If you call someone an ‘anti’-something it is imperative to first define that something. Therefore, the first step towards defining an ‘anti-national’ is clarifying what we mean by ‘nation’ and ‘national’. In India’s case, we see ourselves as a democratic republic, so to define our nation we have to first define what we mean by the word ‘democratic’.
Cutting past the maze of etymology, the simplest definition of a democracy is a country ruled by a government elected by a majority of the adult population; at the same time the national government rules the country in partnership with democratically elected state governments, who in turn work with municipal corporations and village panchayats.
Besides, the elected governments at all levels cannot just do what they want — there are checks and balances from the police, the civil administration, the judiciary and, if recent laws were actually being followed, Lokpals at different levels to guard against corruption. Outside the grid of officialdom, a democratic nation’s media is also supposed to fearlessly provide non-official checks.
Checks and balances
The fundamental principle of a modern democracy, then, is that no one branch is allowed to run away with power. The very idea of checks and balances means that each branch has the right to question the other branches. This means that while elected politicians have administrative control over the police forces, the police also have the right to question, arrest or charge any government official if there is evidence that they have broken the law.
Besides the obvious example of the ongoing Mueller investigation into the actions of the U.S. President, there are now official charges against Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that could put him in jail; to take one other instance, in the 70s, Japanese Premier Kakuei Tanaka was convicted for corruption and arrested after his term.
Even as the branches of government have the right and the duty to question each other, so do people have the right to ask questions of the governments they have elected and of the officials those governments have appointed, whether in civil administration, the police, the judiciary or the armed forces.
All this boils down to one fundamental principle: in a real democracy, people not only have the right to question those in power, they have a responsibility to do so. We can rightfully say that every citizen has a right and a duty to ask questions of the rulers and the right to receive prompt and truthful answers.
Unlike the many dictatorships and hollow/ fake democracies in our neighbourhood, our republic is a nation where we can civilly interrogate those in power, and that too without fear of reprisal.
Right to ask
It follows, therefore, that anyone who questions or undermines a citizen’s right to ask questions is anti-national. Anyone who derides people for asking questions is anti-national. Anyone who threatens a citizen for asking questions is anti-national. Anyone who misuses their official power to punish people asking questions is grossly and criminally anti-national and anti-Indian.
Taking off from recent events, here are some questions people have been asking: Who is responsible for the horrendous security lapses that allowed an attack like Pulwama to take place? When will we see those responsible being removed from their positions?
On what basis are government officials and ruling party leaders making claims about the effectiveness of the air-raid on Pakistan, especially when neutral international journalists are reporting that the raid was a complete fiasco?
What actually happened on the day the IAF MiG-21 was shot down? The fact that the IAF lost the MiG and its pilot survived is clear, but is there any tangible evidence that a Pakistani F16 was also shot down? If not, why can’t we just accept that we lost a plane without any Pakistani aircraft being destroyed?
These are all perfectly valid questions for any Indian to be asking. And anyone who says it’s unpatriotic to ask them, or that the questions are following a Pakistani script, or that doubting the Prime Minister or any other minister or the military is the same as ‘helping the enemy’, anyone who starts shouting and accusing the questioners of treachery is, truly and without doubt, an anti-national.