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Why Anna’s fast does NOT set a dangerous precedent

June 30, 2011

Dear friends:

Many educated friends, while supporting Anna’s intentions and demands, still oppose him because of his method of protest – the indefinite fast.  Here’s why I support the method.

After reading this, pls describe, in comments section, any situations where an indefinite fast per se will force the govt. to make wrong decisions.

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Most people agree that:

  • Elected representatives (parliament) have ultimate authority to frame laws
  • True ‘participatory democracy’ requires elected representatives to take into account public opinion and interest while framing laws and when they don’t, an ordinary person can vote for somebody else in next elections as well as contest elections himself.
  • He can also protest (without violating law / inconveniencing others) to raise awareness & make representatives realize their mistake.
  • An indefinite fast is legal (until you actually come close to death – attempted suicide is a crime)
  • An indefinite fast attracts attention of many people at the same time, creates awareness and pressurizes the govt. to listen to the people & act fast
  • Success of Anna’s fast will encourage more people to try this route and some demands will be bad

What’s the fear?

An indefinite fast is undemocratic as it can make the govt. helpless and force it to accept the demands of a tiny section of the people even if these demands are bad for the nation or are against the wishes of the majority population.

Here is why no one can force a government to do anything bad:

  1. There is a procedure to deal with public demands. Govt. should ensure it works:

Govt. gets notice from an activist → public grievance ministry or relevant officials examine the issues to form a view.

  • Good demands? Set the necessary govt. process rolling
  • Good demands but impractical? Invite suggestions to make them workable
  • Bad demands? Discuss with activist and give proper reasons.

2.      Activist insists on bad demands and threatens protest?

Govt. has most resources, organizational strength and best media access. To deflate bad demands:

  • Explain reasons, debate publicly & request public to ignore/oppose demands
  • Be transparent i.e. put relevant info on website. Also, try to understand public opinion
  • Use independent expert opinion to form own view and shape public opinion

3.      A small section still presses for bad demands?

  • Ideally, a larger section will actively oppose those demands. Atleast, ordinary man will not join protest (difficult enough to make people come out even for good causes). An activist can motivate people by showering them with money but for how long and how many people. Govt. should track down such actions and crack down on such people.
  • If govt. convinced that majority people do not support demands or demands are bad, it should specify reasons, refuse to accept demands and ignore fast. If an activist has enough conviction in his demands to risk his life and reputation, then a govt. turning down his demands should atleast be willing to risk its electoral fortunes.
  • Since suicide is a crime, police should ensure (even forcefully) that no one dies fasting. Deal firmly with any law violations or inconvenience to public
  • Beyond a point, sticking to an indefinite fast requires passion / conviction / selflessness – To protest, bad people hurt others, destroy properties, strike work, block transport & other services. When they fast, they do it for a fixed duration – sometimes even a couple of hours like Mr. Karunanidhi. Bad people rarely go on indefinite fasts. When they do, they quit mid-way as they lack the passion / conviction needed to risk life
  • If significant public support still sustains, govt. can appoint committee of experts/ ministers to consider demands / buy time.

All this will weaken public support for wrong demands, strengthen govt’s hands and actually increase its ability to win next election.

If you think that people will support the wrong thing on a sustained basis, then that questions the concept of democracy. One might as well say ‘not everyone should be allowed to vote’.

Summary:

If govt. thinks Anna’s team represents an insignificant no. of people or has bad demands, then it should/will have the courage to ignore them. People go on fasts all the time; they fail either because the cause does not motivate people or because the fasting people are not clean or various other reasons. Media/public doesn’t even notice.

Further points to note:

  • The eventual failure of Ramdev’s fast (immediately after Anna’s successful fast) despite having a perfect platform shows that good demands and good intentions are necessary (though not sufficient) for success of an indefinite fast.
  • Swami Nigamanand’s recent failed fast and subsequent death is an example, where despite good intentions and good demands, one failed to catch the imagination of the people.
  • Irom Sharmila’s fast is on since > 10 years. Still, no pressure on govt. to accept demands.
  • Success of other indefinite fasts (like Anna’s earlier fasts, Potti Sreeramulu’s famous fast) and the fact that they were not followed by any successful fasts shows that the fear of setting a dangerous precedent is unfounded
  • Fast fatigue – Like all things, people’s appetite (demand) for fasts is limited. As supply increases, people will only support the highest quality fasts.
  • People fasting against the govt. put a lot on stake. When fasting people fail (particularly if they do mistakes or have bad demands), they lose out big time. Intense scrutiny faced by Anna and his team, Baba Ramdev’s loss of public face and mounting legal troubles are big disincentives
  • As govts learn to deal better with fasts, success will be more elusive (also, success of good fasts will force govts to shape up reducing the need for fasts).
  • If a particular caste based group violates law or causes inconvenience for their own narrow interest, then that’s a law and order situation and should be dealt with accordingly.
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