Am I the only one to be taken by surprise by the turn of events in L'affaire Anna Hazare? Yesterday, when I heard on TV that Hazare had been subjected to preventive detention, I cannot say I was outraged.
There is merit in the contention that the police, having availed of Sec 144, were within their rights to judge whether Hazare's proposed actions would disturb the peace or not. But I did feel that the politically astute course for the government would have been to allow Hazare and his fans in the visual media to spend themselves over a day or two.
That was not to be. The government sent Hazare to Tihar Jail only to reverse its decision and order his release by the end of the day. I am not in a position to judge how great was the groundswell of sentiment in favour of Hazare in Delhi and elsewhere. But the TV channels (one of which openly espouses his cause) certainly made one feel it was significant. They and sundry personalities kept clobbering the government through the day, perhaps giving the Congress bigwigs the sense that they were losing the PR battle.
What followed was even more astonishing. Hazare refused to accept the release order and leave the jail until assured that he could carry on his protest at a venue of his choosing. This was indeed a googly and the government was completely stumped. It could not, I suppose, have asked the cops to evict Hazare. The option of escorting Hazare out of Delhi must have been weighed and rejected. It appears now that Hazare will have his way.
It is certainly a blow to the government but that is not the point. We need to consider what the episode forebodes for the functioning of our democracy. What happens to the prerogative of parliament to make laws? Does this get suspended when parliament is seen to be not heeding the wishes of a large number of people? Who decides this in a given case and who is to be presumed to speak for the people? And if some of the clauses of the Janata Lokpal Bill are to be included in the government's draft, what purpose will be served by parliament debating them? Parliament can reject them only at the risk of facing another fast and trial by media!
This is not a referendum. It is not even mobocracy. It is mediacracy. Once the TV channels decide to root for a cause, an individual with a reasonable following may be able to foist his wishes on the elected government and parliament. Why have elections, let's settle for TV debates and online polls.