A million ironies now – grammar of anarchy edition

Constitutional defence

B R Ambedkar’s grammar of anarchy speech at the Constituent Assembly—a perennial favourite with us at Takshashila—got several mentions last week in the light of Anna Hazare’s hunger strike demanding a draconian Jan Lok Pal bill against corruption. There’s no harm repeating the relevant words from his speech:

If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us. [Pragati]

Anupam Kher, who was part of the celebrity set that supported Anna Hazare’s hunger strike, is alleged to have criticised the Constitution (drafted under Ambedkar’s chairmanship) on television. His exact words are in dispute but members of the Republican Party of India—a party once-led by Ambedkar—decided to take the decidedly unconstitutional route of vandalising Mr Kher’s house to protest the insult to the Constitution.

The Sanvidhan Bachao Manch (the Protect the Constitution Platform) of Mumbai has correctly arrived at the conclusion that “The Lokpal would be the ultimate authority if the bill is passed. He would be above Parliament and the Judiciary which challenges the basics of democracy.” So they have decided to organise a peaceful protest rally at, well, August Kranti Maidan, on April 14th, Ambedkar’s birth anniversary.

What would Babasaheb say?

9 thoughts on “A million ironies now – grammar of anarchy edition”

  1. Yet another relevant question would be, “What would B R Ambedkar say if he saw the Constitution being assailed from within the system by criminal law-makers ?”

  2. I think Babasaheb would have been the first to punish and castigate those who looted a poor country, specially their own.

    How much longer are our intellectuals going to keep on shooting the messenger?

    Should we be discussing the personalities involved or should we be discussing the larger issue – do we need a Lok Pal bill? When will it see the light of day? How can we make the bill practical and workable and free it from interference by the influential and people in power? Do we or do we not require an independent authority or body – like the CEC – to investigate and book the corrupt in public life?

    Would Bofors have dragged on for 26 years, and wasted our money, if we had such a system in place?

    Those are the only issue that need to be discussed. Breaking Anupam Kher’s windows only benefits the local glass merchant.

  3. Babasaheb also said that the Constitution is organic, flexible and needs to adapt to changing times. This change is supposed to be brought about by the Parliament which reflects the wishes of the people, but we have seen how even the Parliament is used as an instrument in the hands of the Executive and played around with the Constitution – a big example, the 42nd Amendment. If the Parliament cannot bring the Constitution into adapting to changing times, it is influenced into doing so by pressure groups: political parties, media, civil society groups and think-tanks.

  4. Nitin,

    An honest question.

    Are all rallies (protest or otherwise) unconstitutional? Suppose a private group/individual holds a peaceful rally to put across its viewpoint to the people, taking care that no rules (traffic etc.) are broken or the general public inconvenienced. Would that still be “grammar of anarchy” by your definition?

    Political parties get to hold ‘constitutional’ rallies all the time. Why such disdain for rallies by non-political groups even if they are just to put across one’s POV to the general public without resorting to any blackmailing or persuation tactics? Not all people read blogs or are on twitter, you see.

    Just trying to understand the constitutional position here.

    1. Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(b) [Fundamental Rights available to all citizens] guarantee freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble peacefully. So, constitutionally people can gather peacefully to express anything they wish except when such gathering and expression is against public morality, national security and good relations with foreign countries.

      So, Anna Hazare’s rally was constitutional and within limits of the law of the land.

      The subtle question raised by Nitin here is, whether a person can force the government machinery by threat of death [here in case, fast unto death] holding the entire system hostage and having his demands met. Now, the Indian Constitution mandates that State should protect life of each and every single citizen [Article 21]. But, in this case, Anna Hazare forced the government to consider a bill and has threatened with similar fast until government passes the bill drafted by him and four of his colleagues.

      Hence, the question, can an Indian citizen use his moral capital and unanimous anger against the state to get a bill passed? If it can be done, then are there any limitations against it?

      Well, first of all, Constitution did not envisage the corruption of 2011 and hence does not categorically state any position vis-a-vis Lokpal. Though an answer is possible through interpretation, . But there would be as many different interpretations as as many interpreters.

      Second issue here is can people in future resort to such means where they think that something must be done and go on the threat of collective suicide if the action is not carried out? Here lies the Devil. Because if you say a resounding Yes, then any section or segment of population can get a law passed without going through the constitutional requirements.

      Here is an example: lets say Baba Ramdev, goes on strike demanding mandatory teaching of Yoga in every school. It will also have general consensus, but it would deprive the population from debating the law in public in an open and fair manner while at the same time nullifying the utility of the Parliament thereby setting a dangerous precedent.

      And if you reply with a NO, then Anna Hazare’s movement loses legitimacy at least through the eyes of the Constitution.

      Now please we don’t want to be seen defending the government whose incompetence knows no bounds. But this is the constitutional position as it stands and we as law students have tried to present it in as simple manner as we could.

      One request to everyone. Please stop using Ambedkar’s name to state a position you believe in and hide behind his name to add credibility to your point. He in his wisdom gave us fundamental rights and liberty of thought and speech for the reason to apply it and come to conclusions which is beneficial to polity rather than buttressing his name to hide behind his reputation. (The best way to pay homage to Ambedkar is through interpreting actions through the Constitution – which was his greatest contribution to the Indian people – and not his words which may have been stated in a very different context).


  5. Nitin, I agree with all your points about economic freedom, badness of JLP, etc.

    However, one thing is bothering me. What sort of economic freedom would have avoided the 2G scam? Even in a liberalized environment, there would have been some allotment mechanism. In other words, collusion can exist in a free economy as well (also e.g.; Wall Street and regulatory capture there). Secondly, as more resources are transferred from public to private sector, how does one ensure that the transfer happens meritocratically and truly based on free policies – as opposed to collusion (again, like in the 2G scam)?

    In other words, economic freedom is the prerequisite sure. But, don’t you still need some way of ensuring clean regulators, policy makers (there will always be some regulators, some policies, etc)? How will that come about?

    1. Additionally, there is corruption in the free stock market too and there is a bureaucracy – SEBI which is doing somewhat of a good job, due to a few good men. So, one shouldn’t completely disallow the possibility that a bureaucracy cannot do good. Ofcourse, it is easier if there is political pressure on the babus from someone good in politics and the reverse is not true. So, electing good politicians is more important. But, my point though is that, efforts in the bureaucracies should perhaps not be discouraged either? And, it might be needed anyway in parallel.

      I would really appreciate your thoughts if possible? Don’t mind being told I’m totally wrong. Thx.

  6. I find it interesting how Ambedkar’s views are cherry picked. Where would the Acorn stand on Ambedkar’s views on Dalit electoral rights or his views on India’s socio-religious structure I wonder. 🙂

    But then beggars can’t be chosers–that you highlight any aspect of the man is something I am grateful for.

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