The Topiwala Camera

In covering Anna, TV seems to have shed its critical faculties, writes ANIL DHARKER in the Outlook

“Corruption,” I remarked the other day on a television channel, “takes more than one form.” We were talking about—what else?—the latest incremental progression in the Anna Hazare saga. “Everyone talks of money corruption, but what about the other kind—‘Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely’? And who has any kind of power now? Only two entities: Anna Hazare and television.”
That’s all I got a chance to say: the anchor swiftly changed the subject and everyone got talking of the usual arguments. A few channels do allow you to discuss the rigidity of Team Anna and its constitutional implications, but no one wants to talk about how the television medium itself is dictating what we think, what we say and when we say it.
Am I the only one disturbed at the supercharged atmosphere (almost amounting to mass hysteria) that surrounds us now on the issue of corruption? In this prevailing atmosphere, you better be for Anna Hazare completely, without any qualifications or reservations, or you will be deemed to be either for corruption or a lackey of the government. (“Your timing is terrible,” a ‘friend’ said to me after that particular television appearance, and then twisted the knife in with, “You sound like a Congress stooge.”) This mood has come about because of television’s blanket coverage of the Anna Hazare campaign, and the minuscule time given by it for the dissenting view.
No one is saying that Anna is a television creation. We have tolerated corruption at all levels for a very long time, but the multiplicity and size of recent scams, and the UPA government’s complete inability to control them so disgusted us all that we had reached bursting point. Anna was more or less the right man at the absolutely right time. He has led a campaign which has been brilliantly conceived and orchestrated by his backroom boys till now. But if his movement has now lit a fire that is seemingly out of control, the flames have been fanned by television’s hyperventilating channels.
Is it really old-fashioned to believe that the media should remain, under all circumstances, balanced and objective? In many cases, you may have to choose between good and evil. You obviously hope then that the media will be on the side of the angels. But even then, should its role continue to be of the news-gatherer, observer and analyst? Or should it be that of an activist? Everyone would want the media to be against corruption, so when a movement like Anna’s starts, you expect the media to be on that movement’s side. But do you expect it to act as the movement’s propagandist?
As far as I know, all channels, even the ones not averse to airing the occasional opposing viewpoint, joined Anna’s campaign directly. They flashed messages—and continue to do so—right through their telecasts asking viewers to support the campaign by tweeting, texting or phoning messages to designated addresses and phone numbers. In short, on the dais where Anna and his team sit, television channels are ensconced too, albeit invisibly.
This may make for exciting and—what’s the buzzword?—interactive television, but it does commit you firmly to one side of the equation, so much so that it becomes difficult to be even slightly critical. It goes without saying that Anna has started a social revolution that will change very many things for the better in the country; but it also goes—and this needs saying—that Anna and team have got so carried away with the momentum of what they started that they don’t know when (or how) to stop.
Television’s lack of objectivity has meant that really important questions are also not being discussed: like the dictatorial tendencies of Team Hazare, the flaws in the Jan Lokpal Bill, the monumental machinery required for the Lokpal agency and the difficultly in keeping it corruption-free. Television’s all-consuming obsession with the campaign has prevented it from looking at already established anti-corruption agencies and why they are not working—agencies like the CBI, CVC, ACB, the Lok Ayuktas set up in some states. No one on television is asking who will do the required investigations for the Lokpal organisation once it begins functioning. The police? Or an agency much like the police? Once you’ve said that, you’ve said it all.
But the channels won’t say it, or many of the other things that need to be said. If they did so, it just might weaken the movement, and that wouldn’t be good for trps, would it?

A patriarch for the Nation?

To improve the quality and functioning of democratic institutions we must draw upon the experience, and expertise, of the very many Indians who share Hazare’s idealism without being limited by his parochialism, writes RAMACHANDRA GUHA in The Telegraph
About 20 years ago, I found myself in the same room as Anna Hazare, at a meeting organized by the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi. Mr Hazare was becoming known in environmental circles for the work he had done in his native village, Ralegan Siddhi. His successful programmes of watershed conservation and afforestation stood in stark contrast to the efforts of the state forest department, which had handed over vast tracts of virgin forests to industry. Moreover, whereas the forest department was hostile to community participation, identifying villagers as ‘enemies of the forest’, Hazare had energized peasants to care for and renew their natural environment.
When Anna Hazare came into that Delhi meeting room of the early 1990s he wore the same dress as he does now. He exuded the same simplicity. But, as I recall, he spoke softly, even with some diffidence. He was not entirely at home in a hall filled with urban folks whose cultural, albeit not moral, capital, was far greater than his.
It is said that power and wealth make men younger. So, apparently, does the attention of television. As we become older, the rest of us grow less alert, less energetic, less combative. This law of biology Hazare seems now to have defied. For the man I now see on my screen is not the man I once saw in a seminar room in New Delhi. He challenges and taunts the government and its ministers, wagging his finger at the cameras. Once, Hazare was the voice and conscience of the village of Ralegan Siddhi; now he demands that he be seen as the saviour of the nation itself.
Some television channels claim that Anna Hazare represents the overwhelming bulk of Indians. Print, cyberspace and soundings on the street suggest a more complicated picture. Liberals worry about the dangers to policy reform contained in street agitations led by men whose perfervid rhetoric undermines constitutional democracy. Dalits and backward castes see this as a reprise of the anti-Mandal agitation, led and directed by suvarna activists.
To these political reservations may be added the caution of the empirical sociologist. The population of the Delhi metropolitan area is in excess of 10 million; yet at their height, the crowds in the Ramlila Maidan have never exceeded 50,000. In May 1998, 400,000 residents of Calcutta marched in protest against the Pokhran blasts. No one then said that ‘India stands against Nuclear Bombs’. Now, however, as television cameras endlessly show the same scenes at the same place, we are told that ‘India is for Anna’.
This said, it would be unwise to dismiss the resonance or social impact of the campaign led by Anna Hazare. It comes on the back of a series of scandals promoted by the present United Progressive Alliance government — Commonwealth Games, 2G, Adarsh, et al. The media coverage of these scandals, over the past year and more, has led to a sense of disgust against this government in particular, and (what is more worrying) against the idea of government in general. It is this moment, this mood, this anger and this sense of betrayal, that Anna Hazare has ridden on. Hence the transformation of a previously obscure man from rural Maharashtra into a figure of — even if fleetingly — national importance.
The success of Anna Hazare is explained in large part by the character of those he opposes. He appears to be everything the prime minister and his ministers are not — courageous, independent-minded, willing to stake his life for a principle. In an otherwise sceptical piece — which, among other things, calls Anna Hazare a “moral tyrant” presiding over a “comical anti-corruption opera”— the columnist C.P. Surendran writes that “a party that can’t argue its case against a retired army truck driver whose only strength really is a kind of stolid integrity and a talent for skipping meals doesn’t deserve to be in power”. These two strengths — honesty and the willingness to eschew food, and by extension, the material life altogether — shine in comparison with the dishonest and grasping men on the other side.
Large swathes of the middle class have thus embraced Anna Hazare out of disgust with Manmohan Singh’s government. That said, one must caution against an excessive identification with Anna Hazare. Hazare is a good man, perhaps even a saintly man. But his understanding remains that of a village patriarch.
The strengths and limitations of Anna Hazare are identified in Green and Saffron, a book by Mukul Sharma that shall appear later this year. Sharma is an admired environmental journalist, who did extensive fieldwork in Ralegan Siddhi. He was greatly impressed by much of what he saw. Careful management of water had improved crop yields, increased incomes, and reduced indebtedness. On the other hand, he found the approach of Anna Hazare “deeply brahmanical”. Liquor, tobacco, even cable TV were forbidden. Dalit families were compelled to adopt a vegetarian diet. Those who violated these rules — or orders — were tied to a post and flogged.
Sharma found that on Hazare’s instructions, no panchayat elections had been held in the village for the past two decades. During state and national elections, no campaigning was allowed in Ralegan Siddhi. The reporter concluded that “crucial to this genuine reform experiment is the absolute removal from within its precincts of many of the defining ideals of modern democracy”.
The sound-bites spontaneously offered by Anna Hazare in recent weeks do not inspire confidence. Emblematic here was his dismissal of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and of the government’s pointman in its handling of the anti-corruption movement, Kapil Sibal. Hazare said that Dr Singh and Mr Sibal did not understand India because they had taken degrees at foreign universities.
As it happens,worthier men have had foreign degrees; among them, the two greatest social reformers of modern India, M.K. Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar.
Hazare claims that the last 64 years of political freedom have been utterly wasted (“chausutt saal mein humko sahi azaadi nahin mili hai”). The fact is that had it not been for the groundwork laid by the Constitution, and by visionaries like Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and others, Dalits and women would not have equal rights under the law, nor would elections based on universal franchise be regularly and freely held.
Dalits and women were less-than-equal citizens in the raj of the British, and in the raj of Anna Hazare’s much admired Shivaji Maharaj as well. Those other regimes did not have, either, constitutional guarantees for the freedom of movement, combination and expression. To be sure, there remains a large slippage between precept and practice. I have elsewhere called India a “fifty-fifty democracy”. The jurist, Nani Palkhivala, once said the same thing somewhat differently: India, he suggested, is a second-class democracy with a first-class Constitution.
In the years since Palkhivala first made this remark, India may have become a third-class democracy. But the ideal remains, to match which one needs patient, hard work on a variety of fronts. Anna Hazare claims that the creation of a single lok pal will end 60 per cent to 65 per cent of corruption. That remark confuses a village with a nation. A benign (and occasionally brutal) patriarch can bring about improvements in a small community. But a nation’s problems cannot be solved by a Super-Cop or Super-Sarpanch, even (or perhaps especially) if he be assisted (as the legislation envisages) by thousands of busybody and themselves corruptible inspectors.
Improving the quality and functioning of democratic institutions will require far more than a lok pal, whether jan or sarkari. We have to work for, among other things, changes in the law to make funding of elections more transparent, and to completely debar criminals from contesting elections; the reform of political parties to make them less dependent on family and kin; the use of technology to make the delivery of social services less arbitrary and more efficient; the insulation of the bureaucracy and the police from political interference; the lateral entry of professionals into public service, and more. In striving for these changes one must draw upon the experience, and expertise, of the very many Indians who share Hazare’s idealism without being limited by his parochialism.

(Also read: A differential calculus by Ramachandra Guha in Hindustan Times)
Cartoon by SANDEEP ADHWARYU in the Outlook

Anna Gana Mana

By misdirecting public anger against corruption, Anna’s aides are advocating contempt for the Constitution, writes HARTOSH SINGH BAL in the Open
The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enables him to subvert their institutions.” There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O’ Connel, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship
-BR AMBEDKAR in his address to the Constituent Assembly on 25 November 1949
There are many ways of looking at Anna but perhaps this caution from Ambedkar best summarises our current problems. Bhakti is an emotion Anna’s followers have summoned in ample measure; scepticism or critical thinking is not an attitude they are familiar with. He may well be a saint but he is no Constitutional expert, nor does he seem to understand how a law is drafted in India. In the end, he is more or less doing the bidding of the people who surround him.
If there has ever been a succinct lesson in class in this country, it is playing itself on the stage where Anna is fasting. If you strip away the names and personalities, you find a retired IPS officer, a former IRS officer, a well-known lawyer, the son of a former law minister of India, all in reasonable physical shape, all avidly backing the Bill, and yet the person fasting is a 74-year-old retired driver.
The ideas Anna is fasting for are not his own. It is good we may ultimately get a Bill against corruption that has some chance of working. It is also good that this government and the Congress party have attracted due criticism. But there is a difference between criticising the Government and questioning the Constitution. Even if the matter is finally settled in a manner that doesn’t challenge the authority of Parliament, the ideas raised by Anna’s aides go beyond this movement and will surface again. And it is these ideas that need to be contested.
There is a difference between Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, however incompetent, and the institution of Prime Minister, which after all has survived non-entities such as Deve Gowda and IK Gujral. There is a difference between individual MPs and a largely corrupt party such as the Congress and the institution of Parliament. When Kiran Bedi stood up on stage and said “Anna is India, India is Anna,’’ she was not just echoing that rather infamous slogan “Indira is India, India is Indira,’’ she was also reflecting the same contempt for the institutions of this country that was inherent in the Emergency.
At the drop of a hat, Anna’s aides start quoting from the preamble of the Indian Constitution, “We the people of India…” Apparently this is where their reading of the Constitution stops. They do not even seem to understand that India is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy, and for good reason.
Defending the Jan Lokpal Bill, Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal have both called for a referendum on the law. Bhushan has argued that technology now allows the possibility of direct democracy, as if it is an idea that has never been tried or examined in the past, as if an entire literature of democracy criticising the idea did not exist, starting with the ancient Greeks. Would anyone suggest that the Indian response to a terror attack on Mumbai be settled by popular sentiment in the immediate aftermath? And if only bills are to be voted on, does anyone really think that big corporations canvassing for a bill that concerns them directly would actually reduce corruption in this country? One election every five years, in the absence of State funding, is the source of most of the large-scale corruption in our society; imagine the effects of corporate canvassing for Bills that are to be voted on every few months.
In the end, the justification for the Jan Lokpal Bill lies on a few poorly conducted referendums that cannot be taken seriously and the numbers that turned out in support of the Bill at the Ramlila ground. But if bills are to be passed because 50,000 or even 500,000 people turn out, we are talking of anarchy. There are many who think that while the Government Bill is laughable, the Jan Lokpal Bill has serious problems too. The number of such people is by no means small, and it is they who are being stifled.
Writing almost 225 years ago, the fourth President of the United States and one of the architects of the US Constitution, James Madison, wrote against this very idea of direct democracy, of how it allows factions to flourish and how they can impose their will on everyone through such a process. The problem does not go away even if the faction imposing its view is in majority; it becomes a form of majoritarianism. What a Parliamentary procedure allows is for all voices to make their case, discuss and arrive at a bill through consensus, not a bill that is forced down everyone’s throats by one faction of the population.
If indeed Anna’s aides are interested in changing the Constitution, it is difficult but not impossible; there is a set procedure and they are welcome to follow it. It is unlikely they will do so—it would mean testing the long-term strength of this movement, which for the moment is certainly fed as much by television as it is by public anger against corruption in the country right now.
In the middle of one of the umpteen television discussions on the issue that have become the norm after eight in the evening, Arnab Goswami of Times Now interrupted his panelists to say, “Gentlemen, gentlemen, this is becoming too complex, let us return to the question at hand.’’ The problem lies with this simple assertion. The ideas we are discussing are complex, they have to be, but we would rather set them aside and return to the ‘question at hand’, which could be: are you for the Jan Lokpal Bill, is this a TV revolution, or other such simplifications. And answers that tend towards nuance, which suggest a yes and no, maybe, perhaps, depends on the circumstances, reflecting areas of grey, have to be shouted down—”Gentlemen, gentlemen, this is becoming too complex.”
The discussions operate in a world where all answers have to be a yes or no. Having been guilty enough of a few TV appearances myself, I find the procedure starts with a phone call, where my views are sought on the matter. I find that the person on the other side loses interest as soon as my explanation extends beyond a single statement. “Sir, does that mean you are for or against?’’ is the inevitable question.
The result of such informed discussion and the 24-hour breathless coverage from the Ramlila ground has certain consequences. In his recent book on the internet, The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser describes a 1982 experiment carried out by political scientist Shanto Iyengar: ‘Over six days, Iyengar asked groups of New Haven residents to watch episodes of a TV news program, which he had doctored to include different segments for each group.
Afterwards, Iyengar asked subjects to rank how important issues like pollution, inflation, and defense were to them. The shifts from the surveys they’d filled out before the study were dramatic: ‘Participants exposed to a steady stream of news about defense or about pollution came to believe that defense or pollution were more consequential problems,’ Iyengar wrote. Among the group that saw clips on pollution, the issue moved from fifth out of six in priority to second.’
Now consider the impact of sustained uncritical coverage of the Jan Lokpal Bill for over six days, interrupted by nothing else, and you can draw your own conclusions about what we are seeing today.
I, thankfully, am not, but this identification with Anna and the consequent self-admiration of all those who have turned out in such numbers to support the Jan Lokpal Bill, is largely an exercise in hypocrisy.
Consider this session of Parliament. Among the bills that could come up or are in the process of being drafted are the Food Security Bill, Communal Violence Bill and Land Acquisition Bill. I feel that each of these bills is at least as important as the Jan Lokpal Bill. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of the people who are gathered at the Ramlila ground in the name of participatory democracy have not bothered to read the drafts or discussions related to any of these bills.
When they decry the politics of the day, when they express their frustration about how democracy functions in this country, they seem to believe they stand apart from the procedures that make a democracy work. If they could go back and see how the Right to Information legislation was passed, they would understand the process of consultation and consensus that goes into drafting a law in our representative democracy. No Constitution in the world, no system of democracy, participatory or not, can do much about a citizenry who refuse to act as citizens, do not engage with the legislative process and then turn out like petulant children who have let their anger against corruption degenerate into a tirade against the very systems that ensure the accountability of the government of the day, however venal.
Over and over again, young men and women have endorsed the stand taken by Anna’s aides that the Bill must be passed by the end of August. This government may be stupid enough to capitulate, but we should not shy away from the consequences of such demands. Like parrots, these people have repeated what they have been told from Anna’s dais, that the Centre has had 42 years and that is enough time. But if successive governments have not passed the Bill, it is not an argument against Parliamentary procedure or the need for a consultative process where even the voices of those who disagree with the Jan Lokpal Bill are heard.
A movement that should have been about pressuring the Government to bring an effective Lokpal Bill, a perfectly valid demand in our system, has been made into an instrument for the ill-thought-out views on democracy of a few people surrounding Anna. Fast or no fast, there is much more to India than Anna.

Why Ramlila surge worries minorities and those on margins

In the unseen and unheard margins of Team Anna’s Ramlila Surge, there’s a growing sense of disquiet —especially among minority and marginalised groups, writes SEEMA CHISHTI in The Indian Express
Despite carefully choreographed images of Muslim children publicly breaking their Ramzaan fast with Anna Hazare, prominent Dalit, Muslim and Christian leaders are deeply suspicious of the faces on display and the voices emanating from the crowds.
They argue that Anna’s ends — fighting corruption — is undoubtedly justified, they condemn his arrest and the decision to send him to Tihar Jail. But behind his cause, they see a clear disdain for the very institutions crucial in safeguarding democratic freedom and rights. In Team Anna’s contemptuous indictment of Parliament, they see a tarring of representative politics and, in effect, an indictment of the vital safeguards of minorities.
In fact, so strong is the suspicion that even Prashant Bhushan’s left-liberal credentials as one who played a proactive role in the Gujarat riots cases isn’t dispelling these fears. Varun Gandhi’s much-hyped appearance at Ramlila today only reinforced these — in his hate-Muslim election speech in 2009, he had threatened to “cut the hand” of anyone who “raises a finger at the Hindus.”
Says Akhtar-ul Wasey, Director, Institute of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia: “The issue of corruption is such that there’s tremendous pressure to join the crowd. Because if we oppose this particular movement, they will say we are corrupt. Price rise, corruption and unemployment have given a fillip to such forces. Corruption ki aarh mein, (in the garb of corruption) they want to push all kinds of defeated and empty slogans and agendas. Now the government’s timidity in the face of a crowd is fanning this instability. Muslims, of course, want corruption to end but don’t want to make common cause with elements that want to rock the system, the only preserve of our rights and freedoms.”
No wonder that Deoband’s new Mohtamim, Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, has said that they have not supported this movement: “The movement is basically suspect. The security and protection of Parliament and (to honour the) glory of democracy is the duty of every citizen.”
Mahmud Madani, MP and a leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the only prominent Muslim face among the 20 founders of India Against Corruption — Team Anna’s virtual platform — is now in Saharanpur and practically in communicado. Zafaryab Jilani, member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, has made it clear that the Board has nothing to do with this agitation. Says Maulana Ahmed Khizar Shah Kashmiri of the Tanzeem Ulema-e-Hind: “The idea behind this campaign is to weaken Parliamentary system and democracy and this is a blow to secular India.”
Maulana Umer Ilyasi of the India Imam Organisation has called the campaign a “political conspiracy” saying: “There is no question of any one person being above the country’s Constitution and Parliament. There is no question of Muslims being part and parcel of this.”
This chorus is heard the Urdu press as well. The Mumbai, Kanpur, Bareilly, Lucknow and Delhi-based Inquilab on August 17 interviewed several prominent community leaders, including chief of the Jamat-e-Islami, Maulana Jalaluddin Umri. Their refrain: We agree with the need for a strong Lokpal but not with the method of pushing it through.
Critics are also wary of those who have clambered aboard the Anna bandwagon. Ramdev may have stepped back but there are questions about the more urbane Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his Art of Living and youth factions who shared the stage with the anti-reservation Youth for Equality. Less than 10 days ago, they took part in the Hindu Unity Day, in Texas. Also present was Subramaniam Swamy, most recently in the news for writing that Muslims should be denied voting rights if they do not accept their “Hindu legacy.”
Indeed, reflecting this unease, Dalit activists and writers including Udit Raj, Kancha Ilaiah, John Dayal and Joseph D’Souza, have argued for reservation in the Lokpal set-up for SC/STs, OBCs and minorities “to ensure that there is no injustice done to the backward and marginalised.”
The politics of Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi may be fuzzy but their association with certain “causes” has raised questions, too. Last year, Kejriwal and Bedi herself led the drive to target the Chief Information Commissioner and insist that Bedi be made the CIC. In fact, when then CIC Wajahat Habibullah resigned last year and there was a chance that M M Ansari (now Kashmir interlocutor) would take over, Kejriwal lobbied with Leader of Opposition L K Advani keen to ensure that his name not be accepted.
Kejriwal and Bedi have also shared platforms put up by Youth for Equality and Art of Living. On March 1 in 2009, for example, Kejriwal and Bedi addressed the Youth for Equality and talked of both terrorism and corruption. Youth for Equality has blamed reservation for shrinking opportunities.
Archbishop of Delhi Father Vincent Concessao, a founder-member of the IAC, is nowhere to be seen. Contacted, he told The Indian Express: “This is pressure and a fast unto death is suicidal...there is no way we will allow for our established Parliamentary practices to be bypassed. We are with the issue but not with the means. How can they say only one particular version of the Bill is to be followed?”

The Making of Anna Hazare

After an extensive field work on Anna Hazare and his movement over some years in Ralegan Sidhi MUKUL SHARMA concludes that his authority is deeply rooted in the dominant socio-political tradition of the region that is often blind to many basic and universal issues of rights, democracy and justice
The anti-corruption movement, spearheaded by Anna Hazare, and the passage of the Lokpal Bill have generated unprecedented interest amongst a wide spectrum of society about the ideas, politics and organisations of civil society in general, and Anna Hazare in particular. Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade merits attention not only for its importance in ensuring a corruption-free society, but also due to its multifaceted nature. Hazare’s politics however has to be seen in a larger framework and in a wider historical context. Howsoever laudable the goals of anti-corruption movement in India today, the movement is not beyond the categories of gender, caste, authority, democracy, nationalism and ultra-nationalism. Far from transcending them, the movement is transforming and being transformed by the implicit deployment of such categories. I wish to place Hazare in the larger context of his environmental journeys, where the elusive but crucial element is one of authority that is exercised due to a large degree of consent and conservatism. Yet, almost all accounts on him, largely celebratory in nature, do not examine the ideology and politics of his works. These are crucial not only to critically assess the present and the future of our anti-corruption movements, but also to interrogate certain brands of civil society activisms and environmentalisms.
The rural environmental works by Anna Hazare in Ralegan Sidhi village in Maharashtra have been hailed widely, which are fed by, and feed into, certain dominant political cultures of the state. Though developmental and environmental works form the core of his ideological structures, they include other important issues. A belief system of force and punishment, liberal use of Hindu religious symbols, strict rules and codes, evocation of nationalism and ultra-nationalism, ‘pure’ morality and caste hierarchies, with a marginalisation of women, Muslims and Dalits, form the core of his village regeneration. The basis for the authority of Anna comes from a belief system, where the people following him consider it their natural duty to obey, and the exercising person thinks it a natural right to rule. Thus a former village sarpanch of the region states: ‘Whatever Anna says, we do. The whole village follows his words. Anna’s orders work like the army.’ For another villager, ‘Annajee is like God.’ The absolute recognition of an authority locally works in several internalised ways.
In the process of social transformation, Anna believes that advice, persuasion or counselling do not always work and occasionally force has to be applied. Force can be applied in many forms, physical and social, and often the simple persistent fear of its application regulates society. Force gives a safe and solid grounding to socially accepted values. It is not only Anna Hazare who proposes flogging and fear as essential parts of a green village; it has its wide audience in the village.
In an environmentally sound Ralegan Sidhi, religious symbols are core vehicles for transformation and imposition. Its embodiment in certain places/people legitimises them. The command-obedience relationship also gets its rationale from the belief that a God or a temple is ‘supreme’ and any decision taken in front of them must be obeyed. According to Hazare, Lord Rama set an ideal before every citizen of how to conduct everyday life by his own example. There is need for Lord Shri Krishna to reincarnate and save the country.
It is not only environmental rules, but also rules governing the entire socio-political life of people that make an authority acceptable. Those who make these rules and those who obey them are legitimate; others illegitimate/illegal. Anna Hazare is deeply concerned with rules and norms with a definite model: “The daily routine enforced in the army such as getting up early in the morning, jogging and physical training thereafter, cleanliness of body, clothing, living quarters and the neighbourhood etc. led to development of a disciplined life, benefits of which I am availing of even today. The habit of giving due respect and regard to the seniors by age, post, or competence was inculcated in us…. This has helped me in conducting the village development work at Ralegan Siddhi according to the rules and regulations decided by us by common consent.”
Others reciprocate this language. Villagers normally say that their village works like an army. As a commandant, Anna orders and we follow. Army discipline is the ideal. The path of rural development here depends in a large measure on many other ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. No shop in Ralegan can sell bidis or cigarettes. Film songs and movies are not allowed. Only religious films, like Sant Tuka Ram, Sant Gyaneshwar can be screened. Only religious songs are allowed on loudspeakers at the time of marriages. It is emphasised in the village that the villagers themselves decided not to sell bidis in their shops; they themselves do not watch films or listen to film songs. However, the language of acquiescence can be highly brahaminical and hegemonic.
Anna Hazare wants to build India into a strong, powerful nation. Narratives of war, army and enemy remain the core references in much of the discourse on nation and rural development. Here, expressions like ‘national regeneration’, ‘wholesome crop of national glory through comprehensive rural development’ are coupled with others like ‘We have to hold the nation. Otherwise, Pakistan will grab it. That is why we consciously send our sons to the army.’
The concept of morality and subsequent codes/behaviours/practices based on it are important elements in the notion of development. Anna’s concern with the moral is couched in his discourse of the nation that exercise control over the private and the public, the personal and the political. For school children there is moral education and practice, comprising physical training, body building, patriotism, obedience, samskars and Hindu culture. Doing surya namaskar and chanting Om is regular for the students. For women, it is stressed that they should certainly look after the household but they must also participate in activities intended to help their community and country. It is stated, ‘Woman is the Universal Mother, The Great Mother. Many such Great Mothers have given birth to Great Sons — Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Swami Vivekananda for instance.’ She is also a symbol of purity, sublime as well as innate strength. It is significant that much of the problematisation of morality of children, youth and village is done in the context of influence of western, modern culture. ‘Western lifestyle’, ‘modern development’ and ‘invasion of western culture’ invariably emerge as repeated expressions, signifying the collapse of morality in modern India.
In Ralegan Siddhi, there are a few Mahars, Chamars, Matangs, Nhavi, Bharhadi and Sutars. Since the beginning of his work, Anna has been particularly emphasising the removal of untouchability and discrimination on caste basis meted out to people, who are popularly referred to as Harijans here. The concept of ‘village as a joint family’, or all inhabitants of the village as ‘almighty God’, has prompted the villagers to pay attention to the problems of Harijans. The integration of Dalits into an ideal village has two components in Ralegan. One is to assume that they were always there to perform some duties and necessary services and that their usefulness justifies their existence in the present. The other component is hegemonic, designed to get Dalits into a brahaminical fold. It is not only manifested in the way food or dress habits are propagated; it is prevalent in several other forms.
In spite of the apparent diversities that characterise the various elements that make up Anna Hazare, there is an underlying thread of unity in his ideological positioning. Not only is this authority deeply rooted in the dominant socio-political tradition of the region; it is often blind to many basic and universal issues of rights, democracy and justice. Personal moral authority, while contributing in harnessing water and other natural and human resources for the betterment of economic conditions of the villagers, simultaneously also raises significant questions about its relationship to the making of a democratic, critical community, free from burdens of force, punishment, coercion, obligation, patronage, charity and piety. The present movement led by him too reflects some of these elements. Placing Hazare in a larger context posits in front of us several such questions.

This is a part of Mukul Sharma's forthcoming book 'Green and Saffron: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics'

Anna Hazare's deplorable moral fascism

The non-violent fast-unto-death of Hazare is a blackmail amounting to immorality with an ugly element of force and a threat lurking in its language and gesture, PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR writes in the DNA
For those in their 20s and 30s, dressed in their jeans and bermudas, T-shirts and sweatshirts, in their sandals and sneakers, this is a moment of political baptism. They can now stand up and say, “We have a political view of our own and we think it is both right and good.” This is entirely due to Anna Hazare and his efficient commanders — Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan — who have organised in the most fantastic manner a movement that attracted the urban middle class youth.
What goes unnoticed is their political naïveté and even ignorance.
Most observers are taken up by the electrifying effect of the Hazare movement in the public sphere and they tend to believe that here is an authentic revolution unfolding before our eyes. And that this revolution needs to be recorded faithfully and accurately for posterity. There is also the feeling that in the presence of such a ‘holy episode’, no uncomfortable questions should be asked, no doubts entertained about the ‘historic moment’. There is also the novelty of a counter-culture, Woodstock-like flavour to the bohemian youth of an Internet Age walking into the political arena.
Woodstock and counter-culture events do not happen in a social vacuum. In the America of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the protesters against conformity were also dodging the draft for the Vietnam War even as poor blacks were being shipped to the killing fields of Southeast Asia. At the moment, the good-hearted, unkempt and well-meaning Indian youth are facing an acute economic uncertainty in terms of jobs, salaries and raises. It is bye-bye to late-night beer bashes and hello to political protests at the Hazare party.
The Hazare activists have mastered the language of propaganda — keep the issues simple, cut out the complexities, however important they may be, and make it appear that the basic dichotomy is between a right — their view — and wrong — those who disagree with them. Of course, this is a typical tactic of the leftist and rightist partisans.
What gives Hazare and his commanders the tremendous self-assurance is the instant response they are getting from the chattering classes, who have now poured out on to the city streets, and from the ever-hungry media looking for that elusive exciting story. Political discourse is reduced to political spectacle.
The dangerous element in the Hazare-led anti-corruption crusade is the strident self-righteous tone of the campaigners. They are convinced that what they are prescribing is right and others have to accept it. They claim that they are speaking for the people — the few hundreds, the few thousands and the few tens of thousands — who are congregating in the city squares, and they are not embarrassed by their preposterous claim. There is total absence of modesty and humility. It is this smugness of the Lokpal activists that is frightening. In the language of Hazare, Kejriwal, Bedi and Bhushan, ‘many’ stands for ‘all’, a terrifying verbal sleight that bends dangerously close to untruth.
The other disturbing aspect of the Hazare group is when they claim to represent the people at large and they also have no hesitation in telling the people what they should accept — the Jan Lokpal bill, of course.
The non-violent fast-unto-death of Hazare has the ugly element of force, threat lurking in its language and gesture: “Listen to me, or else...”. The people who threaten the use of force in the name of morality are fanatics with a totalitarian bent of mind. This undermines democracy. Democracy is a contest of ideas. Hazare and his friends have no stomach for an open debate because they are exhorting everyone who is willing to listen, and even not listen, that they fall in line.
There is also the basic question: is it moral on the part of Hazare to say that he will fast unto death if the government or the Parliament does not listen to him? Common sense says that this is moral and emotional blackmail and it really amounts to immorality. There should be more rational and sensible ways of persuading others of the rightness of your views. It is this missing note of sanity that makes the present democratic discourse quite unhinged and deranged.
Invoking Gandhi is not legitimate because we are now formulating a political debate based on everyone’s right to express their views and there are no laws or conditions preventing that from happening. Hazare can speak out; therefore, he cannot threaten to fast unto death. This amounts to moral fascism.

They didn't show you this

A protest march against Anna Hazare led agitation in the capital

This time as farce

Nothing could be more un-Gandhian than this agitation for a bill against corruption led by the man who is called a Gandhian, writes ADITYA MUKHERJEE in The Indian Express
The largely urban, middle-class agitation led by “Team Anna” Hazare for the acceptance of a particular version of the Lokpal bill in order to end corruption in India, has raised several questions regarding the scope, legitimacy, credibility and sustainability of such protests. It has also led to some rather hasty comparisons with powerful movements in the past — including, quite unbelievably, India’s freedom struggle, arguably the biggest mass movement in world history.
Even more far-fetched is to bring in the name of the Mahatma. If wearing khadi and a Gandhi topi, speaking of satyagraha and non-violence without accepting its content and collecting a crowd was all that was required to be compared to the Mahatma, then the world would soon begin to bristle with Mahatmas. Comparisons have also been made with state responses in the past to agitation on the streets.
Meanwhile, a large number of leaders of the BJP, the Hindu-communal party of the right — including its seniormost leader L.K. Advani — have repeatedly drawn parallels between the current situation and the JP movement and the declaration of Emergency in India. (The political heirs of those who murdered the Mahatma, however opportunistic they may be, would find it difficult to claim legitimacy from Gandhiji, or a freedom struggle of which they were never a part. The comparison with Gandhiji to my knowledge is not generally made by leaders of the RSS/ BJP combine.)
There are several reasons why these comparisons are not valid. However, there is indeed some comparability in certain respects, which have been by and large ignored, which I would like to briefly highlight.
The Anna agitation, a one-point agitation, is nowhere like the JP movement, leave alone the freedom struggle, in the scope of its stated objectives or the nature of its nationwide popular support. The politically decisive steps of Indira Gandhi, with all their faults, are again not comparable with the waffling which we are witnessing today. If it is a repetition of history then certainly, as the adage goes, it is being repeated as a farce.
The similarity with the JP movement, particularly as it evolved in the later stages, is however in the repeated bypassing of democratic institutions and resort to “popular support” in the streets, not electoral victories, to issue ultimatums to the government asking them to abdicate power. The “popular support” which was initially mobilised by the JP movement on the basis of genuine discontent about corruption, misgovernance and inflation, was, over time, hijacked by the then Jan Sangh and the RSS with the one-point agenda of overthrowing Indira Gandhi. Scholarly research has shown decisively the hand of the RSS behind the “popular support” to the JP movement in the later phases.
It would be foolish not to see the element of spontaneous popular support for Anna across classes, including the well-heeled, who have been rendered utterly helpless against corruption. But reports of RSS mobilisation behind it are ominous. The student wing of the Sangh combine, the ABVP, has already called for a nationwide bandh of schools and colleges. Advani has called for “concerted action” — such as, presumably, the Bharat bandh suggested by the NDA convenor — to end Congress-led rule, whose mandate they (if not the electorate) assert “has long since evaporated.” The demand and objectives have so quickly shifted from fighting corruption, a systemic disease involving all political parties, to getting rid of the Congress. Significantly, no opposition party, including the BJP, supports the Lokpal draft of Team Anna, but they all seek to use the disaffection he has given voice to for narrow political ends. Fortunately, the Left at least appears to be wary of joining the bandwagon.
Genuine popular discontent, if it is not contained within a well-organised movement with a clear ideological vision, faces the risk of being hijacked by well-organised political forces with clear-cut agendas. (Anna’s stated vision in this agitation does not go beyond fighting corruption — which he says creates inflation, and hence causes concern to our women!) Historically, the right has used periods of disorder and discontent to rise to power, destroying existing institutions on the pretext that they did not function properly, and promising to cleanse the system of corruption and disorder. The rise of fascism in Italy in the 1920s and Nazism in Germany in the 1930s need to be closely studied in this context. The Indian right (Jawaharlal Nehru brilliantly anticipated that fascism in India would take the form of majority communalism) has learnt its lessons well, perhaps too well, from the European experience of fascism. Those who believe in the democratic system will, however, have to pay a very heavy cost if they do not learn lessons from history, and act unitedly in preventing any diminution of the very institutions which nurture our democracy.
Team Anna — the Bhushans, Bedi and Kejriwal — have themselves fallen short of respecting due process in a democratic system. They have decided that their version of the bill is the ultimate answer in the fight against corruption. They insist their version must be the one which the government brings to Parliament. If it does not, then it is “corrupt”. Persuading any other political party, or even an individual, to put up a private bill is not on the agenda, presumably because all politicians are suspect, and “civil society”, as defined by them, will determine what happens in Parliament. They are not willing to negotiate even with the original campaigners for the Lokpal, people like Aruna Roy, Shekhar Singh, Nikhil Dey, Justice Shah and other distinguished leaders and sympathisers of the NCPRI (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information) with whom they worked together till yesterday.
Nothing could be more un-Gandhian. Gandhi fully understood that the essence of democracy is debate, discussion, persuasion and not claiming sole ownership of the Truth. His concept of non-violence partly emanated from this notion that one has to respect those one disagrees with however firmly one might oppose them. The Gandhian satyagrahi therefore had to be humble, willing to learn and negotiate. His satyagrahis had to first ensure that they themselves were pure and practised values they fought for. Gandhi would not even dream of allowing anybody to be a satyagrahi if he was not secular and believed in Hindu-Muslim unity. A lesson forgotten by many of his supposed successors in their desire to collect crowds.
The writer is professor of contemporary history at JNU, Delhi, and co-author of ‘India Since Independence’

Anna Hazare and Gandhi

Whatever devalues Parliament strikes at the root of democracy, writes PRABHAT PATNAIK in The Telegraph

To call Anna Hazare the 21st-century Gandhi, as some have started doing, is pure hyperbole, but many would see a similarity in their methods — in particular, in their resorting to fasts to achieve their objectives. This, however, is erroneous. Indeed, the fact that so many people consider Anna Hazare’s method to be similar to Gandhiji’s only indicates how little contemporary India remembers or understands Gandhiji.
Gandhiji undertook 17 fasts in all, of which three were major fasts-unto-death. All these three had the objective of uniting people against violence, rather than extracting specific concessions from the colonial State. His 1932 fast against the British government’s proposal to have separate electorates for the “depressed classes” may appear to contradict this assertion; but even that fast was directed more against the practice of “untouchability” than against the British government, which abandoned the idea of separate electorates once the Yerwada pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar had been worked out. (Tagore, in fact, had blessed the fast, saying: “It is worth sacrificing precious life for the sake of India’s unity and her social integrity.”) The 1932 fast was not really anti-British, nor was it even a purely political fast, a fact underscored by Gandhiji’s starting, within eight months, another 21-day fast to express his anguish at the continued oppression of “Harijans” by “caste-Hindus”. (See Sudhir Chandra’s paper in the Economic and Political Weekly of June 4, 2011).
In short, Gandhiji’s fasts-unto-death were never a binary affair, with himself and the colonial State as adversaries, to extract specific concessions. He did not, for instance, go on a fast-unto-death to demand the withdrawal of the salt tax; he launched instead a movement against it. And at no stage did Gandhiji ever consider going on a fast-unto-death to demand India’s independence; instead he launched movement after movement for achieving it. Indeed Gandhiji would have considered a fast-unto-death to enforce a particular demand even upon the colonial State, or to extract a particular concession from it, an act not of non-violence but of violence.
Underlying such a fast-unto-death is the threat of violence: unless you concede my demand, I shall end my life, and in that case you will be swept aside by a torrent of violence that the people, angered by my death, will visit upon you; hence you better concede my demand. A fast-unto-death directed against the government or some specific institution to extract a specific set of demands is therefore an implicit act of violence; it holds out an implicit threat of violence and its success is predicated upon the credibility of this threat. Even when the cause for which such a fast is undertaken is a noble one, the nature of this threat is no different from that of an extortionist who demands that all one’s belongings should be handed over peacefully, failing which violence would be visited upon one.
Gandhiji would not have had any of it. The man who withdrew the non-cooperation movement because of a single incident of violence in Chauri Chaura and went on a fast-unto-death as a “cleansing act” would never have pressed any demand, even against the colonial State, under any such implicit threat of violence. His fasts-unto-death were directed at the people, not so much at an institution or government, with the objective of uniting them against violence. Even if any such fast-unto-death had claimed Gandhiji’s life, this would have had no fallout by way of popular anger against any person or institution and hence no visitation of violence against such a target; what it would have produced is a general sense of shock that would have shamed people precisely into the kind of behaviour that Gandhiji had wanted when he undertook the fast in the first place. For instance, his fast-unto-death for communal harmony, even if it had claimed his life, would only have shocked people into maintaining communal harmony and refraining from violence, exactly as Gandhiji wanted to happen when he undertook such a fast, and exactly as did happen before his fast-unto-death could claim his life.
It follows that there are fasts-unto-death and fasts-unto-death. There are fasts-unto-death whose objective is to extract some specific concession from an adversary, and which by nature, therefore, are coercive and entail an implicit threat of violence; and there are fasts-unto-death which are not directed against any particular adversary, which seek to unite the people, and which, therefore, entail no threat of violence. Anna Hazare’s and Baba Ramdev’s fasts fall into the former category; Gandhiji’s fell into the latter. They were as different from one another as chalk from cheese. To call the methods of Hazare and Ramdev Gandhian is a misnomer; to call their fasts-unto-death “non-violent” is wrong, since they are of the “concede-our-demands-or-else-there-will-be-violence” sort, that is, of the coercive sort. Gandhiji’s fasts were not of this type.
A coercive fast-unto-death is not only anti-Gandhian; it is anti- democratic in the context of independent India. And even when the objective it seeks to achieve is laudable, it is fraught with dangerous implications for our constitutional order. This order is not to be pooh-poohed, because it represents perhaps the biggest advance for the people in the last two millennia of our history, based as it is on a concept of “equality” which is a negation of the logic of the caste-system that had sanctified such inhuman practices as “untouchability” and “unseeability”. The coming into being of this order is a milestone in India’s “Long Revolution”.
True, this de jure equality has not transformed itself into a de facto equality, given the enormous and widening economic disparities in our society. But this de jure equality itself strikes at the root of the conceptual apparatus that had justified the existence of an oppressive system for centuries. Lenin had once said that “equality” was the most revolutionary idea in the struggle against feudal exploitation; it is even more revolutionary where feudal exploitation is enmeshed in caste oppression.
The most palpable institutional expression of this “equality” is the Parliament, elected as it is on the principle of “one person one vote”. True, it is full of billionaires, insensitive to the people’s needs and aspirations, and of self-seeking careerists of the political class; but, even so, there exists no other institution in the country which can claim the same degree of legitimacy. It is not surprising that elections in this country bring out the most enthusiastic participation from the most deprived segments of the population; they constitute even now a carnival of the oppressed. Anything that devalues the Parliament as an institution strikes at the root of India’s Long Revolution. And the recent “civil society” activism around Anna Hazare, even though it may have been motivated by high ideals and has witnessed the participation of several distinguished public personalities of the country, does precisely that.
I am not talking here of the Ramdev project which belongs to a different genre altogether. I am also not talking here of the alleged links between Anna Hazare and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which, though of great significance for understanding the totality of the phenomenon, are not germane to my present argument. And I also have no quarrels with ‘civil society’ activism per se; on the contrary, I value it. My problem is that such activism in the present instance, sustained by a fast-unto-death of the coercive kind, has sought to devalue the position of the Parliament, instead of being directed at strengthening it.
The JP movement with which it may be compared had never undermined the status of the Parliament; on the contrary, its denouement was the capture of a majority of seats in Parliament by the Janata Party formed through JP’s initiative. ‘Civil society’ activism today seeks not to capture Parliament but to by-pass it, for what else can be the meaning of civil society representatives and government ministers sitting together and working out an agreed lok pal bill, unless it is assumed that the Parliament will be only a titular body giving such an agreed document an automatic stamp of approval?
Corruption has got a great boost from the pervasive culture of money-making that neo-liberal capitalism has introduced into our society. It must, of course, be fought, but the fight will be necessarily limited unless the economic regime in which it thrives is altered. And above all we have to be careful that this fight does not lead to a substitution of messiahs surrounded by well-meaning members of the elite for the constitutional order that forms the basis of our “modern” nation.
(The author is a former professor, Centre for Economic Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

I'd rather not be Anna: Arundhati Roy

While his means maybe Gandhian, Anna Hazare’s demands are certainly not, writes ARUNDHATI ROY in The Hindu

If what we're watching on TV is indeed a revolution, then it has to be one of the more embarrassing and unintelligible ones of recent times. For now, whatever questions you may have about the Jan Lokpal Bill, here are the answers you're likely to get: tick the box — (a) Vande Mataram (b) Bharat Mata ki Jai (c) India is Anna, Anna is India (d) Jai Hind.

For completely different reasons, and in completely different ways, you could say that the Maoists and the Jan Lokpal Bill have one thing in common — they both seek the overthrow of the Indian State. One working from the bottom up, by means of an armed struggle, waged by a largely adivasi army, made up of the poorest of the poor. The other, from the top down, by means of a bloodless Gandhian coup, led by a freshly minted saint, and an army of largely urban, and certainly better off people. (In this one, the Government collaborates by doing everything it possibly can to overthrow itself.)

In April 2011, a few days into Anna Hazare's first “fast unto death,” searching for some way of distracting attention from the massive corruption scams which had battered its credibility, the Government invited Team Anna, the brand name chosen by this “civil society” group, to be part of a joint drafting committee for a new anti-corruption law. A few months down the line it abandoned that effort and tabled its own bill in Parliament, a bill so flawed that it was impossible to take seriously.
Then, on August 16th, the morning of his second “fast unto death,” before he had begun his fast or committed any legal offence, Anna Hazare was arrested and jailed. The struggle for the implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill now coalesced into a struggle for the right to protest, the struggle for democracy itself. Within hours of this ‘Second Freedom Struggle,' Anna was released. Cannily, he refused to leave prison, but remained in Tihar jail as an honoured guest, where he began a fast, demanding the right to fast in a public place. For three days, while crowds and television vans gathered outside, members of Team Anna whizzed in and out of the high security prison, carrying out his video messages, to be broadcast on national TV on all channels. (Which other person would be granted this luxury?) Meanwhile 250 employees of the Municipal Commission of Delhi, 15 trucks, and six earth movers worked around the clock to ready the slushy Ramlila grounds for the grand weekend spectacle. Now, waited upon hand and foot, watched over by chanting crowds and crane-mounted cameras, attended to by India's most expensive doctors, the third phase of Anna's fast to the death has begun. “From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, India is One,” the TV anchors tell us.
While his means may be Gandhian, Anna Hazare's demands are certainly not. Contrary to Gandhiji's ideas about the decentralisation of power, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a draconian, anti-corruption law, in which a panel of carefully chosen people will administer a giant bureaucracy, with thousands of employees, with the power to police everybody from the Prime Minister, the judiciary, members of Parliament, and all of the bureaucracy, down to the lowest government official. The Lokpal will have the powers of investigation, surveillance, and prosecution. Except for the fact that it won't have its own prisons, it will function as an independent administration, meant to counter the bloated, unaccountable, corrupt one that we already have. Two oligarchies, instead of just one.
Whether it works or not depends on how we view corruption. Is corruption just a matter of legality, of financial irregularity and bribery, or is it the currency of a social transaction in an egregiously unequal society, in which power continues to be concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller minority? Imagine, for example, a city of shopping malls, on whose streets hawking has been banned. A hawker pays the local beat cop and the man from the municipality a small bribe to break the law and sell her wares to those who cannot afford the prices in the malls. Is that such a terrible thing? In future will she have to pay the Lokpal representative too? Does the solution to the problems faced by ordinary people lie in addressing the structural inequality, or in creating yet another power structure that people will have to defer to?
Meanwhile the props and the choreography, the aggressive nationalism and flag waving of Anna's Revolution are all borrowed, from the anti-reservation protests, the world-cup victory parade, and the celebration of the nuclear tests. They signal to us that if we do not support The Fast, we are not ‘true Indians.' The 24-hour channels have decided that there is no other news in the country worth reporting.
‘The Fast' of course doesn't mean Irom Sharmila's fast that has lasted for more than ten years (she's being force fed now) against the AFSPA, which allows soldiers in Manipur to kill merely on suspicion. It does not mean the relay hunger fast that is going on right now by ten thousand villagers in Koodankulam protesting against the nuclear power plant. ‘The People' does not mean the Manipuris who support Irom Sharmila's fast. Nor does it mean the thousands who are facing down armed policemen and mining mafias in Jagatsinghpur, or Kalinganagar, or Niyamgiri, or Bastar, or Jaitapur. Nor do we mean the victims of the Bhopal gas leak, or the people displaced by dams in the Narmada Valley. Nor do we mean the farmers in NOIDA, or Pune or Haryana or elsewhere in the country, resisting the takeover of the land.
‘The People' only means the audience that has gathered to watch the spectacle of a 74-year-old man threatening to starve himself to death if his Jan Lokpal Bill is not tabled and passed by Parliament. ‘The People' are the tens of thousands who have been miraculously multiplied into millions by our TV channels, like Christ multiplied the fishes and loaves to feed the hungry. “A billion voices have spoken,” we're told. “India is Anna.”
Who is he really, this new saint, this Voice of the People? Oddly enough we've heard him say nothing about things of urgent concern. Nothing about the farmer's suicides in his neighbourhood, or about Operation Green Hunt further away. Nothing about Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh, nothing about Posco, about farmer's agitations or the blight of SEZs. He doesn't seem to have a view about the Government's plans to deploy the Indian Army in the forests of Central India.
He does however support Raj Thackeray's Marathi Manoos xenophobia and has praised the ‘development model' of Gujarat's Chief Minister who oversaw the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. (Anna withdrew that statement after a public outcry, but presumably not his admiration.)
Despite the din, sober journalists have gone about doing what journalists do. We now have the back-story about Anna's old relationship with the RSS. We have heard from Mukul Sharma who has studied Anna's village community in Ralegan Siddhi, where there have been no Gram Panchayat or Co-operative society elections in the last 25 years. We know about Anna's attitude to ‘harijans': “It was Mahatma Gandhi's vision that every village should have one chamar, one sunar, one kumhar and so on. They should all do their work according to their role and occupation, and in this way, a village will be self-dependant. This is what we are practicing in Ralegan Siddhi.” Is it surprising that members of Team Anna have also been associated with Youth for Equality, the anti-reservation (pro-“merit”) movement? The campaign is being handled by people who run a clutch of generously funded NGOs whose donors include Coca-Cola and the Lehman Brothers. Kabir, run by Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, key figures in Team Anna, has received $400,000 from the Ford Foundation in the last three years. Among contributors to the India Against Corruption campaign there are Indian companies and foundations that own aluminum plants, build ports and SEZs, and run Real Estate businesses and are closely connected to politicians who run financial empires that run into thousands of crores of rupees. Some of them are currently being investigated for corruption and other crimes. Why are they all so enthusiastic?
Remember the campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill gathered steam around the same time as embarrassing revelations by Wikileaks and a series of scams, including the 2G spectrum scam, broke, in which major corporations, senior journalists, and government ministers and politicians from the Congress as well as the BJP seem to have colluded in various ways as hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees were being siphoned off from the public exchequer. For the first time in years, journalist-lobbyists were disgraced and it seemed as if some major Captains of Corporate India could actually end up in prison. Perfect timing for a people's anti-corruption agitation. Or was it?
At a time when the State is withdrawing from its traditional duties and Corporations and NGOs are taking over government functions (water supply, electricity, transport, telecommunication, mining, health, education); at a time when the terrifying power and reach of the corporate owned media is trying to control the public imagination, one would think that these institutions — the corporations, the media, and NGOs — would be included in the jurisdiction of a Lokpal bill. Instead, the proposed bill leaves them out completely.
Now, by shouting louder than everyone else, by pushing a campaign that is hammering away at the theme of evil politicians and government corruption, they have very cleverly let themselves off the hook. Worse, by demonising only the Government they have built themselves a pulpit from which to call for the further withdrawal of the State from the public sphere and for a second round of reforms — more privatisation, more access to public infrastructure and India's natural resources. It may not be long before Corporate Corruption is made legal and renamed a Lobbying Fee.
Will the 830 million people living on Rs.20 a day really benefit from the strengthening of a set of policies that is impoverishing them and driving this country to civil war?
This awful crisis has been forged out of the utter failure of India's representative democracy, in which the legislatures are made up of criminals and millionaire politicians who have ceased to represent its people. In which not a single democratic institution is accessible to ordinary people. Do not be fooled by the flag waving. We're watching India being carved up in war for suzerainty that is as deadly as any battle being waged by the warlords of Afghanistan, only with much, much more at stake.

Anger after Ramlila midnight is over Govt, netas and reservation

Anna is only playing one of the roles, perhaps not even the lead, in the drama unfolding at the maidan, reports VANDITA MISHRA in The Indian Express after spending the first night of the protests at the venue
It’s past midnight on Day 1 of Anna’s fast at Ramlila Maidan, he has retired for the night. Away from his stage, groups of young men dance to their own frenzied beats, waving the Tricolour, Main hoon Anna caps tilting precariously on their sweat-drenched foreheads. Roam around the Maidan throughout the night of Day 1 and the most visible presence is of the young, the urban and the restless.
They have gathered for Anna’s fast, full-throatedly chime Vande Mataram and Inquilab Zindabad and Bharat Mata ki Jai and slogans more specifically targeted: Sonia jiski mummy hai, woh sarkar nikammi hai; Manmohan jiska tau hai, woh sarkar bikau hai; Desh ka yuva jaag gaya, Rahul Gandhi bhaag gaya.
They get soaked in the rain that comes and goes after the ebb of the post-dinner family rush to the Maidan.
More than Anna’s first fast at Jantar Mantar in April, or Ramdev’s show in June, Anna’s second fast appears to have drawn young men who shout their anger in the manner of a first-time outpouring in a public space: “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” (kill the traitors), while another warns “hamse jo takrayega, choor choor ho jaayega”.
They photograph and videograph themselves compulsively on camera phones held aloft, glimmering in the dark. For many in the crowd, this is indeed a moment to be recorded. For the first time, they are part of something larger. “I am 32 years old and I have not seen a moment like this”, says Sunil who works in a Delhi BPO. “What’s the point of voting?” asks Rahul who works in a telecom company. “You can bring people into power, but there is no right to recall, no retirement age, no qualifications to be a politician”, he says. The only other rally that several young men admit being part of is the anti-reservation stir.
A group of three IT engineers from Delhi, Ravi, Rahul Kumar and Gaurav say they had joined the anti-reservation stir at the capital’s AIIMS. Chandramani Mishra, an engineer, now a “social worker”, who has come in a group of 15 from Gwalior, was coordinator of ‘Youth for Equality’ that spearheaded the anti-quota stir in 2006. “There is a link between that agitation and this campaign” he insists. “Anna wants social welfare and we want progress. We are connected”, he says. About “200-300” members of Youth for Equality have participated in the vigil outside Tihar and at the maidan in the past few days, Mishra says.
For many at the Maidan, anger at the shrinking of opportunity of education and employment appears to have overtaken and relegated concerns of representation and justice.
Dikshit Sharma, who works at a BPO in Delhi, and who bought the Anna T-shirt he is now wearing outside Tihar jail, believes caste-based reservations have lost their need and rationale. “Now I know so many people who are OBC or SC and who are richer than me”, he says. For Dimple, who works in an event management firm, “Everyone should be treated equally. They may have suffered historically but now they can stand on their feet”, she says. Neither Sharma nor Dimple has heard of the NREGA.
The failure of the political class is framed overwhelmingly in terms of the betrayal of the bargain between tax payer and government. “It is our money, you tax us over and over again, and we cannot even ask where the money goes?” asks Ravi, IT engineer who works in Delhi.
Anti-Congress voices are loud in the maidan. Kapil Sibal appears to be the Congress politician the gathering loves to hate the most, but slogans are also raised against Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi and Manish Tewari.
Few women or older people are to be seen, except when they come as part of entire families of four members or five who flock briefly to the Maidan after the work-day is over.
In the crowd that stays back are students, young professionals, “IAS-aspirants”, call centre-workers who have come straight after their latenight shift, and “techies” with backpacks from Delhi and Gurgaon. From small town Haryana and Rajasthan have come beaten down government servants and weary older men who run small businesses, each bringing with him his own story of corruption and bitter memory of bribes paid.
They raise their voices for TV crews splayed across the maidan. “How can I pay a bribe when my shop was sealed a year ago?” says Pradeep Kumar. “The schools are theirs (the politicians’), buses are theirs, and all the hospitals”, he says.
In contrast, Anna cuts a picturesque figure. “This man (Anna) doesn’t look bikau (someone who can be bought over)”, says Rajinder Dagar, a property dealer in Delhi, who has brought with him computer generated cartoons lampooning the government. “Just look at him” exhorts Garima Sen from Vikaspuri, who describes herself as someone with “four first divisions and yet no job” because, according to her, politicians were too preoccupied with making money to open new colleges. “He has so much of truth and no self-interest... we have told our children he is doosra Gandhi. We want to associate with him”, she says.
It is 6 am on Saturday, and the maidan is slowly coming back to life. Apparently, Anna is still asleep, yet to get back on stage. But the young man in the incongruously formal black suit and mauve shirt with a striped tie standing astride one of the TV platforms won’t wait any longer. He has begun his piece to camera, a prepared script flutters in his hand. His impatience to get started, make the show begin, even before Anna takes the stage, seems apt. After all, Anna is only playing one of the roles, perhaps not even the lead, in the drama unfolding at the maidan.

Lokpal is no magic bullet: Nandan Nilekani

Urging Team Anna not to look for quick-fix solutions to corruption, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India Nandan Nilekani said that while the concerns and anger of the agitating public were legitimate, their methods and goal were not.
In an interview to The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta for NDTV 24x7’s Walk the Talk programme, Nilekani said that the Lokpal Bill was not a “magic bullet” that would eliminate corruption in the country. It could, at best, serve as one of several measures needed to tackle corruption in a holistic manner.
“I am not a great believer that if you pass a law, corruption will miraculously vanish. Nor do I think that creating a huge army of policemen will reduce corruption. You have to go back and look at the systems. I have spent 30-35 years working on how to make large systems work. You have to fundamentally analyse and improve the systems themselves... This (Lokpal law) is just one of the many many things that we need to do. I don’t think that it (Lokpal) is the only thing we should be doing,” Nilekani, one of the founders of Infosys, said.
“I fully endorse the fact that they want to address the problem of corruption but I think they should look at it in a much more strategic holistic manner and not by just passing a law. This is absolutely uni-dimensional,” he said.
Efforts to undermine supremacy of Parliament and elected representatives in legislative matters were “extremely dangerous and completely wrong”, Nilekani said.
“I certainly would argue vehemently against it. I think we must give credit to them (MPs) and let them make a law. And I have complete faith that they would come to a right decision,” he said. Nilekani said he would be happy to sit down with Team Anna and help in finding possible solutions.
“My advice to them would be two-fold. Specifically on the Lokpal Bill, I will tell them please make all your arguments to the standing committee which is the appropriate authority for this. Let them debate it in Parliament and let them come up with a law and then abide by the law.
“And the broader thing would be that if you really want to address corruption, it is a very multi-dimensional mosaic of things. When you look at all the issues, you will find that the Lokpal Bill addresses just five per cent of the problem.
“Let’s not try to look for a solution by creating more and more complex laws and creating parallel bureaucracies, a super-powerful guy and expect him to be honest, and creating thousands of inspectors. And also think that this is some magic bullet that will solve all your problems. There is no quick-fix. This requires hard work...,” he said.
Nilekani said the Lokpal might not even be a very effective instrument to fight corruption. “You don’t fix problems by creating more layers of inspection. You fix problems by actually looking at the root causes,” he said.
A project like giving identity numbers to everyone would, on the other hand, go a long way to bring in transparency, and make the delivery of public services more streamlined and accessible.
“These things are fundamentally related to changing the relationship of the individual in terms of the public delivery he gets. And that is the kind of reform that we need today to really fix some of these larger issues,” he said.