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When State Fails People

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  3 Dec 2017 12:00 AM GMT

The notion of the state in a democracy is an intriguing one. This is not because the definition generally given is a complex one and defies common sense or the average intelligence of the masses. This is also not because the givers of the definition – a summarized one out of the many ones given by varied political theorists – were themselves a confused lot when they gave it. And this is also not because the notion of democracy is itself intriguing. None of these renders any intriguing hue or any mystique to the ture and character of a democratic tion-state. The problem arises when the state, with which the government is identified with, anoints itself with power that militates against the wishes of its subjects despite it being a democratic architecture of governce and administration; and when the wish is one of life and death, the problem assumes a disastrous form.

This little preamble was necessary to understand some shades of the post-Amchang eviction drive chaos on the outskirts of Guwahati that had deeply disgruntled and agitated people of the indigenous kind – of whose ilk are the affected ones in the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary – across Assam take to the streets calling bandhs and blocking tiol highways, much to the sheer harassment of innocent, poor daily wage-earners and passengers. The State government’s defence was that it was merely abiding by the orders of the judiciary to which it was duty-bound. This is true. But the larger question staring at the befuddled face of the present Dispur dispensation is why no thought of democracy was given at all to the imminence of the fallout that would turally follow in the aftermath of such random and brutal demolition of human settlements even if they were illegal. This brings forth other politically inconvenient posers: Why were the settlers allowed that illegality in the first place? Was the government of the day – then led by former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi – sleeping blissfully? It could not be, never. So, was even here some notorious strand of vote-bank politics at work? Why were structures like schools and industrial units allowed to be set up illegally? The aggrieved people have said that politicians of all hues never failed to turn up in their areas begging for votes – and some of them are ruling the roost now. So, what really prompted these political worthies to don their ‘pro-people’ attire in such areas when it was common knowledge that such settlement was absolutely illegal? Mere hunger for votes? It could not be otherwise.

It was only on Wednesday last that the eviction, but not of any commercial establishment, was stopped after the Gauhati High Court ordered it following a plea by the Sarbanda Sonowal government that reasoned out a ‘humanitarian’ angle. Such ‘humanitarianism’ ought to have pricked the dispensation elected by the people to office in a democracy well on time. Which is to simply say that before embarking on the eviction course – which in fact ought to have been undertaken long ago or right when the illegal settlement was in full swing – the government bent on protecting jaati, maati aaru bheti must have sorted out resettlement issues and implemented it in right earnest if it was really serious about the people who, as it is never tired of iterating, it is so very concerned about. We are talking of the indigenous people soon to be invaded by the marauding crowd of illegal Bangladeshis backed by their Islamist zealot gurus both in Assam and Bangladesh. Very simple argument, this. The government’s belated ‘humanitarian’ concern gets all the more cloudy when we know that such concern did not in any way inform itself of the tragedy of schoolchildren facing examitions! Whose fault was such illegal settlement? Of those innocent schoolchildren? Or of a system riddled with systemic failures that allowed such settlement in the first place, that allowed illegality to happen in the first place, that rather encouraged illegality without informing itself in any way of the consequences that would befall? Valid answers are in order (though we know such answers are like asking for the moon in our democracy).

Now we go back to our preamble. We have talked of power there, and the sense in which we have talked of is one of unmitigated power and of the senseless exercise of such power that violently hits the fragile soul of our young democracy – merely 70 years compared to hundreds of years of some advanced, truly functioning, and civilized Western democracies. In his intertiolly respected book A Grammar of Politics, Prof Harold Laski, of the London School of Economics and Political Science and one of the most brilliant political theorists the world has ever seen, says of the state power as manifestation of the “will of the state” and argues that such attachment between state will and state power is “of a peculiarly majestic kind”. And then he argues further: “But the exercise of that force is always a moral issue, and the judgement passed upon it is a judgement made by each one of us. Citizenship, that is to say, means the contribution of our instructed judgement to the public good. It may lead us to support the state; but it may lead us also to oppose it. The will of the state is only my will in so far as I freely lend my judgement to its enforcement…” Now, if we freely lend our judgement to the enforcement of the will of the state vis-à-vis the Assam government’s belated action on Amchang, we are left wondering whether such will could have been better shaped after it being informed of the really, and not any politically motivated, humanitarian concerns for a helpless indigenous community well on time, and whether all who mattered in the corridors of power right when the illegal encroachment was taking place (the Congress) had a vested will to simply look the other way when such anti-wildlife settlement was on ubated under its very nose. Do any self-righteous netas have any answers?

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