By Tushar Gandhi

Civil disobedience is the

inherent right of a citizen; they dare not give it up

without ceasing to exist” 

MK Gandhi, Young India: January 5, 1922

In a couple of days, we will celebrate the 144th birth anniversary of Bapu. But I have not begun my article with his quote as a ritual to commemorate his birth anniversary. I feel that this comment of Bapu, made more than 90 years ago, holds true for us Indians even today. It is a wakeup call to take charge of our democracy and to stand up against the political class, who have hijacked our democracy to empower themselves.

Let us take an example from recent happenings. Last year, the nation rose at the call of Anna Hazare and his band of agitators demanding a Jan Lokpal bill, an empowered corruption watchdog. The nation was fascinated, and for a brief time, it felt as if for once, we the people would defeat our rulers. But look what happened, the movement fizzled out. The Lokpal bill that the government has presented to the Parliament and is attempting to push through, is toothless and emasculated.

Since Independence, the right to information bill empowered our people the most and has ushered in a bit of transparency into the working of the government and governmental organisations. Since it became law, both the government and bureaucracy have been pretty hassled. The two have ganged up and since its inception and implementation, have attempted to subvert it. Alert citizenry forced the government to abandon plans to emasculate the RTI bill once earlier. Now the government is hell bent on destroying this instrument of empowerment and making it impotent so that they can be spared the compulsion to be answerable. Many who fought the previous attempt have been raising the alarm but citizens in general don’t seem to be bothered.

There has been a lot of talk and anger expressed about the criminalisation of politics. Murderers, gundas, fraudsters, mafia and rapists have exploited the weakness of our electoral system and become lawmakers. While on a news channel, a commissioner of police expresses his inability to locate a gangster, who he claims is absconding, on Parliament TV, we see him sitting as a lawmaker. Some time ago, the Supreme Court stepped in and recommended in a judgment that convicted criminals must be disqualified and dismissed from being elected representatives. The political class across the spectrum panicked. A couple of days ago, the government tabled an ordinance subverting the Supreme Court order which will protect criminal MPs and their ability to enjoy the privileges with impunity. This is one of the most severe efforts to subjugate our democracy and protect criminals in politics. We the people of India should rise up in agitation and bring the entire political class to its knees. How dare they trifle with our freedom, our democracy and our liberties? If this does not call for civil disobedience, what will?

Pre-Independence, the colonial rulers had attempted to subjugate us further by a few draconian acts such as the Rowlatt Act and the Simon Commission. Indians realised that this was an insidious attempt to further enslave them and add to their torment.

How did the people of that time react? They took to the streets; there were nationwide agitations both nonviolent and violent; there were hartals and even grenades were thrown in the colonial parliament. About hartal, Bapu has written in Young India dated May 6, 1919, “Hartal is the best method of marking our strong disapproval of the action of the government. It is a means more powerful than monster meetings of expressing national opinion.” Isn’t it time to mark our strong disapproval of this government’s anti-people actions? Isn’t it time for a spate of nationwide hartals?

A couple of days ago, in another attempt to cleanse politics and our electoral system, the Supreme Court ordered that the voter’s right to reject all candidates on the ballot must be allowed to be exercised. They ordered that EVMs must have the ‘None of the above’ button. I am sure the politicians will again gang up and subvert this ruling. It is an option that has never been allowed to be exercised, but in a democracy, it is our right. How long will we allow the politicians to keep abusing their power and denying us our democratic rights?

“If our rulers are doing what, in our opinion, is wrong, and if we feel it is our duty to let them hear our voice, though it may be considered sedition, I urge upon you to speak sedition — but, at your peril. You must be prepared to suffer the consequences.’ —Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi.

Today I say that the time has come to practice sedition. The time has come to rise up in revolt and if that entails consequences, be prepared to face them bravely. I am speaking sedition and am ready to face the consequences. Are we all? It is time for inquilab.

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)


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