“Some say I am an anarchist. Yes, I am," he told reporters. "There is lawlessness in every home in the city. Today I'll spread disorder in the Home Minister's house.”
Kejriwal had asked Delhi citizens to apply for leave on Monday and join him in an agitation outside Rail Bhavan in New Delhi to demand that control of the police be transferred to the state government from the central government.
He called the strike off on Tuesday evening after Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung agreed to send on leave two of four police officers against whom Kejriwal's Aam Admi Party was demanding action.
The Congress government at the Centre bristled at Kejriwal's unconventional action. “It is constitutional anarchy,” said Information and Broadcasting minister Manish Tewari on Monday. Added Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, “The whole country is watching whose anarchy is this.”
Kejriwal might have chosen to neutralise Shinde and Tewari’s criticism by flippantly embracing it, but if he does seriously identify himself as an anarchist, he has placed himself in a curiously contradictory position.
Both Congress ministers were speaking of anarchy in the linguistic sense of the term, equating "anarchy" with chaos or lawlessness. The Merriam-Webster dictionary, for example, defines anarchy first as “a situation of confusion and wild behavior in which the people in a country, group, organization, etc., are not controlled by rules or laws”, before going on to nuance the definition to include its implications as a political ideology.
Kejriwal himself has concurred with this definition in his book on Indian governance, ‘Swaraj’, which was published in 2012. “Is it time that we the citizens take back the right that we had given to the political parties, the politicians and the government officers to take decisions on our behalf for our welfare," he wrote. "Is it possible? Will it create anarchy?”
However, academicians say that Kejriwal is not exactly an anarchist.
“I seriously doubt he’s an anarchist in any classic or conventional sense,” said Jairus Banaji a professor in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS, in an email to Scroll. “Anarchists stand for the abolition of the state as such and rule by self-governing communes, soviets or whatever.”
Maia Ramnath, author of a book on anarchism in India, concurred. “It’s true that if he is trying to hold the state accountable for its abuses, and make power less concentrated and more transparent, then this is compatible with anarchist principles to a certain extent,” she wrote. “However, the difference is in saying that if only the state and existing system could be purged of corruption, all would be well.”
An anarchist solution, said Ramnath, who teaches history and Asian Studies at New York University, “would be not a better-functioning state and a kinder, gentler neoliberal economy, but rather a more equitable, just and participatory mode of social relations from bottom to top, which would by definition also entail the abolition of capitalism, racism, caste and patriarchy.”
Anarchy has been practiced in various forms across the world, but Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin were the first western philosophers to codify the theory in late 19th century. Kropotkin famously gave a 15-page definition of the term in a submission to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. His first sentence encapsulates the sentiment of the rest of his entry.
Anarchy is “the name given to a principle of theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government -- harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between various groups, territorial and professional…” he wrote.
However, the term and political ideology has since come to be associated with violent disorder, as Ramnath noted in her book ‘Decolonising Anarchism'. “To be called an anarchist in the rhetoric of the day [in India in 1916] meant being seen as a purveyor of mindless violence; to be dubbed a nationalist meant being seen to serve a just cause -- democratic self-determination in the face of imperial tyranny and the looting of one’s country,” she said.
Faisal Devji, who teaches Indian history, agreed that Kejriwal isn't exactly an anarchist. “Anarchy is not about lawlessness in the sense of violent disorder, of course, but about alternative forms of social interaction that do not depend upon the repressive mechanisms of the state,” he said. He is author, among other works, of ‘Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the temptations of violence’.
“Gandhi, for instance, often described the Kumbh Mela as an example of such alternative and non-institutionalised social relations,” said Devji. “Whether a dharna of the kind we've seen in Delhi illustrates such an alternative is not clear.”
Kejriwal’s book, ‘Swaraj’, while dismissing anarchy as chaos, nevertheless calls for a complete decentralisation of power, very much like the vision Gandhi had for the country.
Even if Kejriwal were an anarchist, he would be in an unusual position of trying to devolve power from the state while being in charge of the state. But it is not this contradiction that belies his claim. The problem lies in his actions. Kejriwal wants to transfer power from the centre to himself at the state -- in other words, his is a classic case of Bonapartism, where a charismatic central leader claims to speak persuasively on behalf of the masses.
“It certainly is a bit of a stretch to conceive of an anarchist chief minister, and in this sense it is important to point out that Gandhi refused to hold office, and from the 1930s even to be a member of the Congress,” Devji noted. “To want control of the police is not an unreasonable demand for a chief minister to make, but it has nothing to do with anarchism and everything with state power and devolution.”
During the freedom struggle, political activists in India tended to avoid categorising themselves as anarchists, even if they display anarchist tendencies.
“Militant groups both on the Right and the Left were called anarchists,” said Devji. This list “thus included the members of Jugantar or the Ghadr Movement as well as figures like Madan Lal Dhingra, who assassinated Sir Curzon Wylie when Gandhi was in London. The Mahatma appropriated the name from these militants and tried to redefine it in non-violent terms.”
Ramnath identifies figures like Bhagat Singh, Har Dayal, Gandhi, M.P.T. Acharya, Jayaprakash Narayan and Rajni Kothari as each having “connected to certain aspects of anarchism,” if not outright declaring themselves so.
In contemporary India, there seems to be no large self-avowed anarchist parties. Kejriwal, if he were serious, might be a pioneer in this respect. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is one.
“Anyone is free to call themselves anything they like, that doesn't mean they actually either understand or endorse those views,” said Banaji.
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