Friday, March 25, 2011

Dealing with Public Unrest

India may not see a Jasmine revolution for various reasons. But we are experiencing a number of smaller but dirtier variations of similar agitations, on a day to day basis.

India as a country is moving away from the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. Non-violence as a principle has no respect anymore. The might is right principle is gaining in stature. If you have 100 people who will listen to your words, you can force your way into getting anything achieved - that seems to be the new method.

The use of widespread violence is hallmark of almost all contemporary movements. I am not taking about the armed resistance of Maoists or terror based activities of certain fringe elements belonging to various religious (what else!) groups. I am concerned with the so called popular movements such as Telengana agitation, Gujjars’ agitation, Gurkha Land agitation, Jats’ agitation etc, which use violence as a means of forcing governments to listen to their demands.

Almost all political parties of India have some time or other called for public Bandhs or Hartals and then went ahead and used force to make the general public to accede to it. Shamelessly, even some of the state governments have sponsored such Hartals, even though Judiciary has unequivocally held this mode of protest as illegal and unconstitutional, as it affects the fundamental freedoms of Indian citizens.

Democracy can only thrive with some minimum level of discipline. If every group is allowed to get away with whatever demands that they may put forth, then it can convert democracy into mere ‘mobocracy’. If that is to happen, we will have plethora of violent demands for more and more states and more and more reservations.

How do we deal with this? Obviously, we as a nation cannot allow any group to control our freedom and fundamental rights. Our freedoms are as important as their right to agitate. Also, they have no right to use violence as a means of agitation. That is why our governments have to formulate a clear policy as to how these violent agitations will be tackled.

Our Constitution confers upon the governments a very important duty to ensure our fundamental rights. It should be made known to all that no agitations involving violence will be tolerated. Strict measure must be adopted to control these menace. Those leaders who instigate and organise such agitations must be brought to book and subjected to exemplary punishment, including barring them from participating in elections.

Each Government must establish a transparent institution, like an Ombudsman, for handling all grievances that are public in nature. Any grievance received by such an authority must be death with, in a time bound and transparent manner, with wide public participation. The decisions of that Authority must be binding on all parties but subject to judicial review by High Courts/ Supreme Courts, as the case may be.

Any call for public agitations that involve curtailment of freedom of citizens must be declared as illegal. All the suspected leaders must be charged and tried expeditiously, including for damages if they have caused any, during the agitation.

It is the lack of penal consequences that is encouraging more and more leaders to try using violence as a means to achieve their ambitions, political or otherwise. Strict rule of law is the hallmark of a successful democracy.

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