Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Visibility as a Trap in the Anna Hazare Campaign

In Perspective on November 18, 2011 at 7:45 pm

From: Economic and Political Weekly, 19 November 2011

by Arvind Rajagopal

The rapid escalation of the Anna Hazare campaign, aided by embracing the media as allies, compromised its political character in numerous ways. Political participation as a critique of the status quo has to exist both inside and outside the media spectacle. Visibility can be experienced as fulfilling, but when the image becomes the destination of politics, it is a trap.

FULL TEXT AT: http://epw.in/epw/uploads/articles/16761.pdf


Lokpal Movement: Unanswered Questions (Gautam Navlakha)

In Perspective on November 1, 2011 at 9:19 pm

From: The Economic and Political Weekly, VOL 46 No. 44 and 45 November 05 – November 11, 2011

Why is it that the Anna Hazare-led movement against corruption does not seek to have the Lokpal cover NGOs, corporate houses and the corporate media?

Full Text at: http://epw.in/epw/uploads/articles/16712.pdf

Converging agendas: Team Anna and the Indian Right (Rohini Hensman)

In Perspective on September 19, 2011 at 6:50 am

From: Infochange News & Features, September 2011

Anna Hazare’s authoritarianism, the lack of any whiff of democracy in the village he rules, the crushing of dissent, his ultra-nationalism and his belief in caste hierarchy, suggest a convergence of his agenda and worldview with that of the right-wing, says Rohini Hensman Anna Hazare Against Corruption

When Anna Hazare ended his second fast for the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLB), his followers and the media claimed that his campaign was an unqualified success. Hazare himself was more circumspect, but his promise that he would move on to electoral reform and other issues suggested that he too felt he had scored a victory. But has he?

Most people thronging to demonstrate in support of his demands thought that the campaign was a straightforward one against corruption, but it was both more and less than that. More, because the demand of Team Anna was that parliament should pass their particular bill, the Jan Lokpal Bill, by a particular date; and less, because it defined corruption in a superficial manner.

Team Anna certainly won the first round, given the government’s inability to read the public mood. By first presenting a bill so weak that it made a mockery of the idea of curbing corruption, and then resorting to preventive arrests of Anna and his close associates, it helped to mobilise massive crowds against itself. At this point in the proceedings, it was easy for a casual observer to feel that the campaign was standing up not only for a strong law against corruption but also for freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly, which were being crushed by a government bent on negating all democratic rights and freedoms. Indeed, this is what many people out on the streets believed. Who would want to oppose such a campaign? But, ironically, as the government backtracked, giving permission for the fast and initiating a public consultation on the Lokpal Bill, it regained some legitimacy, while the Hazare campaign, as it became increasingly aggressive, lost it. The government wisely agreed to a formula that would allow Hazare to break his fast without losing face, but even a cursory examination of the terms of that agreement make it clear that it was a major retreat for India Against Corruption (IAC) from their earlier hardline stand. Why were they forced to back down?

An authoritarian bill backed by the RSS

Questions were raised about the dangerously authoritarian character of the bill they were backing, with its creation of an unaccountable, unelected body that would have the power to tap phones, intercept emails, and remove every government functionary from the Prime Minister and Chief Justice to the lowest peon. Access to judicial review for those targeted by this all-powerful body would be meaningless, given its power to remove judges it did not like. By defining corruption as the disease rather than seeing it as merely a symptom of a deeper disease – power without accountability, power to commit crimes with impunity – the JLB was a formula to introduce a new source of corruption rather than eliminating it. It was also, potentially, an assault on India’s democratic institutions, one heightened by the demand that either the law should be passed by parliament by August 30, or the government should quit. This ultimatum ruled out any possibility of pre-legislative discussion and debate of the two bills, or consideration of other proposals like those of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) which had successfully campaigned for what has turned out to be the country’s most effective tool of transparency to date, the Right to Information (RTI) Act. And the demand that a parliament elected by hundreds of millions should quit because a few hundred thousand people claiming to represent ‘civil society’ were demanding it mocked the conception of democracy. Where the RTI Act had put power to combat corruption into the hands of ordinary citizens, the JLB seeks to concentrate this power in the hands of a super-powerful state institution.

The enthusiastic participation of the RSS and other members of the Sangh Parivar also disturbed many. During the second fast in August, the backdrop of Bharat Mata was replaced by Mahatma Gandhi and RSS members were kept away from the dais, but the cries of ‘Vande Mataram!’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki jai!’ continued to be as frequent as before. Sushma Swaraj claimed openly that the RSS was mobilising for the protest [1], and the VHP told the media it provided free food – a major crowd-puller – for 20,000 protesters. These proclamations are discounted by some on the Left, who argue that the RSS would naturally try to claim credit for any mass movement. However, this isn’t true. Bigger crowds were reported at the protests against the nuclear tests in 1998, hundreds of thousands of workers have marched in protests against the attack on labour rights, but the Sangh Parivar did not try to claim credit for them because they did not identify with the cause. In this case they did, and the reason is not hard to find. A campaign against narrowly-defined corruption in a government not controlled by them, a demand that the government should either pass a law setting up a super-state they could easily control or else quit, suited them perfectly. They were not trying to capture the movement: it was tailor-made for them.

Both the authoritarian character of the bill and RSS backing for the IAC can be explained by the characteristics of the leadership of the movement and the movement itself.

The leaders

The ‘civil society’ panel that drafted and negotiated with the government over the Jan Lokpal Bill consisted of Anna Hazare, Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal. Anna Hazare himself, projected as the leader of the campaign, hails from Ralegan Siddhi, a village in Maharashtra. As a detailed study of his village by Mukul Sharma (well summarised by Yogi Sikand) reveals, he holds absolute power in it: there have been no gram panchayat elections for the last 24 years, nor even elections to cooperatives, and no campaigning is allowed during state or national elections. Just as a mother is entitled to slap her child (according to him), he feels he is entitled to use coercion or violence against those who infringe his rules. Alcohol is banned, and anyone taking it is tied to a pole and flogged. Although he opposes untouchability, dalits are supposed to follow the occupation dictated by their caste, and have been forced to adopt vegetarianism. In a streak of puritanism reminiscent of the Taliban, satellite dishes, cable TV and any music other than bhajans are banned [2]. The comparison with Gandhi by dim-witted mediapersons is belied by his calls for the death penalty [3].

None of these journalists thought it fit to ask how he could campaign for the right to reject and recall candidates if he doesn’t recognise the right to elect candidates in the first place, and contemptuously dismisses the average voter as prone to being bought by liquor, saris or cash! Nor did they think to ask: If he is so keen on electoral reform, why not implement it in his village as an experiment? Why not propose reform in electoral funding, so that the disgruntled 10% can put up their own candidate, instead of rejecting all candidates and disrupting elections time and again at enormous cost to the taxpayer and political stability? What exactly should be the conditions under which candidates can be recalled?

The striking authoritarianism of Hazare’s outlook, the lack of any whiff of democracy in the village he rules as an absolute dictator, and his belief in caste hierarchy, all make him amenable to the politics of the Sangh Parivar. But the relationship goes much deeper. Some of his staunchest supporters were shocked when he held up Narendra Modi as a model for other chief ministers to emulate [4]. He later clarified he was opposed to communalism, but this does not explain why he chose to praise a man who orchestrated the massacre of thousands of innocents. Bribery need not always take the form of money; it can also take the form of promotions, appointments to sinecures, etc. The promotion of police officers who had participated in the Gujarat pogroms and victimisation of those who had done their job by trying to prevent the slaughter are among the worst forms of corruption.

Even in the narrower sense of corruption adopted by Team Anna, Gujarat has a shameful record. As Mallika Sarabai pointed out in her letter to Hazare, “irrigated farmlands have been stealthily taken by the government and sold off at ridiculous prices to a small club of industrialists. There has been no Lokayukta in Gujarat for nearly seven years so hundreds of complaints against corruption are lying unheard. From the Sujalam Sufalam scam of Rs 1,700 crore to the NREGS boribund scam of Rs 109 crore, the fisheries scam of Rs 600 crore, every department is involved in thousands of crores of scams…The state is in terrible debt because of his largesse to industry while 21 lakh farmers wait for compensation” [5].

So what made Anna give Modi such a glowing character-reference? This cannot be explained simply by any apparent naivety. If Hazare was so effusive about Modi, it was because their worldviews and agendas converged. Two points in particular are worth noting. One is the extremely complimentary comments by top RSS leaders about Ralegan Siddhi, likening it to Ram Rajya and organising tours of it for their activists, as well as organising programmes in support of him; and the other is the decision taken by the RSS in its all-India leaders’ meeting in March 2011 – before Anna’s fast in April – to launch a campaign against corruption [6] The impression of converging agendas is confirmed by L K Advani’s announcement of a rath yatra against corruption [7] and Team Anna’s deafening silence concerning Modi’s patently corrupt attempt to appoint a Lokayukta who had acquitted all the accused in the Best Bakery massacre, and therefore could be trusted to toe the state government line [8].

Two other members of the drafting team also have relationships with the Sangh Parivar. Arvind Kejriwal maintained close links with BJP MPs during the agitation as well as drawing in gurus soft on Hindutva such as Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar [6]. His association with the anti-reservationist Youth for Equality created revulsion among dalits, as did his dismissal of their suggestion that there should be a dalit on the drafting committee on the grounds that legal specialists were needed to draft a law (as though dalits were incapable of drafting laws, regardless of the fact that the Indian Constitution was drafted by one!) [9]. And Justice Santosh Hegde, whose father was all-India vice-President of the BJP, just last year referred to L K Advani (of the infamous Ram Janmabhoomi rath yatra that resulted in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and slaughter of thousands of Muslims) as a ‘father figure’ [10].

The right-wing bias of these three members of the JLB drafting committee explains why it leaves out NGOs from its ambit, since inclusion of NGOs would be a blow to massive outfits like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (already accused of illegal land acquisition [11]) and Baba Ramdev’s offshore financial transactions. It also explains why most dalit, adivasi and minority-rights activists stayed away from the movement, fearing that the JLB’s definition of ‘corruption’ would target the beneficiaries of affirmative action as well as members of the legislature and judiciary who supported attempts to level the playing field for sections of the population suffering discrimination.

The fourth member of the team, Shanti Bhushan, is a corporate lawyer whose most high-profile case in recent years has been that of Novartis versus the Cancer Patients Aid Association [12]. Novartis is attempting to prevent the production of generic versions of imatinib mesylate (an anti-leukemia drug) beyond the period of its original patent by a process called ‘ever-greening’, whereby a minor change in the form of a drug is used to renew its patent. In this particular case, it would mean that a life-saving drug would only be available at the Novartis price of Rs 120,000 per month instead of being made available by Indian companies for Rs 8,000 per month, obviously a death sentence for all leukemia patients other than the super-rich. In other words, Shanti Bhushan was hired by Novartis to argue that a company’s right to profit trumps the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution [13]. Bhushan Sr’s professional dealings with his corporate clients explains why corporations are left out of the Jan Lokpal Bill. This curious omission is also why companies like Jindal Aluminium, a company that tried to silence critics of its illegal mining activities with a false defamation suit [14], are willing to back the Anna movement with substantial donations [15]. It is also why the corporate media could abandon any pretence of objectivity and play an active role in promoting the movement [16]. For all of these power elites (big business, mass media), the solution to corruption is to privatise everything, minimise state regulation of private capital, and terminate even inadequate social security and welfare schemes like NREGA. They would like to secure their privileges (for which they now have to pay bribes) without paying bribes. Anything that cuts into their right to make money constitutes corruption.

These neoliberal underpinnings of the JLB have been criticised by many left-wing commentators and one important trade union federation. As the New Trade Union Initiative points out, “the fight against corruption must include demands for legislation and effective implementation of the laws that govern capital alongside rigorous and stringent implementation of the laws that govern work, the provision of social security and social protection, and all laws that provide working people access to their basic needs. Corruption necessarily flows from above and is deeply rooted in how capital seeks to maximise profits and not merely a product of corrupt civil servants or a grasping political class” [17]. While it might not be feasible for the Lokpal to monitor all NGOs and companies, in cases where a politician or bureaucrat has colluded with a company or NGO to rob the public (of land, revenue, etc), it makes no sense to nab the junior partner-in-crime (the politician or bureaucrat) while allowing the major beneficiary of corruption (the company or NGO) to get away with it. In such cases, as suggested by the NCPRI, the Lokpal or Lokayukta should have power to investigate and prosecute any other person who is co-accused in the case before it [18].

The involvement of the fifth member of the team, Prashant Bhushan, caused consternation among some of his former admirers, since he has been associated with social justice causes. But his fundamental similarity to the other members of the drafting team in terms of elitism and authoritarianism are evident in his vehement arguments that the issue of the JLB should be resolved by a referendum [19]. If a referendum were held on each and every clause of the bill, it would cost the earth and take forever, so that is clearly not feasible. Instead, the bill will be (in fact has been) drafted by ‘experts’, and the public will only have the right to vote for one bill or the other. Ironically, far from being an expansion of participatory democracy, as he claims, this constitutes a much less democratic procedure than pre-legislative public debate on a bill, with the possibility of feeding into the drafting process.

Apart from leaving out the people who will be affected by the bill from the deliberations on it, a referendum can be framed in a way that elicits the result that is desired. In this case, for example, Bhushan Jr made it clear that there would be only two options, the government Lokpal Bill or the JLB: no possibility of voting for the NCPRI or other proposals, and not even the option of rejecting both bills! (The hypocrisy of demanding the right to reject in elections while leaving it out in the proposed referendum is truly stunning!) Even if the intention is to get feedback on the JLB, there are two different ways in which a referendum could be framed. If the choice is between the government bill and JLB, as Bhushan wants, those who reject both would have to abstain; then it is possible that the majority of those who vote, knowing only that the latter is stronger, would vote for it. But if the choice is ‘the JLB: Yes or No’, many more are likely to vote, and the ‘No’ vote is likely to predominate, given the deep suspicion on the part of dalits, adivasis, minorities and workers that the JLB is designed to rob them of their rights [20]. No wonder referendums are favoured by dictators!

The JLB is marked by the elitist and authoritarian outlook of its drafters. While some of these features have been diluted since the first draft was put out, the marks of its parentage are still all too evident.

The followers

There has been a great deal of debate on the class composition of the crowds that came out in support of the JLB, but what is more relevant is the political character of the crowds; after all, there was a significant presence of plebeian elements in the mobs that brought down the Babri Masjid as well as the crowds that flocked to Hitler’s speeches, but this did not make them any less fascist.

Kiran Bedi’s slogan of ‘Anna is India and India is Anna’, with its disturbing echoes of the Emergency (‘Indira is India and India is Indira’) as well as Nazism (‘Adolf Hitler is Germany and Germany is Adolf Hitler’), was abandoned, but its spirit haunted the speeches of Team Anna, who repeatedly claimed that they spoke for ‘the people’ or ‘civil society’ as a whole. Equally revealing was the ubiquitous slogan ‘I am Anna’. What this conveyed was blind faith in Anna’s leadership, and a promise to follow wherever he went, do whatever he ordered. This abdication of the responsibility to think for oneself in favour of blind faith in a charismatic leader is typical of fascist movements. This does not mean that all those who wore ‘I am Anna’ caps or T-shirts were fascists, but that they could easily be manipulated by fascists.

If blind obedience to a leader is one side of the coin, the other side is intolerance of dissent or questioning of the stated goal. This too was very much in evidence. The good-natured and non-violent character of the assembly, noted by some who visited Ramlila Maidan, lasted only so long as questions were confined to ‘Where have you come from?’ and ‘What do you do?’As soon as even mildly probing questions were asked about the JLB, good nature vanished and the strong undercurrent of violence beneath the sanctimonious appearance of non-violence came to the surface [21]. The most horrifying report of such violence was that of a student who was chased into a river by fellow-students and pelted with stones until he drowned because he refused to participate in the anti-corruption protests [22].

Finally, the aggressive waving of the national flag and frequent chants of ‘Vande Mataram!’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki jai!’ conveyed a great deal about the character of the movement. As one journalist said, “Never in India’s history, not even during the freedom movement or war-time, has such aggressively patriotic fervour been unleashed…Democratic plurality, ideological diversity and argumentativeness were integral to our freedom movement…So here is the quibble. Once you produce the national flag, and Bharat Mata, all arguments cease…A democratic movement has to give space for disagreement, argue with those who have a different point of view, not wave the national flag and shut them up” [23].

All these characteristics – blindly following a leader, crushing dissent, and ultra-nationalism – are characteristics of fascism. Mass organisations like workers’ unions could not be more different, with their openness to often heated argument and debate.

Some conclusions

Put together, these characteristics of the goal of the campaign, its leadership, and its mass following suggest that IAC, if it can be called a mass movement at all, is a populist movement which is similar in many ways to the völkisch (populist) movements that fed into the rise of Nazism. Norwegian right-wing mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik had advised the Sangh Parivar that instead of attacking Muslims, they should focus their attacks on those whom he bizarrely described as ‘the Indian cultural Marxists’ – namely the UPA government, with its commitment to the protection of minorities – and seek to overthrow it [24]. But it is the Sangh Parivar that could give some lessons to Breivik. It knew that the slaughter of Muslims, as in Gujarat in 2002, could gain votes for it; that this may be changing, hence their switch-over to carrying out terrorist attacks that are blamed on Muslims; and that a massacre of, say, young members of the Congress Party (analogous to the massacre carried out by Breivik) would simply backfire against it. Instead, its assault on the UPA is far more subtle, cashing in on the public revulsion that has built up over issues like rampant inflation and corruption. In the past, campaigns against corruption by JP and V P Singh have been used by the Sangh Parivar to boost its popularity and bring it to power, and it is entirely possible that the Anna Hazare campaign could have the same result.

Whether regime change will result depends to a great extent on the reaction of the UPA government. Harping on about the supremacy of parliament in order to discredit popular protest is simply not convincing, because the legitimacy of parliament depends on the degree to which it upholds the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Why would the Constitution guarantee rights like freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly if democracy meant only the right to vote every five years? Obviously, these are also means by which citizens achieve some measure of control over their own lives, as well as communicate what they want their representatives to do. If the UPA had taken more trouble to listen, rather than ignoring protests or all too often crushing them, it would not be facing a crisis.

It is not too late to start listening, beginning with the issue of corruption in the narrow sense. Some action against it has been taken, but belatedly and not enough. The best features of all the Lokpal proposals should be brought together and a strong set of laws enacted and implemented. If the government demonstrates that it is serious about taking action – and not just against its enemies – some of the damage done in the last six months could be reversed.

However, it is far more important to tackle the underlying disease that results in corruption: untrammelled power and impunity. For example, Anna’s fast unintentionally drew attention to Irom Sharmila’s decade-long fast against AFSPA. Every time the repeal or even amendment of this law is mooted, Armed Forces chiefs (who seem to believe that the army cannot do its work without raping, torturing and killing innocents) objects. Yet this law is patently unconstitutional, since it violates the right to equal protection of the law (which is denied to the victims) and to equality before the law (since the perpetrators are effectively above the law). Armed insurgency is admittedly a serious problem, but impunity for state security forces only makes it worse by alienating civilians. AFSPA and other laws that allow security force personnel to commit crimes with impunity need to be repealed or radically amended if the most blatant and corrupt abuse of power is to be curbed.

There are other issues on which the UPA needs to listen to protesters rather than using its majority in parliament to ram through policies that are not only unpopular but also violate fundamental rights. The Aadhar programme and nuclear power programme come to mind. The former is being pushed through without a proper debate and in the face of powerful arguments against it. And with wind and solar energy already cheaper than nuclear power and rapidly getting cheaper, the argument for nuclear power, which is hazardous, expensive, and will leave a deadly legacy of nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands of years, is extremely questionable. These policies reek of corruption, because they benefit a tiny elite while the rest of the population pays the price, either as taxpayers or because their human rights are violated. Unless they are put on hold while an informed, transparent public debate on their pros and cons takes place, the UPA is likely to suffer in the next elections.

More generally, the disease of untrammelled power, of which corruption is merely a symptom, needs to be tackled. If bureaucrats have the power to formulate or interpret legislation in a manner that deprives people of their rights or entitlements, then it is that power that must be curbed, not just the bribes they take from desperate people who have no other way of obtaining those rights or entitlements. If police have the power to torture innocents and threaten to kill them unless they confess to crimes they have not committed, then it is that power that must be curbed, not just the fact that they routinely use it to extort bribes. Responding to social movements by enacting legislation and carrying out measures that empower ordinary working people would be one way of tackling corruption at its roots; a massive increase in transparency, which is already mandated by the RTI Act, would be another.

The Left – both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary – also has an important role to play. Most sections of the Left in India have little or no understanding of fascism; they do not seem to know, for example, that fascism is a mass movement before it seizes power. These sections are so intent on training their guns on the centre that they are often oblivious of the fact that they are doing it in a manner that strengthens the extreme right. They have yet to develop the political skill of being critical of the government when it violates human rights or colludes in corruption, without providing support to right-wing forces engaged in subverting democracy.


If the IAC and the Sangh Parivar won the first round of this struggle, the second round was won by the legal experts, Left intellectuals and social justice activists who stayed out of the campaign and criticised both the government’s Lokpal Bill and the JLB. The third round has now been launched by Team Anna. In their press conference on September 11, there was no mention of Modi’s attempt to appoint a Lokayukta in Gujarat in violation of the core principles of the JLB, no mention of the murder of RTI activist Shehla Masood in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh; but Anna did promise to campaign in forthcoming elections against candidates who oppose the JLB [26]. In a subsequent interview, he said that he would not be campaigning for any party, and suggested that Advani should ensure that all BJP Chief Ministers appoint Lokayuktas before starting his yatra. However, given that the BJP has pledged support to the JLB, it has already gained from Anna’s campaign and would undoubtedly gain more in future. It remains to be seen who will win the third round.

(Rohini Hensman is an activist and independent scholar working on issues of workers’ rights, women’s rights, the rights of minorities in India and Sri Lanka, and globalisation. She has written extensively on these issues, her most recent book being Workers, Unions, and Global Capitalism: Lessons From India. Her publications include two novels)


[1] http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ws180811PROTESTIII.asp

[2] http://www.rediff.com/news/column/what-anna-hazares-new-plans-mean-for-democracy-

[3] http://www.ap7am.com/ap7am_show_detail_videos.php?newsid=41004

[4] http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_anna-hazare-praises-narendra-modi-nitish-kumar-asks-cms-to-emulate-them_1530483

[5] http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/mallika-sarabhais-letter-to-warning-to-anna-hazare-98125

[6] http://www.sacw.net/article2266.html

[7] http://zeenews.india.com/news/nation/advani-plans-rath-yatra-against-corruption_730524.html

[8] http://twocircles.net/2011sep05/why_did_modi_prefer_justice_retd_j_r_vora_lokayukta_post.html?utm

[9] http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ws010911This_why.asp

[10] http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/karnataka-lokayukta-santosh-hegde-withdraws-resignation-35364

[11] http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne100911Art.asp

[12] http://spicyipindia.blogspot.com/2010/07/novartis-bayer-appeals-to-be-heard-by.html

[13] http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report_novartis-changes-tack-in-patent-law-challenge_1083157

[14] http://hrln.org/hrln/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=78:nelson-fernandes-

[15] http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=

[17] http://ntui.org.in/media/item/ntui-statement-on-the-fight-against-corruption/

[18] http://www.prajnya.in/mkss%20measures.pdf

[19] http://ibnlive.in.com/news/team-anna-seeks-referendum-on-lokpal-bill/157732-3.html http://spicyipindia.blogspot.com/2010/07/novartis-bayer-appeals-to-be-heard-by.html http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report_novartis-changes-tack-in-patent

[20] http://jantantra.com/2011/08/25/why-the-ramlila-surge-worries-minorities-and-those-on-margins/

[21] http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/everybody-loves-a-good-protest

[22] http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-08-31/chennai/29949127_1_adyar-river-college-

[23] http://www.indianexpress.com/news/annationalism/840907/0

[24] http://www.sify.com/news/norwegian-mass-killer-breivik-s-manifesto-hails-hindutva

[25] http://ibnlive.in.com/generalnewsfeed/news/hazare-asks-people-not-to-elect-mps-who-

Metro-Middle Class, NGO And Media; Trio At The Crossroads (Anurag Modi)

In Perspective on September 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm

From: Countercurrents.org, 22 August 2011

By Anurag Modi

The crowds that thronged two historic public grounds of Mumbai and Delhi in a span 12 days of Anna’s movement was something phenomenal and commendable. At the same time, the style and operation in which the movement was conducted has raised many questions which need to be analyzed and addressed. And now, after the storm has abated, one can, and needs to, examine it in more detail, because there are important lessons to be learnt. In times that are changing fast, when history can be made in less than a fortnight, it’s easy to lose sight of the facts, and make the wrong connections. And this possibility of drawing erroneous conclusions and setting dangerous precedents is the hazardous fallout that we must protect ourselves from.

Today’s youth has had no experience of earlier political movements in our country. It was yet to be born at the time of our Independence or for JP Narayan’s Sampoorna Kranti, the only other movement of some stature to have taken place thus far. It is therefore understandable for it to be beguiled into naively equating them with Anna’s struggle, making the likelihood of it becoming the epitome of movements, and a blueprint to be followed in the future, all too real.

Equating the VIP-like jailing of Anna as another epitome of the state’s strangulation of democratic voices, does grave injustice to the hundreds of people’s movements and thousands of their activists who are working against corruption at the grassroots where there is no media reach. These activists have routinely been harassd and threatened, facing sometimes-fatal attacks, several jail sentences, or court cases on trumped-up charges.The examples of..Irom Sharmila in Manipur, Binayak Sen in Chhatisgarh, Prashant Rahi in Uttatrakhand are all too familiar. The methods employed by the state are too many to enumerate, and certainly not as gentle as those used with Anna.

One must realize that, away from the eyes of the mainstream media, there is a much larger expression of civil society which exists through various people’s movements across the length and breadth of the country. These are initiated by workers, adivasis, dalits, farmers, women and other marginalized sections of the society. These movements have fought to make their local systems to deliver, and the government has been forced to enact several progressive legislations due to their relentless struggle.

I can speak from our own example. In the area where we work in Betul(MP), the adivasis and dalits were denied their due rights over forests and access to developmental schemes, and they were subjected to inhuman treatment by the forest, police and revenue department officers. With their active support, we formed a people’s organization, which helped towards asserting their rights, and kept a tab on the corruption at the local level, which restored dignity to their lives. But the work has also come at a price: we have a dozen cases registered against us based on false pretexts, and have been served with notices of externment from six districts of MP where we work. Several adivasi activists too face a similar plight, with their names implicated in several false cases. These are men and women who can hardly make ends meet, and are forced to spend a lot on fighting these cases. Yet, the commitment to their work is unwavering. This is a story common to all the people’s movement across the country.

It is crucial here to differentiate these movements from NGOs, which are registered societies formed by few individuals, which mostly work on the agenda dictated by their funders. The majority, including Arvind Kejriwals’s “Kabir” and Kiran Bedis“Navjyot” and “Vision Foundation”, are funded either by corporate houses, the government or foreign agencies like Ford Foundation, Oxfam and DFID, among others. With the mounting global compulsion on the governments and international agencies to be seen as democratic in their various national and international interventions, to obtain mandatory consent from the civil society, it seemed more feasible to create a substitute of people’s movement in the form of more flexible NGOs who seemed more in tune with their neo liberal thinking .In order to present before the world the image of a people’s organization, these NGOs were tagged as civil society organisations (CSO); to give an impression of it being a civil society representative. The media tends to mix people’s movement with NGOs or CSOs, or attempts to portray them as one of them.

What we witnessed at Ramlila Maidan was a fight against corruption led by individuals like Anna Hazare, and honest ex-bureaucrats like Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, who have a commendable body of work in their own spheres of life. Though their integrity is under no doubt, but their manner of functioning raises a few questions. When NGOs get into the role of leading people’s movement, they lack people’s involvement in their decision making processes.. One could make out from 24X7 live telecast that the larger crowds gathered at Ramlila maidan were oblivious to the decision making processes; they seemed to be mere spectators to the high drama and just adding to the numbers. This kind of behavior finds no place in grassroot people’s movement. In this two-week long drama, the support of NGOs was looped in through their respective funding agencies spread across the country and linked in a network with India Against Corruption, showing up in mumbers to make their presence felt in New Delhi

It is also odd that the kind of awakening (or was it hysteria?) that was witnessed in major TRP centers of Delhi and Mumbai, was not visible even in a fraction in any other large city or state capitals in the country. It is definitely worth analyzing that, in a country where corruption is omnipresent, why we did not witness such mass scale protests in other cities, as were visible in Delhi and Mumbai. For example in Harda and Betul (Madhya Pradesh), which are our areas of operation, we noticed that the people who had stepped out to support this agitation were those against whose corrupt practices we have filed PILs in the High Court. When we undertook a rally against corruption with workers in the streets of Harda, people appreciated us. But only four to five members from the middle class walked along with us, despite our earnest appeals. And this was in spite of our long-standing campaigns against corruption in the city, because of which we had been sent to jail, were forced to contest false cases in court, as also face attacks on our lives.

The middle-class in these metros is in a dilemma, its youth is facing new challenges from the increasing influence of capitalist forces, struggling to come to terms with rising unemployment and deteriorating socio-political-cultural value system.! But corruption is a common enemy, and these dilemmas, if properly analysed and given a broader prospective, can be linked to the injustices prevalent across rural India . This new metro-middle class uprising created by the combined strengths of high-tech NGOs and the media seems to lack ideological depth but has the power and amorphousness of a mob which won’t be quelled easily, Which is why, it may pose many dangers for other marginalized section of the society living in rural India. These are the concerns raised by dalit activists who believe that this new force can very easily be used as a weapon against reservations for the underprivileged – much like what we saw in the riots in Gujarat, where a frenzied mob was directed against members of a particular community. This concern is also not unfounded as slogans and banners against reservation were allowed to be freely displayed at Ramlila Maidan.

Secondly, to appease this newly-assertive urban metro-middle class, the government may be forced to grant economic favours by increasing budgetary allocations. The development agenda is already so lopsided that while metro cities get most of the share of budgets, rural India is left to feed on MNREGA. Neither does the sun shine bright for the smaller cities. This spells doom in widening the economic gap between the middle class dwellers in metropolis, and those outside the privileged coverage of the government’s development umbrella. An increased pressure to develop these metro cities will further exacerbate the process of rural displacement, whose brunt will have to be borne by farmers, adivasis and members of the backward communities. This will only mean more and more resources to be siphoned off for the cities, to sustain a burgeoning population of cheap labour force migrating from rural areas to these metros. In any case, Delhi and Mumbai require demand larger budget allocations than that of other whole states, just in order to keep the city moving.

Thirdly, In the cat fight for viewership and TRPs from among the urban consumerist middle class, which is the major driver of market forces, the attention towards issues plaguing the underprivileged of our country has further taken a backseat. For example while Anna’s fast was being telecasted live 24×7,Rajpur Tehsil of MP witnessed, a fight between two rival transporters, which led to one operator torching the other’s bus, killing 12 passengers and injuring 15 others who were travelling in it. No news channel gave this news any air-time; newspapers did not give it any prominence. And who remembers the 2740 bodies found in unmarked graves in Kashmir ? In the 80s and 90s, progressive journalists and media houses would still attempt to ensure news space for these people’s movements. But in the last 15 years, the issues of the marginalised section of the society have been strategically and gradually sidelined by the media. This refusal to give consistent reporting to these movements has meant issues like the death of lakhs of farmers in the past decade beoming passé, and the genocide inflicted on adivasis in Chhattisgarh by the Salwa Judum or the open loot on national resources by POSCO and Vedanta seeming so unrelated that it appears to take place in another world. This stubborn reluctance to acknowledge the connections between issues of corruption as perceived by the urban middle class and those that affect the rest of the country only highlights its ignorance. It is not unreasonable to feel concerned that encouraged by the results of the 12-day revolution, the urban middle class adopts it as a blueprint for forcing other issues

If the issues of the underprivileged and their protests against injustices continue to be ignored, an unusual situation of class conflict could arise. If we genuinely desire that this awakening among the urban middle class is used productively and linked to the masses of the country, then they must be exposed to true Gandhian values and thinking, to understand and respect the place of true freedom and equality in a mature democracy. The life struggles of Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose, B.R. Ambedkar, Ram Manohar Lohia and other great leaders would need to be retold. Public meetings will have to be held in towns and cities to explain to people the deep-roots of corruption, its manifestations and origins. To understand that development must be equitable and fair, and stealing the resources of one group to give to another is also a form of corruption, people’s movements across the country need to get involved in the process of generating awareness. This situation of no dialogue between Anna’s group and other people’s movements in the last few months also needs to be changed and India Against Corruption has to be more accountable and involve real civil society in their decision making process. If we do not take these steps now, the entire essence of people’s movements would be lost forever. Like fashion, the media will then decide on which movement, NGO or issue would be best suited to boost their TRP’s.

Anurag Modi, full-time activist for 22 years, Samajwadi Jan Parishad

Email: sasbetul@yahoo.com

Am I still Anna when nobody is watching? (Arvind Rajagopal)

In Perspective on September 8, 2011 at 7:56 am

From: The Hindu

September 7, 2011

Am I still Anna when nobody is watching?

by Arvind Rajagopal

The Hindu Team Anna (from left) Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan at a press conference in New Delhi. File photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Team Anna both galvanised people and captivated the news industry, in two closely related but distinct strategies.

India is not yet a society where Big Brother is Watching You. However, the mass spectacle of people wearing “I am Anna” topis and T-shirts signals a new phase of politics. If we recall “Anna” means Big Brother, we may wonder if in this case Big Brother is You, Watching.

In the second case too, I would say, not yet. Unlike George Orwell’s 1984 or Fascist mass rallies in Nazi Germany, the centre of the spectacle in this case was a 74-year-old villager on an indefinite fast against corruption. Echoing a widespread belief that prevailing institutions are self-serving and heedless of people’s welfare, Hazare was a reminder of the ethics that politics and government had forgotten.

Team Anna both galvanised people and captivated the news industry, in two closely related but distinct strategies. What took shape was perhaps the largest orchestrated media campaign since Ram Janmabhoomi. Unlike that campaign, this one destroyed nothing, and actually sought to introduce legislation that Parliament has resisted for decades. What distinguishes the staging of contemporary events from December 1992 is the massive expansion of the media, and most notably, the growth of satellite TV news channels. Celebration should therefore be tempered with critical reflection. Let me explain why.

The Indian media respond in one of two ways to popular agitations and campaigns. Either they are a threat to order and must be contained by the law — or they are an expression of the national spirit and must be encouraged. In the past, the English language media usually embraced the first position, and the Indian language media the second.

Anna Hazare’s is perhaps the first mass campaign after 1947 where English and vernacular media have come together so visibly. Thus instead of applying a wholly positive or negative response to the agitation, this time the media applied it to the observer. Thus coverage of the movement was mainly in terms of a ‘with-us-or-against-us’ approach. It should be noted though that the Hindi channels adopted a more positive attitude on the whole than the English language media, who were more critical. Questions about the middle class limitations of the movement were mainly confined to the English media, for example.

Indian language media have a tradition of embracing popular agitation dating back to the freedom struggle. The English media adopted the perspective of colonial rulers, and distrusted the public expressions of ordinary people, by contrast. And in post-independence times the English-language media, in their struggle to adhere to secular values, often found itself replicating colonial distrust of popular sentiment.

The media’s collective and on the whole enthusiastic endorsement of mass agitation thus inaugurates a distinct phase of Indian politics. The entry of the masses on to the stage of history is a discourse of democracy, but it is also a mediated event. Gandhiji’s Salt March was a public procession that grew and grew, joining a staple of everyday life with the idea of making a new nation. Political participation has to be imagined as well as enacted. Collective imagination requires the work of media, human as well as technological. Grass-roots work and public rallies, the press and the cinema, and, today, electronic media are all involved.

But if we consider the extent to which today’s media are corporatised and oligopolist in structure, and indifferent to people’s suffering on so many fronts, we should ask: why did this event in particular generate so much commercial media promotion?

In the Anna Hazare campaign, the spectacle of popular mobilisation was seen to be a thing of virtue. And the more mobilisation, it was assumed, the more virtuous civil society was.

During the anti-colonial struggle, the nationalist press could see popular mobilisation as a pure virtue. Why would an increasingly corporate and globalised media celebrate mass agitation in the same way, regardless of the outcome?

As Aruna Roy has noted, the huge Lokpal mobilisation has had a relatively small outcome. No corrupt politicians were pinpointed, much less punished, although that was the stimulus for the movement. No relief was offered for the unaffordably high cost of living, although that was a major motive for the support. Instead we have the promise of a new bureaucracy to examine bureaucratic corruption. This is a small victory for a movement so large: Anna Hazare had to persuade the government that he did not plan to overthrow it.

The media rightly feel they helped to make this victory. For them, the popular mobilisation is a sign of their own success and not only of Anna Hazare’s. It shows they can move people, and bring them out onto the streets and the maidan. They can enlarge crowds for a cause.

I don’t want to deny that there is idealism amongst media personnel. But the fundamental business of television is to get people to watch television, and of the press to get people to read the press. Sixty per cent of India’s households now have television. Watching TV and being on TV acquired a greater overlap during this campaign than ever before. It points to a new kind of media awareness. Images of their actions are reflected back to people, who then act in a more camera-friendly way. Media images are part of their own political répertoire, which means that media become to some extent the destination of political action too. This is what the French Situationist Guy Debord called the Society of the Spectacle. We aim to watch and be watched. It is a mode of social regulation, and of conducting business.

Today we have not only TV, but also cellphones and email, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. Mass events like the drive for the Lokpal Bill accumulate huge amounts of attention, which is quantified for revenue generation. They are also means for discharging popular energy, leaving only memories behind. That is the risk we have to be vigilant about. To the extent that media mobilise constituencies, they are fluid and volatile. Static builds up in media circuits and is released. People congregate and then disperse.

One might look to evidence of such performative politics in the August Kranti of 1942, a model for the recent movement, albeit with marked difference. Gandhiji was not only the leader of the earlier campaign; he was a model for volunteers’ behaviour. Abstinence, frugality, and moral character were inculcated; to this extent people sought to emulate Gandhiji in their own lives. Civil disobedience carried risks, of penalisation by employers, and of imprisonment. Political dissidence took courage, and involved a public stance against the government. While courage and dedication were not absent in the Lokpal campaign, its technologically mediated form made Anna Hazare’s austerity and frugality a spectacle for contemplation and empathy. It appeared that it was enough to say, “I am Anna.” Herein lay its middle class character. The virtues that seemed essential in the earlier moment became more of an option in the recent event.

Even if we say we are all Anna, the question is — and then what? How do we get beyond the easy self-congratulation of that statement? Political participation has to exist both inside and outside the media spectacle. Commercial media will move on to the next new thing, at least for a while. It is necessary to stay with the issue even when the spotlights are switched off. That would mean rethinking what kinds of politics are possible in such a context.

(Arvind Rajagopal is Professor of Media Studies and Sociology at New York University. His latest book, After Decolonization, is under contract with Duke University Press.)

Anna sets the tone for the media (Jyoti Punwani)

In Perspective on September 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm

From: The Hoot

Anna sets the tone for the media

Normally, anyone who questions the democratic credentials of the Indian State is made short shrift of by TV anchors It was refreshing to watch Arnab Goswami, who loves to brand a variety of human rights activists `terrorists’, harp on the need for the government to reach out to people, says JYOTI PUNWANI

Posted/Updated Tuesday, Sep 06 11:45:52, 2011

here’s looking at us
Jyoti Punwani

The non-stop coverage of Anna Hazare’s fast by news channels had one positive fallout – for the first time, very basic questions were debated about the nature of the world’s largest democracy. Normally, anyone who questions the democratic credentials of the Indian State is made short shrift of by TV anchors, who have emerged in the past few years as the greatest defenders of the `System’. But the mass movement in support of Anna Hazare’s attempt to bring in the Jan Lokpal Bill, centred round people demanding explanations of their elected representatives, treating them as if they were accountable. TV channels had no option but to reflect this in their debates.
It was refreshing to watch Arnab Goswami, the man who loves to bait Maoists, Left-liberals and human rights activists as terrorists and anti-nationals, almost echo the ideas that these people believe in – that the people are supreme. “Governments have to reach out to the people,’’ said Arnab. When senior lawyer Harish Salve called the Jan Lokpal Bill `draconian’, Arnab reminded him that the people of the North East had been suffering for decades under the draconian AFSPA, and Irom Sharmila had been fasting against it for 12 years. Who would have thought that all the opponents of AFSPA – from Irom Sharmila to the Kashmiris to human rights wallahs to Arundhati Roy – would find an ally in the TV anchor who carries the burden of nationalism on his shoulders?
Lord Meghnad Desai’s inputs in various TV debates were also refreshing in what they revealed about our Parliamentarians. He pointed out their readiness to pass Bills at breakneck speed when it suited them (17 bills were passed in 12 minutes in September 2010) contrasted with their reluctance to pass the Jan Lokpal bill in a hurry. But more interesting was his view that Parliamentarians were not holy cows. In a debate on the derogatory references to MPs made by various speakers at Ram Lila Maidan, Lord Desai pointed out that in Britain, the kind of ridicule MPs were subjected to by the media could make one cry. He also punctured Parliament’s claim to have an exclusive monopoly over law-making: “Just being in Parliament doesn’t give so much legitimacy that you can ignore the people,’’ he said. He also described as “feudal’’ the notion that only MPs knew how to pass laws.

To hear all this on prime time TV was exhilarating. Normally, people protesting on the streets non-violently are barely acknowledged by TV news. Of course, there hasn’t been a movement as vast in numbers and in geographical spread as this one. These two factors made it impossible for the media to ignore it. However, there have been fairly large local movements in recent years of poor people – tribal rallies in Chhattisgarh (December 2010); workers congregating in Delhi against price rise and unemployment (February 2011); the Tarapur to Jaitapur anti nuclear march (April 2011); the anti-POSCO movement; the resistance to Jindal Steel & Power in Chhattisgarh; the adivasis’ march to Mumbai (March 2011); Medha Patkar’s fast protesting against illegalities in slum redevelopment andslumdemolitions (May 2011), are a few that come immediately to mind.
All of these have been ignored by TV, mainly because they haven’t involved people like us. This in spite of the fact that the concerns these localised campaigns have raised affect the entire country: Maoism, Salwa Judum, our model of development and the rights of tribals and local communities; the risks of nuclear power; the builder-government nexus and the right to shelter for all citizens. When the media does take note of these issues (normally when an agitation turns violent or is fired upon by the police), it may give time and space to one supporter of the agitation, but overall, it upholds the State view, or at least, doesn’t challenge it seriously.
But the unexpected response to Anna Hazare’s campaign by people like us, forced the media to take note of it. The fact that people like us were its most articulate supporters, was also a factor in media support.

There were thousands of peopl not like us at Ram Lila, Azad Maidan, and everywhere else, in fact, they constituted the majority. Unfortunately, they weren’t the ones dominating the TV screens. The long duration of Anna’s fast, and the continuous support for him through the 12 days, forced the media to discuss the issues raised by it threadbare. The legitimacy of fasts and street protests; the role of MPs in a Parliamentary democracy; what our politicians had reduced politics too, and what people expected of them – all this took centre stage. People like Prashant Bhushan, Medha Patkar, Arvind Kejriwal, Aruna Roy and Swami Agnivesh who don’t normally get time to air their views in depth were given generous amounts of time and space. These people have a radically different view of the State than that that held by the usual panelists invited on TV, not to mention the views held by our well-known TV anchors.

Just how different these views were from those held by the latter became obvious when Barkha Dutt reacted with alarm to a proposal by Medha Patkar that if the government didn’t accept Anna Hazare’s demand to discuss the three non-negotiable points: the citizens’ charter, state lokpals, and the lower bureaucracy being brought under the Lokpal Bill, the protesters would form a human chain around Parliament. “They are threatening a human chain around Parliament!’’ Barkha informed her panelists, in a tone implying that a human chain equalled a human bomb. A human chain is surely the most non-violent act of collective solidarity and protest there can be; such chains have been a regular feature of peace marches. There was no hint of the proposed human chain turning violent. Why then did the spectre of people encircling Parliament so alarm Barkha? Similarly, the gheraoing of MPs’ houses, and the PM’s house, by Anna’s supporters, was made out to be totally far-out by many news anchors.

Why? Our honourable MPs are put into the hallowed precincts of Parliament by the very hordes thronging Ram Lila. And they are sent there to represent “the voice of the people’’, as S Chandrashekhar, the Hyderabad convener of Anna’s movement, put it. What’s the harm if some of these hordes peacefully picket the homes of those they have elected and ask them some tough questions? Picketing, armed only with placards and full-throated slogans, has been a time-honoured form of protest by all kinds of groups. Obviously for our TV anchors, that was an action fraught with danger. The question arises – danger to whom?

Even Arnab, who was the most supportive of the campaign among all TV anchors, found the slogan `lao ya jao’ (given by Anna with referenceto the Bill) `a bit political’’. Is party politics the only politics there is? And what’s wrong in telling our government to go? Haven’t all protesters at some time raised such slogans?

The impression one got from the worried faces and tones of our TV anchors was that Parliament and those who comprise it, including our PM, exist in some rarefied pure atmosphere, way above all of us. Leave aside the many shameful episodes that have been witnessed in Parliament, the many undemocratic laws passed there, or the fact that 43.83 % of our MPs have criminal charges against them, 14 % of which are serious (Association for Democratic Reforms’ analysis of the 15th Lok Sabha). Even if the majority of our Parliamentarians were noble souls, they would still owe their position to us. How can the people we elect be so unassailable by us? Perhaps the fact that more than 50 % of them are very rich has made them appear so.(Also ADR figures)
Similarly, what was objectionable about Kiran Bedi’s ghunghat act? Every Indian knows that our MPs never keep their promises. Why should the media get all hot and bothered if a former IPS officer has no inhibitions about enacting their two-facedness in front of thousands of people?

Indeed, it was this former cop who hit the nail on the head when she said that the movement had shown that “we the elected’’ cannot ignore “we the people’’. Over the last two or three years, MPs have become closer to the media than they ever were. Perhaps this cosy relationship has blinded the media to what MPs are meant to be – servants of the people, getting paid by public money, and accountable to them. Fortunately, Anna Hazare and his supporters haven’t forgotten this. Thanks to them, all of us were reminded of this relationship,which is the basis of democracy.

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


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.

The role of The Times of India in propping up Anna Hazare's movement of August 2011 (Churumuri)

In Commentary on September 1, 2011 at 11:55 am

From: http://churumuri.wordpress.com/

How The Times of India pumped up Team Anna

31 August 2011 by churumuri

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Six minutes and 20 seconds into his vote of thanks at the culmination of Anna Hazare‘s fast-unto-death last Sunday, the RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal heaped plaudits on the media for the support it had lent to the Jan Lok Pal bill agitation by “articulating the outrage of the nation”.

Pointing at the jungle of anchors, reporters, cameramen and crane operators in the media pen in front of the stage at the Ramlila maidan, Kejriwal said the “media weren’t just doing their job… they are now part of the movement”.

Verbatim quote:

“Hum in saari media ke shukr guzaar hain. Yeh aap dekhiye, abhi bhi camera lekar, tadapti dhoop mein khade hain, yeh log. Yeh zaroori nahin, kewal inki naukri nahin thi. Yeh log ab andolan ka hissa hain. Raat-raat bhar, chaubis-chaubis ghante, bina soye in logon ne hamari andolan mein hissa liya, hum mediake saathiyon ko naman karte hain.”

Kejriwal’s general gratitude was for television whose frenetic and fawning coverage instantly took the message to parts of the country print wouldn’t dream of reaching in the next half a century. (A TV critic wrote last week that a survey of TV coverage of Hazare’s Jantar Mantar fast in April found 5592 pro-Anna segments versus just 62 that were anti-Anna.)

But if Kejriwal had to choose one English language publication in particular for rounding up “Middle India” in round two of the fight for a strong anti-corruption ombudsman, the honour should surely go to The Times of India.

From the day after Anna Hazare was prematurely arrested on August 16 to August 29, the day he ended his fast, the New Delhi edition of The Times of India took ownership of the story and played a stellar role in mobilising public opinion and exerting pressure on the political class.

# Over 13 days, the main section of the Delhi edition of The Times of India, covered the Anna Hazare saga over 123 broadsheet pages branded “August Kranti” (August Revolution), with 401 news stories, 34 opinion pieces, 556 photographs, and 29 cartoons and strips.

# On seven of the 13 days of the fast, the front page of Delhi ToI had eight-column banner headlines. The coverage, which included vox-pops and special pages, even spilled over to the business and sports pages, with the Bofors scam-accused industrialist S.P. Hinduja offering his wisdom.

# In launching a toll-free number for readers to give a “missed call” if they wanted a strong Lokpal bill, ToIwas almost indistinguishable from the India Against Corruption movement behind Hazare. ToI claims that over 46 lakh people have registered their vote.

In short, backed by an online campaign titled “ACT—Against Corruption Together” plus the Arnab Goswami show on Times Now, the Times group provided substantial multi-media heft to the Jan Lok Pal campaign.

In its almost completely uncritical coverage of Round II, The Times of India provided a sharp contrast to the almost completely cynical coverage of Round I by The Indian Express four months ago, the former batting out of his crease for for the wider constituency of the reader, consumer, voter and citizen.

Remarkably, also, for a publication of its size and girth, ToI took an unhesitatingly anti-establishment stand in its headlines and choice of stories, showing where it stood on corruption—an issue agitating readers in its core demographic—in a manner in which most large newspapers are loathe to do.

There were only token negative pieces like the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid calling the protest “anti-Islam”; Dalits wanting a Bahujan Lokpal bill; or Arundhati Roy calling Hazare’s stand “undemocratic”. On the whole, though, ToI coverage was gung-ho as gung-ho goes, especially judging from some of the mythological, militaristic headlines.
Just what was behind the ToI‘s proactive stand still remains to be deciphered.
Was it merely reflecting the angst and anger of its middle-class readership? Was it taking the scams, many of which it broke and which brought the Lok Pal issue to the head, to its logical conclusion? Or, does the involvement of its in-house godman in the proceedings, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living, lend a clue?

Was it willy-nilly taking part in the dark rumours of “regime-change” swirling around Delhi? Or, was it just doing what a good newspaper is supposed to do: taking a stand, making sense of an increasingly complicated world to a time and attention strapped reader, and speaking truth to power?

Whatever be the truth, the fact that ToI took such a popular-with-readers, unpopular-with-government stand when it is involved in a no-holds-barred campaign to stall the implementation of the Majithia wage board recommendations for newspaper employees, speaks volumes of its conviction on the Lok Pal issue.


August 17: Coverage on 14 pages, 34 news stories, 2 opinion pieces, 41 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Govt can’t stop August Kranti—Morning arrest turns into nightmare for Centre as Anna refuses to leave Tihar unless allowed to protest

Other headlines: 1) A million mutinies erupt across India; 2) Congress’s big blunders; 3) Emergency is the word for Gen Y; 4) Anna held, people hurt; 5) Intellectuals draw parallels with Emergency, JP movement; 6) Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Govt is being arrogant; 7) The Indian protester rediscovers Gandhigiri; 8) Emergency makes a comeback to political lexicon; 9) Annacalypse Now! Angry India on the streets; 10) Emergency redux, say legal experts

Editorial: Wrongful arrest—government action against Anna Hazare leaves it isolated and sans goodwill

Opinion: State vs Anna—Hazare’s arrest serious questions about India’s ‘democratic’ claims

Opinion poll: 92% say govt’s handling of Anna is undemocratic


August 18: Coverage on 10 pages, 36 news stories, 3 opinion pieces, 56 photographs, 4 cartoons

Lead headline: People march, govt crawls—sledgehammered by nationwide outrage, UPA withdraws almost all its earlier curbs on Anna protest

Other headlines: 1) Global bank VP on ‘fasting leave’ from Hong Kong; 2) India Inc backs Anna; 3) Dabbawallas, NGOs building ‘Anna Army’; 4) This way or no way, says Anna; 5) Govt fails to move Mount Anna; 6) In Hazare and Baba Ramdev, govt has two powerful adversaries; 7) ’9 months to arrest Suresh Kalmadi, 3 mins for Anna’; 8)
Editorial: Anna wins the day—With public anger swelling, government must take a stand on corruption

Opinion headlines: 1) Have a referendum on sticking points; 2) Let an independent arbiter decide; 3) Are you an Anna dater, a Jokepalwalla or, worst, a piggyback passionista? 4) Civil society frustrated at lack of government action


August 19: Coverage on 9 pages, 26 news stories, 4 opinion pieces, 27 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: Judiciary out of Lokpal? Team Anna softens stand

Other headlines: 1) Brand Anna is a rage: youth wear him on T-shirts; 2) Protesters rename Chhatrasal stadium after Anna; 3) Sensing hour of reckoning, Tihar protesters give war cry; 4) ‘Gandhi’ takes world media by storm; 5) Indian editorials slam govt handling; 6) Fight to go on for generations, says Aung San Syu Ki; 7) Expatriates in south east Asia rally round Anna;

Editorial: Seize the day—reform is a powerful anti-corruption tool

Opinion headlines: 1) It’s the middle class, stupid; 2) 10 measures to reduce corruption


August 20: Coverage on 8 pages, 30 news stories, 3 opinion pieces, 46 photographs, 2 cartoons

Lead headline: Anna rides wrath yatra, ups ante

Other headlines: 1) On fourth day of fast, 74-year-old outsprints cops; 2) He gives supporters a run for their money; 3) ‘I am Anna’s Krishna in the Mahabharata against graft’; 4) Cap fits: no weakening satyagraha—gives call for ‘second freedom movement’, will fight till last breath; 5) Amma Hazares join the cause; 6) Protest tourism: why Anna catches their (foreigners’) fancy; 7) ‘Parliament isn’t supreme, public is’

Editorial: When khaki met khadi—a confused cop learns about being civil, through agitation

Opinion headlines: 1) Which democracy do we want? 2) Reclaiming moral authority


August 21: Coverage on 8 pages, 25 news stories, 2 opinion pieces, 36 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Angry tide forces Manmohan’s hand

Other headlines: 1) 35% drop in crime during Hazare’s fast; 2) Parents bring kids to Anna ki pathshala; 3) Painter plans to capture ‘Anna legacy’ till passage of bill; 2) Parents want kids to see history being made; 5) Over one million join ToI anti-graft drive;

Opinion headlines: 1) Arrest corruption, not those who protest against it; 2) Why I’d hate to be in Hazare’s chappals


August 22: Coverage on 7 pages, 23 news items, 1 opinion piece, 28 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: All roads lead to Annapolis

Other headlines: 1) Crowding glory—over one lakh throng Ramlila ground; 2) Protestors take metro, ridership at New Delhi jumps by 50%; 3) Religious lines blur for Anna’s cause; 4) Anna gives call for revolution to surging masses; 5) Lockedpal: earn our trust, team Anna tells govt; 6) Anna’s army pickets netas’ homes

Opinion headline: Re-negotiating democracy


August 23: Coverage on 10 pages, 30 news stories, 2 opinion pieces, 46 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Govt may relent, put PM under Lokpal

Other headlines: 1) Gen Y rocks to Anna’s beat; 2) At maidan, 80,000 celebrate carnival against corruption; 3) Behind the public face, a very private man; 4) Aam admi thinks bill is cure-all; 5) Anna proves the power of the big idea: management gurus

Editorial: Start talking—dialogue and flexibility can break the Lokpal logjam


August 24: Coverage on 9 pages, 35 news items, 1 opinion piece, 38 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: Govt bends 70%, Anna seeks 90%

Other headlines: 1) 22 newborns in MP named after Anna; 2) ‘Don’t let them take me’; 3) Unsung soldiers: they sacrifice daily bread for Anna; 4) Maidan doesn’t sleep, volunteers up at dawn; 5) Anna critic Aruna Roy briefs Rahul on grievance bill, calls on Jairam Ramesh; 6) Anger against plutocracy legitimate, says Prakash Karat

Opinion headline: Beyond Anna’s India—is anger against corruption blinding us to other evils?


August 25: Coverage on 8 pages, 30 news items, 4 opinion pieces, 38 photographs, 2 cartoons

Lead headline: From breakthrough to breakdown

Other headlines: 1) Braveheart Hazare baffles doctors; 2) Judge follows his conscience, speaks out for Jan Lokpal bill; 3) Destination Ramlila maidan: get a free auto ride; 4) Critic Aruna Roy comes calling; 5) Aamir Khan is brain behind picketing MPs; 6) ’542 VIPs are making a fool of 120 crore people’

Editorial: The Lokpal moment—it’s a good time for Anna to end his fast and join the discussions

Opinion headlines: 1) Fasting as democracy decays; 2) Celebrities endorse Anna movement in large numbers—they are citizens too

Online toll: 22.7 lakh join ToI online campaign against graft


August 26: Coverage on 8 pages, 32 news items, 3 opinion pieces, 38 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: PM walks extra mile, Anna unmoved

Other headlines: 1) 5,000 cops to fortify PM, but Anna army sneaks past posts; 2) Witnessing power of people, says Army chief; 3) Hardliners holding up Lokpal resolution; 4) Angry Anna: UPA ministers take the hit in virtual world; 5) ‘Sonia Gandhi would have handled situation better’

Editorial: Seize this opportunity—Anna Hazare shows flexibility, the govt must do so too

Opinion headline: Finding the middle ground

Online toll: 25,30,251 votes


August 27: Coverage on 11 pages, 34 news items, 3 opinion pieces, 50 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: House hopes to send Anna home

Other headlines: 1) Downcast but steadfast; 2) Fast hits country’s financial health—reforms put off because of Anna stir, may take a toll on growth; 3) Sports icons one with Team Anna

Editorial headline: A carnival called India—from Gandhigiri to Annagiri, it’s dhak-dhak go

Opinion headline: Saintliness in politics cuts both ways
Online toll: 32,09,129 votes


August 28: Coverage on 9 pages, 35 news items, 2 opinion pieces, 64 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Anna wins it for the people—To break fast at 10 am today as Parliament bows to Hazare’skhwahish and PM sends letter

Other headlines: 1) Anna’s next: India tour for clean leaders; 2) Anna superfast arrives; 3) Anna sets House in order

Opinion headlines: 1) Don’t mess with the middle-class; 2) How to reverse the trust deficit

Online toll: 39,74, 515 votes


August 29: Coverage on 12 pages, 31 news items, 4 opinion pieces, 48 photographs, 2 cartoons

Lead headline: Only deferred fast, fight goes on: Anna

Other headlines: 1) Can’t trust govt, have to keep watch: Prashant Bhushan; 2) ‘Battle is won, war has just begun’; 3) ‘This victory is our second freedom’; 4) Anna among top brands online

Editorial: Dance of democracy

Opinion headlines: 1) Has Anna really won? 2) Ways to fit the bill—accommodating Anna’s three key demands will require imaginative lawmaking

Jan Lokpal Bill is very Regressive: Arundhati Roy (Television Interview)

In Interview on August 30, 2011 at 6:50 pm

From: CNN – IBN

Jan Lokpal Bill is very Regressive: Arundhati Roy

Sagarika Ghose, CNN-IBN

Updated Aug 31, 2011 at 12:07am IST

In an exclusive interview, writer Arundhati Roy said there are serious concerns about the Jan Lokpal Bill, corporate funding, NGOs and even the role of the media.

Sagarika Ghose: Hello and welcome to the CNN-IBN special. The Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement has thrown up multiple voices. Many have been supportive of the movement, but there have been some who have been sceptical and raised doubts about the movement as well. One of these sceptical voices is writer Arundhati Roy who now joins us. Thanks very much indeed for joining us. In your article in ‘The Hindu’ published on August 21, entitled ‘I’d rather not be Anna’, you’ve raised many doubts about the Anna Hazare campaign. Now that the movement is over and the crowds have come and we’ve seen the massive size of those crowds, do you continue to be sceptical? And if so, why?

Arundhati Roy: Well, it’s interesting that everybody seems to have gone away happy and everybody is claiming a massive victory. I’m kind of happy too, relieved I would say, mostly because I’m extremely glad that the Jan Lokpal Bill didn’t go through Parliament in its current form. Yes, I continue to be sceptical for a whole number of reasons. Primary among them is the legislation itself, which I think is a pretty dangerous piece of work. So what you had was this very general mobilisation about corruption, using people’s anger, very real and valid anger against the system to push through this very specific legislation or to attempt to push through this very specific piece of legislation which is very, very regressive according to me. But my scepticism ranges through a whole host of issues which has to do with history, politics, culture, symbolism, all of it made me extremely uncomfortable. I also thought that it had the potential to turn from something inclusive of what was being marketed and touted and being inclusive to something very divisive and dangerous. So I’m quite happy that it’s over for now.

Sagarika Ghose: Just to come back to your article. You said that Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia have received $ 400,000 from the Ford foundation. That was one of the reasons that you were sceptical about this movement. Why did you make it a point to put in the fact that Arvind Kejriwal is funded by the Ford foundation.

Arundhati Roy: Just in order to point to the fact, a short article can just indicate the fact that it is in some way an NGO driven movement by Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Sisodia, all these people run NGOs. Three of the core members are Magsaysay award winners which are endowed by Ford foundation and Feller. I wanted to point to the fact that what is it about these NGOs funded by World Bank and Bank of Ford, why are they participating in sort of mediating what public policy should be? I actually went to the World Bank site recently and found that the World Bank runs 600 anti-corruption programmes just in places like Africa. Why is the World Bank interested in anti-corruption? I looked at five of the major points they made and I thought it was remarkable if you let me read them out:

1) Increasing political accountability

2) Strengthening civil society participation

3) Creating a competitive private sector

4) Instituting restraints on power

5) Improving public sector management

So, it explained to me why in the World Bank, Ford foundation, these people are all involved in increasing the penetration of international capital and so it explains why at a time when we are also worried about corruption, the major parts of what corruption meant in terms of corporate corruption, in terms of how NGOs and corporations are taking over the traditional functions of the government, but that whole thing was left out, but this is copy book World Bank agenda. They may not have meant it, but that’s what’s going on and it worries me a lot. Certainly Anna Hazare was picked up and propped up a sort of saint of the masses, but he wasn’t driving the movement, he wasn’t the brains behind the movement. I think this is something very pertinent that we really need to worry about.

Sagarika Ghose: So you don’t see this as a genuine people’s movement. You see it as a movement led by rich NGOs, funded by the World Bank to make India more welcoming of international capital?

Arundhati Roy: Well, I mean they are not funded by the World Bank, the Ford foundation is a separate thing. But just that I wouldn’t have been this uncomfortable if I saw it as a movement that took into account the anger from the 2G Scam, from the Bellary mining, from CWG and then said ‘Let’s take a good look at who is corrupt, what are the forces behind it’, but no, this fits in to a certain kind of template altogether and that worries me. It’s not that I’m saying they are corrupt or anything, but I just find it worrying. It’s not the same thing as the Narmada movement, it’s the same thing as a people’s movement that’s risen from the bottom. It’s very much something that, surely lots of people joined it, all of them were not BJP, all of them were not middle-class, many of them came to a sort of reality show that was orchestrated by even a very campaigning media, but what was this bill about? This bill was very, very worrying to me.

Sagarika Ghose: We’ll come to the bill in just a bit but before that I want to bring in another controversial statement in your article which has sparked a great deal of controversy among even your old associates Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan, where you said, ‘Both the Maoists and Jan Lokpal Movement have one thing in common, they both seek the overthrow of the Indian state.’ Why do you believe that the movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill is similar to the Maoist movement in seeking the overthrow of the Indian state?

Arundhati Roy: Well, let’s separate the movement from the bill, as I said that I don’t even believe that most people knew exactly what the provisions of the bill were, those who were part of the movement, very few in the media and on the ground. But if you study that bill carefully, you see the creation of a parallel oligarchy. You see that the Jan Lokpal itself, the ten people, the bench plus the chairman, they are selected by a pool of very elite people and they are elite people, I mean if you look at one of the phases which says the search committee, the committee which is going to shortlist the names of the people who will be chosen for the Jan Lokpal will shortlist from eminent individuals of such class of people whom they deem fit. So you create this panel from this pool, and then you have a bureaucracy which has policing powers, the power to tap your phones, the power to prosecute, the power to transfer, the power to judge, the power to do things which are really, and from the Prime Minister down to the bottom, it’s really like a parallel power, which has lost the accountability, whatever little accountability a representative government might have, but I’m not one of those who is critiquing it from the point of view of say someone like Aruna Roy, who has a less draconian version of the bill, I’m talking about it from a different point of view altogether of firstly, the fact that we need to define what do we mean by corruption, and then what does it mean to those who are disempowered and disenfranchised to get two oligarchies instead of one raiding over them.

Sagarika Ghose: So do you believe that the leaders of this movement were misleading the crowds who came for the protest because they were not there simply as an anti-corruption movement, they were there to campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill and if people knew what the Jan Lokpal Bill was all about, in your opinion, setting up this huge bureaucratic monster, many of those people might well have not come for the movement, so do you feel that the leaders were misleading the people?

Arundhati Roy: I can’t say that they were deliberately misleading people because of course, that bill on the net, if anybody wanted to read it could read it. So I can’t say that. But I think that the anger about corruption became so widespread and generalised that nobody looked at what, there was a sort of dissonance between the specific legislation and the anger that was bringing people there. So, you have a situation in which you have this powerful oligarchy with the powers of prosecution surveillance, policing. In the bill there’s a small section which says budget, and the budget is 0.25 per cent of the Government of India’s revenues, that works out to something like Rs 2000 crore. There’s no break up, nobody is saying how many people will be employed, how are they going to be chosen so that they are not corrupt, you know, it’s a sketch, it’s a pretty terrifying sketch. It’s not even a realised piece of legislation. I think that, in a way the best thing that could have happened has happened that you have the bill and you have other versions of the bill and you have the time to now look at it and see whatever, I just want to keep saying that I’m not, my position in all this is not to say we need policing and better law. I’m a person who’s asking and has asked for many years for fundamental questions about injustice, which is why I keep saying let’s talk about what we mean by corruption.

Sagarika Ghose: And you believe that the reason why this movement is misconceived is because it’s centered around this Jan Lokpal Bill?

Arundhati Roy: Yes, not just that, I think centrally, that I was saying earlier, can we discuss what we mean by corruption. Is it just financial irregularity or is it the currency of social transaction in a very unequal society? So if you can give me 2 minutes, I’ll tell you what I mean. For example, corruption, some people, poor people in villages have to pay bribes to get their ration cards, to get their NREGA dues from very powerful vested interests. Then you a middleclass, you have honest businessmen who cannot run an honest business because of all sorts of reasons, they are out there angry. You have a middleclass which actually bribes to buy itself scarce favours and on the top you have the corporations, the politicians looting millions and mines and so on. But you also have a huge number of people who are outside the legal framework because they don’t have pattas, they live in slums, they don’t have legal housing, they are selling their wares on redis, so they are illegal and in an anti-corruption law, an anti-corruption law is naturally sort of pinned to an accepted legality. So you can talk about the rule of law when all your laws are designed to perpetuate the inequality that exists in Indian society. If you’re not going to question that, I’m really not someone who is that interested in the debate then.

Sagarika Ghose: So fundamentally it’s about service delivery to the poorest of the poor, it’s about ensuring justice to the poorest of the poor, without that a whole bureaucratic infrastructure is meaningless?

Arundhati Roy: Well Yes, but you know as I said in my article, supposing you’re selling your samosas on a ‘rehdi’ (cart) in a city where only malls are legal, then you pay the local policemen, are you going to have to now pay to the Lokpal too? You know corruption is a very complicated issue.

Sagarika Ghose: But what about the provisions for the lower bureaucracy. The lower bureaucracy is going to be brought into the Lokpal, they’re going to have a state level Lokayukta, so there is an attempt within the Lokpal Bill to go right down to the level of the poorest of the poor and then you can police even those functionaries who deal with the very poor. So don’t you have hope that there, at least, it could be regularised because of this bill?

Arundhati Roy: I think that part of the bill will be interesting, I think it’s very complicated because the troubles that are besetting our country today are not going to be solved by policing and by complaint booths alone. But, at the lower level, I think we have to come up with something where you can assure people that you’re not going to set up another bureaucracy which is going to be equally corrupt. When you have one brother in BJP, one brother in Congress, one brother in police, one brother in Lokpal, I would like to see how that’s going to be managed, this law is very sketchy about that.

Sagarika Ghose: But just to come back to the movement again, don’t you think that the political class has become corrupt and has become venal and you have a movement like this it does function as a wake up call?

Arundhati Roy: To some extent yes, but I think by focusing on the political class and leaving out the corporations, the media that they own, the NGOs that are taking over, governmental functions like health, you know corporates are now dealing with what government used to deal with. Why are they left out? So I think a much more comprehensive view would have made me comfortable even though I keep saying that for me the real issue is what is it that has created a society in which 830 million people live on less than Rs 20 a day and you have more people and all of the poor countries of Africa put together.

Sagarika Ghose: So basically what you’re saying is that laws are not the way to tackle corruption and to tackle injustice. It’s not through laws, it’s not through legal means, we have to do it through much more decentralisation of power, much more outreach at the lowest level?

Arundhati Roy: I think first you have to question the structure. You see if there is a structural inequality happening, and you are not questioning that, and you’re in fact fighting for laws that make that structural inequality more official, we have a problem. To give an example, I was just on the Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh border where the refugees from Operation Greenhunt have come out and underneath. So for them the issue is not whether Tata gave a bribe on his mining or Vedanta didn’t give a bribe in his mining. The problem is that there is a huge problem in terms of how the mineral and water and forest wealth of India is being privatised, is being looted, even if it were non corrupt, there is a problem. So that’s why we’re just not coolly talking about Dantewada, there are many a places I mean what’s happening in Posco, in Kalinganagar . So this is not battles against corruption. There’s something very, very serious going on. None of these issues were raised or even alluded to somehow.

Sagarika Ghose: So basically what you’re saying is that it is not the battle against corruption which is the primary battle, it’s the battle for justice that has to be the primary battle in India. Just to come back to the point about the law, many have said that this is a process of pre-legislative consultation, that all over the world now civil society groups, I know you don’t like that word, are co-operating with the government in law making and a movement like this institutionalises that, institutionalises civil society groups coming into the law making process. Doesn’t that make you hopeful about this movement?

Arundhati Roy: In principal, yes, but when a movement like this which has been constructed in the way that it has, you can talk about, sort of calls itself the people or civil society and says that it’s representing all of civil society. I would say there’s a problem there and it depends on the law. So right now I think the good thing that has happened is that the Jan Lokpal Bill which probably has some provisions that will make it into the final law, is one of the many bills that will be debated. So, yes, that’s a good thing. But if it had just gone through in this way, I wouldn’t be saying yes, that’s a good thing.

Sagarika Ghose: Let’s talk about the media. You’ve been very critical about the media and the way the media, particularly broadcast media has covered this movement, do you believe that if the media had not given it this kind of time, this movement simply wouldn’t have taken off? Do you believe that it’s a media manufactured movement?

Arundhati Roy: Well, I’m not going to say that’s entirely media manufactured. I think that was one of the big factors in it. There was also mobilisation from the BJP and the RSS, which they’ve admitted to. I think the media, I don’t know when before campaigned for something in this way where every other kind of news was pushed out and for ten days, you had only this news. In this nation of one billion people, the media didn’t find anything else to report and it campaigned, not everybody, but certainly certain major television channels campaigned and said they were campaigning, they said, ‘We’re the channel through whom Anna speaks to the people and so on. Now firstly to me that’s a form of corruption in the first place where presumably, a broadcast licence as a news channel has to do with reporting news, not campaigning. But even if you are campaigning and the only reason that everybody was reporting it was TRP ratings, then why not just settle for pornography or sadomasochism or whatever gives good TRP ratings. How can news channels just abandon every other piece of news and just concentrate on this for 10 days? You know how much of spot ad costs on TV, what kind of a price would you put on this? Why was it doing this? Per se if media campaigns had to do with social justice, if the media spent 10 days campaigning on why more than a lakh farmers have committed suicide in this country, I’d be glad because I would say okay, this is the job of the media. It is like the old saying – to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

Sagarika Ghose: But don’t you think one man taking on the might of the government is a big story and don’t you think that that deserves to be covered?

Arundhati Roy: No, I don’t. For all the sorts of reasons that I’ve said, it was one man trying to push through a regressive piece of legislation.

Sagarika Ghose: Let’s come to the role of the RSS which you have also eluded to. You’ve spoken about the role of aggressive nationalism or Vande Mataram being chanted, of the RSS saying that we’re involved in this particular movement, but then your old associates Prashant Bhushan and Medha Patkar are in this movement as well. Is it fair to completely dub this movement as an RSS Hindu right wing movement?

Arundhati Roy: I haven’t done that though some people have. But I think it’s an interesting question to talk about symbolism and this movement. For example, what is the history of Vande Mataram? Vande Mataram first occurred in this book by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in 1882, it became a part of a sort of war cry at the time of partition of Bengal and since then, since in 1937 Tagore said it’s a very unsuitable national anthem, very divisive, it’s got a long communal history. So what does it mean when huge crowds are chanting that? When you take up the national flag, when you’re fighting colonialism, it means one thing. When you’re a supposedly free nation that national flag is always about exclusion and not inclusion. You took up that flag and the state was paralysed. A state which is not scared of slaughtering people in the dark, suddenly was paralysed. You talk about the fact that it was a non violent movement, yes, because the police were disarmed. They just were too scared to do anything. You had Bharat Mata’s photo first and then it was replaced by Gandhi. You had people who were openly part of the Manovadi Krantikari Aandolan there. So you have this cocktail of very dangerous things going on, you had other kinds of symbolism. Imagine Gandhi going to a private hospital after his fast. A private hospital that symbolises the withdrawal of the state from healthcare for the poor. A private hospital where the doctors charge a lakh every time they inhale and exhale. The symbolisms were dangerous and if this movement had not ended in this way, it could have turned extremely dangerous. What you had was a lot of people, I’m not going to say they were only RSS, I’m not going to say they were only middle-class, I’m not going to say they were only urban. But yes, they were largely more well off than most people who have been struggling on the streets and facing bullets in this country for a long time. But in some odd way the victims and the perpetrators of corruption of the recipients of the fruits of modern development, they were all there together. There were contradictions that could not have been held together for much longer without them just tearing apart.

Sagarika Ghose: But weren’t you impressed by the sheer size of the crowd? Weren’t you impressed by the spontaneity of the crowd? The fact that people came out, they voiced their anger, they voiced their protest, surely it can’t just all be boxed into one shade of opinion.

Arundhati Roy: Should I tell you something Sagarika? I have seen much larger crowds in Kashmir. I have seen much larger crowds even in Delhi. Nobody reported them. They were then only called ‘traffic jam bana diya inhone’. I was not impressed by the size of the crowds apart from the fact that I’m not that kind of a person. I’m sure there were larger crowds chanting for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, would that be fine by us? It’s not about numbers.

Sagarika Ghose: Is that how you see this movement? You see it as a kind of Ram Janmabhoomi Part 2?

Arundhati Roy: No, not at all. I’ve said what I feel. That would be stupid for me to say. But I see it as something potentially quite worrying, quite dangerous. So I think we all need to go back and think a lot about what was going on there and not come to easy conclusions and easy condemnations, I think we really need to think about what was going on there, how it was caused, how it happened, what are the good things, what are the bad things, some serious thinking. But certainly I’m not the kind of person who just goes and gets impressed by a crowd regardless of what it’s saying, regardless of what it’s chanting, regardless of what it’s asking for.

Sagarika Ghose: But what about the persona of Anna Hazare? Many would say that he evoked a certain different era, he evoked the era of the freedom struggle, he is a simple Gandhian, he does lead a very austere life, he lives in a small room behind a temple and his persona of what he is evokes a certain moral power perhaps which is needed in an India which is facing a moral crisis.

Arundhati Roy: I think Anna Hazare was a sort of empty vessel in which you could pour whatever meaning you wanted to pour in, unlike someone like Gandhi who was very much his own man on the stage of the world. Anna Hazare certainly is his own man in his village, but here he was not in charge of what was going on. That was very evident. As for who he is and what his affiliations and antecedents have been, again I’m worried.

Sagarika Ghose: Why are you worried?

Arundhati Roy: Some of things that one has read and found out about, his attitude towards Harijans, that every village must have one ‘chamaar’ and one ‘sunaar’ and one ‘kumhaar’, that’s gandhian in some ways, you know Gandhi had this very complicated and very problematic attitude to the caste system, anyone who knows about the debates between Gandhi and Ambedkar will tell you that. But what I’m saying is eventually we live in a very complicated society. You have a strong left edition which doesn’t know what to do with the caste system. You have the Gandhians who are also very odd about the caste system. You have our deeply frightening communal politics, you have this whole new era of new liberalism and the penetration of international capital. This movement just did not know the beginning of its morals. It could have ended badly because nobody really, you know, you choose something like corruption, it’s a pot into which everyone can piss, anti-left, pro-left, right, I mean, I was in Hyderabad, Jagan Mohan Reddy who was at that time being raided by the CBI was one of his great supporters. Naveen Patnaik…

Sagarika Ghose: But isn’t that its strength? It’s an inclusive agenda. Anti-corruption movement brings people in.

Arundhati Roy: It’s a meaningless thing when you have highly corrupt corporations funding an anti-corruption movement, what does this mean? And trying to set up an oligarchy which actually neatens the messy business of democracy and representative democracy however bad it is. Certainly it’s a comment on the fact that our country suffering from a failure of representative democracy, people don’t believe that their politicians really represent them anymore, there isn’t a single democratic institution that is accessible to ordinary people. So what you have is a solution which isn’t going to address the problem.

Sagarika Ghose: So a corporate funded movement which seeks to lessen the power of the democratic state and seeks to reduce the power of the democratic state?

Arundhati Roy: I would say that this bill would increase the possibilities of the penetration of international capital which has led to a huge crisis in the first place in this country.

Sagarika Ghose: Just on a different note, what do you think of the fast-unto-death? Many have criticised it as a ‘Brahamastra’ which shouldn’t be easily deployed in political agitations, Gandhi used it only as a last resort. What is your view of the hunger strike or the fast-unto-death?

Arundhati Roy: Look the whole world is full of people who are killing themselves, who are threatening to kill themselves in different ways. From a suicide bomber to the people who are immolating themselves on Telangana and all that. Frankly, I’m not one of those people who’s going to stand and give a lecture about the constitutionality of resistance because I’m not that person. For me it’s about what are you doing it for. That’s my real question – what are you doing it for? Who are you doing it for? And why are you doing it? Other than that I think I personally believe that there are things going on in this world that you really need to stand up and resist in whatever way you can. But I’m not interested in a fast-unto-death for the Jan Lokpal Bill frankly.

Sagarika Ghose: So what is your solution then. How would you fight corruption?

Arundhati Roy: Sagarika, I’m telling you that corruption is not my big issue right now. I’m not a reformist person who will tell you how to cleanse the Indian state. I’m going on and on in all the 10 years that I’ve written about nuclear powers, about nuclear bombs, about big dams, about this particular model of development, about displacement, about land acquisition, about mining, about privatisation, these are the things I want to talk about. I’m not the doctor to tell the Indian state how to improve itself.

Sagarika Ghose: So corruption really does not concern you in that sense?

Arundhati Roy: No, it does, but not in this narrow way. I’m concerned about the absolutely disgusting inequality in the society that we live in.

Sagarika Ghose: And this movement has done nothing to touch that. What precedents has it set for protest movements in the future? Do you think this movement has set a precedent for protest movements in the future?

Arundhati Roy: For protest movements of the powerful, protests movements where the media is on your side, protests movements where the government is scared of you, protest movements where the police disarm themselves, how many movements are there going to be like that? I don’t know. While you’re talking about this, the army is getting ready to move into Central India to fight the poorest people in this country, and I can tell you they are not disarmed. So, I don’t know what lessons you can draw from a protest movement that has privileges that no other protest movement I’ve ever known has had.

Sagarika Ghose: Just to re-emphasise the point about Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan, these are old time associates of yours in activism. They are deeply involved in this particular movement. How do you react to them being involved in this movement of which, you’re so critical?

Arundhati Roy: With some dismay because Prashant is a very close friend of mine and I respect Medha a lot, but I think that their credibility has been cashed in on in some ways, but I feel bad that they are part of it.

Sagarika Ghose: You have voiced fears in your article as well that in some ways, this movement and this bill is an attempt to diminish the powers of the democratic government and to reduce the discretionary powers of the democratic government. So you feel that this is a corporate funded exercise to reduce the powers of the democratically elected government?

Arundhati Roy: Well not corporate funded, but there’s a sort of IMF World Bank way of looking at it, fuelling this whole path because if you remember in the early 90s when they began on this path of liberalisation and privatisation. The government itself kept saying, ‘Oh, we’re so corrupt. We need a systemic change, we can’t not be corrupt,’ and that systemic change was privatisation. When privatisation has shown itself to be more corrupt than, I mean the levels of corruption have jumped so high, the solution is not systemic. It’s either moral or it’s more privatisation, more reforms. People are calling for the second round of reforms for the removal of the discretionary powers of the government. So I think that’s a very interesting that you’re not looking at it structurally, you’re looking at it morally and you’re trying to push whatever few controls there are or took the way once again for the penetration of international capital.

Sagarika Ghose: But people like Nandan Nilekani have argued this movement and this bill could stop reforms actually. It could actually put an end to the reforms process by instituting this big bureaucratic infrastructure – this inspector raj. But you don’t go along with that. You believe that this is a way of taking the reforms agenda forward.

Arundhati Roy: I think it depends on who captures that bureaucracy. That’s why I’m worried about this combination of sort of Ford funded NGO world and the RSS and that sort of world coming together in a kind of crossroads. Those two things are very frightening because you create a bureaucracy which can then be controlled, which has Rs 2000 crore or whatever, 0.25 per cent of the revenues of the Government of India at its disposal, policing powers, all of this. So it’s a way of side-stepping the messy business of democracy.

Sagarika Ghose: That’s interesting the combination of Ford funded NGOs, rich NGOs and the Hindu mass organisations. That’s the combination that you see here and that’s what makes you uneasy.

Arundhati Roy: yes, and when you look at the World Bank agenda, it’s 600 anti-corruption plans and projects and what it says, what it believes, then it just becomes as clear as day what’s going on here.

Sagarika Ghose: And what is going on, just to push you on that one?

Arundhati Roy: What I said, that you stop concentrating on the corruption of government officers when you know of governments, politicians, and leaving out the huge corporate world, the media, the NGOs who have taken over traditional government functions of electricity, water, mining, health, all of that. Why concentrate on this and not on that? I think that’s a very, very big problem.

Sagarika Ghose: So it was a protest movement of the entitled and the protest movement of the privileged. Arundhati Roy thanks very much indeed for joining us.

o o o

[See shorter report on the above interview]

From: The Hindu
New Delhi, August 30, 2011

Jan Lokpal Bill regressive: Arundhati Roy


Writer Arundhati Roy on Tuesday cast doubts over Anna Hazare’s anti-graft campaign saying the civil society’s Jan Lokpal Bill is a “dangerous piece of legislation”.

“I am skeptical about the legislation (Jan Lokpal Bill) itself for a good number of reasons. I think the legislation is a dangerous piece of work,” Ms. Roy told CNN-IBN in an interview.

Alleging that the civil society used public anger in their favour, the Booker Prize winner novelist said “You (civil society) used the real and legitimate anger of the people against corruption to push through this specific piece of legislation which is very regressive. It could have turned from something inclusive to destructive and dangerous.”

Calling the Hazare-led movement a “copy book World Bank agenda”, Ms. Roy said “It was an NGO-driven movement by Kiran Bedi, (Arvind) Kejriwal and (Manish) Sisodia.

“Three of them run NGOs and all the three core team members are Magsaysay Award winners… World Bank and Ford Foundation fund the anti-corruption campaigns. This is copy book World Bank agenda though they might have not meant it.”

The writer said “Anna Hazare was picked up and propped up as the saint for the masses. He was not the brain behind the movement. We really need to be worried about it.”

She also said the Hazare-led movement was not the same thing as a people’s movement and accused the media of engineering it.

“Obviously people joined in but all of them were not middle class and many came for a sort of reality show well orchestrated by media campaigns,” she said.

“For a nation of one billion people, the media did not find anything else to report. Certain major TV channels campaigned for said to be doing so. That’s a kind of corruption for me at first place,” she said.

“If it was only for TRP then why not to settle for pornography or something which gives more TRP?” she asked.

The Topiwala Camera (Anil Dharker)

In Perspective on August 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm

From: Outlook Magazine, September 05, 2011

The Topiwala Camera
In covering Anna, TV seems to have shed its critical faculties

by Anil Dharker

“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?

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