Danger of Mobocracy
By Dr S.Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)
Speaking at the orientation programme for new members of Rajya Sabha, Vice President and Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu gave a timely advice, that “mobocracy should not be allowed to derail parliamentary democracy”. He was expressing his displeasure and irritation over the difficulty of conducting proceedings amidst unruly behaviour of some members. That MPs, guardians of parliamentary democracy, need such an advice does not augur well for our political future. The entire nation has to wake up to prevent mobocracy taking over democracy.
Evidently disgusted with the way the Rajya Sabha discussions are disturbed for days at a stretch picking up some issue and stalling proceedings, he said that, “We need to know how to respect each other irrespective of being in majority or minority, and we should have healthy respect for the mandate of the people”. Groups of MPs rushing into the well of the House and disrupting its functioning amounted to subversion of democracy in his view.
Shame! The advice is needed by members of the supreme law-making body, who are supposed to have knowledge, ability, and disposition to discharge the duties as members of this august body and not first year students or first generation learners in a rural college in a backward tract. They are paid salaries and are entitled to many privileges and facilities in return for work concerned with the government’s legislative business.
Verily, the plan for modification of Parliament building must include enlarging the size of the “well of the House” of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to accommodate more members comfortably if their parliamentary time is to be consumed mostly in shouting from the “well” if the present trend continues.
While Rajya Sabha Chairman’s advice is damaging to the reputation of law makers in India, Constitutional lawyer Fali Nariman’s suggestion to the presiding officers of the two Houses, not to adjourn the Houses despite provocations to do so, deserves serious consideration. He stressed they should “remain cool and steadfast in the Chair despite MPs rushing into the well and disrupting the proceedings as nothing else seemed to be working”. But, turning a deaf ear to the noise raised by members is not easy. He urged members to remain “honourable” — true to the prestige given to their office by that epithet and develop proper “work ethics” to do justice to the people and to the institution of Parliament.
The term “mobocracy” used by the Chairman may be a subject for debate, but it indicates the seriousness of the problem that keeps growing day by day throughout India. Involvement of political leaders and parties in planning, organising, and leading illegal shouting in Parliament during sessions and mass protests on streets, other public places, and institutions throughout the year are evidence of perversion of democracy.
History teaches that founders of the American republic weighed their choice between “democracy” and “republic” and chose the latter. Chances of deterioration of democracy into mobocracy in varied degrees appeared to be greater.
When democracy degenerates, it becomes mobocracy. If people’s elected representatives lead this degeneration in Parliament and very often on the roads, the situation demands rethinking on our system and functioning.
Conducting General elections has become so expensive that the idea of holding simultaneous polls for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies is getting popular. When elected members waste enormous time and money in disrupting proceedings, it seems logical to fix the responsibility for the wastage and recover the amount. Even then, the damage caused to parliamentary work and the quality of democracy cannot be compensated.
Mobocracy is a political system in which a mob is the source of control. There is no representation for the public in that system. It is another term for ochlocracy, which means mob rule where differences and disputes are settled, not by the rule of law administered by judges, but by brute force of the sheer weight of the people. Mobocracy is the term used as a pejorative description of democracy. Sometimes, it is used in place of anarchism.
Usage of the term “mobocracy” to the present situation may be an exaggeration, but not irrelevant. It seems that creating disturbances in Parliament is entrusted as the main function to some parliamentarians by their parties. Pending bills are not taken up, several laws are passed without discussion, and Question Hour meant for elicitation of information is often sacrificed to appease shouters. Adjournment after adjournment marks the proceedings of the House. Leaders who are supposed to be the defenders of democracy become thereby offenders leading the nation away from the path of democracy.
Outside Parliament, when mobs decide issues by their collective physical force with no respect to law, police, authorities, morality, and the general public, it signifies more clearly the degeneration of democracy into mobocracy. Such incidents are growing as the method of bringing up issues. From a totally frivolous issue like organising Jallikattu to major demand for extension of Reservation Policy and national issues like development projects, public protests have taken the place of debates and discussions.
Mobocracy can never be considered democracy, however big the mob may be that grabs control. A mob cannot represent or communicate the will of the people.
In India, direct demands and unlawful action taking the place of orderly conduct of business are simultaneously going on inside Parliament and on the streets. Often, the leadership and the brain behind are the same.
Another form of serious threat to our democratic order is posed by lynching cases that have recently become common in many parts of India to punish suspected criminals. In some instances, rumours are spread through instant messaging devices creating fear among people and provoking them to take law into their hands and unleash violence and terror. In a recent case, the Supreme Court condemned the sweeping incidents of lynching as “an affront to the rule of law and to the exalted values of the Constitution” and asked Parliament to enact a special law to deter such crimes saying that, “the horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land”. It said that the “recurrent pattern of violence cannot be allowed to become the new normal”.
Mob lynching is not new and is not confined to India. Racial lynching that was common in the US during the last century provoked Mark Twain to remark that there was a danger of America turning into “The Unites States of Lyncherdom”. In the same tune, the danger of India becoming “Lynchistan” is voiced today. Mob lynching, attacks by vigilantes, and gang attacks are growing day by day, which show the utter failure of the rule of law. If allowed to continue with the patronage of political forces, they will mark the advent of mobocracy in the garb of democracy.
The Government of India has taken the problem of lynching seriously and has set up a committee to formulate measures to deal with recurring incidents. Cooperation of all political parties is necessary if democracy is to be saved from mobocracy inside and outside the Parliament.—INFA