Posts Tagged ‘Nationalism’

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-


Wolfowitz and Hazare (by Jawed Naqvi)

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2011 at 6:05 pm

From: Dawn.com

Wolfowitz and Hazare

By Jawed Naqvi

On September 8, 2011 @ 1:53 am

ON April 15, 2008, India’s most televised anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare received the World Bank’s Jit Gill memorial award for ‘outstanding public service’.

On April 12, 2006, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz had claimed in Jakarta that corruption was “one of the biggest threats to development” in the Third World.

A neo-con author of America’s invasion of Iraq, which he justified to the world with a lie, was explaining in his new avatar how his brand of development was threatened by corruption. It “weakens fundamental systems, it distorts markets, and it encourages people to apply their skills and energies in non-productive ways”, Wolfowitz proclaimed.

“Civil society, the private sector, borrowing countries and other multilateral banks all have key interests and responsibilities to tackle corruption,” he said. What is this civil society that the World Bank leans on and how does Anna Hazare fit in?

It is well known that the neoliberal worldview and old fashioned democracy in the Third World do not go together. The prescribed preference is for a free-market democracy. Populist idealism of a Nehru or a Bhutto is required to be filtered out.

Pakistan had previously barred the poor from getting into parliament by a harmless sounding fiat — only graduates are allowed in. Did the state first make provisions for everyone to try and be a graduate so as to get an equal chance? A similar demand to exclude India’s poor for their lack of education came from Hazare’s platform last month. But India in any case offers a good glimpse into how the filtering is done more artfully and virtually overnight.

The project began in early 1990s and the first step was to exorcise India’s decision-making institutions from the ghosts and spirits of past populists and idealists. The Indian parliament would be a challenge here. It has a majority of MPs voted by the most marginalised. And though the country boasts of the world’s largest billionaires, parliament in its current form is in no position to wish away the 800 million people who live on less than $0.30 a day. Adding to the malaise is a debilitating caste system that seeks to court social exclusion to keep political power from being fairly distributed. Anna Hazare’s movement is shored up by fans of Manu, the mythical king regarded as the first proponent of the caste arrangement.

Ambedkar, the Dalit icon and author of India’s constitution, had warned against equality in politics in the form of one-person one-vote and inequalities in social and economic life. For political democracy to succeed, it needed to be founded on the fibres of social and economic equality, he said. Nehru and Gandhi shared Ambedkar’s fear.

How were they to be dealt with in the new Indian order? Two teams were created as make-believe rivals — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.

WikiLeaks documents have exposed how both were sworn to outdo the other before their patrons at the US embassy in Delhi.

A left-backed third alternative was tried but was subverted.

Even with the subterfuge, parliament continued to be at least verbally deferential to the poor and to their less than polished representatives mostly from rural constituencies.

The urban elite remained incensed. The hoi polloi could still stall their agenda — the nuclear bill, for example, which the United States and the Indian prime minister had made into a prestige issue. An interim arrangement was made to circumvent the ordeal. The Congress had used the ploy previously. It used it again.

In 1992, it had bribed a clutch of vulnerable tribal MPs to win a crucial trust vote. They were jailed but that is how then finance minister Manmohan Singh’s IMF-brokered policies survived the test of democracy. (Wolfowitz would perhaps not be interested.)

The BJP formed the next government equally immorally. It was aware that it did not have the majority in the Lok Sabha, and yet it used a mere 13 days in power to sign a scandalous deal with Enron.

What we are witnessing today is an unending bout of mud wrestling between the two teams parliament is split into.

MPs and ministers on both sides have been accused of colluding in shady corporate deals. Some have been dispatched to prison. Inter-corporate rivalry, fuelled by a sibling feud in India’s biggest business house had begun to reveal serious names.

The media took the credit though its own leading representatives were found complicit in the game of power peddling.

With parliament loaded against them on both sides of the fence, the people would normally take to the streets. Wolfowitz and his successors would have none of that. The fear was not misplaced. What if the people’s anger against unbridled corruption turned left? What if people go back to populism or worse? What if they begin to rally support for a structural change, which in India’s case would be nothing short of a revolution, the kind the people of Egypt had started to expect before they were reined in by the military?

Anna Hazare stepped in as a guarantor against the feared upheaval. He was shored by a combination of leftists, liberals and most prominently of all by the Hindu equivalent of Iranian mullahs, the more vocal being those supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Prashant Bhushan is a widely respected campaigner against corporate corruption. He and the various communist parties that lent support to Anna Hazare are all reminiscent of the liberals and the leftists who thought they would live in a clean corruption-free Iran after the Shah’s exit. They had failed to anticipate the conspiracy between Iran’s clergy and Ronald Reagan’s White House.

The movement we just witnessed in India was neatly timed to allow for unprecedented corporate-backed TV coverage.

Hazare’s first fast in Delhi started the day after India won the cricket World Cup. Nationalist adrenalin was in full cry. It ended a day before the high stakes IPL cricket series was to begin.

The latest round of his campaign happened at the end of a widely televised Test series against England, which Indians for some reason were hoping to win. The fast ended a few days before the beginnings of the shorter version of the game. Between the outings Hazare bowled his googly. Wolfowitz should have given a standing ovation.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Gandhian facade (Praful Bidwai)

In Perspective on September 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm

From: Frontline Magazine, Volume 28 – Issue 19 :: Sep. 10-23, 2011


Gandhian facade


Anna Hazare’s campaign may lead to a new Lokpal Bill, but it has legitimised middle-class vigilantism and other kinds of civil society mobilisation.

NOW that Anna Hazare has declared victory, it is time to take stock of one of the most powerful recent mobilisations of people in India, focussed on influencing policy or lawmaking processes. The victory, however, is largely symbolic. The original demand of the movement, carefully built around Hazare’s fast, namely, that the government must withdraw its own Lokpal Bill and instead pass the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLB) drafted by India Against Corruption (IAC) by August 30, fell by the wayside.

Even its greatly diluted version, namely, Parliament must pass a resolution on the three contentious issues identified by Hazare, was not conceded. Under this, Members of Parliament would resolve to enact the Lokpal Bill in Parliament’s current session to set up independent ombudsmen at the Centre and in the States; with jurisdiction over all government servants; and including a law requiring all government departments to make “citizens’ charters” that set limits on the time taken to provide public services such as ration cards and driving licences, and punish breaches of the norm.

On August 27, Parliament discussed a highly truncated form of the demand and passed a Sense-of-the-House motion drafted by the Congress’ Pranab Mukherjee and Bharatiya Janata Party’s Arun Jaitley. It said: “This House agrees in principle on the following issues: a) Citizens’ charter b) Lower bureaucracy also to be under the Lokpal through appropriate mechanism c) Establishment of a Lokayukta in States. And further resolved to transmit the proceedings to the department-related Standing Committee for its perusal while formulating its recommendations for the Lokpal Bill.”

This is not a binding commitment. Nor is there a deadline by which the Standing Committee must write its report and Parliament must pass the Bill. So the motion was a face-saving formula for Team Anna. According to reports, Hazare’s core supporters had decided on the morning of August 27 that he would have to end the fast within a day if his health were not to be seriously jeopardised.

At any rate, the balance of forces had shifted over the preceding few days, with the government calling an all-party meeting, appointing Pranab Mukherjee as chief negotiator, MPs across parties defending Parliament’s legislative supremacy, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh talking directly to Hazare, and the cracks widening within Hazare’s core group. Eventually, Parliament asserted its primacy in lawmaking, but also cast a duty on the government to produce a strong Lokpal law.

Meanwhile, the entire political system was delivered a shock. Segments of it were exposed as dysfunctional. An attempt was made to set up a direct opposition between Parliament and the people. That it succeeded at least to the point of creating total panic and disarray within the government for days should occasion serious introspection.

It is easy to lay the blame for this on the colossal ineptitude of the Congress and the several near-suicidal decisions it took. Having first underrated both the middle-class support for and the amazing degree of organisation and media management by the IAC campaign in April, Congress leaders panicked and took the extraordinarily ill-advised step of establishing a joint drafting committee with Team Anna, giving it the same representation as the government – instead of a broad-based committee with diverse political and non-governmental organisation representation (NGO).

This laid the basis for Team Anna’s claim that it represents the people in a unique way, in contraposition to government – which easily morphed after the Ramlila Maidan spectacle into the assertion that it alone represents the people. Soon, Arvind Kejriwal would say that Parliament may be supreme in lawmaking, but the people come first; Parliament must listen to “Us the People”. Kiran Bedi would famously equate Anna with India. Democracy thus collapsed into majoritarianism with all its arrogance and intolerance.

Instead of fielding political veterans and skilled crisis managers, the Congress got a bunch of lawyers to negotiate the Lokpal Bill, whose technical approach messed things up. Meanwhile, Congress spokespersons abused Hazare’s team as “armchair fascists, overground Maoists, closet anarchists… funded by invisible donors” (with foreign links), and alienated people further.

Even more inept was the decision to arrest Hazare pre-emptively on August 16 and lodge him in Tihar jail, in gross underestimation of public sympathy for his right of protest – apparently against official intelligence reports. The mistake was magnified when Hazare was released. He refused to leave Tihar unless he was allowed to fast publicly, thus garnering more sympathy.

It is simply incomprehensible that the Congress did not depute Maharashtra leaders such as Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde or even Prithviraj Chavan earlier to talk to Hazare bypassing his hard-line supporters, and that it did not convene an all-party meeting until August 24.

Yet, a far deeper failure is involved here, in understanding the depth of genuine popular or grass-roots revulsion against corruption, in two senses. The first is corruption that ordinary people suffer in day-to-day life when they have to pay bribes just to survive or to realise a right, that of getting their entitlements, such as ration cards or freedom from police harassment.

The second is corruption in the larger sense, including plunder of public money by powerful interests through manipulation of policies and fiddling of contracts, irresponsible and unaccountable governance, and abuse of power, itself distributed in a skewed and iniquitous manner in this extremely unequal society. Both forms are related to the social and governance system, and the unequal access to privilege and power centres inherent in it. When the poor protest against corruption, they often protest against the system.

By contrast, the upper-middle-class elite or the 10-15 per cent upper crust of society does not suffer the first form of corruption, certainly not to a degree remotely comparable to the poor. And it is often the beneficiary of the second kind. Its resentment arises, if it is genuine at all, from having to pay bribes to obtain a privilege, like admission to a top-rated school or jumping the queue to get a reserved train seat.

Deep distrust

Middle-class anger is directed not at the system or the real wielders of power in the corporate world and government but at soft targets such as MPs, MLAs and bureaucrats. It is easy to single out politicians because they are typically portrayed by the media, including popular films, television channels and newspapers, as arch-villains – irredeemably corrupt, and venal and crooked by choice, just as business tycoons are glorified as wealth creators who contribute to social welfare. Underlying this is a deep distrust of representative democracy and mass politics. Our hierarchy-obsessed, casteist middle class cannot possibly accept political equality between itself and the unwashed masses.

Focussing on corruption offers a nice escape from this society’s myriad problems, including mass poverty and deprivation, stunted growth of our children, pervasive lack of social opportunity, economic servitude and social bondage, absence of social cohesion, rising income and regional inequalities, and the impossibility for millions of people to realise their elementary potential as human beings, not to speak of communalism, patriarchy, growing militarism and decreasing human security. Corruption here performs the role that population growth did a few decades ago. Then, the elite blamed all of India’s problems on the poor breeding like rabbits.

Originally, Hazare’s movement spoke narrowly to this middle class, reducing the issue of corruption to paying bribes to government officials. The campaign in April was Facebook- and Twitter-driven. It mobilised upper-middle-class people in big cities through the technology of returning free missed calls. A telecom company provided the technology, and somebody paid for the calls answered (13 million by August 15, says the IAC website).

Support for the movement snowballed after Hazare’s wrongful arrest-release. Multiple scripts got written into it as peasants, trade union workers, dabbawalas and other poor people joined the protest. But that did not transform the campaign’s quintessentially upper-middle-class character or its vigilantism. Meanwhile, its leaders mistook general support for the anti-corruption cause as informed agreement with the JLB. They built a dangerous cult of personality around Hazare as a demi-god, on whose command people were ready to fast unto death. The government deferred to Hazare’s campaign, as it always does to movements with an elite character. There were many continuities between the campaign, motivated by hatred of all politicians, and recent agitations against affirmative action, driven by hatred of the “low” castes. That is one reason why Dalits, low-caste Hindus, and large numbers of Muslims are cold towards Anna’s movement or oppose it.

The campaign uses a strongly chauvinist Vande Mataram Bharat-Mata-ki-Jai-type idiom, based on an unthinking, conformist nationalism and illiberal and conservative ideas, including hero worship and absolute obedience. This fits in with the involvement of Hindutva forces in the campaign, frankly admitted by Sushma Swaraj in Parliament on August 17, confirmed by BJP president Nitin Gadkari’s letter supporting Hazare, and reinforced by Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak-ideologue K.N. Govindacharya’s August 26 statement confirming significant RSS presence at Ramlila Maidan.

The Hazare movement’s legitimisation in media and society creates an unhealthy precedent. Other intolerant movements can create a lynch-mob mentality and demand death to the “traitors” or the building of a temple at Ayodhya – because the People want it. That is positively dangerous.

Annationalism (Shekhar Gupta)

In Perspective on September 3, 2011 at 5:36 pm

From: Indian Express

September 03 2011

by Shekhar Gupta

Pratibha, daughter of L.K. Advani, has recently produced a very impressive documentary titled Tiranga, on the history of our national flag. She might need to update it a bit. Because never in its eight-decade history has the Tricolour been made to work as hard as lately, since it became the standard of the Anna movement. You have lately seen it waved from the windows of cars, from motorcycles that whizzed past you on your city’s streets, you have seen it on protesters’ caps, shirts, foreheads and even on the cheeks of the two little girls who offered Anna nariyal-pani to break his fast.

You cannot quibble with the way people use their national flag in a democratic, peaceful protest. But, if you see this along with much else by way of hyper-nationalistic imagery and metaphors, you would ask what is going on. Never in India’s history, not even during the freedom movement or war-time, has such aggressively patriotic fervour been unleashed. Mahatma Gandhi never used portraits of a tiger-riding Bharat Mata, and Bhagat Singh’s battle-cry was not Vande Mataram. In their own distinctive ways, the three major streams of our freedom movement, Gandhi, Netaji and Bhagat Singh, reflected the respective beliefs and ideologies, and competed in the philosophical space of nation-building. Democratic plurality, ideological diversity and argumentativeness were integral to our freedom movement. Which is the reason why, not just independence, but also such a marvellous Constitution emerged from it. Read the debates of the Constituent Assembly. The founding fathers of our nation differed, disagreed and argued with each other, but nowhere did one pull out the flag and say to the other: if you are patriotic like me, you have to agree with me. The use of patriotism, in a political debate, is no different from the use of religion, or an invocation to God. Because that squashes all argument.

Ads by Google L I C – To Retire Rich Get 1Lac p.m. After 55th BirthDay Compare 46 insurers & Buy Today!PensionPlans.PolicyBIndia flags Mfr:All Types of Flags.High Quality Low Price.Call Now:098206 27530www.theflagcompany.iBase Oil Supplier Supply Base oil, quality certified excellent color stability,welcomewww.tenoit.com.tw

So here is the quibble. Once you produce the national flag, and Bharat Mata, all arguments cease. Because then, if you disagree with me, you are unpatriotic: mere paas tiranga hai, Vande Mataram hai, aur Ma (Mother India) hai, tumhare paas kya hai? In effect, if you then disagree with me, you are unpatriotic, and your arguments are immoral, pro-corrupt. 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.

The use of the flag is just one of the more visible metaphors of Bollywood-style hyper-nationalism employed by Team Anna. Vande Mataram, forever a gentle, polite salutation to Mother India was used in an almost martial fashion, like a rousing regimental war-cry, even by Anna himself each time he spoke to the crowd. Inqilab Zindabad, Bhagat Singh’s invocation to revolution, was also adopted fully. Bharat Mata’s portrait, which formed the backdrop at Jantar Mantar and attracted some adverse “secular” notice, was replaced with Gandhi’s. But young schoolgirls dressed and painted as Bharat Mata were routinely paraded in the crowds and on the stage so the patriotic fervour was not lost. Baba Ramdev made an appearance on day nine, grabbed a microphone and, the rock-star that he is, walked up and down the stage singing a stirring ballad: utho jawan desh ke, vasundhara pukarati, desh hai pukarata, pukarati Ma Bharti (rise, the youth of India, your motherland, Mother India are calling you to rise). To rise against whom, nobody made clear.

Almost each day a new super-patriotic metaphor was rolled out. My favourites: Anna kissing a vessel containing soil from Jallianwala Bagh, and even more dramatic, Kiran Bedi, while being taken in the bus following her arrest on August 16, waving both arms out of the window and shouting: ab tumhare hawale watan saathiyo. Of course, I haven’t been able to check with her if her inspiration was the more recent Akshay Kumar-Sunny Deol starrer on the “rescue” of Indian POWs in Pakistan. But given her vintage — and mine — I would suspect it was the original, Kaifi Azmi’s song in the gut-wrenching last moments of Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat (1964) when the last Indian soldier fighting the Chinese on that Ladakh outpost — of course, Sunny Deol’s father Dharmendra — lies dying, still clutching his rifle. Now, the language and style of popular protest are driven by their own heady mix of hormones, but really, to borrow words from a dying Indian soldier in such an unequal war while merely courting “preventive” arrest for a day is a bit touching.

But can we really go so far as to suggest that this movement is employing Sunny Deol-style “patriotism” to rouse its supporters and to kill all disagreement? Go to YouTube to see what a vigorous shakedown the Tricolour has been given through this movement, not least of all by Kiran Bedi herself. She now even has a large, slanted Tricolour behind her desk — like judges in Hollywood — even when she speaks to television channels. In comparison, the brick wall of Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s home provides such an inconsequential backdrop. His problem is he is a politician, and one good thing about party politics is that politicians cannot wrap themselves in the Tricolour. Because they are, at least presumably, accountable to that flag: in the form of Parliament, the judiciary, and to we, the people.

The Tricolour has been used to impale the bad guys in our movies. The most dramatic use of a national symbol, of course, was Dilip Kumar drawing the map of India with bullets on the chest of the villain (oops, oops, it was none other than the most vocal Anna supporter from Bollywood now, Anupam Kher). There was a bit of that in this movement as well, though incidents when policemen, and in one case a journalist, were thrashed with reversed flags, were only a few.

The civil society group around Anna is smart and committed. But in wrapping the movement in the Tricolour and images of Bharat Mata, they have scored a self-goal. The emergence of civil society as such a powerful pressure group is a genuine achievement of Indian democracy. Because, along with the courts, the media and the Election Commission, civil society forms a counter-balance to the likely excesses of electoral majorities. But by packaging itself in majoritarian, exclusivist colours, Anna’s civil society has scored a self-goal. They will now be spending some time retracing their steps. Symbolism like having Dalit and Muslim girls to help Anna break his fast — with the Tricolour painted on their cheeks — will look as fake to those who feel excluded as the Muslim driver of Advani’s rath, as he led the Ram temple campaign. By the way, when was the last time you saw a child described as a Dalit from a public stage in Delhi? And we accuse our politicians of being casteist and cynical!

In any case, how can you use the Tricolour to fight your own constitutionally elected Parliament? It’s a facile argument to say that our Constitution puts “we, the people” above Parliament. The will of “us, the people” rests in our Parliament, elected by our votes. A constitutional democracy’s most hallowed concept of “we, the people…” cannot be reduced to “we, the mob…”, no matter how many “votes” we might have on e-mail, SMS or Facebook, or how vigorously we wave and shake the national flag. Because I may choose to disagree with you even more vigorously, and the flag and the anthem will remain as much mine as yours.


%d bloggers like this: