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2 A Political Science Toolkit

22 March 2023

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If you are of a certain age, you probably remember the Vikram- Betaal stories. They appeared in Chandamama, a popular children's weekly magazine, and later there was even a popular Doordarshan serial featuring them. To stick to the bare details of the tale without getting into its finer points, the wise king Vikramaditya had to carry Betaal on his shoulders while maintaining a vow of silence. En route, Betaal would tell him a story that would end with an intriguing conundrum. He would then ask Vikram for the solution, warning him that if he were to deliberately remain silent, his head would be blown to bits. Vikram would, of course, have the solution and proceed to answer, thus breaking his vow of silence. Betaal would then fly back to the top of the tree from where Vikram had picked him up in the first place. This cycle would repeat itself (about twenty-five times).

In today's India, if there's a conundrum one could pose to Vikram, it would be this: who is an anti-national? Because these days you can never be sure. Sedition charges are generously distributed. Is there a way to make sense of this?

A recent round of this conundrum played out in 2021. In February that year, the Delhi Police arrested a young woman, Disha Ravi, and charged her with sedition and criminal conspiracy. The reason: she was an editor of a shared online document (called the 'Toolkit'), which was used to 'peddle support for the secessionist Khalistan narrative in the guise of farmer protests'. She was then jailed, but a Delhi Court later granted her bail.

This case brought back several old questions into the limelight. What exactly is 'sedition'? Can someone who doesn't identify themselves as Indian be termed seditious, or can merely criticizing a government's policies become seditious under some circumstances? Are sedition, anti-nationalism, and dissent any different from each other?

In our view, these questions cannot be answered unless we understand what the terms 'the Indian State', 'Indian nation', and 'Indian government' mean. So, let's take a detour to the high school political science curriculum before returning to the question of sedition.

The State, as we have discussed, is an abstract political institution. In the introduction to this section, we discussed how states came into being to prevent matsyanyaaya. Another connected definition of the State comes from Max Weber who defines it as 'a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory'.¹ To ensure that all its individuals' liberties are protected, a State is invested with the power to use violence and prevent other belligerent groups from terrorizing individuals. It is for this reason that a State maintains armed institutions like the police and the army.

By this definition, an anti-State act would be the one that challenges the State's monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force. In other words, an act of violence or the use of force by anyone other than the State becomes anti-State. In a few Indian languages, such an anti-State act would translate to raajdroha.

The government is a temporary governing body of the State. If the State is imagined as a corporation, the government is like its management. A State is semi-permanent. It will live on until it is overthrown or replaced and a new social contract is established. Unlike the State, the government is composed of a set of specific people. When the electorate votes, they choose their government and not the State.

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Think of this work as a 'pop' public policy book. Like all books of this genre, we let stories of Indian experiences take centre stage. That's because context is king in public policy. There are very few immutable, universal rules that apply across all countries. We believe that our discourse on government is anchored way too much on the stories and experiences of other countries. The result is that public policy books end up discussing distant and unrelatable stories. For instance, you too would have come across a popular quote on WhatsApp. Attributed to Gustavo Petro, a former mayor of Bogota, the quote reads: 'A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation.' Reading about Bogota's transformation can give a misleading assessment that spending more on Bus Rapid Transit systems alone can bring about a similar change in India as well. However, what gets missed in transplanting such ideas unthinkingly is that context matters. Bogota's public transport success is also about changing social attitudes, individual incentives, and guiding market behaviour. Many not-so-apparent, context-specific things need to fall in place to replicate successes from other policy environments. For this reason, this book is about Indian public policy centred on India's experiences. Any individual is a part of three meta-institutions, each with its unique characteristics, follies, and strengths. Each chapter discusses a prevalent idea, story, or myth in the popular discourse on Indian governance. We hope, dear reader, you will find something useful in this book, something that will contribute to your understanding of Indians governing themselves. And we also hope you have fun while reading it.