Thoughts on economics and liberty

Let’s make sure we don’t subvert India’s democracy

While noting that the middle classes of India are entitled to some jubilation at the outcome achieved from Anna Hazare's fast (this also being one of the first times since independence when our dormant middle class has actually done something collectively),  two fundamental issues need to be kept in mind:

1) Legal status of fast unto death

In my draft manuscript, The Discovery of Freedom I've been grappling with the issue of fast to death. What is the legitimacy of such a thing in a free society. Is self-harm permitted? Up to what stage? And why?

I can well understand Gandhi's fast unto death in order to calm down tempers and bring an end to communal violence. But I'm not able to understand the legitimacy of a fast unto death to bring about a Bill. Despite my sympathies with Anna, I'm unable to endorse his approach, else he or others could hold the entire country's policies to ransom and totally subvert the democratic process.  

In particular, why is Anna not force-fed when he fasts, but others are ( The law on this matter should be clear and apply uniformly to everyone. No one should be permitted to fast unto death. Period. Indeed, all hunger strikes must be prohibited, being a kind of self-harm – particularly as they seek to change others' behaviour.

The Gandhian times are over. Let us follow some discipline and use the electoral process which is available to EVERYONE. Why create extra-constitutional mechanisms and dilute the discipline of the rule of law?

2) Role of un-elected citizens vs role of elected representatives 

It is crucial that no unelected citizen be permitted to subvert the democracy that we have established – at great cost and effort – in India. I therefore encourage Anna and his supporters to form a political party and contest elections and then, once they have a formal mandate for change, bring about the reforms they have obtained people's authorisation for (subject to preserving the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution).

I would much rather have the most corrupt elected Parliament make laws for India than unelected people who threaten suicide and bring the entire Parliament to its knees. As I have often said, I believe that even our most corrupt elected representative (e.g. Sonia/Rahu Gandhi) do greater service to India than those who berate them from outside but refuse to challenge them at the hustings. Use the hustings, please, not the streets.

To everyone who wishes to see change in India , let me make this appeal: If you have true COURAGE and INTEGRITY, please fight elections. Don't just start mass movements to destroy democracy and create a rule by mobs.


"Hazare said once Lokpal Bill becomes a reality, he would take up inclusion of "none of the above" choice in voting." (TOI, Apr 11, 2011)

I'm afraid I don't agree to this proposal, being anti-democratic. Let no one sit in judgement as GOD over those who contest elections. If you find no one who good from those who are contesting an election, then contest elections YOURSELF. Please don't damage democracy by refusing to send a representative to Parliament.

Further it would be obnoxious in the extreme for Hazare to impose his personal views on the country through another round of fasting. This destruction of democracy must come to an end. 

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13 thoughts on “Let’s make sure we don’t subvert India’s democracy
  1. admin

    We talk about our Parlimentary Democracy proudly little realising that right from the grass roots level it is the scum of society who rule the roost.
    What Anna and his like should do is to start a mental revolution so as to exclude the scum.
    I don't think anything is going to succeed as the present system in in a state of collapse.

  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear “admin”

    I’m not defending India’s democracy, against the functioning of which I’ve provided 1000s of pages of CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.

    I’m against any attempt to dilute or weaken it further. Let’s strengthen it, reform it. But never given power to ANY unelected Indian to dictate terms to it. It represents 1.2 billion people. Let that mean something.


  3. Bhagwad Jal Park

    We've discussed this before. My view is that self harm should certainly be allowed. My body, my rules. If at all we take property rights seriously, then a person has to own their body. A man may have nothing – not food, no clothes and no house. But they always have their body. It's the one thing a person owns without doubt and without restraint. It's the only thing they have real control over. To say a person doesn't own their body is repulsive and unjust since they and only they suffer when their body is not working properly.
    Hazare has every right to fast to death. Let the government not listen if they don't want. No one is forcing the government to pay heed.

  4. Bhagwad Jal Park

    In fact, I'll go one step further. So strong is a person's ownership of their body, that whether the government "legalizes" it or not is immaterial! In their heart, everyone knows that their body belongs to themselves regardless of what the "law" says. Which is why no one who commits suicide ever thinks "Damn…this is illegal!" Which is why no one really listens to laws which tell them not to drink…even in private.
    You think if the govt. came out with a law saying people don't own their body, anyone would care? It's a natural law beyond the purview of parliament or any man made structure. It's a deeply rooted natural way of things.

  5. Bhagwad Jal Park

    Incidentally, if you term fasting to death as "coercion," what about strikes which threaten to disrupt the economic system in which we live? I'm not talking about forced strikes and breaking cars etc…I'm talking about basic non cooperation.
    Unless someone takes a gun to the govt's head and forces them to do something, it's not real coercion. Many "fasts unto death" have been initiated in India's history. The vast majority of them have been safely ignored….as they should. Rarely is an issue of such importance that people sit up, rally round and take notice. Such issues cannot be manufactured. They come when they come and you can't do anything about it.

  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Bhagwad

    Ownership of one’s body is a piece of absurdity that makes no sense from any angle. One rents one’s body till one is alive. But that is NOT relevant to the discussion her.

    Note I’m not asking that suicide be made a criminal act. That it can’t be prevented through law should be obvious. Instead, it requires the creation of a social insurance health system that identifies and assists suicidal people. I’ve explained at length in DOF.

    However, Hazare’s was not suicidal act in that typical sense (normal suicide is a consequence of mental distress, but Hazare’s was not a case of mental distress but a case of deliberately causing others mental distress). Such threatened suicide is used precisely like a bargaining chip: a commercial transaction. You do this or I will kill myself at great emotional cost to the entire nation. Even ordinary suicidal people might try a bit of this strategy before actually taking their life. But they don’t aim to bring down an entire nation to its knees through their suicide.

    Hazare-type suicide threats are different since these impinge deeply on emotions of millions of people, and put extra-constitutional pressure on governments to do things they would have otherwise not done or done differently. Instead of using the hustings to create laws, this technique uses the streets to make laws. That is grossly improper. I am calling for a specific prohibition of this kind of emotional stunt.

    Gandhi invented this technique for specific purposes and mostly used it to douse communal violence. Hazare and many others of his ilk have used this technique to short-circuit the constitutional process. It has the same goals as a terrorist act: a coercive method to force an ENTIRE COUNTRY to do something.

    The point about strikes is well taken. That is actually illegal particularly where violence harms others. But I trust you are aware that “peaceful” strikes (e.g. stop-work strikes) need to be regulated as well because they force someone (employer) to pay someone (employee) for a service they have not provided. This is a breach of contract, and the direct action, even if non-violent, is essentially criminal (asking something for free: Note that dissatisfied workers always have the option to resign and leave – but they don’t do that: instead, they COERCE the employer if they don’t like a particular wage: that is basically a criminal act).

    I’m saying here that it is the intent to blackmail (and the Anna has repeatedly said that he is happy to blackmail the government that is criminal.

    When you or I fast for a few days we do so peacefully at home, not with the intent of blackmail. It is when the fast is undertaken to coercively subvert the constitutional processes of India, then force-feeding is absolutely necessary.

    I would call upon the Government of India to create a law on this matter immediately.


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