By Asghar Ali Engineer
(Secular Perspective April 16-30, 2011)
Anna Hazare is emerging as another Gandhi and he is not only in every newspaper but also on almost every page of every newspaper for making UPA Government to accept his demand to draft Lok Pal Bill with real teeth eighth members of civil society on the drafting panel. The UPA Government had no other course but to accept Hazare’s demand after having been exposed in several matters of corruption.
Since some of the ministers of UPA Government and some bureaucrats having been involved in 2G scandals and in Common Wealth Games scandals, it was on very weak wicket and there was overwhelming response from civil society to Hazare’s fast unto death, Government was on weak wicket and so easily gave in to Hazare’s demand. Had it not been so it would not have been cake walk for Hazare.
Hazare is being praised by entire nation today and has become role model for thousands of activists and civil society also feels proud of him. This fight against corruption is also being described by some as 2nd fight for independence. These are all short time reactions in emotional moment. However, one should not go by such emotional assessments. One has to not only examine its long term implications but also whether it is really such a dazzling moral victory as it is being made out to be.
I think since Hazare is being described as Gandhian and his struggle as Gandhian, we must first briefly reiterate what Gandhian values are and what strictly speaking, Gandhian struggle ought to be. To begin with there are three essential elements of Gandhian struggle which cannot be compromised: truth, non-violence and utterly simple life style. Of all the three one element was surely present in Hazare’s struggle i.e. non-violence.
It is really debatable whether the other two were present or not. Non-violence in long run is possible if, and only if the struggle is based on truth and nothing but truth. Also, to sustain truth and non-violence stark simplicity of ones life style is a must and without it in no way truth can be sustained and that is why it has been so difficult to produce another Gandhi.
Now coming to overwhelming response to Anna’s fast against corruption. Naturally corruption itself is based on high life style, falsehood, greed and lies. Who gave response to Anna’s struggle? There are three distinct elements: the middle classes whose life style is far from simple, let along starkly simple like Gandhi. Also, it is mainly middle class, which apart from big business, easily resorts to corruption for its own work done. It readily shells out money to get a birth in train, it bribes municipal offices for certain extensions and unauthorized structures and also readily accepts bribe as petty government officials to allow illegal work and so on.
These middle classes also pay heavy capitation fees for admission of their children in good schools and professional colleges. In fact there is hardly any form of corrupt practice which these middle classes do not resort to. These classes have hardly any moral right to fight against corruption.
The second element which was responding to Hazare’s call was a political class (though to some extent it remained invisible for strategic reasons) which also invisibly mobilized through its cadre a section of civil society to weaken the ruling UPA which again is not a pure motive. The third element was of course of those who really wants to fight against corruption on principle and this section can be described as much closer to Gandhian philosophy and values. This section was the smallest in the whole mobilization.
It is also necessary to understand the difference between Anna Hazare and Gandhi. Anna, at best, is Gandhian, not Gandhi. He has adopted Gandhian approach, nothing more, nothing less. Gandhi was original thinker and had much deeper understanding and above all he had pure motives and always heard voice of his conscience. Only those with pure motives can hear voice of conscience. In that respect Anna cannot be compared with Gandhi. He does not have deeper understanding and towering intellect, much less pure motives.
Anna is not on record to having ever denounced communal violence. He kept quiet during Gujarat riots throughout. Gujarat genocide was a matter of great shame for India. Had Gandhi been alive, he would have undertaken fast unto death immediately, whether there was response from civil society or not. Non-violence was matter of principle for Gandhi, not mere strategy.
Not only this, Hazare praised Mody for his ‘development model’. Can development model be isolated from violence it causes in the society? Is development something absolute? If it does not help weaker sections of society what the use of that model. Gandhi wanted weakest of all to benefit from development and Modi’s development is benefiting only the powerful and the elite, Reliance, Tatas and others. That is why the big industrialists find prime ministerial stuff in him.
What is worse when he was asked about communal carnage in Gujarat, he offered no comment and only spoke at the prodding of his colleague and said he stands for communal harmony and all, including Muslims, are part of his campaign. This was all after thought and on suggestions from his colleagues who are much more secular than Anna Hazare.
Also, the overwhelming mobilization from civil society is part of the game by RSS, BJP and rightwing religious leadership like Baba Ramdev who felt aggrieved for not being included in the drafting committee. Such mobilization with rightwing political view is not good for secular health of the country. It can be greatly harmful. We know the result of Jaiprakash Narain’s movement of which Narendra Modi is the product although Jaiprakash Narain was towering above Anna Hazare.
Jaiprakash Narain’s anti-corruption movement and thereafter V.P.Singh’s campaign against corruption did not have ever lasting effect, else we would not be facing such campaign again. Both these eminent leaders were above Anna Hazare. So there is no point in celebrating Hazare’s success as 2nd independence movement. The media has its own objectives in building up Hazare and his campaign. .
Hazare is all for Modi’s kind of development and media is mainly controlled by big industrialists and hence they see in Hazare one who can be helpful them and since nothing works like Gandhi’s name media is projecting him as another Gandhi. The well known Gandhian from Gujarat Mr. Chunibhai Vaidya has criticized Hazare’s statement about Modi praising him for rural development. Where is rural development?, he asks. Had there been rural development 10% of rural population would not have migrated to cities. Shri Vaidya’s comments are based on census 2011 figures. “So what is there to emulate Modi under these circumstances in rural development? He asked.
Malika Sarabhai has also criticised Hazare for Modi praise. She said that there has been little development in rural areas under Modi. “In fact village common grazing land and irrigated farmland have been stealthily taken by the Modi Government and allotted to industrialists at throwaway prices”, Sarabhai said. According to her rural population has suffered a lot under Modi.
She said that the state has witnessed maximum corruption during Modi’s rule like Rs.1700 crore Sujalam-Sufalam Water conservation scam, Bori Bund checkdam scam of Rs.100 crores and fisheries scam of Rs.600 crores. “The state is in terrible debt because of Modi’s largess to industry.”, she said.
Other activists from Gujarat belonging to human rights organizations like Juzar Banduqwala, Prajapati and others have pointed out glaring facts about Gujarat and have challenged Hazare about his praise for Modi. Gandhiji’s basic emphasis was on rural development but Hazare is praising one who not only allowed carnage of religious minority but is also helping industry at the cost of rural areas. Also, Gandhiji stressed human dignity of the last man in society whereas Modi’s Gujarat has no dignity for dalits and oppressed castes. In Modi’s Gujarat dalit children have to sit separately for lunch even in Government schools and if any teacher make them sit together he/she is immediately transferred. Perhaps Mr. Hazare is not aware of all these harsh realities.
While Hazare’s fight against corruption is most welcome and must be praised but if wants his fight to continue he cannot afford to keep company with those who are responsible for corruption of various kinds. Gandhi like purity is a must for a very challenging fight.
Noted Islamic scholar and social activist Asghar Ali Engineer heads the Mumbai-based Institute of Islamic Studies and the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society.