Barun Roy: Arrogance before the fall?

Whether you support Anna Hazare or not, you will like the following article from Business Standard.

Barun Roy: Arrogance before the fall?

The Ramlila Maidan may give way to a Tahrir Square if our ruling class continues to disregard public opinion
Barun Roy / January 12, 2012, 0:33 IST

A common theme that ran through the recent parliamentary debate on the Lok Pal Bill was, simply put, this: street agitations can’t be allowed to decide government policies nor usurp the constitutional duty of lawmakers. It was an arrogant position to take, considering that Anna Hazare was only reflecting popular will and under the Constitution, people matter above everything else. By denigrating Hazare, politicians were actually belittling public opinion that exists outside the purview of government and Parliament and, thus, in a fundamental sense, devaluing the very spirit of the Constitution.
In their arrogance, they also chose to be blind to history. Time and time again, street protests have decided the fate of governments and their policies whenever the latter have faltered or failed. Remember Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in Egypt, or Muammar Gaddafi’s in Lybia, or Ben Ali’s in Tunisia? It was popular outbursts of anger that brought about their downfall, just as they had forced the corrupt and brutal Marcos regime in the Philippines into exile and oblivion.
In the late 1980s, popular uprisings changed the face of Europe. In Nepal, King Gyanendra had no choice but to surrender to massive street protests, unprecedented in the history of that country. Popular anger has decided the fate of successive governments in Thailand in recent years. In South Korea, in 1997, hundreds of thousands of workers and students took their defiance to the streets and forced the then president, Kim Young-sam, to repeal all 11 of his notorious labour and security laws that he had got Parliament to pass in less than six minutes.
Examples there are more. President Suharto had to walk off the political stage in Indonesia when people, led by students, mounted a relentless campaign against him in 1998. In the Philippines, two other presidents, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, accused of rampant corruption and mismanagement, had to go the Marcos way, hounded by angry people on the EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue). The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 certainly had a role in making Beijing a little more mindful of the way it uses state power on its people. Last August, a chemical factory near Dalian was closed down and relocated in the face of protests by residents who wore gas masks and held up banners saying “Reject Poison” and “Return our Homes.”
Politicians who vilified Hazare’s campaign ignored the fact that he wasn’t out to rob Parliament of its legislating authority, but was only pressing citizens’ views on what a strong Lok Pal should be. It’s sad that those who are elected by the people to represent their interests should consider Hazare’s airing of citizens’ demands as an attack on Parliament. It’s even more unfortunate that they should reduce the fight against corruption into an unwarranted vendetta, thus, exposing the latent autocratic tendencies of their so-called democratic character.
Some have asked the question, why Hazare? To this, the reply should be, why not? Somebody had to rise up and take a stand against such a pervasive issue as corruption in high places. Hazare did, the only person in post-Independence India to do so in public when all others were only barking from their holes. Is that a crime? When nothing else would work, is the exercise of pressure an undesirable weapon to use? We should rather be thankful that Hazare’s is a peaceful, Gandhian campaign. If peaceful protest gets no heed, popular anger is bound to seek other avenues of expression.
A system that allows government and Parliament to function as closed-off bastions of authority and considers any third-party opinion as a transgression that must be defeated by any means isn’t quite democratic. Hazare’s campaign has revealed quite clearly that a shadow has fallen between our idea of democracy and the reality of it, and that shadow is deepening. The role of independent public opinion as an important democratic interface has been ignored for long and now demands to be fully recognised and respected.
If there’s no provision in our Constitution for listening to and consulting that opinion, we must create one, since the Lok Pal debate has shown once again that Parliament is a poor mirror of popular will; the allegiance of its members will always be to their vested political interests. The debate degenerated into a shameless political cockfight between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the ludicrous way it ended makes a stronger public campaign against corruption all the more necessary.
By belittling public opinion that’s outside of political parties and election manifestoes, and treating it as an attempt to subvert the Constitution and rule of law, we may be leaving open a dangerous – and expanding – space of discontent within our democratic system that may not remain a Ramlila Maidan for all time. At some point of desperation, it might turn into a Tahrir Square.

Thank you Col. Mehndiratta for the article!!

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