mangalore today

Shiv Visvanathan’s open letter to the PM

Mangalore Today / CNN IBN

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

I am writing this to you as I always assumed you were a decent man. I was waiting for your speech on August 15th, hoping you would somehow say something meaningful on corruption that would redeem your long silence.

Your speech was disappointing. What you said was inane and trite, while you held on to the tenet the corruption cannot be fought with hunger strikes. I think you did more to insult the Indian independence movement which fought through reason, fought through faith, fought through the reasonableness of the fast and the hunger strike. Hunger strikes do not threaten you. They only ask you to look deeper within your self. Gandhi fasted so that a society and he could literally come back to its senses.

Anna movement

You seen a very timid man, Mr Prime Minister, you call on us to follow proper procedure. You seem to think politics is only a bit of table manners which does not allow people to object to what is allegedly served as food on the table. I think you are wrong Mr. Prime Minister and wrong in more ways than one. When you stood at Lal Qila, this time, one realized your goodness was not enough, because your goodness hides the arrogance and incompetence of your colleagues.

Think of Anna Hazare, Mr Prime Minister. He is another mild man like you and today he stands for the ideals the Congress has forgotten. Let me list them out- the dreams of honesty and idealism, the diligence that politics demands and the intelligence that morality requires.

For the young, Hazare represents the national movement today. He is a reminder of what the nation could have been. You are reminder of what the nation has become, a goodness that became timid as it fell prey to power. The sadness Mr Prime Minister is you should have protested. Mentioning tamely that you do not mind being under the scrutiny of the Lok Pal is not enough. Such coyness would be dismissed by your colleagues who know it is not meant for you but for Prime Ministers in waiting. You can still create history by joining Hazare.

One does not have to ask permission to fast. We do not need it. History and ethics do not ask permission from the inanity of politicians. Step down from power to be powerful again Mr Prime Minister. Join Hazare. Walk with the people. Dispense with blue turbaned technocrats and your conniving colleagues. They are forgettable anyway. Hazare has a sense of the lived past. He is showing the possibility of a cleaner future.

I am telling you all this Mr Prime Minister because someone must tell you that you have let down a generation that believed in you. Long years ago James Otis, the American politician, said, "No taxation without representation." Another great American, whose writings Gandhi thrived on talked of The Duty of Civil Disobedience. It is out of Thoreau’s ideas that Gandhi wove his ideas of Satyagraha. Now Mr Prime Minister it is time to tell you representation without responsibility is corruption, legislation without accountability is a farce.

You and the Congress have perpetuated this situation. It is time you accept that a legislator who breaks the law or connives so that others break it, cannot be above the law. He no longer represents the people. Corruption is an act of legislative betrayal. It hollows out the act of representation and destroys democracy.

Anna Hazare and his team will go on fast, the battle of JP Park will begin. Hazare’s team has asked you and your government for permission for space. They have tried to dialogue with you and your cabinet colleagues. Mr Prime Minister, the role of dynasties is over and it is time that you recognize that no Prime Minister can be above the law.

I admit Hazare is a difficult man. I think there are many who feel he is overheating legislation by speeding it up. By prefabricating legislation you might actually be disinstitutionalizing the very processes you want to sustain. Maybe this is the point and it is a valid one. It is the kind of argument Aruna Roy and others might have made. But what deflates your view is your move to deny Hazare and the people the right to protest at Jantar Mantar.

To treat truth as a law and order problem is unforgivable Mr Prime Minister, to think that Section 144 can control the fight against corruption is the final irony of law, to use law against those fighting the lawless is the final sign of an empty regime. Arresting Hazare shows the emptiness of your colleagues. Forget 2G and 3G and all the other scams you slept through. When the ABC of democracy is taught, you and the Congress will appear anti- democratic and cowardly about your responsibility. Timidity becomes unforgivable at this moment in history.

As a citizen, I must protest, as a teacher and an academic I must state that you have violated the rules of dialogue and the norms of protest. I must accept that civil disobedience becomes the only alternative.

I wish there was a virtual Jantar Mantar and I am sure there soon will be. So at this virtual monument I, as a citizen, protest against your unlawful use of Section 144. It is not Hazare’s battle. It is now the dream of every Indian to fight corruption and fight it with a courage and commitment your politics lacks. Not all of us will be in Delhi tomorrow but now at this virtual Jantar Mantar, this network as sacred space, let us openly say it is time to defy you and your regime. Corruption has to be fought and fought truthfully. You, Mr Prime Minister, have forgotten the difference between being correct and being true and even if you did, you seem to prefer the first.

Think of the symbolic contrast between morning and evening of Independence Day. At the Red Fort one saw the dull rituals of a tired state being enacted inanely. At Rajghat, a Khadi clad man sits waiting quietly in an act of prayer, silent in reflection as if waiting for a message from the Mahatma himself. The point is Mr Prime Minister that it is not your twenty two point riders that he has to answer. It is his questions about freedom that you must respond to. What according to the Government is freedom? Is election merely the increased circulation of corruption every five years.

There are moments when protest is a form of duty. When citizens realize that a government has abdicated its responsibility. So at this new Jantar Mantar I light my candle and send my SMS message of protest against a regime that denies the dream of the future. Civil disobedience is my right and now my duty. You give me no alternative, Mr Prime Minister. In arresting Hazare, you have made a mockery of democracy.

As a citizen who believes in the rule of law, as a democrat who believes in the necessity of governance and as an Indian who recognizes what history means, I stand by Hazare and what he fights for.


Shiv Visvanathan