By Aashir Sutar:
The Republic is one of the most well written documents I have ever come across in my life. Arguably one of the most powerful, popular and widely taught, of Plato’s writings, it goes into the depth of some obtuse subjects and concepts, which at that point in civilization were extraordinarily progressive, and which stand even today. What fascinated me was the essence underlined by Socrates in one of the books, and found the following in one of the summaries given in the book.
“He said that the unexamined life is not worth living. He taught that men claimed to come to wisdom through poetry and argument and music, when it was plain that they did not even know what they were doing. And he also taught that politicians claimed to serve justice and to sit in judgment on their fellow citizens when at the same time those same politicians and “leaders” of the state could not even define justice and might, in fact, be said to be culpable (guilty) of certain injustices perpetrated against their fellow citizens. How, Socrates asked, can any man claim to serve justice when that same man cannot even define justice?”
The essence being – every person should carefully determine what he thinks he knows. It has been quite some time since the Aam Aadmi Party took up most of the space in the news cycle, which I find quite annoying. Time and again (almost on a daily basis about a month ago to weekly basis nowadays) people come up to me and discuss the AAP, Arvind Kejriwal, his political saga in Delhi and the future of politics and Swaraaj. The emotional turbulence which AAP has brought about in the country for the political scene is something that I find very unusual, taking into consideration the fact that people today are less perturbed about things, quite oft dismissed as trivial, let alone big things like politics and governance. The wave has caught people’s attention, and captured their imaginations and expectations quite impressively. What happened in the Assembly polls in Delhi was a revolution, and my heartiest congratulations to the AAP for swinging the bat and throwing bigwigs off their seats and coming to majority “like a boss”. My concern is the fundamentals of what is being thrown about, the concept upon which the boss Kejriwal and the AAP is constructing the whole ecosystem upon- the concept of ‘Aam Aadmi’.
If you search the keywords “arvind kejriwal aam aadmi quotes” on Google, you will find scores of articles, excerpts from his speeches, the website of the person in context and the party which he founded and represents. All of them have been centred on this word — the ‘Aam Aadmi’. Taking up the Socratic way of dialogue, I posed a question, who is the ‘Aam Aadmi’? The reply to which was not very difficult to get. In one of the speeches, Kejriwal said “Who is an Aam Aadmi? AAP believes that the middle class is part of the Aam Aadmi, anyone who is tired of this corrupt system is Aam Aadmi.” The glorification of the word, bringing in the most significant and ever rising middle class of India, also including people from all strata who are victims and/or frustrated with the corrupt inefficient way of functioning of the government is what brought about the wave of enlightenment, surely did pave the way for the party coming to power and Kejriwal becoming the chief minister. What I gather from another speech which the boss gave is that the AAP fought the elections and won.
“The politicians of this country challenged the Aam Aadmi to fight elections and come into the legislatures and frame laws. Those leaders forgot that the Aam Aadmi tills the land, netas don’t. Aam Aadmi goes to the moon, netas don’t. Left with no option, Aam Aadmi decided that we will fight elections.”
I find a huge logical gap in the whole concept upon which the circus is going on- the concept of ‘Aam Aadmi’.
Take it this way. Why Democracy? Why do we vote? Is it necessary to vote? What do we do when we vote? Is our vote important? What happens when we vote? Should we vote? The questions keep piling up as we go about the logical sequence of democracy. The whole concept of democracy follows the famous statements “Of the people, By the people and For the people”. The best part comes when we put the question of why Democracy.
Democracy is by far the most popular form of governance, something of a modern virtue we cannot live without, forms a part of our lives every day, and is also one of the most popular form of ‘decision making’. The majority decides what decision suits best for a particular problem/question for a particular context and environment. In governance, this concept has set the rise of huge nations, great civilizations coming into order and peace, people fighting and giving up their lives for, war and equity. If we go down to the roots of how democracy came into being, we find a very strong fundamental framework that puts this form of governance and its effectiveness in the limelight. Not going into the long and much interesting philosophical debate of the whole subject of democracy, I want to highlight the part of “people”.
People form the most fundamental basis of democracy. In the beginning, the people settled at the foot of the mountains, and practiced agriculture. As the settlements grew, they brought with them family customs particular to themselves (origin of society — patriarchal). And every man surely likes his own laws best and those of others not so well. Thus we stumble upon the beginnings of legislation. There was a need of people who would come together, with arbiters, would review the laws, and would then approve the way society is to be functional and bound. Over a period of time, our civilizations have evolved, from Aristocracy to Oligarchy to Tyranny to ‘The Divine Right of Kings’ to Democracy (not in order of appearance in history). Democracy ensured that collective decision making process was carried out. The concept worked perfectly with people gathered in small sizes. Fundamentally, when the size grows bigger, with the complexity of the issue, the collective decision making process becomes more difficult. There then emerged the role of knowledge. In legislation of laws in a society, every person does not have knowledge of everything. We see that people have specific professions, skills and jobs. They might contribute in the legislation of the part that concerned their domain of knowledge, for the rest, they did not have the capacity to do so. All these factors taken into consideration, people came up with the idea of having representatives, whom they would elect to take decisions on legislations on their behalf. The system worked.
The point I want to make is this. Why romanticize the ‘Aam Aadmi’? We are not the ‘Aam Aadmi’. I find the word to be obtuse and at times critically derogatory too. India has 1.2 billion citizens, and the romanticized ‘Aam Aadmi’ forms a majority of it. I am one of them. In my opinion, we are not ‘Aam’ in any way. We go to the elections every five years, electing representatives to the legislative, in totality pushing forward the world’s largest democracy forming a sixth of the world’s population. If this is ‘Aam’, self depreciation (as much as I love it, especially in humour) has found a new low. I do not seem to find any particular need to keep such a low esteem for ourselves. We elect people, people who represent us at various levels of government, constitute the legislation and contribute to the world’s largest written constitution, none of which is an ‘Aam’ feat. The reason we elect people is because we do not have the complete knowledge about everything. It was never supposed to be that way. Instead, we elect leaders who know what is to be done, who sit with experts of different fields, gathering information and intelligence on different crucial and critical fields (power, finance, rural development etc) and debate on the possible solutions, picking out the best of those solutions and implementing it. We trust these elected representatives with this task because we ourselves cannot do it and do not have the capacity to, and not because we do not want to. If these elected representatives do not do their jobs properly, it is a failure, our own failure. Nothing more, nothing less. Since power gets the best of people, things go bonkers, as has been the case in our country for years. The chaos is extraordinary.
I do not have the solution neither do I have all the answers. Things have been this way for decades and for now nothing much has changed. I do not think the Aam Aadmi Party is the answer. Neither is being called the Aam Aadmi. To those who romanticize it and orchestrate the swinging public sentiments on it, there is something we should pick up from our past. It is we who are responsible, and it is we who choose. Take pride in yourself. The spirit of nationalism is too much to ask for. For those who run the AAP, think about the people who need interventions the most. The ‘Aam Aadmi’ will take care of himself/herself. Should you be sitting for a dharna in the heart of the city seeking action against the five police officers who refused to comply with the law minister of your cabinet because they did not have warrants to carry out raid (please read Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act 1956 for details to carry out raids in such situations, where there are provisions for carrying out a raid without warrants, but in the specified context none of them apply) or should you be considering some of the concerns that require attention or can be taken up, like maybe taking a stand for getting through the legislation that improves the pay of these policemen, which many would agree to, are overworked and grossly underpaid. I find this dialogue very appealing. “The government should be afraid of the people, and not the other way around”. If the people rise, there shall be revolution. Definitely. To bring an order to the existing chaos is difficult. I am not much of an optimist. Not everything is perfect, certainly not what we determine about what we think we know.