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Ambivalence about Anna Hazare

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It is clear that a Lokpal Act will be better than not having one. Almost everyone that one talks to has this opinion. In spite of that, there are many reasonable people who do not agree with Anna Hazare and his movement.

Aruna Roy sets out her point of view very cogently in an interview with Deccan Chronicle:

DC: Specifically, how do you regard the Jan Lokpal Bill, its leadership, social composition? The fight to root out corruption undoubtedly touches us all.

AR: Even if we make a very good law, it will only look at a segment of corruption in public offices and not at the arbitrary use of power. The definition of corruption here is crucial, but partial. Nevertheless, it is important. The Lokpal legislation will help enforce the concept of contract with the state to deliver on basic promises.

The mobilisation for Jan Lokpal Bill has been very large, but the gain from it won’t be commensurate. Such a large mobilisation should have demanded a fundamental transfer in relations between power and the people. But to expect that kind of discussion from this kind of mobilisation is unrealistic. The best we may hope for is some reining in of the power of the instruments of the state.

DC: In this movement, we have seen the deliberate attempt to run down Parliament as an idea that is central to our democracy, whatever its many faults, and to run down the class of politicians. Do you see Parliament as a den of evildoers who are a waste of money and time?

AR: In fact, I dissociate myself from a discourse that defines corruption as the responsibility of exclusively one class, in this case the political class. To resolve the corruption issue, we must see it as being complex. A self-examination of our personal ethics is also needed.

The middle class can be a part of many progressive movements. But the corruption issue does not automatically call for self-examination. It allows you to let yourself off the hook.

DC: Many leaders of civil society groups who once fought together are arrayed against one another on the Lokpal Bill issue. You and Arvind Kejriwal are not on the same side anymore. Arundhati Roy and Prashant Bhushan are clashing. Arundhati and Medha Patkar — comrades of many battles — are on opposing sides. What explains this phenomenon?

AR: I feel very happy when a group of citizens is vocal and makes a statement. But this group breaks down when you talk of solutions. Solutions will have to be political. Incapacity of a campaign to allow dissent to exist weakens it.

For the poor of the country, the state is an oppressor, but it also protects just by stating that there is equality. No civil society group can do this for us.

Apart from her discussion of the Jan Lokpal andolan, she makes a very insightful side point about class structure in political protests:

Middle-class protests generally spring from the denial of an individual’s right. The organising of a protest can be taken care of by others, and people come, protest and go home. This is like being at a seminar. But the poor stay put day and night at the protest site for days together.

For the poor, there are two battles on when they are in a campaign — the issue itself, say graft; and the battle for survival when they are protesting and not doing their daily work.

This point is the main story reported by BS:

In normal times, Sadiq Hasan should be in school Monday to Friday. But for the last one week, this 15-year-old has bunked classes and come to Ramlila Maidan to paint the Tricolour on people’s faces. “My classmates told me to grab the chance,” says Hasan, the pride of his first money evident on his face. He makes about Rs 1,000 a day.

Because of people like Sisodia, Aswal and Hasan, and not just regular vendors, a storm of sorts has been blowing through Sadar Bazaar in Delhi, Asia’s largest wholesale market. At any time of the year, this market bristles with shoppers, vendors, traders, middlemen and karigars (craftsmen). Traders here are used to chaos and are comfortable with huge orders that come to them from all over the country. “But nothing compares to the aandhi (storm) called Anna which has hit us,” says Mohammed Ismail Ansari, owner of AR China Toys, holding up a small electronic Tricolour badge which glows in the dark. “I ordered several packets of these Chinese badges for Independence Day. Not one of them sold,” he says. “But ever since Anna began his fast, these have been a sellout.” Young boys, he says, buy these flags for Rs 5 from him and sell them for Rs 15 outside Ramlila Maidan. “If I write Anna on this cheap Chinese pen,” adds the next shopkeeper pulling a pen out of his pocket, “this too will disappear from the shops.”

Elsewhere in BS Pallavi Iyer compares middle class mass movements in India and China and concludes:

As in India, the Chinese middle classes tend to reserve their ire and energy for specific issues that impact their own lives rather than press for a fundamental overhaul of the system. Unsurprisingly, since it is the current system that has given birth to them and under which they have flourished.

This may be an imperfect system which allows for the continued repression and disenfranchisement of many. But at the same time, it has engendered a larger and more upwardly mobile middle class than existed before. The reason Anna’s supporters care is because they believe things can get better, having experienced this betterment themselves. Middle-class activism is therefore an expression of optimism as much as frustration.

Anna’s supporters, ironically for a Gandhian leader, might be more consumers than citizens in the conventional sense, their passions fuelled by the new capitalist-paradigm that has empowered them. They might not always have the most egalitarian or noble of motives. But nonetheless, the heightened consciousness both of specific problems (be it corruption or environmental distress) as well as of their own capacity to affect change that middle-class movements in India and China create in their wake is a force for good.

An article in Citywire takes the same point forward:

In a recent study, sociologists took a cross-section of 14 countries and found that citizens would support a corrupt leader as long as they receive tangible benefits. If the rulers can satisfy their clientelistic networks by manipulating government resources, those rulers are allowed to keep their jobs. Should they fall short, the day of reckoning is nigh. It is not by chance that the first charge that the rebels bring against overthrown dictators are lengthy and varied accusations of corruption.

But if corrupt leaders are able to deliver, is it a foregone conclusion that corruption is necessarily bad for growth and development? After all, one of the most corrupt regimes, that of president Sukarno in Indonesia, delivered spectacular GDP growth by allowing orchestrated graft at the highest levels of power whilst simultaneously opening the country to foreign investment, legislating balanced budgets, stimulating manufacturing and heavily promoting extractive industries.

His record is only bettered by that of the current Chinese leadership, despite the indisputable fact that China is permanently near the bottom of corruption countdowns. At least, quip investors in Dragon-land, there is only one party to bribe and the party gets things done. Not so in India, whose political layers are not only varied and confusing, but also populated with incompetent apparatchiks who never deliver.

So it seems that on the one hand, opposition to the andolan comes from people who are interested in wider social justice, and across the spectrum to those who argue that corruption is not bad.


Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

August 29, 2011 at 9:32 am

2 Responses

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  1. This is a great first step for India!

    congress had no choice but to listen to the people of India! Aam aadmi’s time is coming and soon everybody will get the same respect in this country!


    August 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    • One hopes you are right.

      Arhopala Bazaloides

      August 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm

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