There's nothing civil about it

India must be ruled by its Parliament, not a motley crew from Jantar Mantar or Ramlila Maidan. Suhel Seth writes.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2011 11:52 IST
Suhel Seth
Suhel Seth
Hindustan Times

Over the last few months, we have seen a culture of 'fasts' develop in India. From social activists who have now renamed themselves 'civil society' to godmen who want to politicise everything including their own illegalities, the development is something that does not augur well for any democracy and certainly not ours. We are nurturing a demon that will continue to devour every edifice left of some of our institutions. What saddens me most is the level of discourse that is now part of the public domain. I cannot fathom how an Arvind Kejriwal speaks the way he does. He is not the arbiter of all morality in India. How can he make statements that are not just abusive but damning about a society that he represents and hopes to change?

By alleging falsehoods on both the people and the process that is responsible for creating the lokpal bill, we are allowing these people to hijack what must be a governmental agenda. I am tired of being told by these so-called 'civil society' members that it is their business to get things done if the government doesn't. Illogical and farcical. We are all part of a system that allows us to choose our representatives. On top of that, we have a vibrant and free media. So what prevents the 'people' as it were, from taking up issues through these channels?

India has been in existence as a nation since 1947. Haven't we had bills passed before or are we awakening to a new dawn? I was aghast at the manner in which Ramdev held Delhi hostage. I kept wondering, when I gave him the right to represent me? What angered me even more was why my government was negotiating with self-styled representatives of the people? Is corruption new to India? Is it unique to us a nation? And will one bill change all that? Will the municipal worker stop asking for a bribe? Will we never need to pay cops just so they do their duty? Will there be no delays as far as the legal machinery is concerned? What is it that we are talking about?

Enough has been said about blackmail and how the government has been held to ransom. Equally distressing was the role that the BJP and the RSS played — political opportunists to the hilt. Is this going to be the new way of defining an Opposition in India? To my mind, the personal remarks against Sonia Gandhi by Nitin Gadkari belonged to the gutter and not to someone who claims to head a political party. We have become so indecent that almost anything goes and no individual or institution is sacred. This cynicism and abuse will destroy India quicker than we can imagine. The tremors of this self-hatred are being felt abroad. In the many meetings with global editors, the first question I am asked is: 'Why is India so self-destructive?' Just when everything was going right for us, foreign direct investment has slowed down and investor confidence has waned.

I have always maintained that the role of civil society is to flag issues and then build sustainable pressure for governments to act. Blackmail is not a tool that helps countries legislate. It only opens doors to dubious people as we saw in the case of Ramdev. The Kejriwals of this world need to know that unless elected, they are mere citizens and not law-makers. This distinction cannot be blurred the way it has been over the past few weeks. What is worse is the intolerance. Over the last many days, I have gone against the popular sentiment and been pilloried for it. I have been called a government stooge and a Congress agent. What I have found shocking is that very few in the media are analysing this ridiculous situation or taking a contrarian view. I hope they realise that sensationalism and populism do not make for sustainable legislation.

This country has to be run by India's Parliament, not by a motley crew that assembles periodically either at Jantar Mantar or the Ramlila Maidan. We are not some loose confederation of states run by independent warlords. We are a nation governed by a constitution. If we could lock up Binayak Sen for sedition, why are we silent on some of these civil society blokes who are causing even greater harm?

Suhel Seth is the CEO of Counselage, a Delhi-based brand and marketing consultancy. The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Jun 20, 2011 22:57 IST