Freedom and license


It is unfortunate that the law and order situation in the valley districts has been allowed to deteriorate to the extent we are witnessing today, compromising in the process public opinion of a popular movement, and one which nobody can doubt is born out of a very legitimate concern. From all appearances, the movement is now virtually rudderless. Nobody is sure when it is safe to move out of home for work in the morning or else for any unforeseen emergency, lest they discover to their surprise they cannot return home. Without notice, anybody anywhere can simply decide to block roads, stranding them. In the past one month, there cannot be many who has not gone through this harrowing experience, and the trouble is, those blocking the roads seem to take pride in exercising their sense of power on hapless commuters, who probably are as much supporters of the larger movement to have the Inner Line Permit System implemented in the state, as them. The residual disenchantment caused by such radicalism has invariably begun to split a public movement, especially between those in essential services and have to be on duty even during the worst of crisis. Medical practitioners, media persons, and a horde of others each day unfortunately visited by personal medical and other emergencies, or else are duty bound to perform family religious obligations, have been the worst hit. It is not too late yet. Let those spearheading the movement make course corrections while the situation is still not beyond redemption, especially if this unrest is destined to be a long drawn out one, which is a distinct possibility, as the Bill being now prepared may not have an easy passage before becoming law, if at all.

These unseemly developments bring to mind the old debate of whether the idea of `freedom` has to be predicated by `law and order`. English philosopher Thomas Hobbes spelled it out in the 17th Century that it is the latter which must have primacy, informed as he was by the chaos of the English Civil War during his time. His conclusion was, it does not matter if it was the Parliamentarians or the Royalists who assumed power of the State, but State power must have to legitimately rest only in one of them, an idea later to be expanded by German philosopher Max Weber, when he came up with the notion of `legitimate violence` as a monopoly of the State. This idea also in a way informed the debate within the Communist movement on whether the party or its members should be the ultimate wielder of power. Lenin rightly assessed the Russian situation and opted for the model which gave primacy to the supremacy of a strong, centralised party. Antonio Gramsci in Northern Italy theorised a Communism which gave more sovereign power to the individual, but then his much more literate audience in Italy`™s affluent northern industrial belt had to be addressed differently. In China, this contrast can actually be mapped on a chronological map. Mao, like Lenin correctly opted for the model which made the party supreme and absolutely centralised. But as China grows more affluent and literate in the modern times, the centralised party with absolute power over all individuals is becoming anachronistic and expectedly increasingly questioned in the country itself. Many have predicted that the Chinese Communist Party would now have to transform and rejuvenate to mirror the new character of the people it leads. This debate also was reflected in the comparison between the French and American revolutions, both of which led to democracies in their respective countries, though premised on two radically different presumptions. As Fareed Zakaria surmises in `Future of Freedom`, the American democracy did not trust concentration of power in any individual or institutional hands, therefore built checks and balances into every power structure. French democracy on the other hand, as a legacy of the virtually leaderless French Revolution, trusted the integrity of the individual absolutely and believed the liberal empowering of individuals would automatically lead to a just society. In the 300 years of their existence, the political system in America remained unchanged throughout. The French system on the other hand was much more unstable and changed five times, twice came close to quasi-dictatorships.

Too much power in the hands of the political party can result in authoritarian dictatorships. Too much power in the hands of the plebeian public on the hand can lead to mobocracy. For democracy to prevail and be meaningful, a right mix of the two therefore is vital. At this moment, the current civil movement in Manipur seems to have lost this balance. The party has dissolved into the background, leaving agitating public to define freedom as the license to do anything they please on the streets, causing all the chaos, and damaging the image of the movement itself.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam


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