Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Your Activist and My Activist

At the risk of being dubbed a RSS person, and without holding any brief for the Anna Hazares and Baba Ramdevs, I have to say this: I totally agree with the RSS  chief Mohan Bhagwat asking if Hazare and Ramdev are outsiders, what about the members of the National Advisory Council (NAC).
I have, in earlier posts, been quite critical of Anna Hazare's fast-unto-death over the Lokpal Bill and of the way his gang of civil society activists were trying to impose an ill-thought law on the country.
I have found Baba Ramdev's pronouncements on black money and corruption highly amusing and I was aghast when I found the government seriously engaging with him. It was a ridiculous attempt to pit one set of loose cannons against another and ultimately it backfired badly.
But when I see the government and the Congress depicting the Hazare-Ramdev bunch as irresponsible and asserting that the government cannot be dictated by them, then I can't help looking at the exalted status that the civil society members of the NAC enjoy.
Now the government and the Congress are saying that law making is the prerogative of the government and Parliament and it cannot be outsourced to civil society. Home Minister P Chidambaram reminds the country that we are a parliamentary democracy and elected representatives should not cede ground to civil society activists. Sure. A very valid point.
So what is the NAC doing, preparing draft legislations and using the clout of its chairperson - Sonia Gandhi - to force the government to accept them? And when the government refuses to accept ill-thought out recommendations, NAC members hold demonstrations.
On 24 May, three NAC worthies - Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze and Harsh Mander - demonstrated outside the Planning Commission along with close to 70 campaigners of the Right to Food Campaign over the definition of poverty.
Is demonstrating wrong? No. Peaceful demonstrations are a vital part of democracy. It is a way of expressing mass sentiment. (It's another matter that often crowds are paid and don't know what they are demonstrating for. Or that participating in demonstrations is just very fashionable these days, as we saw during Hazare's fast.) What raised eyebrows in this case was that the demonstration was led by NAC members. The NAC, after all, is a part of the current political establishment, though it is not a constitutional body and has been set up by an executive order.
The NAC, its website, says, "has been set up as an interface with Civil Society. The NAC would provide policy and legislative inputs to Government with special focus on social policy and the rights of the disadvantaged groups."
The NAC has been trying to dictate the agenda to the government on a range of issues ever since it was set up.  Many of its proposals, especially relating to the social sector, put a demand on fiscal resources that will strain the exchequer to the extreme. It drafts legislations and these are forwarded to the government, which is expected to take its recommendations on board.
So one set of civil society activists get a privileged status, while the rest are pilloried and discredited and set upon by the police.
Doesn't seem very fair to me.

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