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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 39, September 17, 2011

Reading Anna’s Politics of Anti-politics

Friday 23 September 2011



The eminent political philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, drew our attention to the “protracted eclipse” of politics today. This happens, argued Agamben, because “politics” failed to confront the transformations that gradually “emptied out its categories and concepts”.1

Many political commentators have recently raised questions about the legitimacy of parliamentary politics in India in the context of the Anna Hazare movement. Pratap Bhanu Mehta argues that the singular achievement of the movement is to reveal the crisis of parliamentary democracy.2 According to Ashis Nandy, the legitimacy of the democratic system is high in India, but the legitimacy of the politicians is almost zero. This is an enormous void at the heart of India’s democratic system, argues Nandy.3

While characterising recent popular move-ments in India, Yogendra Yadav argues that people’s movements represent one of the most vibrant sectors of our democracy. But, he reminds us that there is a distancing of movements from politics. Yadav calls this “the politics of anti-politics”. It is elite-driven, very aggressive and negates politics in any form. The complex character of the Anna Hazare movement is noted by Yadav:

There is a powerful democratic strand in his brand of anti-corruption movement, which could strengthen alternative kind of politics. At the same time, there is an unmistakable element of the politics of anti-politics in his movement.4

ANNA HAZARE was known for the social work he had done in his native village, Ralegan Siddhi. His successful work for watershed conservation and afforestation impressed the environmen-talists. Careful management of water had improved crop yields, increased incomes and reduced indebtedness in the village. But, Anna’s approach was “deeply brahmanical”. Liquor, tobacco and even cable TV were forbidden. And Dalit families were compelled to adopt a vegetarian diet.5

Very recently, Swami Agnivesh has distanced himself from Team Anna on the question of democracy. He said that a “coterie” was dictating to Anna and hatred and contempt for the political class had crept in the movement. He added that the Anna campaign was increasingly becoming anti-minority and anti-backward classes.6 It may be mentioned in this connection that while making an assessment of the Anna movement from a Dalit perspective, one intellectual has reminded us that in spite of the fact that Anna helped Dalits in a number of ways, Dalits continue to stay in segregated localities in his village.7

Arundhati Roy has raised fundamental questions about the anti-democratic character of the Anna movement. According to her, while his means may be Gandhian, Anna Hazare’s demands are certainly not. Contrary to Gandhiji’s ideas about the decentralisation of power, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a draconian, anti-corruption law in which a panel of carefully chosen people will administer a giant bureaucracy, with the power to police everybody from the Prime Minister to the lowest government official. Roy has criticised Anna for his silence about things of urgent concern:

Nothing about the farmers’ suicides in his neighbourhood or about Operation Green Hunt further away. Nothing about Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh, nothing about Posco, about farmers’ agitations or the blight of SEZs.8

The valid criticisms of the Anna movement do not explain the success of his movement. The explanation lies in the people‘s distrust of the political class and Anna’s innovative leadership. Anna’s movement touched the minds of the people because it was focused on one problem— corruption—which affects ordinary people in everyday life. Anna’s “posture of an elderly neighbour next door” made him acceptable to the ordinary citizens.9 Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement has opened our eyes to the possibilities and predicaments of the “politics of anti-politics”.


1. Giorgio Agamben, Means without End: Notes on Politics, University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

2. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, ‘Fix the holes in the House’, The Indian Express, August, 23, 2011.

3. Ashis Nandy, ‘Push comes to shove’, Hindustan Times, August 25, 2011.
4. Yogendra Yadav, ‘This is the politics of anti-politics’, Tehelka, August 27, 2011.

5. Ramchandra Guha, ‘A patriarch for the nation?’, The Telegraph, August 27, 2011.

6. See Times of India, August 27, 2011.

7. Sukhadeo Thorat, ‘Ambedkar’s way and Anna Hazare’s methods’, The Hindu, August 23, 2011.

8. Arundhati Roy, ‘I’d rather not be Anna’, The Hindu, August 22, 2011.
9 See Nandy, op. cit.

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