Image courtesy: PTI
It is not surprising that certain circles are seizing upon the riotous mob attack on Capitol Hill housing two houses of the US Congress, which were in session to formally put their seal on the election of Joe Biden as the new US president, as a portent of the kind of threat the farmers’ protest rally in Delhi might hold for democracy.
Though thinly veiled, these suggestions dwell upon the fact that it is not ‘the people’ but the institutions that are the real bulwark of democracy. The popular media are surely such an institution in democracy and we have seen their role once too often.
First, this riotous mob certainly does not represent the people. They are by and large anarchic elements nurtured and galvanised into action by sections of the ruling class led by a demoniac president. They are not representatives of the people, but constitute organised hoodlums like the Nazi blackshirts. The day before the attack a leading member of the Republican ‘tea party group’ had reportedly ‘taken a new initiative’ to challenge Biden’s election. Its outlines were vague. And Trump’s incitement is very much on record. While the majority in both houses voted against challenges to Biden’s election, quite a few did support them even after the terrible experience on Wednesday night. The conspiracy by right-wing elements against the American people is only too plain except in the eyes of people who are turning their face away. Such conspiracies backed from the background by plutocrats may someday be hatched against people here too, whether in the farmers’ rally or elsewhere.
What about the claim that institutions can save democracy? As we are becoming gloomily aware in our country, institutions too can be subverted and weakened by such forces. Trump had begun that in the last phase of his presidency by hastily putting yes-men and time-servers in top positions of such institutions. Had he begun it earlier the matters today would have been even more serious. The police seem to have already lost all sense of balance in handling petty crimes by some blacks in some Southern states and courts were treating the police murders with astonishing leniency. As President he had recklessly used extraordinary executive power to overrule customary norms and conventions while watchdog bodies sheepishly stood by. Within recent months he had put an ultra-conservative judge in the Supreme Court with the hope of securing its support, though she fortunately played by the book in fraudulent cases of election-fraud launched by Trump.
In our country there have definitely been cases of underperformance if not deliberate default by institutions, as repeated public expressions of dismay and protest have brought to light. After all it is men and women at their helm not institutions as such who make them tick. The Hollywood film ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ showed vividly the lapses of judgment and conduct of such people that brought Germany under Nazis to moral bankruptcy and political disaster. It is the vigilance of the people, conscious and organised, that keeps the institutions in sound health. And contempt for the people and excessive trust in good sense of rulers tend to undermine this power of vigilance. Let us hope the media do not fail to do their duty in hours of peril to democracy.
*The author is a highly respected Assamese intellectual, a literary critic and social-scientist from Assam. Views expressed are the author’s own.
Other pieces by Dr. Hiren Gohain: