Revisiting Ambedkar’s Grammar of Anarchy – Kanishk Shekhar

Dr B.R. Ambedkar

“We must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.” – Dr B.R. Ambedkar

Kanishk ShekharOn November 25, 1949, Dr B.R. Ambedkar delivered one of his greatest speeches in the central hall of the Parliament. This speech is famously known as the “Grammar of Anarchy” speech. He made a spirited defence of the Constitution and issued some warnings with respect to the dangers of anarchy. Seven decades later, the relevance of his speech becomes more prominent, given the frequent attempt to sabotage parliamentary legislations.

The victory of Narendra Modi in 2014 created an existential crisis for many people who were hitherto in cahoots with the ruling dispensation. Since then, there has been a continuous attempt to undermine the democratically elected Government. Returning awards, organising protests in college campuses, writing letters to the President or the CJI against the legislation passed, and finally, challenging the legality of the laws passed by the Parliament in court were the various manifestations of this dissent which became intensely frequent owing to the changing spectrum of political dynamics in India.

While one can have a contrary view regarding the merits of these actions, none of them can be called illegitimate. Right to dissent with your government is an intrinsic component of a functioning democracy. So the dissenters tried their level best to manufacture consent using ploys like ill-effects of demonetisation, economic distress, Rafale, Article 370, Ayodhya, and the list goes on!

Cometh May 2019, and all the fabricated dissent falls flat. Narendra Modi became the first non-Congress Prime Minister to return with a thumping majority, the BJP got a total of 303 Lok Sabha seats, 23 more than their 2014 tally. Post-May 2019, we are witnessing a different type of dissent, the one that plays out on roads. Be it Shaheen Bagh or the ongoing protest from a section of Punjab, a part of capital Delhi is under siege for days and months. The protesters want the government to repeal the laws they don’t like. Well, one may have apprehensions with the government but that doesn’t justify the attempts to make Delhi an isolated island of anarchy.

Trotsky, who provided the intellectual arsenal for the Russian revolution, famously remarked that “the end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.” Witnessing the ongoing hullabaloo against the recent farm laws or the earlier protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), one has to search hard to find what would justify the ends that the protesters seek. The Constitution of India provides ample scope for dissent and contrary to the popular belief, even a parliamentary law can be challenged and changed.

POTA (Prevention of Terrorist Act) is a case in point. POTA remains the third law (and the latest till date) that was passed by the joint session of the Indian Parliament under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, only to be repealed by the next Parliament when Dr Manmohan Singh became PM. Discounting the merits and demerits of POTA, it came through parliamentary legislation and was struck away through the same process. One might argue that elections happen in five years, so how can a conscious protester remain silent when he is convinced that the laws passed are personally against him? Well, that is where the courts can come to the rescue. The wisdom of legislations can be redressed in the courts. Rather than sitting on roads, blocking the traffic and creating trouble for passersby, protesters should challenge the legality and validity of the laws in court.

Instead of employing methods that are within the range of the Constitution, we are gradually devolving towards a mobocracy where a few thousands can gather and hold the administration and government to hostage. Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee accepted that the farmers are acting out of suspicion and the ongoing crisis is about trust. He agrees that it’s really not about the content of the legislation. But then there are people in this country who don’t have any opinion on the CAA, there are people who are neither against nor do they support the farm laws. Why should they suffer because of the perceived apprehensions of a few?

Even the Supreme Court gave its verdict on Shaheen Bagh protest ruling that the mode and manner of dissent against the colonial rule cannot be equated with dissent in self-ruled democracy. Democracies thrive on representation; a crowd of a few thousand or a few lakh may appear strong, but it pales in comparison to the representation that elected representatives of the Parliament have. What’s worrying is that opposition parties who also swear by the Constitution are now lending their support to these anarchists. They are being oblivious to the fact that undermining democratic institutions can have long term repercussions. A law passed by the Parliament ceases to be Modi’s law. The opposition sits in the same Parliament and participates in the legislative process. These anarchists need to be dealt with with an iron hand, else one might struggle to find any difference between India and a banana republic. In the absence of rule of law, what Gunnar Myrdal has termed as a “soft state” would remain.

Lastly, the government, to a large extent, should blame itself for the mismanagement resulting from fabricated protests. Utilitarian laws that adversely hit the vested interests will always be accompanied by vehement opposition. So the benefits of new laws must be conveyed to the masses through discussions and debates. There are parliamentary methods and tools to achieve it, like referring the bill to a Select Committee. A Select Committee is formed for a specific purpose to contemplate on a particular bill, which would be scrutinised clause by clause by it. The Select Committee can get expert views regarding the effects of a proposed law. Finally, it’s the Parliament that would take the ultimate call regarding the content and fate of the bill but the Committee stage would undoubtedly enrich the bill.

The three farm laws were passed by a voice note without discussion with the other parties. The government pointed towards the exigencies resulting from the Covid pandemic for the hasty legislation. However, empirical evidence suggests otherwise.

In the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14), 71 per cent of the bills were referred to a Select Committee. This is in sharp contrast with the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19) which witnessed merely 25 per cent of the bills being referred to Select Committee. Also, when elections and election campaigning can happen amidst the pandemic, then not holding discussions on key legislations doesn’t argue well for the Government.

PM Modi has eulogised Gandhi on countless occasions; he needs to take a leaf out of Ambedkar’s book that remains critical of the larger-than-life Gandhian methods no matter how sacrosanct they are made out to be. Ambedkar, a thorough constitutionalist, warns against anarchy and in his same speech, he highlights the importance of constitutional and parliamentary methods.

Laws must be made and repealed in the Parliament, not on the roads. As Dr Ambedkar aptly observed: “If those who are dissatisfied with the Constitution have only to obtain a 2/3 majority and if they cannot obtain even a two-thirds majority in the parliament elected on adult franchise in their favour, their dissatisfaction with the Constitution cannot be deemed to be shared by the general public.” – Daily-O, 7 January 2021

Kanishk Shekhar teaches civil service aspirants and writes columns for DailyO & Opinion Express from Gurugram, Haryana.

Farmers vandalise Jio towers (Dec. 2020)