V. K. Singh of Team Anna cannot be faulted for his criticisms of the UPA Government — that it has failed the people and favoured powerful interest groups instead. But when he jumps to the conclusion that Parliament should be dissolved, he cannot be supported.
In a democracy, a government can only be brought down when a majority of the MPs or the people vote against it.
When a self-selected group seeks to overthrow the government by extra-constitutional means, it reflects a disturbing disregard for this basic principle of electoral democracy. No matter what the failings of a government, there can be no case for such methods, unless Team Anna wants India to go the way of Pakistan or Bangladesh.
It is true, as Team Anna points out, that the members of the government and legislature do not inspire confidence. The electoral process is biased in favour of money power.
But to view this problem in moral, rather than institutional, terms can be both naïve and dangerous.
The approach bears disturbing parallels to Jayaprakash Narayan’s 1974-76 agitation to remove Indira Gandhi.
As some historians have pointed out, JP’s nebulous critique of parliamentary democracy encouraged cynicism towards democratic institutions.
This, they have said, could pave the way for authoritarian and fascist forces, as witnessed in Italy and Germany after the First World War. While there can be no questioning the progressive credentials of JP himself, the movement, by virtue of its nebulousness, provided a political space to the discredited Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh and its affiliates, legitimising over the years their extreme brand of politics.
Alarmingly, the JP movement urged the army to rebel. We hope Team Anna, with its generous complement of ex-servicemen, has no such ideas.
Team Anna should go back to pressing for institutional reforms such as the Lokpal Bill and seeking amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, where it pertains to funding of elections. It can conduct a campaign around such issues and support candidates who take them up.
There is nothing wrong even in holding referendums on contentious issues. But a campaign to overthrow an elected government is unacceptable, as it amounts to overturning the political system.
Assuming that Team Anna is not for military dictatorship or the Chinese model, what is the change it has in mind?