Stand up against anarchy masquerading as activism Back

March 9, 2020

Originally Published In

The parts of Delhi affected by the riots are limping back to normalcy. Those who indulged in this mindless violence deserve the harshest condemnation and punishment.While the law must take its own course, as a democratic society, we have to think about certain key issues that led to this violence. The most significant is the way one should and can engage in public activism including protests, in a democratic polity.

It is quite apparent that the manufactured unrest, promoted by a section of politicians, over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or the CAA, led to unfounded suspicions and mistrust. Repeated clarifications by government leaders that the CAA has nothing to do with taking away citizenship, as it essentially aims only at fast-tracking citizenship to persecuted minorities from three specified countries who have taken shelter in India, had little effect and Opposition parties continued fuelling paranoia. This not only legitimised fear-mongering but also encouraged a degree of obstinacy among the protestors.

One of the fundamental flaws in the present-day discourse is in our approach to dissent in democracy. True, democracy will be meaningless if it cannot encompass differences of opinion. However, while dissent is an inseparable aspect of democracy, dissent and divergence of views need not and cannot be the only parameters to measure democracy. Like disagreements, agreements are equally legitimate in a democratic polity. Democracy must not just provide space for, but also respect, differences of opinion. But democracy shouldn’t be deemed as suspicious in the absence of different approaches and views.

Sadly, the Westminster model of democracy provides for an inherently flawed approach. It needlessly presupposes a perennial difference of opinion and institutionalises this. As a result, the Treasury and Opposition are constantly at loggerheads. This divide is not always required nor is it always relevant. There is reason to believe that an unduly strong opposition to the CAA and hardening of positions by several anti-CAA groups are products of this presupposition.

The very presupposition being used to legitimise opposition to the CAA in itself is born out of prejudice. This prejudice is the product of a systematically cultivated suspicion which goes against the grain of democracy.

This unenlightened opposition coupled with exaggerated statements about hypothetical scenarios has provided fertile ground for miscreants to sow the seeds of paranoia. A strong case in point is that of the initiators and organisers of the Shaheen Bagh protest. Although there can be a significant element of spontaneity in this sit-in, everything doesn’t deserve to be taken at face value. It is unimaginable that Muslim women — for whom men in their families staunchly refuse freedom from triple talaq — are allowed to spend days and nights out of their homes. Keeping women and children in the forefront, and waging a political struggle while hiding behind them might be considered a smart strategy, but it is also inhuman and anti-women.

Had the judiciary not indirectly contributed to the legitimisation of this politics of obstructionism, this would have become a fit case for investigation by the National Commission for Women and the National Human Rights Commission. Obstructionism could, at best, be a one-time tool, used in exceptional situations.

However, equating obstructionism with activism is not only erroneous but also an insult to those who oppose this. Giving protection to aspiring law-breakers for months together eventually disincentivises law-abiding citizens, eroding the credibility of the rule of law, irreparably. It is not out of place to question as to how the judiciary would react if a Shaheen Bagh-type demonstration is held, equally peacefully, right in front of a court building obstructing access to litigants, and that too, for months together. Will those demonstrators not site Shaheen Bagh as a precedent? Is this not a recipe for anarchy?

In a move which smacks of anti-constitutionalism, several chief ministers announced that they won’t implement the CAA. Imagine, how the chief ministers of Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states would get roasted should they refuse to implement Acts granting so-called minority educational institutions the freedom to not implement quotas for the socially marginalised sections. Their opposition to minority appeasement notwithstanding, they have to implement what is passed by Parliament. The refusal to accept the supremacy of Parliament in lawmaking is an open invitation to anarchy.

One can understand the despondency of a section of our political class. But the moot question is: How can we as a society afford to allow frustrated politicians to encourage anarchy masquerading as activism?