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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 47, November 12, 2011

Assessing Anna Hazare

Saturday 12 November 2011, by P R Dubhashi

Some, belonging to self-proclaimed progressive circles, characterised Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption and his fast demanding an effective Lok Pal Bill as “a narrow, middle class, upper-caste phenomenon”. The criticism seems wide off the mark. The critics do not seem to be conversant with the life and work of Anna Hazare which, till he burst on the national scene recently, was confined to his native State of Maharashtra. Before launching a diatribe against Anna, they should have known that Anna is neither an upper caste, nor is he of the middle class. He has lived so far and continues to live till today in his native village, Ralegansiddhi, located in a drought-prone area of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra to which he returned after retirement from military service where he served in a junior capacity as a truck driver. Hs is not well conversant with the English language but that is no handicap because he can speak read and write well in Marathi and Hindi languages and thus can communicate not only with the people in Maharashtra but the rest of the country as well.

Anna Hazare’s Rural Development Work

THE one thing which he did after his return to his village was to bring about allround development of his village which, like the rest of the villages in drought prone areas, suffered from poverty and unemployment with people living a life which was ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Drinking was rampant and men given to indiscriminate drinking wrought havoc in the village life. The first thing Hazare did was to put a stop to drinking and the misdeeds of the drunkards in family and village life. Anna and his followers used force in addition to persuasion to bring drinking to an end. Some argue that Anna was not a Gandhian since he used force. Not much weight should be attached to this kind of an argument. Drinking has been a major evil in some of the villages and has been identified as one of the factors behind farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra which had acquired huge proportions. Use of limited physical force supported by social sanctions may not be considered all that objectionable. But those who themselves have never practised Gandhian principles and even pooh-poohed them are rushing forward to apply strict Gandhian standards to Hazare’s acts.

Once the village was rid of the ravages let loose by drunkards and goondas, Anna persuaded the villagers to use shramadaan to undertake work for watershed management. Contour bunds preserved the scanty rain, raised the water table and augmented the supply of water in wells and a village which could raise only scanty crop of inferior grain could now grow a variety of vegetables that fetched good prices in the market. Slowly this raised the level of living—in addition to money saved by not drinking. Yet another innovation was gneration of biogas energy from accumulated cowdung and farm waste. Ralegansiddhi started having street lights—a veritable revolution for a village plunged in darkness in the past.

Having spent a number of years of my career in the IAS in the rural community and co-operative development, I developed an abiding interest in the subject and some twenty years ago, having read about Anna Hazare’s work, I visited the village and greatly appreciated his rural development work. I met Anna, a bachelor and a modest person, who was staying all by himself in a room attached to the Yadavbaba Mandir. I conveyed to him my appreciation. I felt Ralegan could be the model of village development work for the rest of the country. I wrote a detailed article commending it as a model of rural development work in the country and the article was published in The Times of India.

The Government of Maharashtra took note of his work and entrusted to him some thirty villages in the State where the programme could be replicated. Unfortunately the replication could not take place. Obviously relication required not only a blueprint of rural development but also a local leadership which can motivate the people to undertake such a progarmme and make a success of it.

Anna Hazare’s Fight in Maharashtra against Misuse of Political Power

ONCE the rural development work in the village was accomplished, Anna took increasing interest in the problems of the State. Appalled by rampant corruption and misuse of political power in the State, he launched several protest movements sometimes accompanied by ‘Maun Vrat’ and fast to make the government agree to his demand to remove the corrupt Ministers and civil servants. Noting that indiscriminate transfer was used as a tool to punish honest civil servants, he compelled the government to come out with a law regarding transfer of civil servants giving them a measure of security from arbitrary transfers. Thanks to Anna Hazare, Maharashtra was the first to introduce the Right to Information Act, which was considered superior to the all-India legislation. This was a part of Anna’s ceaseless campaign against corruption.

Anna Co-opted for an Effective Lokpal Bill

ANNA was persuaded by some self-proclaimed civil rights activists to lead the campaign for an effective Lokpal at the Centre. Lokpal is not idea of Anna Hazare or what has come to be known as Team Anna. It was mooted way back in 1968 by the First Administrative Reforms Commission which envisaged Lokpal at the Centre and Lok Ayuktas in the States. Unfortunately while several States appointed Lok Ayuktas, Lokpal at the Centre failed to materialise over the last 42 years though nine attempts were made in the past to introduce the Lokpal Bill in Parliament.

The mega-corruption scams like those related to the 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games and Adarsh Housing Society struck the conscience of the long suffering people. The TV channels exposed the scams in full details. This led to the demand for strong action against corruption and black money by introducing a strong Lokpal Bill.

Instead of readily responding to the demand for accepting the “Jan Lokpal Bill”, the govern-ment resorted to subterfuges. Anna Hazare went on fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi in November 2010. There was high public support demonstrated at Jantar Mantar in the Capital and elsewhere and several cities which rattled the government, particulary at a time when elections to several State Assemblies were in the offing, and it had to concede Anna’s demand for a Joint Committee consisting five government Ministers and five members of the civil society. The constitution of the Joint Committee was notified in the official daily gazette. Anna gave up his fast and himself joined the Committee as a member. As expected, the Joint Committee could not give an agreed draft of the Lokpal Bill. The government gave a short shrift to the Jana Lok Pal Bill drafted by the civil society. As he had already threatened, Anna again sat on fast on August 16. The government promptly put him behind bars and sent him to the Tihar Jail for not adhering to the conditions on which the fast was allowed but released him the very next day. But Anna stayed on in jail and continued his indefinite fast. Subsequently he went on with the fast at the Ramlila Maidan. Following some negotiations, Anna gave up his fast after 13 days once Parliament passed a resolution reflecting its sentiments on the issue.

Bitterness between the Two Sides

BUT that was not an amicable end to the discord between the two parties. On reaching his village at the head of a victory procession, Anna gave vent to his bitter feelings. He castigated Home Minister Chidambaram by using the Marathi appellate ‘labad’ (cunning) and ‘khodsal’ (mischief-maker) as instead of taking responsibility for the attack on Ramdev’s followers at the Ramlila Maidan, he (Chidambaram) was putting the blame on the Delhi Police who in fact were acting under his orders. Anna declared his intention to give further shocks to an arrogant government which had shown little sincerity (bad ‘niyat’). There is no mutual confidence. Instead there is mutual suspicion, hostility. In the earlier episode Baba Ramdev’s ego was first inflated by four Ministers visiting the airport to meet him and later in a midnight swoop by the police he was taken into custody and transported back to his Ashram in Haridwar and the peaceful gathering of thousands of his followers dispersed with police assault.

In the present event the Anna team members were made members of a Joint Committee—an unprecedented honour – and later ditched. Now the government has started taking action against members of Team Anna. Income tax notice has been slapped on Kejriwal, Shanti Bhushan and Bedi, and Anna himself put on the dock by unearthing the Sawant Report accusing him of misusing a Trust amount for celebrating his birthday. This growing biterness would not be conducive to a united fight againt the evil of corruption which has not only harrmed the Indian society and economy but also brought India a bad name in the eyes of the world.

What Caused Trememdous Public Response?

TILL the recent events Anna was hardly known outside Maharashtra. Today he is hailed as the second Gandhi. Anna too has started talking of a second independence revolution. Anna apparently had chosen the right moment for his fast. The major corruption scams—2G and Commonwealth Games scams—were fully exposed in the CAG reports. The sheer magnitude of the two scams running into lakhs of crores of rupees involving powerful politicians was simply staggering. The TV channels brought details in full view of the urban as well as the rural audience. While they had to struggle in daily life to eke out a livelihood, the politicianss had no compunction in looting public funds and amassing their fortunes. No doubt people had suffered from the pinpricks of corruption by petty officials in daily life. But the mega-corruption had crossed all limits and exposed the dirty face of politicians in power misusing their power without any compunction and without any regard for public interest.

No doubt the Opposition parties had been speaking of corruption by the ruling Congress and its ally, the DMK. Advani, in course of his election rallies in the 2009 general elections, had pointedly referred to black money. Recently BJP President Gadkari had expressed the intention of his party to conduct a nationwide campaign on the issue. The Communist Party leaders had forcefully talked against corruption. Yet the people were not adequately stirred. Perhaps the people believed that the politicians—no matter what party they belonged to—are all corrupt and could not be trusted. Anna instinctively realised this and strictly kept politicians out of bounds. Uma Bharati, who tried to join the Anna fast, was thrown out by Anna’s followers.

While politicians were sidelined, people responded to Anna’s fast in a big way. He evoked spontaneous public response not only in Delhi but nationwide. A local social worker became a nationwide celebrity. Why did this happen? People were seething with anger. The ammunition was filled to the brim awaiting only a spark to ignite it. That spark was provided by Anna.

How lasting would this movement be? What is its goal? To eradicate all corruption and misuse of political power, political arrogance, Anna keeps on reminding the elected politicians that they are the servants and the people are the masters. They should work for the people and not for themselves. Anna’s struggle would have to continue till this abiding truth of democracy is driven home to politicians.

Is Anna’s Movement Against Parliamentary Democracy?

CONGRESS politicians and politicians of their ilk have stared saying that Anna’s movement is against parliamentary democracy since it amounts to questioning the authority of the elected representatives and Parliament. Anna’s response is that the people are above Parliament and bring it into existence. The authority of the elected representatives, elected government and Parliament is contingent on their honestly serving the people and devoting to public purpose. Indian democracy today leaves much to be desired. It is full of loopholes and a long struggle is needed to rid it of corruption and misuse of power. Anna’s movement has started the process.

Professional politicians do not like this. They seem to be almost frightened by the prospect. That is why they are raising a hue and cry against Anna’s movement.

Some progressive thinkers (Arundhati Roy is one of them), and NGOs have been inimical to Anna’s movement. They say that instead of corruption, Anna should have taken up the issue of poverty, farmers’ suicides, exploitative capitalism. Anna is not highly educated and cannot talk the sophisticated language and ideological claptrap of these progressives. But it is not necessary that all issues should be taken up together. Today corruption is the central issue. A corruption-free government will benefit the poor. The PM’s package has not reached the families of farmers who have committed suicide because of corruption. The MGNREGA scheme for providing employment to the rural poor suffers from corruption.

His critics also say that he is not Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma had led the struggle of the people in South Africa and India over many years. His intellectual and moral stature was high. Anna is no comparison. Anna himself has never claimed that he is a second Gandhi. Any comparison with Mahatma Gandhi is out of place. But given his limited education and humble background he has done enormous work on rousing the people’s conscience against corruption and misrule. The virulent criticism by the ‘progressives’ and NGOs seems to stem from a sense of jealousy.

Fissures in Team Anna

THE danger to the future of Anna’s movement is not from its critics but the dissensions in its own ranks. The lawyer member of the team, Prashant Bhushan, took up the issue of Kashmir and asked for a plebiscite. This created an outcry and he was physically assaulted. Anna and his team quickly disowned Bhushan’s views – calling them his personal views which Anna and his team do not share. There were even speculations in the press that he may be dropped from the team. Then followed the attack on Arvind Kejriwal, Anna’s organiser, at his Lucknow election meeting. Anna condemned the attack. Having shunned politics, Anna and his team rushed headlong in the Hissar elections appealing to the voters not to vote for the Congress.

The Congress candidate lost his deposit but the victorious candidate asserted that Anna and his team had no influence whatever in the outcome of the election. Two prominent members of Anna’s core committee—Rajendra Singh and P.V. Rajgopal—decided to quit the committee because of infiltration of politics following the Anna team members’ active role in the Hissar parliamentary bye-election. Earlier Swami Agnivesh had left after allegations by Kiran Bedi that he was a mole. Kiran Bedi was embarrassed following the exposure of the inflated TA claims made by her. Anna himself blew hot and cold. Anna suddenly declared that he would go with the Congress if a strong Bill was introduced in the winter session of Parliament. At the same time he spoke disparagingly of the RSS which took offence. An intriguing recent development was Rahul Gandhi’s expression of interest in Anna’s rural development work in his village and his desire to have a dialogue with Anna. With great fanfare the sarpanch of the village of Ralegansiddhi and four other villagers close to Anna flew to Delhi at the instance of P.T. Thomas, Rahul’s assistant, apparently to hold discussion with Rahul. But on reaching Delhi, they were told that no such meeting was scheduled. They felt crestfallen and betrayed. The other members of the team were hardly appreciative of this development. Anna himself thought it convenient to go on ‘Monnvrat’, ostensibly on health ground. Developments such as these may make people disenchanted and the spontaneous response once shown may get frittered away!

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