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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 37, September 3, 2011

The Enigmatic Hazare

Tuesday 6 September 2011, by Ambrose Pinto


“The interest in life does not lie in what people do, not even in their relations to each other, but largely in the power to communicate with a third party, antagonistic, enigmatic, yet perhaps, persuadable, which one may call life in general.” Those words of Virginia Woolf would best describe Anna Hazare at this juncture. In the complex politics of contradictions, he has found a larger than life place and he is heard with very little to communicate. He is not his own making. He is the making of the state and its politics. The neo-liberal agenda of the state has increased corruption and as long as that agenda remains as the central agenda of Manmohan’s governance, corruption will thrive. The state has increasingly become corrupt. The nexus of it with the corporate world has worsened the situation. There is nothing that is not corporatised—right from drinking water to every commodity and service. And the sole purpose of that corporatisation is to loot the average and ordinary citizen of his resources and livelihoods.

In the midst of that might of the corporate state, is Anna Hazare, dressed in khadi, a messenger with a message. The attempt to shoot the messenger with the message by the state made both the message and the messenger more powerful. People simply poured into the streets. Anna, of course, does not represent the interests of the most marginalised. His followers are all those from the growing Indian middle class, the disgruntled political class which is keen to benefit from his campaign and social groups with vested agendas, most of whom are fed up with the management of the country. Their attack is not only on the present regime but on governance in general. There are scams and scandals that come up practically everyday, one greater than the other, from every party and state. The political class has messed it being busy with its own interests. With corporate and political nexus, they have all accumulated unaccountable wealth. When the system is questioned, individuals are all targeted. Groups are defamed. Farmers are evicted or shot at. Tribals are displaced. Charges are fabricated on whistle-blowers and those who take up the cause of the poor, the marginalised and others involved in social movements. Any resistance to corporate mafia is not tolerated. Every device is made use of to remain in power and mortgage the country to multinationals and transnationals. While the ruling party has done everything possible to preserve its hold over the administration, the Opposition has played a supportive role.

IT is in this context that an ordinary Anna has caught the imagination of the nation. He is no ideologue or a philosopher. He has no credentials of any kind to occupy the centre-stage of politics. He had antagonised a section of his followers when he had supported the economics of Modi without condemning his hate politics in Gujarat. By his autocratic ways, he has alienated another section of even those who continue to be loyal. In an interview to a TV channel one of his team had said that the group is willing to let go the Prime Minister from the purview of the Lokpal Bill if all the other conditions are met. In response Anna had said that there is absolutely no compromise on the inclusion of the Prime Minister. The campaign against corruption is his and all the others, including the Parliament, he expects to do his bidding. He is dictatorial. He wants to be the final word. He listens to no one, may not even his own inner voice. But he is determined. He has stood against the might of the state and he has communicated to those in power that are powerless.

In jail, he dictates terms to the government. He refuses to move out of the jail on the terms of the state. The government is compelled to accept his terms. In fact, he was made more powerful as a result of his arrest. The state was silenced. Singh was no more king. Kapil Sibal, who had gone on repeating stories on Anna’s corruption with a clear design, was embar-rassed. His nauseating arrogance was dethroned. Chidambaram, the Home Minister, was quick enough to retract on his earlier legal position and make amends and go beyond the rule of law. What can the government do when the apolitical middle class suddenly becomes political and decides to be on the streets? Not even the Opposition could feel the pulse of ordinary citizens. As the crowd moved into public spaces and streets, the government was taken aback. It took time to gauge the mood of the nation. It was no more the same people. They had become aggressive, disillusioned and angry. They badly needed a messiah. In Anna, they have found one and he fits their bill.

He cares a damn to the rule of law that is more and more formulated to protect the interests of those in power. To the police conditions for a fast in a public place, he rightly mocks. How can a country that calls itself independent and free suddenly announce a set of conditions to make the movement immobile? He dares the state. The state arrests only to realise that immorality in governance cannot go far. When the state assures that the Lokpal Bill will be passed, he threatens the state with consequence if the right clauses are not added into it. He has no difficulty to accept the sovereignty of the Parliament. But he wants the Parliament to be sensitive to public opinions as well. The Bill, he opines, is not to protect the ruling and the governing class to preserve and promote their interests but an instrument in the hands of the people for transparency and honesty.

He is no simpleton. He has felt the pulse of the country better than those who sit in the Parliament. He is shrewder that Jayanthi Natarajan, Abishek Singhvi, Tripathy, Chidambaram and other spokespersons of the Congress party. He is way ahead of Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj who are keen to use him for the political gain of their party. His native wisdom directs him to the goal he has envisioned. The political class is humiliated. He decides to go for crowds and he believes he would be able to galvanise the country. He succeeds. He has myths about his own self and functions on them. When rules do not suit him, he is defiant and forces the state to revise them in his favour. Given the fact that practically all those in the legislature overtly or covertly have been a part of corruption, Anna of course has an edge over them. Those in the Parliament have no causes to campaign. They are in fact the cause for Anna to campaign. Primarily they are in the Parliament to serve their own interests. Anna, in sharp contrast, is imagined as a public face without any interests of his own. He appeals while those in the Parliament, given the continuous scams coming in succession, are abhorred.

Anna is an icon for India’s middle class fed up with the corrupt bureaucratic and political system. It does not matter that many of them have contributed to the system and benefited from it. If that class of people who continue to throng the streets from across the country could say to every department of the state and society that they will not bribe and will not accept bribe, India’s story would have been different. It is this class that has pampered the middle and high level officials of the state. A strong law they hold is the answer against corruption. What a strange remedy to a mind-boggling concern! Have laws provided justice? In spite of stringent laws against atrocities, we still have increasing number of atrocities. So are other laws. And the culprits for the violation of laws are many of those who are united with Hazare. The judiciary, the police, the bureaucrats and politicians have all been a part. There are those who say that it is not right to paint all in politics and bureau-cracy with the same brush. Then why don’t they stand up and denounce their class when it errs? To remain silent when corruption thrives is to be a part of the system.

CORRUPTION is an issue. The middle class is fed-up with it. They want a quick remedy. Anna has promised to bell the cat. But what will happen after the Bill is passed? Will corruption cease? It will likely be opium for those who protest and they will be silenced. But is corruption the most important issue? Why is Anna not concerned with issues of poverty, communalism, casteism, corporatisation of the state and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor? This is because they are concerns of the poor. They need another kind of skills and mass movements. Those who follow Anna may even be averse for a mass movement to eradicate these social evils since they are beneficiaries of the system. To be an icon of the middle classes, one should choose the middle path—the legal way and not initiate a mass movement, remain an individual without trusting the people, dictate and not dialogue and treat people as sheep. This is Anna Hazare. Thanks to unimaginative and undiscerning governance, Anna has been turned into a hero.

It was Einstein who had said: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is incomprehensible.” That is what the government became—totally incomprehensible—when they decided to arrest Anna and his team. What does democracy mean for those drunk with power? They turn arrogant when their interests are at stake. Like Anna, they listen only to themselves. They lose their power to discern and decide to be dictators than democrats. Thank India; it once again stood up, not for Hazare, but against corruption and for violation of the right to dissent. Thank those in power; they took no time to realise their mistake and set free those imprisoned. Is that enough? Are they able to see in those crowds that throng the roads, the anger and frustration against the system? Would they at least now look at India differently? Rationality in governance is not enough. Maintaining a democracy needs imagination as well concern and compassion. This is where the governance blundered. To make quick amends is to restore credibility.
Where will this movement move once the law on Lokpal is enacted? The apolitical middle class has come to realise its power. For Indian democracy to remain vibrant, this class needs to remain political and engage with issues. Moving beyond the leadership of an individual, this class should now onwards be able to challenge corruption at every level and work for a system where corrupt are punished without delay. There nee to be local movements. The electoral system is likely to become the next target of the movement. Will it offer a political alternative to the country? Of course, the Opposition party remains more corrupt than the ruling regime wherever it is in power in the country. Karnataka was the worst governed State. With its animosity against the rights of women, minorities, SCs/STs, backwards and with blood in its hands as a result of Godhra, Kandahmal and as inciters of several communal riots in the country, it can never become a ruling dispensation. Will Anna’s movement move beyond and provide India a third alternative that is secular and socialist? That is the challenge. If the final outcome is towards that direction, India can rightly feel proud.

Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is with the St Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

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