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Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

The Megalomania called Team Anna (Amit Sengupta)

In Commentary on December 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm

From: Hard News, 24 December 2011

The Megalomania called Team Anna

by Amit Sengupta

It’s time to dump Anna and his Sancho Panzas into the garbage can of history

The irony is that if the Lokpal bill drafted by Team Anna is accepted in toto, even then they will find some stupid detail to oppose it lock, stock and barrel. They will find some other technical reason to flex their muscles. They have become addicted to this aggressive posturing in front of television cameras which love them. The corporate driven TV channels love them because this Lokpal Bill is stunningly status quoist. It promises change but this change is a farce; it is a recipe for yet another huge monster of a bureaucracy and police system which will be equally oppressive. It does not touch the poorest of the poor, the landless, homeless, exiled, marginalised people of this country. It has nothing to do with the countless struggles against displacement at the margins for basic survival against big corporates backed by the mighty Indian State. Besides, it blocks all radical movements for authentic social and political change, especially against the fat cats of the new economy.

Hence, everyone is happy: the upwardly mobile urban classes (beneficiaries of neo-liberalism – untouched by corruption?), the upwardly mobile media backed by the corporates, the upwardly mobile corporates, backed by the politicos, and of course, the upwardly mobile Team Anna, backed by miscellaneous and dubious big funders and sundry NGOs with deep pockets. You can see this fantastic, parasitic symbiosis every moment of this ghastly public spectacle. The daily farce which follows the ritualistic nightmare.

When small timers with shallow visions and transparent political opportunism, turn megalomaniacs, and the TV channels love it, the entire country has to suffer their bouts of hysterical, low brow, morbid melodrama. This is because, as many observers believe, beyond the belligerent, dogmatic and arrogant posturing, the one-dimensional agenda is fascist and negative, driven by sinister political forces working on a Rightwing Hindutva putsch; propelled by corporate, World Bank and Ford Foundation lobbies to delegitimise radical struggles and legitimise the NGOisation of Indian politics in the name of good governance.

Consider the fact that for this motley bunch of aggressive and self righteous publicity seekers, who are obsessively on television doing ritualistic press conferences (cut the TV off, and their movement is over and gone!), there is no big picture agenda stalking the fragmented, in-egalitarian, unhappy Indian landscape other than the Lokpal. The Lokpal itself is definitely draconian, a Stalinist piece of totalitarian super structure, with yet another manufactured Frankenstein’s monster of a gigantic Kafkaesque bureaucracy, reflecting no progressive social transformation of Indian society, administration, or politics. Besides, this obsession with corruption has a skewed schizophrenic compulsive disorder. As if, it is a neutral category, untouched by all the inherited contradictions of contemporary society, outside the angst and anger of the invisible Indian terrain.

Not even the bitter cold which hits the poor the most touches these Lokpal loyalists. Not the cold wave deaths of the poor, undernourished and homeless. Not even the death of so many people in the AMRI hospital hell fire, could touch their obsessed souls – not a word of condolence seems to have been uttered in that grand Jantar Mantar show soon after. Tens of thousands of farmers have committed suicide, millions of children are malnourished and suffering, 78 per cent people of India live on Rs 28 a day, the public distribution system is in shambles while food grain and potatoes rot on the streets, even while thousands of homeless survive and die on the streets of frozen Delhi – but nothing touches the chords of compassion or feeling of these high moral ground Lokpal lovers.

CPI leader Abhay Sahoo is once again in jail for almost a month – last time he was in jail for two years – but not a whimper of protest can be heard from the Hazare camp. They just don’t care. It’s not in their mental horizons. The anti-Posco agitators have been bulldozed by private militias with guns and bombs, emaciated children and women have spread themselves on the ground against the siege by paramilitary forces, big industrial and multinational lobbies have manipulated the Orissa government to buy off huge tracts of beautiful, fertile, forest land with water bodies and streams, destroying habitat and homes, but Team Anna is least bothered. All they want is Lokpal.

Relentless struggles and fasts by thousands first at Jaitapur and then at Koodankulam against nuclear reactors makes no sense to them, they care two hoots. Because, if they sit on even a one day 10 to 5 farce of a fast, 200 cameras are chasing them 24×7. Nor do they care two hoots for the starvation deaths, the jobless on the streets, the struggles against bauxite mining in Kashipur and Niyamgiri (with Vedanta, still looking for this treasure island), or the struggles of thousands of forest workers and forest people for their indigenous rights.

Dark irony, Team Anna loyalist Medha Patkar was refused permission in Jantar Mantar one day before Team Anna hosted the grand TV public spectacle. She and others were wanting to protest against the AFSPA in solidarity with Irom Sharmila, after one decade plus of indefinite fast – unlike the short and sweet (like glucose? Or, is it electrol?) Anna Hazare fasts, his healthy, prosperous paunch not growing any lesser in inches. Medha should know the irony. She had overnight become the blind follower of Hazare, lured by the crowds and TV cameras, proud to be called part of Team Anna, dumping the great legacy of the 25 year-old struggle and satyagraha of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. She should know. Not one word in solidarity was uttered in Jantar Mantar either for her or Irom Sharmila. Not one word of protest. Team Anna eats, sleeps, threatens only Lokpal.

Next week, at least six thousand tribals and forest people from all over remote parts of India marched from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar in Delhi. They protested on the streets. They held a day long discourse at Mavlankar Hall in Delhi discussing the minutest details of local issues and the Forest Rights Act, and how it is not being implemented, and how their voices are not recognised by the establishment. Not one word was reported in any of the media channels. The papers largely ignored them. The media reports only Lokpal and Team Anna’s rhetoric. This is journalism par excellence.

The fact is, obsessed with this status quoist, Kafkaesque Lokpal movement of Team Anna, the media has yet again completely and continuously obliterated all the marginalised struggles and contradictions of grassroots India, often led by the poorest of the poor, or tribals in remote forests. For instance, the torture and brutalisation of Soni Sori by the Chhattisgarh police has been totally ignored by the media.

The Hazare camp has never cared one bit for mass human rights violations, anyway, as in the Gujarat genocide, or the fake encounters by Narendra Modi’s notorious, communalised police. They have not been ever, or now, part of the difficult secular struggle against the fascists who led the Gujarat genocide. You will not hear them say one word against the mass murders of 2002; it is outside their consciousness. It does not touch them.

Great sacrifices all over India, hard, protracted grassroots struggles, police repression, atrocities by goons of corporates, long campaigns, repeated fasts, arrests, prison terms – nothing touches this media empire and this big funded NGOs led by Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, with the able help of the super rich family kingdom of lawyers with huge assets and properties. Indeed, that is why, Kejriwal and Bedi have no qualms in taking support of millionaire film stars and businessmen (are they all clean?). They find nothing wrong in accepting funds from the likes of Vedanta, blacklisted in several countries, as a notorious mining mafia. So what’s wrong in taking money from sundry corporates, Ford Foundation, rich businessmen, film stars — even if they have a sinister agenda? For a corporate driven media, run by the logic of profit and big capital, this is a made for each other instant therapy. That is why they are so compulsively obsessed with each other.

Besides, the last time, the RSS came out in solid support of the Lokpal movement, in thousands. They were all over Ramlila Ground and other points across the country, surely, marching along with all those who were disgusted with the corrupt and disgusted regime of UPA II. ABVP, the Sangh Parivar’s students’ group was actively involved. The RSS and VHP top leadership testified to this ‘invisible’ politics – the point was to destablise the Congress-led government at any cost. Hardnewsreported with evidence from ground zero on a sustained basis on the prominent RSS role in the movement. This was proved in the days which followed also.

Predictably, as we can see now, and as was witnessed then, there was not one slogan shouted against Narendra Modi, or the corrupt BJP symbols of Yeddyurappa, the Bellary mining mafia, or Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. In fact, the show began with established RSS slogans and songs at Jantar Mantar.

The partisan politics in Hissar, whereby Team Anna had no qualms in backing other corrupt and notorious candidates just to defeat the Congress, is going to be reproduced across the country. This is a clear indication that Anna Hazare is unilaterally a closet RSS and Hindutva protagonist, by hook or crook. His limited and shallow world-view, his sinister body language, his aggressive posturing and low level, street level language, his muscle flexing, his constant threats, his myopic vision and lack of education and refinement, everything suggests a ready made product from the fascist school of thought. Hang the corrupt in a public square, he will say. Flog the drunkards, he will say. Picket outside Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s house, he will say. His entire world has become a world of threats. With the media lapping it up. They love this fascist. More morbid the better.

His every gesture reflects a complete negation of Gandhian values or ethics. His love for the poor is a farce. He is a feudal status quoist with unfulfilled militaristic instincts. He is a small timer fascist who has become a TV icon in a realm of a totally mediocre and partisan media looking for quick fix solutions, thoroughly compromised in terms of absence of journalistic ethics or values. Indeed, he is nothing but a street smart politician, with crude native cunning, working at the behest of sinister forces, covertly and overtly, without a tangible ideology, a sense of history, a knowledge system or political vision.

Gandhi would have laughed at him. Indeed, instead of glorifying him, he should be dumped into the garbage can of history. Along with the entire reactionary, publicity seeking Megalomania called Team Anna.

Anna on RSS leash rejects govt’s proposed anti corruption law | cartoons by R prasad in Mail Today

In Commentary, Uncategorized on December 23, 2011 at 9:29 pm

From: Mail Today, December 2011

RSS and BJP using Hazare movement as a new vehicle for undermining democratic institutions

In Commentary on December 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm

From: tehelka.com, 21 December 2011

Ramped up, yet no harbinger

Ram Puniyani examines RSS and its tenets of Hindutva that have found a new shoulder

THIS DECEMBER, the Babri demolition anniversary completed 19 years. On the occasion, many Muslim groups demanded the reconstruction of the masjid, a demand which is just, but mired in complex legalities as it involves diverse players. Once again it calls for the redefinition of Hindutva, which is not a religion of Hindus – Hinduism is. Hindutva is the politics of RSS; it is politics with sectarian vision. This is the vision of the affluent upper caste-elite aiming to abolish democracy. Their aim is to bring in a nation on the basis of a Hindu religion where the upper crust of society can rule as per the norms prevalent in the feudal society. The birth based hierarchy is presented as a glorious tradition in modern form and language. Babri Masjid was not just the demolition of a national monument; it was also the beginning of a phase of politics where the communal undercurrents of Indian politics surfaced amid the political scenario in the country. It was a signal for minority violence. It was a blatant insult for what the Indian Constitution stands for. It was also the first major step for communal parties that allowed them to occupy the seats of power at the Centre.

After the initial sacking of the BJP-ruled states, the polarisation caused by demolition and post-demolition violence rose to frightening levels. The communalised BJP that until then was at the margins of the political structure came to the fore as a major Opposition party. Its parent organisation, the real controller of Hindutva politics, RSS, started becoming more respectable and social thinking was further vitiated with the bias against minorities.

In due course of time, the other minority, the Christians were also brought under the firing range of the communalists. It led to the ghastly burning of Pastor Graham Staines, which was followed up by more attacks on Christian missionaries working in adivasi areas. All this culminated in the horrific Kandhamal carnage.

For the first time the BJP, inherently committed to the anti-democratic notion of Hindu Rashtra, came to power at the Centre in 1996, even as other parties initially refused to ally with it to share the spoils of power. But that changed soon enough, and other political parties, obsessed with power opportunism shared power with those accused of the Babri demolition. The coming to power of BJP at the Centre opened the floodgates of the political space. Soon enough, parties under the aegis of RSS, like the VHP, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram received encouragement. The state apparatus and police bureaucracy were further communalised. Education was communalised with a hint faith-based promotion, and at the cost of scientific temper and rational thought.

The success of RSS propaganda is not that it targets the minorities. Its bigger success lies in instilling fear in the mind of the majority, of the threat that minority creates. There is a ripple effect of this process and then a section of ‘middle of the road elements’ also start turning over to support the Hindutva parties. Karnataka opened the floodgates of BJP for its entry into South.

The Babri demolition led to multiple processes; denial of justice to victims of violence became structural, and the minorities started being relegated to second class citizenship. The demonisation of minorities has gone to extremely bad levels. This process of demonisation of Muslim minorities later started being created around the issue related to terrorism. US media coined the word Islamic terrorism, and the politics for control over oil resources was taken to absurd ideological manipulation and a religion and a religious community were subjected to immense profiling. In India too, the propaganda against Muslims was taken to worse levels with the global phenomenon of terror, falsely and cleverly attributed to teachings of Islam.

NOW, RSS-BJP politics is entering the new phase. Having reached the acme of anti-minority polarisation, it has found the Hazare movement as the new vehicle for its politics of undermining democratic institutions to bring in a parallel authoritarian structure where the Lokpal plays the big brother. Though this sounds innocuous and is presented as a step to solve the problems, this is likely to create a new institution beyond the control of democratic norms. A few people and groups who are calling the shots and asserting that they are ‘The People’, ‘Anna is above parliament’, will rule through various proxies. This Hazare movement has polarised the social layers according to those who look at either identity issues (Ram Temple) or symptomatic issues (corruption) as the major issues while undermining the problems of Dalits, minorities and other deprived sections of society. Identity issues or matters focussed around symptoms, which are meant to preserve the status quo of political dynamics, is what politics in the name of religion desires.

Since the Ram Temple appeal is fading, those for sociopolitical status quo have jumped on the anti-corruption bandwagon. This is a shrewd move. Marginalised sections feel left out from ‘I am Anna’, ‘We are the People’ type of assertions, the message is that only ‘shining India’ will have say in the shaping of a nation, while the deprived India, will be permanently on the margins.

In a sense, the RSS-Hindutva politics is constantly changing its strategies to communalise, polarise the society and to distract social attention from core issues. While initially, the rath yatras and communal violence played their role in polarising the nation along religious lines, now the issue of corruption is being used to further strengthen the hold of politics aimed at retaining social inequalities.

Ram Puniyani is a communal harmony activist based in Mumbai

The glue that binds both BJP and Team Anna is amoral pragmatism (Jyotirmaya Sharma)

In Commentary on December 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm

[. . .]
Anna Hazare has lent crucial and tactical support to the BJP’s dream of unravelling Indian parliamentary democracy.

Hazare, the quintessential non- Gandhian, has made the methods of the Taliban seem not so unreasonable; turning the other cheek seems so uncool in the age of Hazare and Gandhi is made to seem like a puny coward in comparison to this self- righteous, but effective, bully from the army barracks.

Both the BJP and the Hazare fanatics sell the naïve idea that a people can never have any interest in ruling itself badly.

If only the people ruled themselves directly, there would be no abuse of power and restoring popular sovereignty is the only way to legitimise a government.

The fine print of this argument is the same as the one propounded by Codreanu, the Romanian Fascist leader: There must be a sovereign, unified people, living in a new atmosphere of perfect spirituality, entirely free from the power of evil. Who will redeem people from the power of evil? Codreanu believed this to be possible only when people are led by ‘ the finest souls that our minds can conceive, the proudest, tallest, straightest, strongest, cleverest, bravest and most hard- working that our race can produce’. If this isn’t Hazare’s self- description, what else could it be? But be sure that L. K. Advani also secretly shares the same selfimage as Hazare. And so do all those in the BJP who want to be Prime Minister.

Parliament

Politics for the BJP and the likes of Hazare is nothing more than a religious crusade: get rid of the evil and evil- doers in society by having faith in us. In their universe, national unity can never be forged through reason, consensus, moderation, parliamentary democracy or even economic interest. It has to be based on either faith or in the construction of a myth.

Faith as well as myth has to be built around a strong and decisive leader who is free of the constraints that the rule of law and procedures impose on people.

Arbitrary power is desirable in the hands of a leader whose self- image is that of a man who has risen above the petty constraints of the world and is not like us, ordinary human beings.

Therefore, the BJP’s disdain for Parliament stems from two reasons. In its internal functioning, it has reduced itself to factions, just like any statelevel Congress unit. Moreover, it has lost the only viable myth it had created, namely, the liberal and reasonable Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But the other reason is more significant. In its public posturing, it has reduced itself to being Hazare’s B- Team. The glue that binds both the A and B teams is one that the RSS had long perfected: amoral pragmatism.

Full text at: http://www.sacw.net/article2452.html

Why the Sangh Loves Anna (Hartosh Singh Bal)

In Commentary on October 28, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Open Magazine, 22 October 2011

Hartosh Singh Bal turned from the difficulty of doing mathematics to the ease of writing on politics. Unlike mathematics all this requires is being less wrong than most others who dwell on the subject. He is the Political Editor of Open.

Why the Sangh Loves Anna
He endorses the RSS worldview while appealing to people who lie outside its fold

It is no coincidence that the Jan Lokpal Bill imagines an ombudsman who would be to the republic what Anna is to Ralegan Siddhi, someone who will whip us all into shape

It is ironic that a movement which has made so much noise about holding a referendum on the Jan Lokpal Bill, a referendum that has no sanction or validity under the Constitution, has so much trouble with a referendum in Kashmir. Surely, whatever an individual’s stand on the issue, it is reasonable to expect that we live in a republic where such issues can be voiced and debated openly. In this context, the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena (the very name is an insult to Bhagat Singh) is contemptible but unimportant. What is far more shocking is the amplification of the same view by Anna and his sidekick Arvind Kejriwal, who more and more reflect the same fascist bent of mind that drives the RSS.

Prashant Bhushan’s statement on Kashmir was made weeks before he was assaulted. In fact, his stand on Kashmir was clear well before the Anna movement was conceived. Why did it take an attack on Bhushan, by people who were certainly once directly allied with the Sangh and are today part of it in spirit, for Anna to suddenly attack such views in public? How has this man given to so much vagueness while replying to every pointed question suddenly found such clarity? It is only because the viewpoint that Anna and by extension Kejriwal represent is the same simplistic and ill-thought-out rightwing nationalism of the Sangh which has no space for the Constitution or the liberal values it embodies. In that sense, when Anna’s team stands and shouts “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, it is not hailing the Indian Republic but a mythic nation that exists only in the mind. It was no coincidence that the very stage on which Anna first fasted at Jantar Mantar had a map of India shaped in the image of Bharat Mata as the backdrop. It is no coincidence that Anna is a teetotaler given to flogging young men who do not obey him. It is no coincidence that Kejriwal has often shared the stage with an anti-reservation organisation called Youth for Equality. It is no coincidence that the electioneering they are doing is not directed against corruption but the Congress (even if the distinction is sometimes hard to make, it exists). It is no coincidence that Constitutional issues are so readily dismissed by Anna and Kejriwal, who has even anointed Anna above Parliament. It is no coincidence that through the Jan Lokpal Bill, they imagine an ombudsman who would be to the republic what Anna is to Ralegan Siddhi, someone who will whip us all into shape.

Through the twentieth century, this combination—a claim to efficient governance, a mythic father or motherland, a contempt for a certain section of people—has been the mark of fascism. Surprisingly, many of the Left, such as Bhushan himself, have been slow to recognise this. The news that two members of the core committee of Anna’s team, Rajendra Singh and PV Rajagopal, have resigned is no surprise; what is a surprise is that they were part of the committee to begin with, perhaps they were taken in by the rhetoric that is always so seductive to the Left, ‘we must be with the people’. The support extended by the RSS, the overt expressions of sympathy, the covert mobilisation of numbers, the desire to make common cause with Anna, is not some public play at deception and politics, it is the manifestation of a genuine desire to make common cause with a man who has managed to fulfill their aims. Mobilise the people, corner the Congress, and fight to the death for Kashmir (only rhetorically, of course, for in reality the soldiers who die in the fighting are motivated by a far more prosaic professionalism). This only leaves the question of how long people like Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan will survive as part of Anna’s team. Patkar is calling for a repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Everyone knows where Anna will stand on that one, but perhaps his views will become public only once some other organisation sympathetic to the Sangh attacks Patkar. But this is now only a matter of detail. The personal compromises that a Bhushan or a Patkar have had to make with their own views is up to them , what counts is that the attack on Bhushan has opened up the faultlines within the movement and exposed the delusions of those who joined it in the name of ‘liberal’ values.

This does not mean the movement is petering out. The Winter Session of Parliament will see a Lokpal Bill being adopted, but it is unlikely that in its details it will contain all that Anna and Kejriwal have demanded. There will be another fast, there will be more tamasha and television, but what should have been a means of channelling an anger directed against a corrupt government is now turning into a force that the RSS is only bound to welcome.

Team Anna shares a trait with Bhushan’s attackers (Editorial, Mail Today)

In Commentary on October 18, 2011 at 9:04 am

From: Mail Today, 17 October 2011

Editorial

Team Anna shares a trait with Bhushan’s attackers

THE attack on Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan by goons owing allegiance to Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena is not just about the threat that fundamentalist forces present to the liberal space in the country. Almost as significant has been the response of other Team Anna members to Mr Bhushan’s stance that the Kashmiri people have a right of self- determination, and a referendum should be held in the state to decide its future.

The way Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal have pounced on Mr Bhushan for his remarks does not speak highly of their respect for democracy within the team that has taken it upon themselves to rid India of corruption.

While it is all very well for them to make the team’s official position on the Kashmir question clear, the issue here is less about the state and has more to do with Mr Bhushan’s right to free speech.

The Kashmir problem has seen many solutions being put forth and Mr Bhushan’s formula is yet another of them which he, as a citizen of a democratic country, has all the right to articulate. More so, since he is not involved with the settlement of the problem in any way, the position he adopts is not going to change the situation on the ground.

Perhaps it is not all that surprising to find Mr Bhushan isolated within his own team.

After all, having respect for difference of opinion has not been Team Anna’s hallmark.

Mr Bhushan himself may be railing against those who don’t agree to disagree at present, but he and his team have all along been found utterly wanting as far as this democratic virtue is concerned.

Otherwise, they would not have gone to town claiming that their Jan Lokpal Bill is the one and only solution to the problem of corruption in India. They would have been mindful of the criticism leveled against their Bill and tried to incorporate the best features of the other versions of the Lokpal Bill that are in the public domain.

Team Anna’s latest move of campaigning against the Congress during the Hisar parliamentary by- poll on the ground that their Jan Lokpal Bill had not been passed well betrays this dogmatic mindset. A mindset that was liberal would have respected the fact that the Lokpal Bill is under consideration of the parliamentary standing committee and the three key demands raised by Team Anna had been taken up through a parliamentary resolution.

Dangerous culture of intolerance (Editorial, The Hindu)

In Commentary on October 18, 2011 at 8:47 am

Source: The Hindu

It speaks to the deeply divisive times we live in that Team Anna activist and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan was savagely assaulted in his own chamber — and in the full glare of television cameras — for the “crime” of saying something that his attackers disapproved of. In the past, intolerant groups who seem to have no problem breaking the law with impunity, have targeted writers, artists, journalists, scholars, and activists whose work they did not like. Mr. Bhushan has lately been in the public eye for going full-throttle against high-level corruption, both in his capacity as a lawyer and as part of Anna Hazare’s spectacularly-mounted and hugely resonant Jan Lokpal Bill campaign. As a petitioner in the 2G scam case, he has taken on some of the most powerful names in politics and industry. Yet if Mr. Bhushan has rendered himself vulnerable today, it is for his daring work in the field of civil liberties. In recent years, he has braved criticism to defend those accused of terrorism, taken up the cause of Binayak Sen and spoken out against the violation of human rights in Kashmir. Indeed, Mr. Bhushan was set upon in his office by right-wing fanatics because he suggested at a conference on Kashmir that a referendum may be an option failing other measures such as withdrawal of the Army and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. That the Ram Sena activists had worked themselves into a frenzy ahead of the attack is evident from a YouTube clip containing the speech in question. In the digitally altered clip, Mr. Bhushan appears with his face blackened, and there is a warning to Anna for harbouring a traitor: Brashtachari ko phansi to desh drohi ko kya? (You are advocating death to the corrupt, what about traitors?)
The brazen manner of the attack on Mr. Bhushan — with the goons obviously enjoying being on camera — exposes the extent to which lawlessness and intolerance have corroded the Indian political culture. The attack is also proof — if any were needed — that corruption and communalism cannot be fought separately. If anything, today’s right-wing intolerance is a product of the failure of past anti-corruption campaigns to recognise the dangers of communalism. The RSS was an integral part of the anti-corruption movements of 1977 and 1989, and the Anna campaign too suffers from the perception that its ranks have been permeated by RSS foot soldiers. Fortunately, Team Anna has dissociated itself from the dubious elements that once shared its anti-corruption plank. It must also help the group that it can count among its members men of such impeccable credentials as Mr. Bhushan. For once the UPA government must shed its customary apathy and proactively prosecute the culprits in the case, especially in the light of Thursday’s ‘follow-up’ attack by Ram Sena thugs on supporters of Mr. Bhushan. For its part, Team Anna needs to be as watchful of right-wing ascendancy as it is of all-pervasive corruption.

Anna is the icon of banal Hindutva (Jyotirmaya Sharma)

In Commentary on October 18, 2011 at 5:57 am

From: Mail Today,17 October 2011

Anna is the icon of banal Hindutva

by Jyotirmaya Sharma

The ethical compass of his followers is skewed

DOES ANNA Hazare have an ideology? Despite the surfeit of emotion that Hazare generates, this is a legitimate question that ought to be asked, understood and answered. That he is no democrat in the sense the word ‘ democracy’ is normally understood is a foregone conclusion, something that even his most vocal admirers would admit. He brings to debate and discussion the rigour and predictability of a military drill. His model of rule, governance and statecraft is that of undiluted paternalism, something even his secret admirers would admit.

That he is medieval in his outlook, one who would like people who he doesn’t like to be flogged in public, hanged in public and humiliated in public, is no great secret waiting to reveal itself. His world is a simple world that divides people into friends and foes and proceeds to pass moral strictures against his foes.

Character

Neither is he too bright: calling actions evil can be polarising, but he calls people evil which is polemical and arrogant.

He does not have the mental facility to focus on actions rather than the agents of such action. He feels he has neither the capacity for error nor the capacity for self- deception. For him, rhetoric is a substitute for explanation and not a demand for explanation.

Hazare doesn’t think twice before abusing words like ‘ evil’ and ‘ corruption’. The excessive use of the words stifles thinking rather than promoting it.

By demonising the idea of corruption, he has managed to externalise the idea altogether as something other people do. And by other people, he simply means those who do not agree with him or do not attend his rallies. The poison of his rhetoric poisons our lives; it undermines our trust in people and institutions and robs us of our freedom to debate and dissent. He is a non- violent terrorist: he does not bother about collateral damage in carrying out his mission.

Having said all this, the question still remains whether Hazare belongs to the Hindutva camp. Notwithstanding Digvijaya Singh’s relentless rhetoric on this question, or Mohan Bhagwat’s open avowal of support, or Hazare’s own disagreement with Prashant Bhushan on the Kashmir issue, the question of Hazare’s seeming affinity with the Sangh Parivar needs careful analysis. One doesn’t have to belong to the RSS or the VHP or the Bajarang Dal or the BJP to be formally part of the Sangh Parivar.

Analysts have often categorised Hindutva into ‘ hard’ and ‘ soft’ varieties. It is, therefore, important to understand that there are people who have formal allegiance to Hindutva as represented by institutions and organisations mentioned above, but there are those who might vote for the BJP not because of an ideological position that they take but because of resentment towards a particular party or dispensation.

Going beyond the categories of ‘ hard’ and ‘ soft’ Hindutva, there is a third, and as yet not discussed, category of Hindutva.

This is ‘ banal Hindutva’. Its features are a love for abstractions rather than action, self- righteousness over self- improvement, inflamed nationalism, easy judgement, moral sanctimoniousness over moral understanding and a gnawing sense of inferiority and victimhood.

Type

It manifests in the form of the person who regularly violates traffic lights, spits in public places, raves and rants about the state of education in India and then sends his children abroad, speeds in his car as if there was no tomorrow and yet complains of the fast life in the West, bribes his way through in life but gets tearful when Vande Mataram is sung.

This sort of person does not have the application or the courage to question seriously the status quo, nor does he have the tenaciousness required to join a political party and work for a cause or an ideology.

He wants a comfortable existence, dislikes disorder of any kind, finds dissent and debate in his own circles to be a waste of time, and is happy to fit several air conditioners in his own home while signing petitions to save the ozone layer.

He is a misogynist at home but a serious champion of 33 per cent seats for women in Parliament.

He relentlessly speaks of India’s great Hindu traditions but knows no more than what he gleaned from Amar Chitra Katha comics. He swears by Hindu tolerance yet makes no effort to have a Muslim or a Christian friend; more so, he secretly detests them.

Being afflicted by this moral and ethical schizophrenia, he hides behind the rhetoric of the eternal Hindu civilisation, the dream of making India, which for him means Hindu India, an economic and military superpower, being the number one side in cricket and tracing the origins of all things good and noble to India. If confronted with questions of violence, cruelty and hypocrisy in India, he blames it on Western education, Christian missionaries, the Taliban, Pakistan, America, the rise in population, democracy, the Left and the intellectuals.

Hazare is the leader of ‘ banal Hindutva’.

He has no moral centre and his scruples are his misunderstandings. He typically is the kind of person described so eloquently by Hannah Arendt in her account of Eichmann’s trial: the pathetic, selfserving individual, who attains to a position of power and influence by accident.

Fallout

He is not demonic but just spectacularly mediocre. And he attracts a sizable number of those who are either his kind, or, if they are not necessarily mediocre, are just plainly opportunists, who find a state of political and moral anarchy convenient for their own ends. He is attractive because he does not challenge anyone intellectually or morally. All he asks anyone is to bask in his moral superiority.

Like Krishna asking Arjuna to suspend everything and come unto him, Hazare too wants us to suspend judgement and follow him.

Will ‘ banal Hindutva’ replace the more formal versions of the Hindu nationalist ideology? The answer is that it is unlikely.

What Hazare is knowingly or unknowingly doing is to become the informal recruitment centre for the harder versions of Hindutva. By making ‘ banal Hindutva’ honourable, Hazare has begun the process of making the harder versions of Hindutva more acceptable and legitimate.

The collateral damage, as stated earlier, will be Indian democracy. But does he care?

The writer is professor of politics at University of Hyderabad

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Who says Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement is ‘apolitical’ ?

In Commentary on October 16, 2011 at 8:23 pm

From: Open Magazine, 12 October 2011Web Exclusive

Nonsense
There is no better word for the claim that Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement is ‘apolitical’

BY Hartosh Singh Bal EMAIL AUTHOR(S)

“We have nothing against any political party. Our entire movement is apolitical, as is very clear now” ~ 10 October 2011

Or so Kiran Bedi claimed even as her colleagues were campaigning against the Congress in Hissar, Haryana, for a Lok Sabha by-election. Perhaps we need to get used to the absurd; what else can possibly save us from the hypocrisy that is being played out before us in the name of a public movement?

A few months ago we were told by Anna Hazare:

“I haven’t given up the fast, I have only suspended it. My fast will really end when all our demands are met, when Parliament passes the Bill and there is genuine reform in the country” ~ 28 August 2011

Television anchors announced that a major victory for the people had been won after Parliament passed a resolution that allowed Anna to break his fast. His team echoed such sentiments.

Someone must have been lying then, because it appears that with little more than a month having passed and the Winter Session yet to commence, what Parliament had passed suddenly does not seem good enough. Either it is the case that a desperate Anna and his team sold a face-saving compromise as a ‘victory’ and TV channels equally hungry for TRPs swallowed and propagated this claim, or they have gone back on what they had asked for at the time of the compromise. It does seem that in the time it took to regain his strength, Anna has decided he is ready for another bout with the Government. Which is perhaps why, earlier this month, Anna told the same TV anchors (who, it must be admitted, did look appropriately befuddled at this latest turn of events):

“If the Congress doesn’t pass the Bill in the Winter Session, our agitation will start, but we will not support any particular party. Rather, we will appeal to people to back candidates with character” ~ 5 October 2011

Suddenly, a deadline was being imposed on Indian Parliament, a deadline that was not part of the compromise, and a deadline that no political party could possibly commit itself to, despite claims (or, to be blunt, lies) by Anna’s team to this effect.

The statement indicated that Anna had already taken a step in a direction that would bring the movement in contact with the electoral process. It was difficult to claim that the movement was not political at this point, but it was possible to argue that this was a principled stand, no political party was being favoured, and ‘candidates with character’ could be loosely interpreted to mean that people believed to be corrupt would be targeted.

However, contradicting Anna’s earlier claims, his man Friday Arvind Kejriwal began campaigning in the Hissar by-poll not after, but before the Winter Session. No longer was the team making a decision on who to support or oppose based on the ‘character’ of candidates. As Kejriwal told the electorate at a public meeting in Hissar:

“Except the Congress, give your vote to any of the other 44 candidates in the fray. Do not worry excessively that there are corrupt individuals among the candidates. If they win, the Lokpal Bill will send them to jail” ~ 10 October 2011

Let us try and understand Kejriwal’s logic (if it can be termed that)—as long as the Congress is kept out, it does not matter that corrupt politicians are elected to Parliament. In fact, to take this argument to its logical conclusion, Kejriwal seems to suggest that if enough corrupt non-Congress politicians are elected, they will pass a Lokpal Bill that will ensure they are sent to jail. It says something about the IIT joint entrance examination that a man who can make light of logic so easily got through.

Try and reconcile his statement with the initial premise of this movement, which was avowedly anti-corruption, not anti-Congress. What the mobilisation did was channel popular anger against corruption in India towards the rather limited demand for a Lokpal bill. Hazare seems to have sensed how limited an idea the Bill is in the face of such public fury:

“I want to tell the youth of this country that this fight should not stop [at] the Lokpal alone. We have to fight for removing the faults of the present electoral system. Because of faults in the electoral system, 150 criminals have reached Parliament” ~ 20 August 2011

Again, like most of Anna Hazare’s pronouncements, it sounds virtuous, but it makes little sense. It seems to imply that either the electorate is stupid for having elected chargesheeted candidates, or we need to change our laws to tag people as ‘criminals’ before they are convicted. The people he terms ‘criminal’ have not been held as such by the courts so far; they have not been indicted, they have only been charged with crimes.

If this does not count for hypocrisy, look at this in the context of the campaign his team is waging in Hissar (and nothing of what is stated here changes because of the final result, which will be out by the time you read this).

There are three serious candidates in the fray. One is Kuldip Bishnoi, son of former Haryana CM Bhajan Lal, whose death led to this by-election; there is Ajay Chautala, son of former CM Om Prakash Chautala; and there is the Congress candidate Jai Prakash, handpicked by the state’s current CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

With the legacy of two former CMs and the prestige of the incumbent CM at stake, this is no ordinary by-election. The constituency is polarised between Jats and other castes who have come together to support Bishnoi as the only major non-Jat candidate. Hissar’s Jat votes are expected to split themselves between Chautala and Jai Prakash.

When Kejriwal and Bedi go around asking people not to vote Congress, their attempt effectively is to shift Jat votes to Chautala. This is not lost on anyone in Hissar, least of all on Kejriwal, who is a native of the city. In effect, Anna and his team are campaigning for Ajay Chautala. It then makes sense to examine the record of the man who is by default the first candidate put up for election by the India Against Corruption movement.

On 23 September, a Delhi court framed charges against Ajay Chautala for his alleged possession of wealth in excess of his known sources of income, having found prima facie evidence against him. Special CBI Judge PS Teji noted, “I am of the considered opinion that prima facie a case for framing charges under Section 13(1)(e), read with Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, is made out against the accused for acquiring assets disproportionate to his known sources of income…It has been demonstrated that during the check period (24 May 1993 to 31 May 2006), Ajay Singh Chautala [had an] income of Rs 8.17 crore, whereas he acquired assets worth Rs 27.74 crore, that is [an increase of] 339.27 per cent, which were disproportionate to his known sources of income.”

The court also stated that the sitting Haryana MLA has “failed to give any explanation with regard to assets accumulated by him. He has failed to disclose the legal sources from which he acquired such assets.”

Chautala has managed another incredible feat. His election affidavit filed on 26 September says his wife bought 15.3 acres in village Lambi in Dabwali, Sirsa district, for Rs 8.78 lakh on 11 September 2011. Fifteen days later, according to the affidavit, the land’s value had reached an astounding Rs 1.5 crore.

Under the circumstances, perhaps Anna and Kejriwal should be answering some questions about this sudden desire on their part to campaign in this by-poll. The only explanation forthcoming are these words of Kejriwal in Hissar:

“Don’t you want to know why we are agitating against the Congress? It was their duty to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, but they did not do it” ~ 10 October 2011

This brings us back full circle. When could the Congress have passed this Bill? At the end of the last session of Parliament, Team Anna had claimed that they were satisfied by the resolution passed in Parliament. The next session has not even begun, so what is Kejriwal talking about?

Perhaps, at this stage, parallels with another people’s movement are worth drawing. What in 1974 began as the Bihar Movement under the leadership of Jaiprakash Narayan against corruption in the state government ended up as a demand for Indira Gandhi’s resignation. This transformation, however, happened only after her Lok Sabha election was set aside by an Allahabad High Court verdict. Passing or not passing the Jan Lokpal Bill within Anna’s deadline is not an equivalent.

If Team Anna were less laced with hypocrisy and more honest about its actual intentions, it could have said something that does have considerable resonance in India: do not vote for the Congress because the party has run one of the most corrupt governments since Independence. But that would mean honestly taking a plunge into politics, much the way Jaiprakash Narayan did, rather than maintaining the pretence of remaining above and beyond politics.

It now seems clear that Anna and his team are not sure about the sustainability of their movement or its long-term strength. Their Hissar intervention will not affect the electoral result. Rather, it is like a little boy wandering into a ring for a few seconds during a bout between two prizefighters and claiming to have decided the winner. It is a way of garnering some publicity points without risking anything, but sooner or later, it is a strategy that will come back to haunt them. Anna seems to have forgotten why this movement started. Long before it began, he was far clearer on where the problem lay:

“Clearly, the corridors of power breed corruption. And Delhi, India’s capital, comes high on the list. It will take time to mobilise people to fight corruption, but yes, we are working towards it” ~ April 2000

If the movement had been serious about corruption, Team Anna would have needed a much wider perspective than just the specific clauses of a single piece of legislation. This has now become a battle about the ego of a few people who are looking to convey the impression that they can damage the Congress, not because it deserves such a fate (it is difficult to argue with that), but because such a perception serves their personal agendas.

If Anna had been a Gandhian, he would have paid some attention to the question of the means adopted to achieve the end he claims to be fighting for. It is difficult to fight against corruption while in effect backing the corrupt. It is difficult to manage honesty in negotiating a deal on corruption when the man you trust is someone called Vilasrao Deshmukh.

Consider in closer detail how the movement has picked who within the Congress it likes to do business with. Over the recent past, Team Anna has reserved its ire for Digvijaya Singh, who, it is true, has made some statements without evidence, but he is not the only one to have raised questions about the antecedents and motives of the movement. The team has, however, had nothing to say about the utterances of people such as Salman Khurshid, who seems to have earned their trust.

This is the Union Cabinet member who was quoted in The Indian Express, not very long ago, as saying: “What will affect the functioning of the Government is—if other institutions do not understand the kind of political economy we are faced with today. What is needed to encourage growth and investment? If you lock up top businessmen, will investment come?”

When Khurshid asks the Judiciary to bear in mind the impact of its judgments on the ‘political economy’, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he seems to be asking for special caution to be exercised in the pursuit of cases against Big Business. The Judiciary, though, and as a lawyer Khurshid should know this, proceeds on evidence, not on the impact a minister feels a judgment may have on the country. But then, Khurshid was also the man who as Minister for Corporate Affairs oversaw the clean chit given by his ministry to Anil Ambani over Reliance’s holdings in Swan Telecom.

It is no surprise, then, that the two members of Team Anna who have earned respect for their probity in public life over a period of time, Santosh Hegde and Medha Patkar, have both been critical of the decision to target a single political party. Anna’s behaviour, though, has been in keeping with his past, which is full of instances where he has done a volte face while taking up cudgels against ‘corrupt politicians’. This leaves Kejriwal. Is it perhaps too late to suggest that the man be given a seat on the National Advisory Council?

Is the media’s job to support or to report? – Editorial EPW

In Commentary on September 5, 2011 at 7:02 pm

From: Economic & Political Weekly, September 3, 2011, vol xlvI no 36

Editorial

Indian Media’s Anna Moment
Is the media’s job to support or to report?

The cameras have been switched off. The microphones have fallen silent. But the cacophony generated by the saturation media coverage accorded to the agitation led by Anna Hazare for a Jan Lokpal Bill continues to ricochet. Questions are being asked, as well they should, not just about the extent of media coverage, especially by the electronic media, but on the content of the coverage. Given the profuse expressions of appreciation by the Anna Hazare group at the end of the protests to the media for its “support”, a key question that the media needs to ask is whether its role in such a situation is to support or to report. By becoming participants in this particular campaign against corruption, has the electronic media forfeited any semblance of professionalism that had survived previous occasions where it had gone overboard? Or will it take the time to pause now and analyse why it decided that the saturation coverage of the campaign, at the cost of scores of other important news developments across India, was justified?

From the coverage of the April fast by Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar, where television anchors were waxing eloquent about how this was India’s Tahrir Square, to August when a leading anchor announced that this was “an inflexion point” in India’s history, it was apparent that the electronic media had bought into the protest, setting aside scepticism or distance essential in the interests of accuracy and balance. The story had been reduced to good and evil – with “civil society” of the Anna brand as good and the government as evil. Even if one argues that some of the coverage was justified, particularly after Hazare’s arrest and the drama of his release that followed, when and how did the media decide to accord the protests non-stop uncritical coverage? One reason could be that the response in April to the fast had alerted news media that this was a story their largely middle class urban viewers would follow. Television revenue is based on viewership. Over the two weeks in August that all news channels, with the exception of Doordarshan, focused exclusively on Ramlila Maidan, news viewership increased while that of sports as well as Hindi movies dropped.

A second factor could be that the people who staff our media come from the same class as those leading the anti-corruption protests. The Anna Hazare group included journalists and technology savvy young people. They knew how to talk to journalists; journalists knew how to relate to them. Such a cosy relationship is not possible with adivasis fighting for their lands, dalits agitating against exclusion, north-easterners and Kashmiris demanding repeal of oppressive laws or anti-nuclear agitators who resist the imposition of a dangerous technology. On the other hand, corruption, particularly someone else’s corruption, is a comfortable cause to support along-side “people like us”. For the electronic media, this story was tailor- made – a fixed location, colourful crowds, a 74-year-old Gandhian-type figure on fast, and a campaign against something as generic as “corruption” that had universal appeal. “Team Anna” provided quotable quotes, considerable drama, and full access at all times. Plus, the protests were concentrated in Delhi and a few large cities, with rural India represented by Anna Hazare’s village, Ralegan Siddhi. So even in terms of logistics, this was an easy story to cover.

It is how the media converted a protest into a “movement”, a few cities and a village into “the nation” and a compromise into a “victory” that is even more worrying than the extent of the coverage. Almost from the start, the protests had been dubbed “a second freedom movement”, “August Kranti”, etc, placing them in a historical context with which they bore little resemblance. Second, the size of the gatherings at various places was vastly exaggerated by media treatment. Close camera shots hid the actual size of the crowds while reporters used terms like “sea of humanity” rather than approximate numbers. As a result, viewers were led to believe that the numbers had grown from thousands to tens of thousands to millions. Anchors were constantly telling viewers that “never before” had so many people gathered for a protest, a blatant inaccuracy that slipped by unquestioned.

The constant repetition of terms like “nation”, “freedom struggle”, “victory” by the media enhanced the size and significance of the protest. As a result, in popular imagination, the Anna-led agitation will be remembered as one consisting of “millions” of people across the “nation” fighting “a second freedom struggle” when in fact it was a popular, largely urban upsurge against corruption and for a law to curb it. None of this should matter if indeed the media helped push an insecure and indecisive government into moving on a law that was long overdue. The danger lies in the precedent it has set. It suggests that as long as a group, regardless of its agenda, knows how to handle the media, brings in viewership, and confines protests to logistically convenient locations, it can get coverage which, given the power of 24 × 7 news television, can be leveraged to negotiate with the government. In a democracy, where media should act as a check on all power – not just government power – such a scenario is worrying in the extreme.

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