Anna Hazare, a noted ‘Gandhian’ and an activist, who has earlier played a role in fighting for Right to Information Act has taken up fast to bring more teeth to Lokpal Bill, an instrument to curb the corruption at highest offices in this country. Many urban middle class Indians have come forward to support him in this cause. Relay hunger strikes have sprung up in many cities in India. Artists and intellectuals lent support. It is heartening to see so many yuppie Indians coming out onto streets to voice their opinion against corruption. Not many movements in the recent history have seen the urban middle class coming out of their secure careers and gated communities to take the streets in protest on a universal and overarching cause. At the most, the urban middle families are known to fight for their selfish needs like parks for their kids, or against reservations for lower castes, or for stopping the government from demolishing their illegal houses.
A phenomenon like this, where urban middle class across the entire country has participated and expressed opinion on the streets or on the internet for a cause that is not just selfish but helps even the common man should be celebrated as truly historic. But some hard questions remain, as to how long they are willing to fight, and will they be perseverant enough to reach a logical end. Or is it just a one-off incident and phenomenon where they got attracted to the event because they do not know enough details and hence got carried away by the mere symbolism that sounded deliriously romantic and heroic like in movies where one man takes on a mighty nation and ends corruption once and for all. Are they participating in it to fight their own guilt of apathy towards the country around them? Does this cause seem to have a lofty goal where their mere participation can be recollected and remembered as their one-time participation to erase their years of apathy? Do they know what they are in for? Do they know how long it will take to actually achieve the desired results?
The government has indicated that it is ready to succumb to the pressures from these agitations and embrace some of the demands Anna Hazare is proposing. Already there are detractors. Some people ask if these ‘extra-constitutional’ methods, like coercing the government through agitations and protests, should be encouraged to get the desired results. On CNN-IBN show with Karan Thapar, journalist-editor Kumar Ketkar and bureaucrat-turned-editor Sanjaya Baru said that we should not resort to ‘blackmailing’ a ‘democratically elected government’ through ‘unconstitutional’ methods like fasts and agitations. Sanjay Baru equates the fast of Anna Hazare to that of KCR holding the government of India to ransom. To make a case against the methods Anna Hazare and the urban middle class Indians are resorting to in their fight against corruption, they cite Ambedkar, one of the founding fathers of Indian Constitution, who said in his last speeches to the Constituent Assembly on 25th November 1949 the following [emphasis mine]:
If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha.
When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
The question and the answer both lie in what Ambedkar said. Yes, if indeed this nation is a truly democratic country where the Constitution is working the way it is written, then there is no need for fasts or agitations. But Ambedkar says that ‘when there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods.’ So what should the people of the country do when the constitutional methods are no longer 'open'? When the country no longer works as a truly democratic country? When the Indian Constitution is subverted on a daily basis? Shouldn’t the people of this country fight against their government the way they fought against the British in India?
Actually, the slogans on the TV reflect the current mood pretty well. One reads: “Govt bends, India wins”. Such a slogan would sound more appropriate during the British rule, because the Government and India were two different entities, where the Government is seen as unrepresentative of India’s wishes and demands. To make a slogan like that now shows how people are pitted against the Government of India, reflective of colonial rule.
A democracy is not just about elections. Protests are an integral part of a thriving democracy. Therefore, people coming out onto streets in protest, participating in agitations will make our ailing democracy recover not make it weaker. These agitations should be seen as a course-correcting measures putting India back on the democratic path. Didn’t we go into large scale agitations to fight the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi? Ambedkar naively believed that India would remain open, democratic and constitutional forever once British left. That is not the case. Our masters remain. They are within. We have long way to go in toppling all our masters. The fight continues. If that was not the case, there would not be people agitating for reservations for lower castes or participating in Telangana Movement for protecting the region against domination of Seemandhras.
Here I would like to introduce the readers to the current Telangana Movement and draw lessons from it for the future course of action in their anti-corruption movement.
Lessons from Telangana Movement
First, let’s take a look at the people’s participation in the current anti-corruption movement. The media says that it is the ‘power of people’, that it is ‘victory of the people’. Like in Telangana Movement, many urban middle class Indians have come out in throngs walking the roads, participating in the agitations. Usually the urban middle class is apathetic to people’s causes. They do not come out of their comfort zone to participate in people’s movements. They keep their kids indoors cutting them off from the realities of the world, protecting them from the knowledge of the reasons behind social injustices, the realities of discrimination towards lower classes, or tales of subjugation of weaker people by the powerful. Telangana Movement might be one of the first movement in the recent history where urban middle class comprising artists, intellectuals, authors, editors, scientists, lawyers, bureaucrats, politicians, social activists, doctors, bankers, teachers, professors, engineers, IT professionals, etc, have participated in agitations along with farmers, workers, rickshaw pullers, masons, pachayat leaders, potters, sweepers, cobblers, grocers, milkmen, weavers, etc, to fight for a common cause. And yet, no change has taken place. Telangana remains under subjugation even after intensive agitations spanning nearly 10 years. The yuppie Indians should ask themselves some serious questions as to why there is almost no participation from the masses of India in their fight against corruption and why it is limited to cities comprising urban middle class. Unless the anti-corruption movement becomes a grass root movement where ordinary people are involved, you will never have the political influence and without political influence nothing will ever happen in this country. The bill will fail to pass in the Parliament.
Second, it is considered a victory just because a committee has been formed. Like in Telangana, one should be highly skeptical of any serious result from such committees. Srikrishna Committee, formed to find solution to Telangana issue, included a reputed ex-judge of Supreme Court, an economist, a social scientist, and other eminent people, who are supposedly apolitical in nature, supposedly with integrity, honesty and sincerity. But the report that came out clearly shows how even such ‘supposedly honest’ people can succumb to corruption and how they can subvert people’s movements undermining democratic values and institutions. Yuppie Indians who are new to such devious tactics of Indian government should study Telangana Movement to understand what the Government of India will do next. They may find answers as to how and why this committee won by Anna Hazare's fast and activists' agitations will be used to subvert their movement rather than accept their demands.
Third, why should the committee include Anna Hazare and other representatives of his choice in the committee? Is Anna Hazare elected leader of recognized people’s party or organization? Is he representative of the urban middle class Indians who are fighting against the corruption? If indeed these people put faith in Anna Hazare, how is it guaranteed that other members are equally trustworthy? How long will Anna Hazare live? What happens after him? The middle class Indians should ask themselves some hard questions – is the movement dependent on a single person? Are they going to create a sustainable system that will deliver results in spite of the person? Once again they should learn from Telangana Movement. KCR, though the hero of Telangana Movement, is not the only leader spearheading the movement, nor is he the unanimous choice as their leader. There are many organizations, JACs, political parties competing with his party; many leaders who challenge him, and these other people have won the mandates of the people. KCR is not Telangana and Telangana is not KCR. In the same way, it is important for the yuppie Indians to create a sustainable movement and organizations at all levels in India without depending too heavily on one or two individuals or heroes.
Fourth, Anna Hazare calls this ‘second war of Independence’ against the Government of India. Some anti-corruption activists equated their movement with that of Tahrir Square in Egypt. Yuppie Indians should be prepared for cases of sedition against them for such calls. Telangana activists had to deal with such anti-national tag against them by their detractors. It is just a matter of time- their activism may be called anti-national and seditious once it becomes powerful. Already people like Sanjaya Baru whose newspaper 'Business Standard' continuously discredits Telangana Movement has described the current anti-corruption movement 'unconstitutional'. Thankfully, most of the media is currently with the activists, unlike in Telangana, where Seemandhras control all newspapers and media outfits. But there is a strong likelihood that even the media will be instructed not to showcase this movement in positive light, and there is a good chance they will comply. You should be strongly suspicious of the motives and self-interests of the media.
Fifth, many activists of the current anti-corruption movement do not know the details of the Jan Lokpal Bill, Lokpal Bill, or the anti-corruption acts already in place. They do not necessarily know the details of what Anna Hazare is fighting for. They have rallied behind the mere symbols, which are usually seen in black and white. If they continue to stick to black and white symbols and not understand the shades of grey, their movement will be a mere blip on the radar which will fade away eventually. Yuppie Indians need to spend time to understand the details and then go about educating the masses on those details so that each of them is equipped with the knowledge and facts, histories, and precedents, legal arguments, and the rationale so that this movement becomes sustainable. My fear is that once these yuppie Indians know the details, they will not be able to come out onto the streets because the devil is in the details. Telangana Movement has built itself into one of the strongest, most sustainable movements with strong grass root participation, having set of ideologues and activists and leaders who are pretty savvy in legal details, in facts and figures, ready to quote historical precedents, provide rational argument, knowing Indian Constitution’s strengths and weaknesses. There are hundreds of thousands of activists who are well versed in the rationale and they provide the bulwark to this movement. Telanganas have made their movement a large scale mass movement through hundreds of books and thousands of songs. Grass root level people may still see it in black and white but it becomes sustainable only because of this bulwark of savvy activists. The yuppie Indians who are ready to fight anti-corruption movement should spend time studying the nuances of the bills, the committee details, the outcomes, the failed precedents, the existing laws and understand why they have not worked, should be ready with facts and figures and keep disseminating this information to everyone on a continuous basis to create more activists so that this movement is sustainable, so that it becomes independent of Anna Hazare the way Telangana movement is independent of KCR.