The word anarchy has been thrown around in the public discourse a lot this year, mostly in reference to the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) 49-day rule in Delhi. The media and the establishment have repeatedly accused AAP of being anarchist. I think we need to have an honest look at India’s political ‘system’. An objective assessment cannot escape the reality: that the existing system is anarchic. The culture of corruption has negatively impacted all aspects of the system. We think our country is progressing and is on the cusp of becoming a superpower. We are already a major global player, but pervasive corruption is holding us back and keeping us from reaching our potential.
Before I highlight the shortcomings of our Judiciary, the embarrassing state of our country’s legislatures, and the blatantly corrupt practices of political parties towards elections, I shall clarify what anarchy is. Anarchy is when there is no order, no hierarchy, no authority. A government provides order to society because State institutions alone have the legal right to use force and enact laws. In a state of anarchy, there is chaos because when no one has authority over anyone else, everyone seeks to gain greater power for self-preservation. Living under anarchy is not ideal as every second there is the potential of explosive violence as one entity vies to gain greater control of the environment.
The judicial system is fraught with excessive delays. These delays have resulted in a colossal backlog of cases. Over 3 crore (30 million) cases are pending in Indian courts. On average, one case is pending for every 38 citizens. The situation is set to worsen, given Indian’s demographic growth. The number of cases is set to increase as people become increasingly aware of their rights. The judicial system is in desperate need of reforms.
There are two ways in which excessive delays in the judiciary lead to anarchy. Firstly, excessive delays benefit criminals and negatively impact law-abiding citizens, as criminals do not have to face the consequences of the crimes they commit for over 20 years. The untimely delivery of justice means that laws are not a deterrent and do not regulate behavior. Moreover, the snail-pace of Indian courts forces those seeking justice to take matters into their hands. Engaging in alternative methods of seeking justice can increase criminalization and reduces the legitimacy of the State. Thus, even a basic assessment (one that avoids allegations of corruption in the Judiciary) reveals the state of anarchy of India’s judicial system.
How is Parliament’s current state of affairs anarchic in nature? When the media uses the term anarchy, they mean that AAP is not behaving traditionally. AAP is not following the protocol and procedures of politics. We should apply that same standard to India’s legislatures.
Mohammad Hamid Ansari, Vice President of India, said on 13 August 2013, “Every single rule in the rule book and every single etiquette is being violated. If honorable members wish the house to become Federation of Anarchists then it is a different matter.” I recently wrote about the abysmal performance of the 15th Lok Sabha. That Lok Sabha lost 88% of its scheduled time due to disruptions, and Rajya Sabha lost 85% of scheduled time. But lets consider Delhi’s Legislative Assembly, where the collusion between BJP and Congress MLAs was on display during Kejriwal’s high-profile resignation on February 14. Why do we accept the unforgiveable anarchic behavior of Congress and BJP MLAs on that day?
The most alarming aspect of Indian democracy is the significant number of candidates with criminal charges pending against them. The proportion of alleged criminals in our most supreme lawmaking institutions is a serious concern. 162 of the 543 elected members (30%) have criminal cases against them and 1258 of the 4032 sitting MLAs (31%) have criminal cases against them. Jharkand tops the list with 74% of MLAs having a criminal background. Bihar is second and UP is third, with 58% and 47% of their respective MLAs having a criminal background. The BJP has the largest number of elected members with criminal background. AAP wants to ensure that it fields honest people; as such it has urged the public to bring forth any questionable information against AAP Lok Sabha Candidates. No other party has ever done this in Indian history.
Consider for a moment that exploiting the system has become second nature to those in power. Whether it is the government or opposition, Congress or BJP, major parties are responsible for numerous scams. The one that shocks me most was the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) scam. It was revealed that during a 5-year period, over 500 crores of taxpayer money was siphoned out of the MCD under BJP’s watch! The opposition party, which claims that it will deliver better governance than Congress, was complicit in such massive corruption within a relatively small institution. I do not wish to see such a party gain more political power over much larger constitutional institutions.
Corruption in elections
One reason for political corruption and the decline of governance is the nexus of black money and elections. Black money corrodes the political system because it impacts the equality of opportunity. Elections have become a major outlet for black money because existing safeguards (e.g. Section 77 and 78 of Representation of People’s Act) are not sufficient.
Political parties abuse existing loopholes. Loopholes they put in place within a ‘system’ they created. When confronted, these parties decry that they are simply behaving as badly as everyone else is and that they are acting within the gambit of the law. The most abused provision was introduced in September 2003 under the Election and Other Related Laws Amendment Act, which required political parties to submit the list of donations above R.s. 20,000 to the election commission, otherwise they would not get exemption from income tax. Thus, a party does not need to reveal the source of a donation if it is under Rs. 20,000. All major non-AAP parties abuse this law and accept black money.
When the sanctity of elections and campaigns is not respected, then it leads to an anarchic system. As the first party to be completely transparent about all donations, no matter how small, AAP is independently raising the standard instead of complying with the basic minimum legal requirements. Thus, AAP is contributing to the development and adoption of good customs, which are vital to the proper functioning of a democracy.
Assessment Result: The ‘System’ Needs Serious Transformation
How can a ‘system’ that does not deliver timely justice or legislation be considered a system? Existing government programs that are supposed to help the marginalized instead enrich the integrated elite. The pervasive culture of corruption in political elections denigrates all aspects of India’s democratic institutions.
An anarchist looks to overthrow the government because according to his/her ideology, all government is bad. Anarchists willingly engage in violence against State institution in order to overthrow the State. The AAP is clearly not an anarchist. When asked whether he is an anarchist by the BBC, Kejriwal said he is an “anarchist for all those people who are misusing the system.” During his 49 days as the Chief Minister of Delhi, Kejriwal showed an understanding that timely and effective change can only be brought about by being a part of — as well as apart from — the system.
I urge the public to consider the state of our broken system. Please keep a holistic view rather than solely criticizing AAP. Most importantly, recognize that corruption is anarchy. As I recently asked the panel on NDTV’s We The People, “when elected officials engage in corruption, is that not anarchy?” Sadly, I did not get a proper answer.