John Kenneth Galbraith, the US ambassador to India and a renowned humanist economist who had called India a “functional anarchy” in the 1960s. Galbraith’s oxymoron recognized India’s reality i.e., Visible anarchy in Indian society as well as visible economic and social progress within the democratic capacity. Another famous characteristic of India was coined by an economist from Sweden, Gunnar Myrdal, who is also a Nobel Prize-winner. Gunnar Myrdal in his study ‘Asian drama: an inquiry into the poverty of nations’, coined the term ‘soft state’ for India. He tried to describe indisciplines that existed in India during the same time period i.e., the 1960s. He had warned India of a weak rule of law.
Sign of anarchism in recent days
Anarchism in the world has been visible now. India is no more a special case. At the global level from east to west, footprints of anarchy have become visible. Even the hegemonic state, the US, is not untouched by this wave. During the ‘Black live matter protest’ in August 2020, protestors ransacked and looted shops in Chicago. Another perverted form of protest was seen when a violent attempt was made by the protestors in the US to overturn Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election. For global anarchism, the end of the bipolar world has been cited as one of the major reasons.
India has witnessed two major anarchies on the face of protests since the surge of the new political order in India – Shaheen Bagh protests 2019 or Anti CAA protest 2019 and Anti-farm act protest 2020. The common thread between the two is that both tried to hold hostage to Indian democracy. Both have tried to use violence to make agree on their terms. Brahma Chellaney criticized the government for mishandling both the protests where Shaheen Bagh protestors were allowed to block highways for more than 100 days. Similarly, farm protestors were allowed for a ‘tractor rally’ in the capital of India despite the Chief Justice of India’s warning of likely violence.
The main difference between both the protests is that Anti CAA protest lacked ‘universality’ or ‘legitimacy’ vis-à-vis Anti-farm act protest. Anti-CAA protest was based on ethnicity i.e., religion but the Anti-farm act protest is based largely on class i.e., farmers not Sikhs or Jats. But later on, the Anti-farm act protest has changed its strength into weakness by the use of violence. India has witnessed the height of anarchy when protesters entered Lal Quila and expressed ethnic attitudes. They unfurl the religious flag on Lal Quila. It can be called as ‘Capitol moment for India.’
The surge of anarchism: Growth of civil liberty organization
Post-1960s, the Indian political system as well as intellectual elites have taken the characteristics sketched by John Kenneth Galbraith and Gunnar Myrdal seriously. They even favored the imposition of emergency by Indira Gandhi to say bye to this baggage. Indira Gandhi had shown her hard power in the context of the India-Pakistan war 1971 and the successful bifurcation of Pakistan. Thus, ‘Emergency’s hard state’ was justified as means to improve India’s ‘functioning part.’
Before an emergency, Indira Gandhi was praised with the slogan as ‘Iron lady’ and ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’. She imposed it against the ‘rising anarchy’ in India. The youth was politically romanticized. ‘Corruption and election tempering’ was made reason to bring her down from the throne. A ‘failed attempt’ was made to realize Gandhi in post-independent India when the concerned case was sub judice. Protestors didn’t even wait for the judgment on the ‘allegation’ made against Indira Gandhi.
Sanjaya Baru in his article on ‘the week‘ claimed that in response to political developments like an emergency, ‘civil liberty organizations’ came into existence. According to him, “The growth of such ‘social activism’, rather than of formal, organized party political activism, may have contributed to greater anarchism in Indian political life without making the society and the state more functional.” It is so because they were not obliged to the rule of law vis-a-vis the government.
Cogs in the parliamentary wheel
With the surge of ‘social activism’ in India, the balance between the ‘functional India’ and ‘anarchical India’ got disturbed. In this process, anarchy got decentralized and an intellectual class also became one power pole. This was institutionalized by the Indian national congress in the form of the National Advisory Council and National Knowledge Commission. Later on, it took the shape of agitation on the face of the ‘Anna movement’ or ‘India against corruption movement’ in 2011.
Anna’s movement asks to include civil society in the process of keeping a check on the Indian political system. It has asked for a stronger anti-corruption Lokpal (ombudsman) act in the Indian parliament. It doesn’t make sense because it will only add one more layer of anarchy to the Indian political system because first, Indian people have turned elections into festivals. Second, Regular elections have been conducting since independence. Third, the Indian political system has already a strong check in terms of regular elections.
Apart from regular elections, there are many layers of accountability in the Indian political system. Before passing a bill, pre-legislative checks are one of the layers. First, Bills are made available in the public domain for a stipulated period before introducing them in the legislature. Second, Adhoc committees are formed to scrutinize the Bill before it is piloted in the House. Third, Standing Committees examine the Bill before introducing it in the House. Fourth, Parliamentarians discuss the concerning bill.
Along with pre-legislative checks, post-legislative checks are another layer of accountability. First, Judiciary examines the concerned bill on the constitutional line. Second, People protest in democratic capacity is another layer of accountability that has been a misnomer as of now. Third, RTI is an instrument to keep a check on policies. Fourth, even parliament has enacted the Lokpal act 2013 by fulfilling the demands of the Anna movement which keeps checking the executive system.
Crisis in intellectual power
From the 1960s till the Anna movement in 2011, civil society entered the parliamentary process and unnecessarily slowed the speed of growth further. Traditional intellectuals enter the parliament virtually with the mask of civil society. Instead of functioning better, a surge of the intellectual class has made the system more anarchical. It is claimed that to avail the benefit of anti-incumbency against the Congress government, the BJP government had also supported the cause of the Anna movement.
Hard power and strict decisions are the hegemonic styles of conservative parties like BJP. The BJP has started the process of decreasing the role of intellectuals in the political system. To support this statement, we can take an example of ‘demonetization’ where NDA led government is criticized for not consulting the experts. Lateral entry is also criticized on the same line. Apart from these, bypassing pre-legislative checks especially in the context of farm acts is another argument.
It doesn’t mean that BJP has completely refrained from the intellectual class. Apart from the Anna movement, BJP has tried a failed attempt to introduce intellectual class on the face of civil society, a group of unelected people, through Judicial reform. In 2015, National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) was introduced in which out of six members, three were allowed from the judiciary, one Union Minister of Law and Justice as ex-officio, and the rest two were eminent personalities with veto power. But the judiciary has protected itself by striking down the NJAC act as ‘unconstitutional and void.‘
But, more or less since the surge of the new political order in the year 2014, the intellectual class has been deprived of the power they enjoyed. German political scientist, Hannah Arendt says – “Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy.” In the absence of power, intellectuals in India notify their presence in India through violence in the face of “democratic protests.”
Justification through Indian National Movement
Hannah Arendt characterized masse as ‘crackpots who lack reasons and creativity’ and ‘superfluous entity who doesn’t have own thinking.’ Thus, it becomes easy for the intellectual class to shape the mind of the people. For shaping the minds of the masses, intellectuals need an ideology or a narrative for justification. They selectively revive and buy the narrative of the Indian National Movement for justification.
The intellectual system revives the relevance of Gandhi Ji for the mass protest. They romanticized the masses through the slogans of the Indian National Movement which was used against the colonial power. People failed to anticipate the difference between both contexts. The pre-independence British government was largely not chosen by Indian people or chosen by elites since the universal adult franchise was not extended to Indians. Those movements were against an unjust foreign power.
Even Gandhi Ji had clearly stated that his movements like Non-cooperation or civil disobedience were against the foreign powers only. That’s why Gandhi Ji didn’t hold any protest against the caste system separately. For this, Dr. Ambedkar had heavily criticized him. But the intellectual system in India deliberately miscodes him in the present context against their own democratically elected government.
They also forget Dr. Ambedkar who has called such activities – ‘Grammer of anarchy’ on November 25, 1949. For Dr. Ambedkar, protesting in a constitutional state is nothing but a grammar of anarchy. He justified protest only if there are no ways of constitutional means to speak and act against any proposition. Apart from Gandhi ji and Dr. Ambedkar, the intellectual system bought the words of Bhagat Singh (‘If the deaf is to hear, the sound has to be very loud’) to justified the farm protesters unfurling the religious flag at Lal Quila on 26 January 2020.
Lack of consensus
Largely masses do not have their own thinking as characterized by Hannah Arendt. The rest of the masses who could think on their own with the help of intellects lacks consensus. F.W. Riggs called India a prismatic society. In prismatic societies, both the ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ values coexist in the same society. It implies that India is midway between traditional and modern society. It has become the basis for the crisis of consensus.
On the one hand, societal norms behave like the first line of defense. For example, Both the Muslim and Hindu communities have reacted in a similar fashion over the parliamentary legislation ending instant triple talaq and supreme court judgment over the Sabrimala case respectively. On the other hand, people of the same society ask for “absolute freedom” in case of allegations against comedians in the name of free speech.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Ganatantra (the Republic) constitutes two words – i.e., the Gana (The people) and the Tantra (the government). Intellectual intellections in India accept one at the cost of another. Anarchists in India project themselves as the spokesperson of ‘the people’ through only anti-establishment activities. Similarly, extremists in India project themselves as the spokesperson of ‘the nation’ by supporting only the establishment.
However, both words are not antagonistic to each other. Failed states like Syria and Afghanistan suggest that ‘people without establishment’ is not a happy phrase. Similarly, Hitler’s holocaust in Germany shows that ‘establishment without people’ is also not a happy phrase. Thus, both are complimentary words. Indian establishment should follow the combination of both i.e., ‘Danda Niti’ of Kautilya and ‘Dharma Niti’ of Ashoka. Most societies use the balance between the two to check and arrest the lawlessness.
- Project Syndicate | India’s Functioning Anarchy
- Twitter | Brahma Chellaney
- The Week | India may function better under Modi, but it has also become anarchic
- The Hindu | SC Bench strikes down NJAC Act as ‘unconstitutional and void
- E-International Relation | Can the Work of Hannah Arendt Help Us Understand Contemporary Conflicts?
- Stanford Encyclopedia | Hannah Arendt
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