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Gandhian fast as emotional blackmail

In the current battle between the growing populism of the fasting Anna Hazare and the Government of India, I’m finding myself taking a standpoint I never thought I would.  For what could well be the first time in many many years, I’m finding myself siding with the government on this one.

Even a jaded cynic like me who has seen simply too many hopeful promises broken by charlatan ideologists can concede that perhaps Mr Hazare is genuine in his beliefs.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as someone who really wants to try to break the hardened crust of corrpution that has dried out the heart of India.

I just don’t think this is the right way to go about it.

Let me though make it quite clear - there is a great part of me that believes that the Jan Lokpal Bill is a better version than the Bill the government has acceeded to.  It strengthens the Lokpal and allows the body to really threaten the corrupt practices of politicians and judiciary.  However I’m also a great believer in the “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” school of thought.  A power beyond the reach of Parliament and judiciary is not just a liberating prospect - its also a threatening one.

And I’m wary of populists in general.  Mr Hazare is using Gandhian tactics to reach into India’s emotional memory and I’m not quite sure on what ground.  Is this man an elected leader?  Has he got an inner track to some deity who has told him that only he can manage to curtail the multi hydra headed corruption of a complex nation?  And most important of all, what is his guarantee that the Lokpal, the “carefully chosen panel of people” he proposes will be immune to the corruption that so far seems to have left no kurtha pocket in the land untouched?

The Right to Information Act - a revolution in modern Indian politics - took years and more than 150 amendments to bring it into being.  Why should a man who until a few months ago was relatively unknown to the world suddenly claim a shortcut to the due democratic process?

And what kind of precedent will this set?

What will it be next time?  Some saffron robed madman who proposes a mass conversion of every non Hindu in the country?  A business tycoon who wants all tribal land cleared so he can build and mine and chop to his heart’s content? A Lokpal so powerful it starts to emulate an Orwellian “some people are more equal than others” philosophy?

And does the Jan Lokpal proposition also include the thousand cuts of small time corruption that riddles India?  Of headmasters wanting bribes for student enrollment?  Of doctors who can be bribed to break the law and provide sex determination and other dodgy procedures?  Of every little cop and petty official who wants a little palm oiling for providing the services they’ve been hired to provide?

The road to end corruption in India cannot just be embarked upon by donning a white cap and taking to the streets - corruption in India will end only when 1.2 billion people commit to a time consuming, pattern breaking, determination to neither pay nor ask for bribes in the daily business of life in India.

5 Comments on “Gandhian fast as emotional blackmail”

  1. #1 David Berridge
    on Aug 24th, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    To have every major and minor business transaction in India free of corruption because of one man’s hunger strike- and even that has a fifteen day or so limitation, is completely a farce. Gandhi used the tool of the hunger strike to the ultimate end - if need be, to stop Hindus and Muslims from killing one another. This is not what Gandhi intended if and when he was confronted with the problem of corruption. Corruption can only be dealt with on such a massive scale when it exhausts itself, ie: when it costs more for the major players in the game to fork out than what they take in bribes. It remains the only way to cure the system at the root of the problem, or else it just continues on.

  2. #2 jasmin
    on Aug 25th, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Corruption has become a way of life here. No politician would want to be framed, so the dilly-dallying about the bill. Anna Hazare is a Maharashtarian activist and a decorated war hero. Though, I too don’t totally agree to his way to end the stalemate, but it is great to see a united India-people from all over India rallying behind him. At last Indians have found a man to follow, a man who is not a cricketeer or a film star-just a common man.

  3. #3 Dheera Sujan
    on Aug 29th, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I’m always wary of great social movements that start to cluster around the cult of personality. The endemic corruption in India needs more than some photo ops and a lot of publicity to tackle it - it needs serious hard work and commitment from every Indian

  4. #4 Anand
    on Sep 1st, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    I beg to differ here on a few points Dhiren:

    1. The man is not a complete unknown. Google his name or Ralegaon Siddhi or even RTI, you will see his name and his accomplishments. Here is a line from Wikipedia entry on RTI: “In the early 2000s Anna Hazare led a movement in Maharashtra state which forced the state government to pass a stronger Maharashtra Right to Information Act. This Act was later considered as the base document for the Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI), enacted by the Union Government.”

    Also, at least 6-8 years ago, I read his success story about building a model village in Reader’s Digest. By luck, I even found an e-copy of it here:

    2. Even I have a severe distaste of ‘the cult of personality’, but seriously, I think you are giving our countrymen too little credit. The most impressive thing about this whole movement was the mass involvement of the educated middle class. People got involved because they read about the issue, read about the 2 different bills and then formed an opinion. The level of information that was disseminated around this issue, esp on electronic media was unprecedented. People judged the idea on its merit and saw a way to support it.

    3. 1.2 Billion people of India can commit to abolish corruption perhaps, but how? A poor person for whom a village tehsildar is god, doesn’t even know his rights. For that matter, even educated people don’t know who to complain to when his pension/gas/ration card keeps getting delayed. If you want to know the effectiveness of Jan Lokpal, then I will talk about exactly one point of the bill: Citizen’s Charter, which would mean a public declaration to every person applying for anything in a govt office about the time in which he can definitely expect a result and what he can do if he doesn’t.

    4. Finally, one question: if this is not the proper way to protest, what is? Please don’t say “get elected and then bring about the change”. It is a good idea, except it sometimes simply doesn’t work. Jan Lokpal bill has been presented in parliament 8 times previously from 1966 to 2001 and everytime it has been shelved until now. The difference? A population that was simply fed up of the laziness of the government. Had another version of the bill been passed any one time in the past 45 years, people’s faith in the process of elected representatives would have been sustained.

    I think, for myself, that as a citizen of India, it is my right and duty to protest if I don’t see any results coming out a process which is supposed to bring about the ideal of democracy - “people’s government”. If the govt doesn’t heed the voice of people, then what other way is left but to protest?

  5. #5 Dheera Sujan
    on Sep 12th, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Hello Anand
    thanks for such a reasoned and well thought out response. I do concede that you have many good points. And I certainly agree with you that it is every people’s right to protest, and like you I can only keep hoping for a better India. That will indeed come when a critical mass of people stand up for their rights.
    I am however disturbed by whispers, sidelined in the mainstream press, that Dalits have been ignored or marginalized in these protests by the middle class intent on just standing up for their rights and not those of every Indian. I have heard critical things about Mr Hazare’s way of running his model village. And another cause of worry - there seems to be no mention of the massive corporate corruption dominating India - from the mining industry, to the factories to the financial and telecoms sectors. A lot of India’s ills come from the clunky and corrupt government machinery it’s true.
    But that is not the entire problem. Every Indian has to change the “what’s best for me” mentality and stop bribing to get their kids into college, to get their businesses off the ground, or to get better service from the private as well as public sector.
    I am dismayed by watching the hopeful Arab spring revolt turn on itself in Egypt - let’s hope that the Indian spring only makes the country a fairer and better place for ALL its citizens.

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