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Posts Tagged ‘Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’

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.

Postscript

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)

Endnotes

[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-

A tale of two movements (Amita Baviskar)

In Perspective on September 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm

From: The Times of India

A tale of two movements

by Amita Baviskar

September 6, 2011

The agitation for the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLB) is being hailed as ‘unprecedented’ and as a ‘second freedom struggle’. More grounded analysts have likened it to the Navanirman movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s. However, a more apt comparison lies closer at hand.

Less than six years ago, Parliament enacted a national Right to Information Act. This was a major victory for the RTI campaign which aimed to empower people to fight corruption and malgovernance. It mobilised a nationwide network of support, bringing together activists, NGOs and ordinary citizens, and effectively using media and middle-class interlocutors. India Against Corruption (IAC), the coalition leading the present campaign, shares the goals and the networking strategy of the earlier campaign, and its leaders Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Anna Hazare were closely associated with it.

Yet, the differences between the two campaigns are striking as well as instructive. The RTI campaign and the JLB campaign both strive for greater government accountability, but their ideologies, modes of organisation, support base and strategies diverge in important ways. Understanding these differences is crucial if the Lokpal Bill, once enacted, is to achieve its stated goal.

The RTI campaign grew out of the experiences of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), the jan sangathan (people’s organisation) in rural Rajasthan which had, for two decades, fought corruption in village development works. The MKSS pioneered the use of jan sunvai or public hearings as a technique to empower villagers to ‘speak truth to power’, challenging an opaque, oppressive and corrupt system of governance. The jan sunvai’s success depended on systematic preparation to mobilise people to testify, collect information and check its accuracy. The groundswell of public anger against abuse of public funds was harnessed to create a coordinated campaign led by trained local activists.

From the villages, MKSS took its campaign to the district and state level, staging determined demonstrations that attracted the middle classes and intellectuals, before leading the national RTI campaign. The national network was more eclectic; it included not only jan sangathans like the MKSS, but also individual anti-corruption activists like Anna Hazare and Shailesh Gandhi. Notably, the RTI campaign aligned itself with the National Alliance of Peoples Movements, sangathans of the rural and urban poor fighting against dispossession. This organisational base gave the RTI campaign a solid political credibility.

The JLB campaign shows a distinctly different trajectory. Even though Kejriwal’s Parivartan, which battled corruption in ration shops in two Delhi slums, was a jan sangathan, its base was too limited to launch a nationwide campaign. The other campaign leaders – Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi and Hazare – also cannot muster a trained cadre of activists. The JLB campaign has mobilised participants in two ways: through social networking and the media; and via regional chapters of Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s congregations.

The coming together of a predominantly young, white-collar constituency that communicates through text messages and Facebook, lower-middle-class followers of Baba Ramdev, and the professional classes that practise the Art of Living gives the JLB campaign the strength of numbers as well as the image of appearing all-inclusive. However, this strength may dissipate once the Bill is passed. Mobilising crowds for a successful agitation is one thing; having a committed and trained activist base to convert that success into long-term institutional change is quite another.

If the RTI campaign embraced sangathans with an Independent Left ideology, the political beliefs of the participants in the JLB campaign are harder to pin down. Eight of the 20 founders of India Against Corruption are religious figures, of whom only Swami Agnivesh can be described as a champion of jan sangathans. The rest voice patriotic sentiments and anti-government hostility without a clear analysis of how the systemic problems that plague public affairs will be tackled. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s previous social initiatives have been of doubtful value (cleaning the sewage-laden Yamuna by picking up garbage from the riverfront) and marked by dubious claims (11,000 Naxalites ‘converted’ to the Art of Living).

While other founders like Hazare and Bedi have a reputation for personal probity and courage, they endorse a form of individualist authoritarian action that’s applauded by a public hungry for vigilante heroes. The JLB thus represents a shift in the political spectrum: from the left-of-centre democratic decentralisation of the RTI campaign, to the right-of-centre legal-technical-fix of India Against Corruption.

The test of any law lies in its implementation. Much disquiet has already been expressed about the overly-centralised design of the JLB and the impracticability of the mammoth bureaucratic machinery it demands. However, making a law work also requires a mobilised public, a dedicated and organised network at every level that will keep up the pressure on public institutions. The ideologies, organisational structure and support base of the JLB campaign do not indicate that it is capable of such long-term and systematic social action.

The RTI campaign’s activist base has allowed it to sustain an arduous struggle against corruption, but the challenges have been formidable. It remains to be seen how the JLB campaign will equip itself to walk the talk, and translate strident demands into effective action.

The writer is a sociologist at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (co founder of India Against Corruption) found guilty of illegal land grab

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2011 at 4:00 pm

From: Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 36, Dated 10 Sep 2011

The Art of Living Illegally

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is running a yoga and meditation centre on land earmarked for the poor and landless, reports Imran Khan

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Turning a blind eye Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Photo: AP

THE ‘GURU of joy’ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been found guilty of encroaching more than five acres of government land worth Rs 50 crore in Karnataka. The land meant to be distributed to the poor and landless has been illegally acquired by Sri Sri, who has constructed an Art of Living meditation centre on it, violating the law.
Art of Living premises in Alanahalli

Grey area Art of Living premises in Alanahalli

ACICM convenor M Lakshmana
Whistleblower ACICM convenor M Lakshmana

Even though the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA) wanted to fine ‘Guruji’ and had asked for the demolition of the building, a timely intervention by former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has saved the Art of Living Foundation from facing legal action.

According to documents obtained by TEHELKA, MUDA had acquired 100 acres at Alanahalli village near Mysore in 1985, ’92 and ’97 for the development of residential colonies for 1.5 lakh landless poor. Out of the 100 acres notified by MUDA, 70 were developed and the rest was denotified and restored to the original owners.

“The land that Sri Sri acquired was left as a buffer zone and not developed as a residential layout as it allowed for the free flow of water from Chamundi Hills to Alanahalli tank. It was supposed to be converted into a botanical park,” says M Lakshmana of the Association of Concerned and Informed Citizens of Mysore.

However, in 2002, the land was acquired by the Art of Living through a proxy by the name of R Raghu, even when the land was in the possession of MUDA. And a building was constructed for conducting yoga and meditation classes.

Taking note of this, on 20 December last year, the then Deputy Commissioner of Mysore Harsh Gupta wrote to MUDA directing it to reclaim the government land from the Art of Living, and sought a response within seven days. Following the order, MUDA wrote to the tehsildar instructing him to serve a notice to Art of Living. The tehsildar’s office did so on 4 January, stating that the building constructed at Alanahalli was illegal and slapped a fine of Rs 1,000 on the organisation as per the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, 1964.

Apart from this penalty, Art of Living was given two days time to demolish the building, failing which the department would clear the encroachment and slap an additional fine of Rs 25 per day.

Shunted out of the deputy commissioner’s post, Gupta, now assistant director of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, says, “During my tenure, a survey was being conducted of the 1,500 acres of government land. And wherever discrepancies were found, notices and orders were issued. During that survey, we found out that the Art of Living had encroached upon five acres of government land.”

Gupta’s orders were not carried out. The same day, a letter from the chief minister’s office signed by Principal Secretary ISN Prasad prevented the deputy commissioner and the taluka administration from carrying out its duties.

The Yeddyurappa regime let Art of Living construct buildings on the encroached land

The letter instructed the district and taluka administration against demolishing the Art of Living building on survey No. 41/F block (P6) in Alanahalli, saying, “The chief minister will take a decision on it.” However, Yeddyurappa did not bother to take any decision and the Art of Living continued construction activities on the land.

“It was done to stop the precipitate action,” says Prasad. An Art of Living delegation had met Yeddyurappa and he had asked the district administration to refrain from action till a further decision is taken.

“That didn’t happen due to various reasons. But the current Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda will call a meeting with all the local officials,” says Prasad.

Responding to the claims, Karthik Krishna of the Art of Living’s bureau of communication says, “Since 2003, we have been working to denotify this land that was falsely notified to extract a bribe, which we fought tooth and nail and were also slapped with a fine.”

The Art of Living has not encroached on any land, he says. The 5-acre plot was purchased by R Raghu from Gangu Belli Belliappa on 25 November 2002. Since then, the premises have been utilised with the permission of the landlord for conducting yoga and meditation classes, says Krishna.

Artful Grabbers?
The Art of Living Foundation is alleged to have grabbed land at many places in Karnataka

Mysore
12 acres
Rs 120 cr

Kengeri
6.35 acres
Rs 8 cr

Mandya
20 acres
Rs 8 cr

“This is not the first time a case of land-grab has been brought against the Art of Living,” says Lakshmana. In Mandya district, the organisation has been accused of grabbing 20 acres. And a 2006 report on government land encroachments in the state had also found discrepancies in its Bengaluru ashram. In Mysore, apart from the five acres of government land, the Art of Living has encroached around seven acres worth Rs 70 crore near the tourist spot of Chamundi Hills.

V Balasubramaniam, former chairman of Land Task Force, says the AT Ramaswamy Committee report had found that the organisation had encroached upon 6.35 acres of government land in Agara village in Kengeri, Bengaluru. The committee claimed that the land encroached by the Art of Living was worth more than Rs 8 crore.

Lakshmana has filed a criminal complaint against Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Yeddyurappa. “I have also lodged a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission, asking how a high-flying organisation like the Art of Living could obtain a site when poor and landless people are waiting for the past 30 years,” says Lakshmana.

Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.
imran@tehelka.com

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

Perils of Anna’s success (Praful Bidwai)

In Commentary, Uncategorized on August 22, 2011 at 6:34 pm

From: prafulbidwai.org

Frontline, April 23-May 6, 2011
Frontline Column: Beyond the Obvious

by Praful Bidwai

Hazare’s success in mobilising the normally apolitical middle class speaks of a strong revulsion against corruption and shows up huge flaws in the system. But it can also harm democratic politics.

** ** ** ** **

Anna Hazare has achieved what no political movement, campaign or party has accomplished in decades: namely, ensure the capitulation of the government on an important policy agenda. It is only very rarely that governments in India yield so completely on issues such as corruption and laws to curb and punish it. I cannot recall a single occasion since the mid-1970s when this has happened. The United Progressive Alliance was no exception to this. Indeed, it doggedly resisted even the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G telecom scam and allowed a whole session of Parliament to be gutted—until it finally conceded the demand.

Hazare mobilised and energised the Twitter and Facebook-loving upper layers of the middle class and dragged behind himself the media, in particular 24-hour television channels, to a point where anchors became zealous advocates of his cause.

Through his indefinite fast on the Lokpal Bill issue, Hazare has emerged as a parallel national power centre. The fast conjured up a virtual spectacle—much like the Cricket World Cup. The government probably decided that it would be far too risky to let his campaign grow any further lest it be infiltrated, exploited or captured by its political opponents, or lead to an uncontrollable situation. On Day 4 of the fast, it conceded the demand for a joint committee for drafting the Lokpal Bill, with equal representation from government and civil society nominees.

This too is totally unprecedented. Typically, the government limits civil society representation in any advisory or consultative committee to a small proportion of the total.

Hopefully, the committee will produce a Bill that is far worthier than the officially drafted legislation, which protects corruption in a number of ways. It restricts complaints to the Lokpal to those that have been routed through the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. It exempts civil servants from the Lokpal’s purview.

The Bill gives the Lokpal no powers of prosecution and makes his/her decisions purely recommendatory, thus giving the government the freedom to decide whether to act on them or not. It also limits investigation into past corruption cases to only two years. It is not difficult to improve upon the Bill. The drafting committee can be expected to produce a legislation that gives the fight against corruption some real strength.

That said, the whole manner in which Anna Hazare and his group ran their campaign, the group’s composition, and part of its larger agenda raise uncomfortable questions. Contrary to media claims, the campaign was not spontaneous, but carefully planned and well organised. It was planned at least two months in advance to begin on April 5. A participant, who was interviewed on television, confirmed this, including the date. So did the networks run by yoga guru Baba Ramdev and Art of Living leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The organisers used a toll-free number in Mumbai and managed social networks to enthuse people to join Hazare’s fast or express solidarity with it through candlelight vigils in numerous cities.

The campaign’s organisers made their first attempt to focus on the issue of corruption one-and-a-half years ago, when they lobbied for Kiran Bedi, a former Indian Police Service officer, to be appointed as the Chief Information Commissioner after the end of Wajahat Habibullah’s tenure. They launched “India Against Corruption” and held two rallies in Delhi. One of them was held at Jantar Mantar in November last. Ramdev’s Aastha channel gave these extensive publicity. But these did not attract much public attention.

That is when the organisers decided to rope in Anna Hazare. The key organisers included Kiran Bedi, NGO Parivartan’s Arvind Kejriwal, and Ramdev, and secondarily, Rashtriya Lok Dal MP Mahmud Madani, the Delhi diocese’s Archbishop Vincent Concessao and Swami Agnivesh. Hazare has established himself as a crusader against corruption in Maharashtra, having forced some corrupt ministers to resign. With his image as a Gandhian who has a Spartan lifestyle and a high moral stature, Hazare clicked instantly.

“India Against Corruption” took off in a big way. Over 4 million Twitter messages were mobilised. So were a few hundred to several hundred citizen volunteers, including high-profile Bollywood figures like Aamir Khan, Shabana Azmi, Tom Alter and Anupam Kher. Many of the slogans of the campaign, including the branding of all 543 Lok Sabha MPs as “thieves” and defenders of corruption, betray well-entrenched middle class prejudices.

This is the same social stratum, the top 15 percent of the population, which rarely votes in elections, and has contempt not just for politicians, but for the political process of democracy itself. This elite does not experience corruption or is at its receiving end in the way the bulk of the poor are. But it has convinced itself that corruption is the primary drag on India’s progress towards Great Powerhood.

In many ways, it is the same social group that had led the anti-Mandal and anti-affirmative action agitations of the past. This class is fiercely individualistic and by and large believes the poor are what they are because they, unlike itself, are not enterprising enough. It was no surprise that some staunchly elitist organisations like the Delhi Medical Association and Residents’ Welfare Associations—notorious for its anti-poor stance during the demolition drive in Delhi—turned up enthusiastically to back Hazare.

The antecedents of some of the key individuals are open to question. Ramdev, for instance, works closely with RSS pracharak KN Govindacharya in the Bharat Swabhiman movement and is himself close to the Sangh ideology. Bedi scarcely hides her ambition to play a larger-than-life role in social and political affairs. Ravi Shankar too propagates deeply conservative ideas. Hazare himself is politically naïve and adheres to a crude, chauvinist form of nationalism—as his lurid and outsized depiction of Bharat Mata on a map of India and his glorification of Shivaji suggest.

Hazare claims to be a Gandhian, but told his admirers that it is not enough to gaol the corrupt; they must be hanged. He said: “You might wonder how a Gandhian like me is talking about violent methods like hanging, but in today’s context, the need is not of Mahatma Gandhi but of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.”

The Hazare campaign poses other problems too. Its own draft Lokpal Bill will concentrate too much power in the hands of one person, without the checks and balances that are central to democracy. The accumulation of boundless privileges and placing of all kinds of agencies under the Lokpal would violate the principle of separation of powers. He/she will be more like the cartoon strip hero Judge Dredd, who dispenses instant justice while riding an enormously powerful motorcycle.

The Lokpal’s appointment is to be recommended by all manner of people, including Nobel Prize winners of Indian origin, recipients of the Indian government’s Padma awards, and yes, Magsaysay prize winners, a category to which some of the campaign’s leaders belong. None of them, barring the Lok Sabha Speaker, is an elected representative of the people, with legitimacy deriving from the election.

However, this is part of a larger obsession of the campaign: it claims to speak in the name of the people. Civil society organisations are self-created, voluntary and self-appointed. They cannot lay claim to democratic legitimacy based on the principle of representation or accountability. They must not arrogate this role to themselves.

Various political parties, especially the Nationalist Congress—whose president Sharad Pawar Hazare has long targeted, and who resigned from the Group of Ministers on corruption—and the Samajwadi Party have criticised Hazare’s campaign on this ground and for interfering with the legitimate function of Parliament to enact laws. Yet others have condemned its arrogance and its bypassing of the political institutions of democracy on the ground that India has a functioning democracy.

This point is only partly valid. India’s political system is marked by numerous failures and inability to deal with major issues of concern to the people, including predatory neoliberal policies, dysfunctional public service delivery, and widespread corruption. Our political parties do not respond to this dysfunctional state of affairs and have failed to mobilise the public on relevant issues. People like Hazare have stepped into the vacuum. Their agenda is problematic and can lead to dangerous forms of vigilantism. Nothing will stop the likes of Hazare, and more dangerous, Ramdev, from branding specific individuals corrupt and demanding their resignation by applying the pressure of middle-class mobilisation and by exploiting the elite’s distrust of politics itself.

Hazare has already undercut the National Advisory Council which was debating an alternative Lokpal Bill. The NAC enjoys legitimacy because it was appointed by an elected government. Other institutions too could soon be weakened or bypassed.

Yet, so long as the political class continues to malfunction and refuses to address issues of urgent relevance to the people, such movements will grow, jolt the system, and create parallel power centres, which regrettably are accountable to nobody.

Why I didn’t go to Jantar Mantar (Harsh Mander)

In Perspective on August 8, 2011 at 12:46 pm

From: Hindustan Times

Why I didn’t go to Jantar Mantar

Harsh Mander

April 13, 2011

As young middle-class Indians gathered to express their anger at corrupt governance, it was a significant moment for Indian democracy. The country has witnessed many protests for wages and land, self-determination and human rights. But this campaign was different. It’s decades since educated and privileged young people felt stirred enough to take to the streets, seeking hope of a better India. But this is not a one-time eruption and the political leadership can afford to ignore this message only at its own peril.

I believe that the addition of this new constituency, of a youthful and aspirational middle class, to democratic dissent, is healthy for the republic. Unlike the poor and toiling masses, their opinion matters to the political establishment, who learned to their dismay that these young people too want clean governance.

For four decades, repeated governments have demonstrated bad faith in failing to pass a law to constitute a Lokpal. All political parties demand it when in opposition, and subvert it when in power. The UPA’s draft Lokpal Bill was another weak-kneed attempt. But I worry that the alternative Jan Lokpal Bill would instead create a statutory dictator, by bringing investigation, prosecution and recommendation for punishment under the Lokpal. It would sacrifice ‘due process’ of justice in its anxiety to ensure powerful policing of official corruption. There are few checks to prevent a dominant Lokpal from becoming oppressive.

I support the more general demand of the demonstrators that citizens must be consulted before laws and policies that affect them are framed and passed. The government conceded this in small part by constituting the National Advisory Council (NAC). But of course there are innumerable shades of opinion in civil society beyond those in the NAC. The governments must institutionalise a mandatory process of pre-legislative consultation with citizen groups before any major statute is considered by Parliament.

And yet why could I not actively join the demonstration at Jantar Mantar? First, the symbols and allies that the campaign chose disturbed me: the stage was decorated with a picture of Bharat Mata, almost identical to that propagated by the right-wing RSS. Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the two ‘god-men’ who dominated the campaign and whose followers contributed the largest numbers at the protest, endorse many Hindutva causes including the construction of a Ram Temple. RSS leaders like Ram Madhav were welcomed on to the stage. My fears were further confirmed when Anna Hazare declared that Narendra Modi was a ‘model’ chief minister. It’s difficult to comprehend how a campaign that claims to be Gandhian can extol a government responsible for the slaughter of its religious minorities. Is the condoning of violent retribution against communities, the complicity in slaughter of the official machinery, the systematic subversion of the criminal justice system to protect those guilty of the massacre, or extra-judicial killings not signs of corruption?

My notion of good governance includes but extends beyond cleansing governments of bribery and financial malfeasance. It is of a just, compassionate, democratic State, which is fair to all citizens regardless of their faith, caste, gender or wealth. Corruption has deeper causes than merely the absence of institutions to punish the corrupt. It stems from inequality and injustice, from illegitimate power and dispossession.

For many young people of privilege, their discovery of democracy began with this televised campaign against corruption. But Mahatma Gandhi taught us that fundamental to satyagraha is love, self-sacrifice and a firm adherence to truth. And that wrong means can’t authentically deliver right ends. I can’t choose allies to fight corruption who stand opposed to the egalitarian and secular democratic foundations of our Constitution. To me the battle against corruption must be intrinsically part of a larger confrontation against oppression, injustice, hate and fear. There are no shortcuts.

(Harsh Mander is director, Centre for Equity Studies. The views expressed by the author are personal.)

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