Somnath Bharti's raid: AAP redefines democracy as mob rule

There is nothing surprising about the fact that public opinion is fickle. It is one of the reasons that direct democracy gave way to the idea of representative democracy where elected representatives, at least in theory, deliberate over issues before arriving at a decision rather than just respond to public opinion. Members of the AAP, even as they make much noise about participative democracy, show little signs of having read anything on the subject. Having made so much of public opinion, they are on the verge of realizing how easily it can turn against them, especially when given several good reasons to do so.

 Somnath Bhartis raid: AAP redefines democracy as mob rule

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

The AAP surprised everyone in the elections by defying every rule in the book. Where governance and administration are concerned, given that many of the norms exist not to be broken and certain responsibilities are constitutionally assigned, breaking rules does not hold out a similar promise. But the beleaguered leaders of the AAP party have stopped listening. They have started believing that there is a conspiracy to defame them, without realizing that if that is the case, then they are the chief conspirators.

The sequence of events that have led Arvind Kejriwal to return to the politics of dharna which got neither him nor Anna any returns till AAP engaged with the political system directly trace back to their inability to deliberate over issues in their bid to cater to populist sentiments. Somnath Bharti’s late night attempt at curbing what he claims is prostitution in Khirkee Extension was ill-thought, indefensible and designed to cater to local sentiments without any consideration of the legal position.

It surprises no one that Delhi is a racist city. A Black American student who has experienced it, writes, "Racism in India is systematic and independent of the presence of foreigners of any hue. This climate permits and promotes this lawlessness and disdain for dark skin.’’

This attitude in a society where a large measure of prudery and repression prevail can easily combine to exaggerate the threat of prostitution and drugs. In such a climate, it is a necessary that the law minister of Delhi reacts in considered fashion before taking over the responsibilities of a beat constable.

Some residents of Khirkee Extension did feel that something abnormal was disturbing life in their locality, and they may even be right about the facts. Yet, it does say something about their attitudes that they chose to call a 'sting’ that allegedly documented such activities in their neighbourhood 'black beauty’.

In such a situation, even if the minister’s actions have met with local approval, even if they are grounded in reality, they remain unjustified. If indeed the matter had been pending over a period of time did the minister have to solve it in the course of a night? The minister could have taken his time, asked the people to register an FIR with the police, wait to see how they reacted and built up a case for police inaction. Instead he wanted to be the hero at the barricades. Perhaps, this was borne out of confusion between the law ministry and law and order, and perhaps some of the AAP leaders are stupid enough to expect that Salman Khurshid’s actual job is to stand on the border and order the Army or the BSF to open fire on illegal infiltrators.

Rather than step back and reconsider the matter, promising to deal with populist demands in a more considered manner in the future, Kejriwal has had no hesitation in backing Bharti. In attempting to do so he has labeled the entire Delhi Police a corrupt force and accused his critics of actually encouraging such behavior by the police. If this is really the case, why is he asking for the suspension of a few policepersons, or for that matter the implementation of a Lokpal Bill, why is he not demanding the disbanding of the force?

The inability to respect the rights of individuals, whether they are foreigners or members of the Delhi Police, many of whom individually have expressed great sympathy with the party, is a symptom of the kind of mob rule AAP seems to be encouraging. The same premise lies behind Kejriwal’s plan to catch government officials asking for a bribe by encouraging citizens to conduct 'sting operations’. Even at the best of times, within media organizations where due care is taken to examine potential pitfalls and oversight is exercised at every step, these operations are a step of last resort and even then there are many journalists who question their validity. That this should become the norm in a society is once again to lay aside the question of individual safeguards that are the very premise of a civilized society.

The problem seems intrinsic to the leadership of the AAP. They do not take criticism kindly, those from the BJP and the Congress criticizing them are 'pimps’, the media is irrelevant, and they somehow are the only ones with a direct access to proper ethical conduct in our society. Their sanctimony and priggishness had been on view from the very beginning but even sceptics such as me have admired the freshness of their approach to contesting elections and their ability to learn from their mistakes. Could they do so again? They don’t have much time, but in the time they do, they need to understand that listening to criticism is not a weakness but a strength, and playing to the gallery is not how democracy is strengthened but weakened.

(Hartosh Singh Bal is a consulting editor with Firstpost.)

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Updated Date: Jan 20, 2014 15:56:17 IST