“Perhaps the need of the hour is to figure out how to use the space, energy and optimism created by Hazare’s admittedly narrow anti-graft campaign to further more radical goals.”
For two weeks in August, the world was captivated by a bitter confrontation between the Indian government and a short, bespectacled, seventy-four-year old man called Anna Hazare, a self-styled anti-corruption crusader.
On August 16th, Hazare’s arrest and internment in Tihar jail, South Asia’s largest complex of high security prisons, sparked candlelit marches across the country, leading a shaken government to order Hazare’s release in less than twelve hours. But in a stunning turnabout, Hazare declined to leave. He insisted that the government remove all conditions on his ‘fast-unto-death’ – a well-publicized hunger strike he was about to undertake to protest the government’s new anti-corruption legislation, which he said was too weak to be effective. Hazare began his fast in jail.
On August 20th, Hazare walked out of Tihar a national hero, and lodged himself within the expansive grounds of Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, surrounded by tens of thousands of supporters, national flags and a mammoth portrait of Mohandas Karamchand (‘Mahatma’) Gandhi. He refused to eat for another eight days, ending his fast only when the Indian Parliament had passed an unprecedented “sense of the house” resolution that relented to his three key demands. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of Delhi, rejoicing what they saw as a “people’s victory” – a triumph of Indian democracy that befitted, they said, none other than Gandhi.
As an admirer of Gandhi’s, I have found the ceaseless comparisons of Hazare with Gandhi – propagated by the media, Hazare’s supporters and Hazare himself – troubling and inappropriate. I am not alone in my reservations about Hazare. He is not a popular figure within left and progressive circles in India, within which his movement is portrayed as a narrow, middle class and upper caste phenomenon that is dangerously tinged with authoritarianism and Hindu nationalism. It is noteworthy that Hazare has failed to win over key representatives of religious minority and lower caste groups, and that India’s lively world of social movements and trade unions has not been particularly moved. Left-wing intellectuals, such as Arundhati Roy and Prabhat Patnaik, have been dead against Hazare from the get go.
To a large extent, I share the left’s doubts about Hazare (my reasons are given in detail below). Yet I am not entirely without optimism. The reference to Gandhi is no doubt a political ploy on the part of Hazare and his rather slick team of advisers, which includes a high-profile lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, and a former warden of Tihar prisons, Kiran Bedi. As the mass protests at Ramlila unfolded, however, the edge of my cynicism was lost. The idea of “Gandhi,” I felt, was an end as well as a means. It spoke to what the Hazare movement wanted to be, and the transformative potential of what was transpiring before my eyes. As I suggest below, the Hazare phenomenon raises difficult questions for the Indian left and others interested in radical ideas and social change. Within the framework of liberal democracy, should one engage with a movement that clearly has conservative or even religious roots, but that also has the ability to mobilize tens of thousands to fight for causes (such as corruption) that are of great significance to the everyday lives of the poor? What is the price of such pragmatism? I have my own answers to these questions, and hope the reader will ponder them too.
Reasons for Cynicism: Why Anna Hazare is Not Gandhi
Hazare has limitations that Gandhi did not have, and that’s putting it mildly. Unlike Gandhi, Hazare is not a deep thinker. Nor is he an educated man. More worrying, he seems to lack the Mahatma’s sense of compassion, good judgment, and ability to lead (and negotiate) without the assistance of a throng of advisers, some of who seem as far removed from Gandhian philosophy as one could possibly be. Hazare also doesn’t seem to mind where he gets his money from. The Ford Foundation, known for tying development assistance programs (foreign aid) to American strategic interests and trade policy goals, is said to have contributed some $400,000 to Hazare’s campaign through one of his aides, Manish Sisodia.
Hazare’s detractors say that he has a soldier’s view of corruption, not that of the spiritual leader he claims to be. He is notorious for advocating the death penalty in the worst cases of corruption, public flogging for ‘un-Godly’ vices such as alcoholism, and even forced vasectomies to curb population growth. He has openly praised Narendra Modi, the current Chief Minister of Gujarat, who is reviled in progressive circles for his neoliberal views on economic policy, hawkish approach to national security, and controversial role in the Gujarat riots of 2002 (he is said to have abetted the killing of Muslims).
As the events at Ramlila unfolded, Hazare’s advisers, or “Team Anna,” managed to keep his tyrannical proclivities in check, though not always his tendency to say outlandish things (at one meeting Hazare proclaimed that if his kidneys failed during the fast, someone in the crowd should give him theirs). Team Anna shrewdly played to his strengths, arguing that he better represents the “common man” than refined dynastic leaders such as Rahul Gandhi, of the ruling Congress party. Yet these efforts worked only to a limited extent. Towards the end of Hazare’s fast, it was quite evident that the self-styled Gandhian was no more palatable to the left-liberal intelligentsia and civil society groups.
If Hazare’s persona is a problem, so is his understanding of “corruption.” One can gather, from his interviews and speeches, that Hazare sees corruption as an outcome of unchecked human greed. There is no further analysis. Gandhi too stressed the importance of personal ethics: “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is one of his best-remembered axioms. But Gandhi’s understanding of why humans err was more profound, his diagnosis more structural. For Gandhi, personal greed had a wider social context, and was also rooted in the unethical choices and practices of the state. Gandhi would surely condemn India’s bitter scourge of corruption, were he alive today. Unlike Hazare, however, he would demand a more systemic answer to a more preliminary question: How did this come to pass?
The character of corruption in India has not changed over time, though its magnitude certainly has. Conventional wisdom might suggest that the corruption that afflicts India today is a vestige of the widespread corruption of the state-centred economy, which preceded the liberalizing reforms of 1991. Yet many of the worst cases of corruption in recent years are borne out of deregulation, privatization and the fostering of public-private partnerships – the very processes that were meant to reduce the discretionary powers of public officials. An example is the notorious “2G spectrum scam,” in which cellphone licenses were sold for a fraction of their value, resulting in the loss of a staggering $39 billion to the national exchequer.
From a Gandhian perspective, such continuity is not surprising. Liberalization did not transform the core objectives of the state, only its methods and instruments. India still follows what Gandhi fundamentally opposed: a master-narrative of growth-at-all-cost that is at odds with the goal of a more equitable and ecologically conscious society. India remains wedded to a high modernist development paradigm that traps it, as it always has, in a race to “catch-up” with the West and, more recently, with China.
There are repercussions to competing in this heady game of global one-upmanship: eagerness to jump the proverbial queue by any means possible, great impatience with those who choose not to participate (such as environmentalists and indigenous peoples), and intolerance of dissent and “messy politics” more generally. The newly affluent middle classes galvanized by Hazare – the business and corporate leaders who financed his campaign – are particularly guilty of such insensitivity and readiness to engage in corruption.
One might ask how serious Hazare’s core-supporters are about fighting corruption when their primary instinct is to ignore or quash protest, especially when it bubbles up around the dream of “catching up.” A recent example will illustrate my point. At the beginning of August, the state auditor released its final report on the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The 744-page document revealed that the games, held in Delhi last year, were not only unjustifiably expensive (with a price-tag of $4.1 billion), but also stunningly corrupt (some $1.6 billion are said to have gone missing). Yet to some, the auditor’s review was not surprising. In the years leading up to the games, hundreds of human rights advocates, student groups and independent activists had expressed fears about the event’s flawed planning and impending delivery. Slumdwellers were being evicted. Environmental norms were being violated. There were many signs of fraud. Hazare’s middle class supporters heeded none of these signals, though they were later quick to express shock and outrage at the auditor’s report. Rather, as the games drew closer, the event was eagerly celebrated as one that would affirm India’s “world class” status. Critics were dismissed, even condemned, as unpatriotic killjoys.
This is not to say that middle class Indians, estimated to be 300 million strong, have no material basis for their complaints, or that they do not recognize that corruption is rampant in both the public and private sectors of the economy. School principals will ask for a “donation” before they admit your child. Passport officials will direct you to fee-charging “agents” in return for clearing your file. If you’d like a copy of your birth certificate, you’ll have to give baksheesh (tips). If you’d like a company to award you a contract for changing the light bulbs in its office, you’d better offer a “cut” to a lower administrator, or he’ll make sure his boss never hears of your bid. By no means is the middle class an insignificant victim of corruption.
Its suffering cannot compare, however, to the miseries endured by those stuck at the lower rungs of society: the loss of income and livelihood, when government officials and private developers conspire to cheat farmers of their land; the hunger, when subsidized food, meant for the poor, is siphoned off and sold on the open market; the missed opportunities when teachers, employed by government schools, take up private tuition instead of delivering their classes.
Hazare and supporters have been silent on a range of recent developments – such as illegal mining and the land acquisition process for SEZs (special economic zones) – in which corruption hurts poor farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous communities rather than only well-heeled city-dwellers. Reckless and rapacious economic transformations have proceeded unchecked, even as Hazare has prayed, fasted, and stressed the importance of vegetarianism and teetotaling. Gandhi would surely have been critical of such unwillingness to connect personal ideals of moral living with a broader vision of social and environmental justice.
While Gandhi certainly curried favour with wealthy business elites, a strategy that earned him undying opprobrium from India’s Communist left, his primary base of support was always the rural poor, in whose service he advocated a smaller-scale and more ecologically conscious road to “development” than the one India ultimately adopted. Hazare, in contrast, has yet to formulate a position that systematically challenges the neoliberal objectives and ill-founded nationalism of his financiers and middle class, upper caste following.
If Hazare’s diagnosis of the problem of corruption is un-Gandhian, so is his prescription of a Leviathan-like Lokpal, which is based on the concept of “Ombudsman” in Western democracies. While Gandhi would probably not worry about the monitoring of elected representatives by a “Lokpal,” he would surely raise questions, if not oppose, the creation of another colossal and centralized institution of the state, over which ordinary citizens appear to have little control. The nine-member Lokpal bench, proposed by Hazare’s Jan Lokpal bill, will comprise former judges, retired bureaucrats and other “persons of eminence in public life,” thus ceding enormous powers to “experts’ cut off from the grassroots.
Despite apparent differences, however, the government and Hazare have the same technocratic approach to reducing corruption, centred on correcting individual behaviour alone. The immediate reason for Hazare’s hunger strike and the events of the last two weeks in August was a bitter dispute between the government and Team Anna over which version of the Lokpal Bill the parliament should accept for discussion.
This savage face-off notwithstanding, the government’s bill differed from Hazare’s not in terms of basic design, but in terms of procedural questions such as who can be investigated by the Lokpal (Hazare wanted the Prime Minister, the government did not), who will select the nine-member bench (Hazare wanted more “civil society” people, the government wanted more government people), the sorts of investigatory powers the Lokpal will enjoy (Hazare wanted wire-taps, the government did not), and whether “whistleblowers” will be protected by law (Hazare wanted their protection guaranteed, the government was more focused on punishing spurious claims).
While the government’s bill called for a weaker Lokpal than Hazare’s bill, both envisaged the Lokpal as a policing institution with expansive powers. An anti-corruption route more in keeping with Gandhian principles is that of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI). The NCPRI’s approach more genuinely empowers ordinary citizens by recognizing that they are entitled to a transparent and accountable government. Under the Right to Information Act, passed by the Indian parliament in 2005 in response to pressure from the NCPRI, any citizen can ask to review the government’s records and documents. The NCPRI has also created space for the voicing of grassroots concerns, through locally-grounded mechanisms such as Jan Sunwais (public hearings).
Given the enormity of the problem, establishing a Lokpal is perhaps a reasonable and practical solution for the time being. The government, opposition parties and broad swathes of civil society, including NCPRI, appear to agree on this point, though again, they continue to differ on the terms and composition of such an office (lower caste parties, for example, want to ensure that their communities are sufficiently represented on the Lokpal bench). On its own, however, the Lokpal – weak or strong, representative or unrepresentative – is unlikely to make more than a minor dent in corruption. At the institutional level alone, it needs to be embedded within a larger framework of changes, including campaign finance reform and new mechanisms for judicial accountability. Indeed, it is heartening that Hazare’s team has conceded this point. There are other reasons for optimism as well.
Reasons for Optimism: Why Anna Hazare Deserves a Second Look
As I mentioned earlier, I have shared much of the left’s cynicism about Hazare. Until about the third week of August, my views on him were mostly negative. What turned the tide for me, however, was the government’s utter, unfair and unbending contempt for Hazare, and the ease with which the upper middle class intelligentsia, both on the left and the right, accepted and circulated the government’s propaganda. I couldn’t help wonder whether the reviling of Hazare – a one-time truck driver for the Indian army who rarely speaks English – had as much to do with class bias as it had to do with substance. And if this were the case, then Hazare deserved a second look.
Let me be clear. Hazare is no Marxist revolutionary. He does not speak of the need for land reform or the eradication of social inequalities. Like Gandhi, Hazare is a gradualist; and a conservative one at that – in fact, he is far more conservative and bound by convention than Gandhi ever was. Nonetheless, Hazare has a credible and even commendable record as an activist and grassroots organizer, for which he received high honours from the Indian state, in the form of a Padma Shri award in 1990 and a Padma Bhushan in 1992 (both are very prestigious).
Much of Hazare’s community work has been concentrated in the village of Ralegan Siddhi, where he took up residence in the mid-1970s. As noted earlier, Hazare has become infamous for his crusade against the consumption of alcohol in Ralegan Siddhi, an issue that social liberals have little time for. The public flogging of alcoholics in Ralegan Siddhi has quite rightly appalled and angered many. What is often overlooked, however, is that Hazare’s prohibition campaign had a great deal of local support, especially among the women of Ralegan Siddhi. Among other things, Hazare appealed to the government of the state of Maharashtra to enact a law that would bring prohibition into force in a village if 25 percent of the women in the village demanded it.
Another campaign built on local support was Hazare’s opposition to the Maharashtra state government’s granting of licenses to liquor manufacturers who planned to use food grains, such as millet and sorghum, to produce alcohol. Claiming that the lion’s share of these licenses had been awarded to the family members of politicians – including politicians associated with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party – Hazare and several other social activists filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the Maharashtra state government in early 2011 (the PIL was dismissed by the Bombay High Court on the grounds that the policy had been discontinued in 2009).
Hazare also has a number of achievements under his belt that have nothing to do with alcohol. Among these are improvements in literacy, irrigation, milk production and storage facilities for grain in Ralegan Siddhi. Hazare’s supporters also credit him with reviving the Gram Sabha, a village-level institution of democratic governance that was important to Gandhi; but that lost relevance in the years of centralized state planning (Hazare’s detractors say that the Gram Sabha in Ralegan Siddhi is all but window dressing, and that decision-making in the village is highly authoritarian, controlled from the top by Hazare).
My objective is not to refute the many and varied allegations against Hazare. Rather, my contention is that the government’s rhetoric against him must be challenged, especially since some of it was simply outrageous. Given the history of India’s anti-colonial movement, the government’s labelling of Hazare’s fast-unto-death as “illegal suicide” was dishonest and self-serving, as was its justification of Hazare’s arrest in the interest of “law and order.” One senior Congress Party official even went so far as to describe Hazare’s supporters as “armchair fascists, overground anarchists and closet fascists.” The government also tried to portray Hazare as personally corrupt, a charge that was swiftly withdrawn when an official inquiry proved otherwise.
The government’s argument that Hazare presented a threat to parliamentary democracy is also disingenuous. Hazare was not calling for regime change, nor was he disputing the parliament’s authority to make laws. Furthermore, even if Hazare’s ideas were truly revolutionary (which, again, they are not), the concept of parliamentary supremacy is not absolute. What about popular sovereignty, the political principle that the legitimacy of the state is created by the will or consent of its people, who are ultimately the source of all political power? According to this ideal, distrust of government is healthy, and it is the duty of citizens to monitor their elected representatives. Many important changes would have not occurred were lawmakers simply left to their own devices to enact just laws. People such as Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony and Malcolm X had to dispute and flout existing rules in order to pave the way for better ones. Perhaps Hazare, too, will be remembered for forcing open doors when no-one else would – for jolting India into starting a truly countrywide discussion on corruption, of a scale that small, locally-rooted civil society groups could not possibly hope to initiate.
One way that Team Anna can pave the way for genuine change is by building a multi-faceted and inclusive alliance against corruption – and even then, not only individual acts of corruption by unethical public servants, but also processes, such as unregulated mining by private companies, that have precipitated some of the most injurious forms of corruption. There are hopeful signs that such a transformation is underway. Within a week of his fast, Hazare had broadened his demands beyond corruption to issues such as farmers’ rights to land, the rights of labourers to humane conditions of work and even nuclear non-proliferation. He acquired important allies, such as social activist Medha Patkar, who is known for her guiding role in the Narmada Bachao Andolan, a social movement opposed to the construction of an environmentally destructive mega-dam on the Narmada River. Patkar is also a key organizer of the National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM), a broad alliance of social movements that resists various initiatives of the neoliberal state through the use of Gandhian means. If nothing else, Patkar’s steadfast support will improve Hazare’s image, which is still of a man who primarily surrounds himself with cops, swamis (holy men), and Bollywood actors.
Hazare also received a small measure of support, or rather acknowledgment, from Aruna Roy, a prominent leader of NCPRI. While Roy criticized Hazare’s fast-unto-death, which she saw as an arm-twisting tactic that “derided” democratic institutions, she endorsed his demand for a strong Lokpal, and shared many of his criticisms of the government’s version of the Lokpal bill. Roy’s version of the bill – envisioned as a sort of “third way” – has much in common with Hazare’s, other than the suggestion that the Lokpal comprise several separate institutions rather than one, looming monolith (Team Anna has not explicitly rejected this suggestion). Most important, however, Roy provided a crucial measure of support to Team Anna in its final hours of negotiations with the government by backing Hazare’s three key demands – “sticking points,” as the media called them – that were prolonging the stand-off. While the government did not accept these demands, it did agree to discuss them in Parliament, leading Hazare to end his fast on Sunday August 28th.
Another reason for optimism is that Hazare’s movement appears to have expanded beyond the urban middle class and Hindu upper caste. Major civil society actors, including Patkar’s NAPM, pledged support to Hazare during his hunger strike, as did hundreds of students’ groups, farmers’ groups, senior citizens’ societies, sex workers’ unions, taxi drivers’ unions and small vendors’ associations. Mumbai’s dabbawallas are an example of the latter: they went on strike for the first time in 120 years to protest Hazare’s arrest. (Dabbawallas are a unique service industry in Mumbai and other large metropolises: they deliver boxed lunches – dabbas – to office workers in the inner city).
The position of religious minorities and lower castes is more complicated. Representatives of their parties and civil society organizations argued that Hazare’s following remains Hindu and upper caste, despite Team Anna’s avowals to the contrary. In addition, Hazare’s attempts to “blackmail” the parliament were seen as setting a dangerous precedent for minorities. “What if tomorrow there is a crowd that agitates in a similar way against reservations?” asked Dr. Udit Raj, a major Dalit leader, in a television interview. (Dalit, which means “suppressed,” is a self-designation for lower castes traditionally known as “untouchable,” and the term “reservation” refers to a quota system employed by the Indian government whereby public sectors jobs are set aside for members of underprivileged castes, including Dalits).
Despite many such doomsday scenarios, however, many smaller Dalit and Muslim groups rallied in support of Hazare at Ramlila Maidan, thus breaking ranks with community leaders such as Dr. Raj and the Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, who had advised his congregation to stay away. Hazare was also supported by many individuals from Dalit and religious minority groups. They indicated, in television interviews, that Hazare spoke to an issue that touched their daily lives, whereas their “elite” representatives did not.
As I picked my way through the Ramlila grounds on Wednesday, August 24th, I was struck by the crowd’s diversity, at least in terms of the obvious markers of wealth and generation. Some 20,000 people had shown up (the weekend had reportedly drawn a crowd of well over 100,000). Young people, wearing jeans and sunglasses, mingled with grey-haired farmers in traditional Indian garb and bare feet. What was also striking, however, was the relative absence of the university-educated and English-speaking urban upper middle class; people who dominate the world of development aid organizations and NGOs in India. The protests at Ramlila were primarily a lower middle class and Hindi-speaking affair, with a few exceptions, of course.  The flag-waving participants – irritatingly shrill and even frightening in the extent of their patriotism – did not structure their complaints in a systematic way, with references to “neoliberalism” or the “ruling class.” Yet injustice, flowing from neoliberalism and the ruling class, was on everyone’s minds. My companions and I spoke to farmers, who pointed to friends and relatives who were languishing in jail because they had dared to oppose the government’s land acquisition policies. We spoke to students, who despaired that there would be no well-paying, secure jobs when they were done. A group of women complained bitterly about inflation, which, they said, was destroying their families’ well-being. An atmosphere of calm prevailed through all of this, despite much loud sloganeering and noticeably lax security: I’ve had more trouble getting into Delhi’s malls.
I am aware that many readers will question my portrayal, if not understanding, of what I witnessed on the Ramlila grounds. To reiterate my earlier point, the Hazare issue is a divisive one within left and progressive circles, a catch-all phrase I have been using to describe people who support leftist or social democratic politics and policies: left-leaning intellectuals, policymakers, journalists and other individuals who, roughly speaking, oppose Hindu nationalism, neoliberalism and belligerent positions on defence, national security and foreign policy. In those turbulent days in August, I engaged in angry debates with friends, family and colleagues who roughly fit this description (for a comprehensive view of these debates, see www.kafila.org, especially articles by Aditya Nigam, Nivedita Menon and Shuddhabrata Sengupta).
The stock anti-Hazare position among Indian progressives is that the movement is a front for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a despicable, right-wing, ultra-nationalist paramilitary organization that caters to middle and lower middle class Hindu males. Some add an American imperialism angle, citing the Ford Foundation’s donation to the campaign through Manish Sisodia. Unsurprisingly, therefore, when I said I had seen quite a wide spectrum of organizations and individuals at Ramlila, I was greeted with cynicism. I was bombarded by Arundhati Roy’s article on the subject (I agree with much of it, though not her absolutist tone). I was sent emails that “proved” that the RSS and/or American government had propped up Hazare. I was informed that I had “romanticized” the movement, and that the presence of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis (indigenous communities) at Ramlila and other sites of protest had been “orchestrated.” I was told that the majority of Indians “lack literacy and education,” and are thus easy prey for demagogues and the sensationalist media. I was pummelled by slippery slope arguments – “what if a similar mob agitated to limit women’s rights?” – which implied that ordinary Indians are incapable of distinguishing between different ethical positions, and that the mighty Indian state, supported as it is by the world’s second largest standing volunteer army, will entertain or negotiate with every large assembly of protesters, no matter what its tactics or cause (I’m thinking, here, of the government’s brutal retaliation against the Maoist uprising in the South).
I do not doubt that the RSS, a cadre-based outfit, has played an organizational role in Hazare’s anti-corruption movement (I have more trouble accepting that the United States has played a similar role, given that Dr. Manmohan Singh’s regime is the most pliant it has seen in years). Nonetheless, even if the RSS and the US were involved in some capacity, attributing twelve days of nationwide, mass protests to manipulation or “false consciousness” is both ludicrous and dangerous. It denies the depth and extent of genuine grievance. The people I spoke with – admittedly a small, unscientifically selected sample – related their complaints with clarity, specificity and passion. They may not have connected corruption with neoliberalism, but they equated it with injustice. They may not have understood the specifics of the Lokpal bill, but they were eager to confront a problem that touches their daily lives. It is hard to believe that they were dupes of the RSS, or pawns of the US State Department, or that they spoke solely to the interests of the “middle class,” unless one has an extraordinarily roomy and flexible definition of this term.
There are many indications that Anna Hazare’s movement has grown beyond the rigid “one man” show it was only a few months ago. That it has done so without the intervention of the left parties and intelligentsia should be reason for concern, not indignation. Indeed, I feel it is unwise to cling to a caricatured view of this movement even though it has expanded and evolved. As Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam argue, it seems misguided to search for that “pure, 22-carat revolution,”  with its perfect and predictable revolutionaries. Perhaps the need of the hour is to figure out how to use the space, energy and optimism created by Hazare’s admittedly narrow anti-graft campaign to further more radical goals. I suspect that this what people like Medha Patkar, Swami Agnivesh, Binayak Sen and Irom Sharmila had in mind when they supported the Anna Hazare Andolan (on the subject of possibilities for the left and the Hazare effect, I also suggest two essays by Saroj Giri and Deepankar Basu in Sanhati). Is there a possibility that the strategy will backfire, and that the ultra-nationalist right will be strengthened instead? The sea of flags at Ramlila was a warning, perhaps? I believe there are many counterweights to such a scenario, and that the risk is low; too low, in any case, to blindly support the government in its self-serving defence of “constitutionality” and “the institutions of the state.”
Anna Hazare may have ended his fast, but his larger role in Indian politics remains an unfinished story. He will never be Gandhi, but the next little while will reveal whether his team of advisers and the mass movement he has inspired can live up to the Gandhian ideals of empathy, inclusiveness and systemic change. In the face of this tremendous possibility, of which the Indian left and progressives must take note, Hazare’s more immediate demand – the passage of his particular model of the Lokpal bill – is of secondary importance.
1. On the “lower middle class” character of Hazare’s following, see Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam, ‘Anti-Corruption Movement and the Left’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLVI, No. 37, September 10, 2011.
2. Menon and Nigam, ‘Anti-Corruption Movement’.
Mitu Sengupta is Associate Professor of Politics, Ryerson University, Toronto, and Director for the Centre for Development and Human Rights (CDHR), New Delhi. She may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.