Once you start campaigning on principles, you may find it’s difficult to escape their gravitational pull.
Team Anna has discovered that very problem with what I’m going to call ‘principled physics’ in the whole controversy surrounding the expulsion of core team member Shameem Kazmi for “allegedly secretly recording the proceedings of a core committee meeting of the group”.
Justifying the expulsion, fellow group member Arvind Kejriwal made the brilliant argument that “There have been conspiracies against us and our strategies cannot be told beforehand as transparency can be suicidal.”
That’s almost as good a line as the infamous News of the World ex-reporter who said, “Privacy is for paedos”.
Campaigners for “open democracy” and accountability on all levels of society, typically conversely fight against invasions of privacy. They want to expose corruption, but have to hide how they will do so.
On the surface, it looks hypocritical. How can you advocate for openness but demand secrecy? It’s like believing the universe is simultaneously expanding AND contracting – it seems counterintuitive.
You can’t use that apparent clash to dismiss the original plea for an end to corruption in India. As an ethical default, that’s a fine starting point. But it’s then so much harder to define your other principles without getting tied up in knots about how to be true to those beliefs, while functioning within the real world.
And the real world includes people who prefer the current system of corruption, and will do whatever they can to discredit any opponents. So, do you then operate in a presumptive state of paranoia?
Physics requires equations. So too does principled physics – you need to lay out your base of what you believe is right and wrong, inviting and allowing others to challenge that position. Then, with each test of those principles, you have to explain your reasoning and justify how it fits or doesn’t fit with those principles.
In the case of transparency for Team Anna, were they to demand everyone who accepted a bribe be named publicly, but fail to reveal if any of their members had accepted one, that would be contrary to their own principles.
They may argue that their grand strategies should be public, and the minute details should be revealed in time, but they will need to eventually be open about how and why they took particular courses of actions. It might hurt them in the short term in the face of the “conspiracies” against them, but in the long run will do more to strengthen their principles.
Transparency isn’t suicide if the particles of day-to-day ethical questions like this, help bolster your grand theory of principled public life. Team Anna must learn that, or their equations will collapse.