I was too young then to really remember it all; but I have heard from many people that the mass protests generated by the arrest of Anna Hazare are similar to the uprising called Total Revolution led by the late Jaiprakash Narayan in the early 1970s. In fact, it was the Total Revolution and the chaos that followed – and a historic blunder by Indira Gandhi – that led to the imposition of the Emergency in India in 1975. Many people are comparing today’s situation to the Emergency days.
The people of India are so fed up and so disgusted with corruption and our rotten and corrupt system that the wave of protests we see is hardly surprising. I have often publicly called India not a democracy but a demonocracy where crooked politicians and their criminal cohorts are openly plundering the nation; well aware that a dysfunctional judicial system will allow them to get away. In almost all cases, they have actually got away and have hence acquired the arrogance and swagger of pirates who know they are above and beyond the law. To that extent, the waves of protests, demonstrations, candle lit vigils and passionate slogans that are being witnessed across the nation were inevitable. And there is little doubt that the simplicity and stark clarity of the message being delivered by Anna Hazare has convinced thousands and thousands of Indians that Anna Hazare is a modern day messiah. I still remember the Jantar Mantar fast of April when even I was moved to write very strongly in favour of Anna Hazare and even bring out a special supplement on the power of civil society protests. I still think that there is enormous power and truth in the anti-corruption message that Anna Hazare is delivering.
And yet, I must confess that I do find some things a little disturbing. I know, passions and emotions are running so high at the moment that I run the risk of being vilified as a government stooge if I dare criticize Anna Hazare and his methods (Anyone who has been reading my editorials and columns over the years will, I am sure, laugh at the suggestion that I am a pro-establishment man!) . But just as I have often gone against the tide and slammed the government for many policies and actions, I feel strongly enough about this issue to point out to all passionate and emotionally charged Indians some basic home truths about this controversy.
Across India, people young and old are lambasting the government for being arrogant as well as adamant. Often rightly, they are accusing the government of not even bothering to listen to other viewpoints. There is no doubt that some highly irresponsible and uncalled for statements by senior leaders of the ruling alliance have strengthened this perception and further fuelled anger amongst people already fed up with corruption. And yet, if the government is guilty of being adamant and arrogant, is not Anna Hazare guilty of being the same? Anna Hazare and his supporters accuse the government of being intolerant and insensitive because it is refusing to accept their version of the Lok Pal Bill. But are they not displaying similar intolerance and insensitivity when they routinely brand anyone who expresses doubts about their version of the Lok Pal Bill as a traitor and a stooge? How can Anna and his team declare so confidently that it is only their version of the Lok Pal Bill that is perfect and no one else can say anything critical about it? If the government is hiding behind the fig leaf of a ‘popular mandate’ and the supreme authority of the Parliament, isn’t Team Anna guilty of hiding behind the fig leaf of sanctimoniousness? I fully support the right of Anna and his team to criticize the ham-handed manner in which the government is treating the Lok Pal Bill. But I also fully support the right of any Indian to criticize the draft prepared by Team Anna. Surely, not blindly agreeing to whatever Anna says doesn’t make a traitor out of an Indian? Quite frankly, over the last few months, both the government and Team Anna have been guilty of being intolerant, inflexible and insensitive. So many thousands of Indians are genuinely angry because some Congress leaders have publicly abused Anna and his team and accused them of being corrupt. But what has Team Anna been doing since April, if not publicly abusing the Prime Minister, the Parliament, Indian elections and even Indian democracy? And yes, I do agree that many should be abused in the government; but at the end of the day, there has to be a democratic way to it. It can’t be imposed through the dictatorial will of one group just because they are able to rake up popular frenzy. There is a Constitution; there is a court; there is an elected Parliament, and things have to happen as per its guidelines. Anna must protest. But he can’t be adamant about imposing it. Protests have their own effect and change does happen. But it can’t happen without the support of our Constitution and democratic machinery.
As I write this, Anna Hazare is still inside Tihar Jail and adamantly so. Many Indians see this as his indomitable fighting spirit. But come on. The government blundered by arresting him in the first place after imposing stupid conditions on his fast. But mass protests have forced the government to virtually cave in and surrender. It is publicly saying that Team Anna and his supporters can go on fast; it is publicly withdrawing all the stupid conditions. So is Anna Hazare being gracious in victory? No, he is now insisting that he must be allowed to do whatever he wants and that the government must surrender in totality to everything that he is demanding. Meanwhile, thousands and thousands of emotional supporters are at constant risk of physical harm as they protest across India. Is that not adamant, arrogant and insensitive? There is a very thin line separating emotionally charged crowds from violence and tragedy if someone is bent upon using that to create mayhem. Do never forget what happened in Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002 when people were emotionally supercharged, anxious, outraged and angry.
As I pointed out at the beginning, I was too young during the early 1970s to clearly remember the events that led to the Emergency. But of course, I do know that Loknayak JP is still a revered leader, a Gandhian who fought all his life for a cleaner and better India. Anna Hazare is already being hailed as another JP. But I also know this: many unbiased historians who personally admire JP now openly say and write that his inflexible manner and his call to fellow Indians to paralyse India in protests was nothing short of being irresponsible and short-sighted. Will history judge Anna Hazare similarly?
- 18 August 2011 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics