Raw democracy danger
Manipur has known it all the while, but Britain too found it out the hard way not so long ago, how very dangerous a resort to democracy of the streets can get. What you often end up getting from such recourses is un-sanitised justice and not always easily palatable. In what has come to be known as Brexit, United Kingdom (or Great Britain) on June 23, 2016, voted in a referendum to opt out of the European Union, EU. The referendum was announced by the ruling Tory government headed by Prime Minister David Cameroon as a challenge to extreme right members in their own party who claimed that Britain was compromising its interest and sovereignty by being a part of the EU especially in the wake of large scale influx of Middle East Asian immigrants into EU countries, therefore Britain. Cameroon, who was himself campaigning for staying with the EU has since announced his resignation. Although there are many commentators who are of the opinion that a resilient nation like Britain will hold its own and come out of its crisis without much damage, the prospect before it is nonetheless daunting, if not threatening. The UK is a union of four nations, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, just as the European Union is a union of 28 nations, and hence in many ways it is a case of one union voting to be out of another union. The question now is, will the union that voted itself out of the other union, be able to hold its own members together, especially in view of the fact that its member states voted differently. England and Wales voted to exit, but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain, although overall it was 52 percent for exit. Would Scotland and Northern Ireland want to break away from UK to continue to be part of the EU? The two are already getting restive, with Scotland indicating it may want another referendum to decide if it wants to stay with the UK, and Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein calling for Irish re-unification. So far, till the time the UK was a part of the EU, the boundary between Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland had been soften as between all EU nations, but now the prospect is for this boundary to harden again and this is what the Sinn Fein was anticipating, therefore its statement.
We have no intent of doing any close study of the Brexit fallouts here. There have been a great deal written by experts much more knowledgeable of European politics and economics, and there is hardly likely to be much that we can add to what has been said already. What we however want to glean from all that have been said is idea of raw street politics, and Manipur’s almost habitual resort to it, claiming this is democracy. All we can say is, if the referendum in the UK was what raw democracy is about, the politics on our streets is now even shedding any pretence of civility and therefore damaging the state even more hurtfully. It is unimaginable that anybody can still justify the bandhs and blockades, forcible shutting down of shops and business establishments, compulsory participation of school children in street protests etc., are legitimate means to justice. Let Brexit be the lesson that this is not the way. Let it give all the opportunity to rethink what and how governance should be. The truth is, if democracy is what we want, there is no other alternative than representative democracy. We elect our leaders and they decide policies on our behalf, but the mandate they receive from us have to be renewed periodically, in our case every five years, so that if they do not perform in any particular term, we can remove and replace them with new set of leaders in the next. If not anything else, this is the shield against the blindness of emotions and passions streets politics is characterised by. It is true our representatives have not been up to their job and they must take the blame for the rise in street politics today, for this phenomenon is only filling up the vacuum of governance legitimacy they have left open with their incompetence and corrupt ways. But we have no choice than to look for ways to ensure that this culture ends, and at the same time that the institutions of representative democracy are strengthened.
Brexit, they say, is also about the older generation Briton’s inability to leave behind the nostalgia of a grand past when Britain was the ruler of an empire on which the sun never set, and come to terms with the present realities. By voting for Britain to be on its own again, they were under the illusion that the glory of the past can and would return. There was thus also a clear divide between how older and younger Britons voted. The old saw Britain’s future in the past the young saw it in making common cause with the rest of Europe and the world. Here is again a lesson for Manipur. We cannot return to the past as so many campaign this is possible. It is the present we have to take care of, so that we can build a new future for all. Let us have no doubt that this is the challenge before us.