Hazare Team Lacks Democratic Legitimacy

Notwithstanding all the attention attracted by Anna Hazare and his team’s call against corruption, several hard-hitting legal, political and social realities cannot be ignored. Undeniably, Hazare team has succeeded in gathering thousands of people at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. It is also true that peaceful demonstrations have taken place in several parts of the country in support of Hazare team’s call against corruption. The seating capacity at Ramlila Maidan is approximately 50,000. The number of people displaying their support for Hazare has not crossed one lakh in any part of the country, except once or twice in Delhi and Mumbai. Statistically, the support from across the country for Hazare-team can at most be presumed to be that of few lakh people. With India home to 1.21 billion people, this number does not represent a significant proportion of the country’s population. And this raises the crucial question: -- who do Hazare and his team actually represent? 

There is no denying that Hazare team has succeeded in securing substantial media attention. But so what as even numerical statistics of supporters behind Hazare are not sufficient to accord him stature of a national leader. Certainly, Hazare and his team have the freedom and right to raise their voices and also protest against issues they feel concerned about. They also, like any other Indian citizen, have the political right to suggest measures to correct problems they feel disturbed about. In fact, it is the duty of Indian citizens to draw people and government’s attention to problems they are aggrieved about. Corruption is one of the many such problems, which the entire country is concerned about.

 Constitutionally, politically and socially, with the right to protest against corruption, among other issues, Hazare and his team also have the right to suggest proposals for correcting these problems. Democratically and legally, however, they do not represent any institution or authority to dictate their terms to an elected government. They are not legislators and are not from any angle representative of even a significant percentage of the country’s population or any segment. Raising the corruption issue is one aspect. The course being adopted to tackle the same is another. The latter, including hunger strikes, marches, “sit-in” demonstrations outside parliamentarians’ residences and other such activities, is not in keeping with the country’s constitutional fabric. The situation would have been different if India was not an independent country with a written constitution as per which it is a democratic and socialist republic. If instead of a democratically elected government, India was governed by a dictatorial regime, Hazare team’s fight against corruption may have been viewed as that of perhaps “rebels” quest for democracy. This is not the case.

 With an elected government in power, the country’s legislators have authority to enact new laws and also amend old ones to rid the system of the corruption malaise. But when any group, as seems to be the course adopted by Hazare team, opts to “dictate” terms to them, it also amounts to abusing the democratic spirit of the country. After all, parliamentarians have been elected by the country’s voters. Statistically and democratically, the electoral prowess of the Indian voter holds far more value than that of several thousands collected together by Hazare team to apparently pressurize the government to yield to what they desire. Yielding to the latter would be equivalent to bowing to almost dictatorial commands of a handful of citizens, who do not have the authority to wield such powers. It would be an abuse of the country’s parliamentary system. It would also set an unhealthy precedent encouraging extremist elements to perhaps consider violence to pressurize an elected government to yield to their agenda.

 Considering that India is home to many religions, castes, tribes, classes and regional communities, it may not be a difficult task for extremist elements of any group to excite their community members and follow the course that Hazare team is taking. If the government can give in to Hazare team, their logic would be, why cannot it yield to their demands? In other words, if an elected government yields to Hazare team, in addition to being an abuse of the country’s constitutional system, it would be an unhealthy and dangerous precedence, which must be nipped before it develops roots.

Irrespective of whether Hazare indulged in plain rhetoric or not, when he said: “If you (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) cannot get the bill, I ask you to leave the chair,” the underlying meaning cannot be missed. Hazare is not above the country’s Constitution and political system to assume that he can ask the Prime Minister or any other person to quit office, if his conditions are not adhered to. The Prime Minister cannot be dismissed even by the country’s highest office holder, that is the President till he and his party lose support in the Parliament.

 Against this backdrop, with their course of action being devoid of democratic legitimacy, it is time some attention was paid to what has prompted Hazare team to assume their role as greater than that of India’s constitutional system?