of the CBI, CVC, etc) out of the purview of the executive, and making them independent is subverting democracy?? Unitl unless you mean that democracy is well served when the politicians, the beurocrats and the judges remain outside of purview of any investigation by the virtue of they being the masters of these agencies.
    Well i can go on giving you examples of how the your beloved judiciary, in stamping its authorithy has been undermining democracy, more than Anna, by
    taking over more and more executive functions. How it has, by using its powers of judicial review and constitutional bench, enhanced its powers to the level where it can reject any law passed by the legislature itself. So now we are moving from a people's republic to Judicial Republic. An example:its constitutional bench in 1993 decreed that only the it has the authority to appoint judges and that it is binding on the president of India. Although i will not take it away from the judiciary the judgements it has passed to ease the citizen's suffering, but i wonder why the cases which regulate the judiciary and the Bar counsel are either not taken up or there judgements reserved. Let it be an exercise for the readers to find these cases.

    I could have gone on an on on rebutting each and every line of yours by some more details but then its your piece and it should remain that way. However before i go. Please read the current draft of Jan lokpal bill once again. It may not be perfect but it is not subverting democracy in any way. The major provision is to get all the public servants (at least the buerocrats) under it so that I as a victimized citizen can go and complain about them to the lokapal or lokauyukt. But the democratically elected govt has refused it and is only bringing Class A officers of Central Govt under it. That are not more than couple of thousands properly less. So this bill is not just about judiciary and the PM only. I urge you not succumb to the "fashion of the day" of being against this movement. But take a stand on the issue.

  6. Saumitra and others,

    Mr. Hazare is subverting the democratic process. There can be no two ways about it. It boils down to one question - "Does Anna Hazare have popular support?"

    If the answer is yes, no one (not even the so-called corrupt MPs or politicians) can stop him from contesting elections on the basis of this ideology, winning, and then changing the law.

    If the answer is no, it is pretty clear that he is subverting the democratic process.

  7. Repeating a comment I just posted on the other blog - also relevant here.

    1. A few people had pointed out that Anna's fast was 'indefinite', not 'unto death'. You said he was only fighting for his Bill to be presented in Parliament and would respect their decision. Hence, you said, he was not acting in an unconstitutional manner.
    His statement today has clarified both issues. He will fast until parliament PASSES his bill, is ready to fast UNTO DEATH if it comes to that. So, you were wrong.

    2. This discussion is not really about specific aspects about the Jan Lokpal Bill - I actually agree with a lot of those. So, don't bother raising or explaining the validity of specific points of the Bill.
    My opposition - and a lot of other people's - is to the unconstitutional methods being used, and the law of the land, and basic principles of parliamentary democracy being challenged. A lot of us WANT to be part of the people's movement against corruption - but not if it goes in such a direction and crosses these lines. Understand that, and respond constructively. Let's try and find ways that don't create such dissonance.

    3. People who feel things are so bad and hopeless that the constitution should be ignored and revolutionary methods adopted - stop being so senti & ridiculous and blowing things so far out of proportion. The fact that we're having this discussion on blogger is proof that we're not in a situation that necessitates bloody revolution. Go spend a week in Pakistan or Libya. Maybe that'll teach you to appreciate some of the good in our country & our system - things you've clearly lost sight of.

  8. Ohhhh...Pleaseeeeee......If you have a better idea come ahead and initiate it..Just pin pointing on what some one else is doing is cowardness....come in front and give the idea....Atleast he is doing some thing for good...

  9. @Megha: If you'd read and understood my post, you'd have realized I've countered those 'arguments' in points 3 and 6. I will not bother explaining the same thing again.

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  11. Do one thing that would be right for the mass...please try reading more articles and do a lot of investigation before you start discussing such national issues..i think you can write on topics like "Smoking cigarette is injurious to health" by that time..:)

  12. @Siddarth: If you don't want to, or don't have the ability to discuss the issues at hand, don't bother commenting at all. I'm not interested in your personal advice.