Experts & Views
A rhetorical question. No one needs an answer to that one. Aam junta sentiment is all too visible. Wide dissatisfaction over government policies and immense satisfaction over the Sharad Pawar slapping incident, prevails. "The guy had it coming, man...", they say. "At least someone is doing some good..."
The verdict: Sharad Pawar is going to be the butt of internet jokes for some time now.
But reflect on it a bit and it is all too clear the incident has ominous potency. In this post, I will discuss some of the systemic maladies of which the incident is a symptom and why it should scare us. As citizens. As members of a society. And as humans.
Who decides what someone deserves?
The major problem with street justice of the kind evidenced in Pawar's case is that a random guy deciding that he deserves a slap. Now of course, it can be argued that it's not just him but the general public is frustrated with the governance, and hence it is "democratic" justice. However, arguing for majority win is actually treading very dangerous grounds, because what the majority wants may not always be sane or adequately justified. Take Khap Panchayats for example- wherein there is a definite community consensus to condemn inter-caste marriages by killing. But does that justify the honor killings? No.
So, popular sentiment as justice is out as an option. Though public sentiment should be taken into account to decide what is just, it can hardly be the determining criterion. The individual needs to be protected against an impassioned, and often irrational tendency of the crowd. And that's why we have law to decide what someone deserves. Including Pawar. Therefore, as members of the Indian society, we should be very scared when random people start serving their own brand of justice.
Disconnect between the aam aadmi and law
The next thing to be scared about as a member of the legal fraternity is the sheer amount of frustration a common person has against law. For it is this law which is easily manipulated, used by our political "leaders" for their own ends unto bad governance. The tendency in such a scenario, often is to undermine the entire basis for law itself. But one should remember that it is awful implementation and not the needlessness of law itself which is the problem here.
The problem, essentially is that those governed are unable to see the rationale and the need for law. Why this disconnect with the people, when it is primarily for their benefit that law exists? This is a growing concern for the legal system in India. Law is hardly supposed to be authoratorian- "Humne jo keh diya, keh diya. Bas!" (Rough translation: I've said what I had to. No more shall be entertained on this point.)
That is not how law is supposed to work at all! Yet it seems this is how law in India is working- with little regard for the concerns of the common people. And this is a scary aspect because such a system which ignores popular distress is highly unsustainable. People will eventually grow tired of it and be reduced to a position whereby they have to take drastic action (a small evidence of which is provided in the Pawar slapping case). And simple coercion by the State and police won't work when thousands are on the streets. Either way it foretells a massacre. To pre-empt this scenario, the need of the hour is therefore, to make law connect to people. To make people see the rationale on which law operates.
You could be next...
Now for the frustrated optimist in the public who thinks that people out on the streets in disregard of law is a good thing - we need a revolution like Egypt, Libya etc., here my friend, is why you should be scared.
Today it's Pawar on the receiving end of that slap, tomorrow it could easily be you or your friend, relative or spouse. And no law to protect you or them (not even one in theory), no apologies, haha! For like I pointed earlier - without law, there is no reasonable standard to decide what's right and what's not. So you might think you're doing the right thing, another group of people will hardly think so, and then Boom! Paw! Dishoom!... you know the rest of the story.
Perspectives, my man...they are so widely different. You cannot ever risk ignoring that truth.
The right means to further a cause
Gandhi was a pretty sensible chap when he said, "Ends do not justify the means." Now I know most of us are heavily disillusioned by anything Gandhi said or did, but for once try being objective and consider this statement outside of the "quotes by Gandhi" light.
The point being even if one's intentions are good, using the wrong means to propagate them doesn't gather much support for one's cause. So members of the public, I know you all mean very well. There is exploitation, corruption and bad policy decisions by the government and they need to go alright.
But please be careful about how you project your cause and your demands. A slap on the face might indeed make for a good laugh but it will seriously harm the anti-corruption cause in the long run. No one looks at what you really mean to say unless you say it the right way. People always look at your presentation first, your reason only later. And if the presentation is bad no one will even go peeking into what you meant to say- they'll just talk about how badly you said it. And that's usually the end of it.
And this is a very important reason for us, as responsible citizens, to be scared about the Pawar incident. The bad packaging of our anti-corruption cause therein is now taking it into all the wrong directions, even while drawing focus away from the core issue itself.
My concluding point... Stop laughing mindlessly for a while at all those "Sharad Pawar got slapped...wheee!" jokes on Facebook, and reflect. It may seem like a stupid, politicised incident, but it has way larger implications for you, personally, than you are being led to believe.