Founding partner of Small Screen and newslaundry, Abhinandan Sekhri was a researcher at Newstrack and went on to become a reporter, always managing to do the story that was dropped. He scripted the political satire shows The Great Indian Tamasha and Gustakhi Maaf on NDTV’s news channels between 2004 and 2009. So he thinks he’s funny. Thinks!
Whose Hand, Great Anarch?
Anarchy! A word that’s been thrown around with conviction and outrage over Arvind Kejriwal’s call for civil disobedience in Delhi by not paying inflated electricity bills. A ridiculous accusation.
Full disclosure – I am a friend of Arvind Kejriwal and support his political party.
Before dissecting this “anarchy” bogey, I’d like to clarify what anarchy is as per the Oxford Dictionary.
a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority : he must ensure public order in a country threatened with anarchy.
• absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.
ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: via medieval Latin from Greek anarkhia, from anarkhos, from an- ‘without’ + arkhos ‘chief, ruler.
We’ll get to the non-literal pop parlance interpretation of anarchy as criticism of AAP’s actions later. First the easier literal take needs to be debunked.
Literally“anarchy” means “without a ruler”, not without rules. That is a big difference. Literally, anarchy also means a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority. Implicit in the previous sentence is that order existed earlier which deteriorated into disorder due to no recognition of authority.
As per one interpretation, anarchy is a zone of complete freedom, free from government rules. It’s not a state of chaos. It is in fact a state of order. That’s as unrealistic and silly as a pure Communist state. So, for the literalists it’s a wrong usage of the word since that is not what Arvind is saying -for them to step away from the debate will add value to this discourse.
The literalists suggesting Arvind is provoking the second interpretation of anarchy are way off the mark as I explain below. Also I would like to address the ones who mean anarchy in spirit; as in a disregard for existing regulations and contracts (between discoms and government) as laid down by the government that claims to represent the people of Delhi. Breaking all rules will lead to chaos and a non-functional state/city, that’s the charge. Implicit in this charge are two flawed assumptions
- just the fact a rule exists, it is desirable to follow it. Any rule, even a bad one is good for society.
- the present state we live in is very orderly and governed by rules which people follow.
Both assumptions are false.
Let’s demolish the first assumption; that it is desirable to follow a rule or honour a contract no matter how unfair or steeped in corruption it may be.
There was a rule in the US that people of African origin are not individuals with rights, but property like cattle or land. That giving them rights (freedom, voting, sitting in a bus, going to school with white kids etc etc) would lead to “anarchy”(not literally but in pop parlance) was the biggest bogey raised then. Damn! Where have I heard that before? The rule was broken by some, a war was fought and rules changed. The rules were unfair. Breaking them led to changing them. It benefitted society.
A rule made in Chochabamba, Bolivia (1999-2000) made harvesting rain water illegal (post-water privatisation pushed by the World Bank) since that caused losses to the corporation that was given the water contract. Damn! Where have I heard the World Bank pushing water privatisation before? (Shiela Dixit & Delhi Jal Board ring a bell?)The rule was broken in Bolivia. People came on to the streets, a child lost his life, there was “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance). The rule was unfair. It was broken and changed. Society benefitted.
Just the fact that a rule exists, therefore it should be followed isn’t a sensible argument or one that has been thought through on the merits of the case. It’s a classic idiot’s argument, which ironically more often than not comes from Think Tank professionals (Takshashila Institution’s Nitin Pai and American Enterprise Institute Sadanand Dhume being two). One could say think tanks are to the economic Right what certain kinds of madarsas are to the Islamic far right and brainwashing schools in rural heartlands run by Naxals are for the far Left. A source of arguments steeped in dogma rather than common sense, regurgitating ideological literature. Fair enough, every side deserves a loony fringe. It’s just worrying if that becomes the mainstream voice; The Tea Party for US Republicans, VHP for BJP, Naxals for the Left, blanket free market ideology pushing Think Tanks for the Congress. Whether or not that is happening successfully is a separate argument.
The law in India does not recognise marital rape. So you could be raping your wife but a flawed law doesn’t consider that rape. In case a feminist (which is a rare species in urban India) was to start a “Don’t have sex with your husbands or lovers until the law is changed” campaign, then no doubt by the same logic many of our thinkers would join the alarmed khap panchayats of Rohtak at the call for “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance) since the marital contract does include consummation. Unless getting laid is not a priority for men of religion or geeks. But the logic is the same. A bad rule isn’t a mountain that needs to be followed or scaled just because it is there.
The specifics of the case regarding electricity distribution in Delhi convince me that the contract is unfair. The interests of the discoms are the foundation for the rules, not the interest of the people. There is enough data in the public domain on this and the debate should be on the merits and demerits of the case. Some links here.
The implicit rule of democracy is that the governments we elect are trustees of our resources. They act on our behalf and in our interest. When they break that rule and act in the interest of a few corporations unfairly profiteering at the expense of citizens (in this case the poorest citizens), the march down the path to “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance) has begun. There is nothing “anarchic” (not literally, but in pop parlance) about aggrieved citizens not playing by unfair rules set by the collusion of individual ministers and corporate boards.
A rule that asks one party to get into a contest with one arm tied behind the back and blinded in both eyes, while the other party has an army, may be a rule made by a referee in collusion with the opponent, but that doesn’t make the rule okay. The rule must be changed for the transaction/sport/contract to make sense.
Tweaking rules by individuals in government for the benefit of others (friends, family, business interests) is called crony capitalism. While many market cheerleaders acknowledge its existence, it appears to be a small price to pay towards the march to development. That collusion is as much “anarchy” (not literally but in pop parlance) as citizens not paying inflated bills. But while one seems a minor irritant which we can live with, the other draws the hysterical “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance) label. The point I’m making isn’t that two wrongs make a right. I think there is nothing wrong in not paying inflated bills in any case. It is in fact a corrective action bringing things back from the brink of “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance). The point I’m making is that it’s an inconsistent position to call one set of rule breaking crony capitalism (minor irritant) which we can live with and move on, while the corrective reaction to that act is termed “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance).
When rules fixed by a corrupt ruling class threaten the rules of democracy then it is not just our right, but duty to break that rule.
Now, the second assumption implicit in referring to AAP’s (Aam Aadmi Party) call to action as “anarchy” is that the present state we live in is very orderly and governed by rules which people follow. If in this orderly India/Delhi, ordinary jhuggi-dwelling citizens stop paying inflated electricity bills, our orderly Delhi/India where rules are followed and contracts honoured will tailspin into “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance).
You’d be surprised with the amount of people not paying bills for everything from electricity to rent to salaries and water. But if they belong to a certain class, I guess it’s not really “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance). Screwing your nation over with superficial sophistication is a skill, but damn you if you’re an unwashed jhuggiwala. How dare you try and get a better deal?
Below are links to news reports telling us how ministers, MPs, presidents, industrialists (decorated with Padma awards), or their relatives, get away with not paying electricity/water bills or illegally occupying houses which would ordinarily get over Rs 10lakh in rent. This demonstrates just a few cases in Delhi. The country over the count is several hundred times this.
Here’s a report of a sugar mill owned by a Pratibha Patil relative. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2007-06-23/india/27970924_1_sugar-factory-sugar-co-operatives-loan-defaulter
The mill was apparently sealed sometime after this report. We don’t know how many unreported cases there are. And for those who know how the sugar mill business functions (highly controlled) will be aware of the loan write-offs by nationalised banks that happen.
Here is Sant Singh Chatwal’s creative defense of why he defaulted on loans extended to him by Indian banks. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-02-14/interviews/28128759_1_banks-fraud-defaults
And here is a report on politicians illegally occupying Lutyens’ bungalows. http://www.dnaindia.com/india/1386924/report-number-of-vip-squatters-in-govt-bungalows-falls-after-rti-plea
These few news reports aren’t anywhere near exhaustive but are a mere speck on the canvas of the institutionalised anarchy (not literally, but in pop parlance) we’ve been living in for a long time. So, in case you’re new around here and your spaceship just touched earth or your think tank just let you out to see how India functions, “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance) has existed in this zone for a while. It’s a do-what-you-want-party. At worst, Arvind Kejriwal is asking slum dwellers to attend that party which was thus far restricted to a select guest list of defaulters. Now how that suddenly becomes “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance) while it wasn’t earlier is hard to understand. It’s an inconsistent position.
Since those with much faith in markets are convinced of trickle-down effects, they might want to consider that while the evidence of wealth trickling down is sketchy, history has demonstrated how rules, norms and culture always trickle down. I recommend Professor Jared Diamond’s work on failed societies.
What happened to Jessica Lal’s killer in the first trial was “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance). How the TV news media reacted was “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance). But the campaign led to correction. What happened in the DSP Rathore-Ruchika Girhotra case was “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance). How coal blocks were allocated by our white-as-snow PM was “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance). What happened between a cop doing his job and rowdy MLAs in the Maharashtra assembly was “anarchy” (not literally but in pop parlance) – as is what has become of the case now. What happens in the countless cases of injustice, loot and corruption around the country is “anarchy” (not literally, but in pop parlance).
So quit the sudden alarm and reacting like a prudish matron who’s seen nudity for the first time with a “HAWW! Dekho Anarchy!” We’ve been lounging butt-naked since we were born, but some of us suddenly seem all coy because they see someone else’s slip showing. Grow up or wake up.
Clinging to ideological positions makes idiots of us. Whether that be Communism or Capitalism or any other ism which circumstances have wedded one to. The American Enterprise Institute chairperson gave a talk on the “Moral Case for Capitalism” in Delhi this week. Seriously! In 2013! What next? “Communism – Embracing Fellow Humans as Family” or “Socialism – Drinking from the Same Cup and Fill with Thine Own Nectar”? Actually I’ve always been fascinated by Think Tanks and those paid to think, especially when most agile minds do it for free and come up with way better ideas.