Thursday, August 25, 2011
Anna is not India, India is not Anna
Kiran Bedi, one of the ubiquitous supporters of the current Anna Hazare Movement, in her overenthusiasm, said, ‘Anna is India. India is Anna’. Little did she realize the significance of that statement! Back in the heydays when Indira Gandhi was riding absolute power, her supporters chanted, ‘Indira is India. India is Indira’. Now, we reflect upon that period as a national ignominy when she took over the country in an iron grip, imposed Emergency, stripped Indians of their rights, and put hundreds of her political opponents in jail. To those who know history, such a chant from Kiran Bedi that ‘Anna is India’ reeks of ignorance or arrogance - both of which are quite dangerous given the popularity of the Anna Hazare Movement.
While discussing Arundhati Roy’s article (that appeared in The Hindu), I commented that it is a serious concern that the supporters of Janlokpal Bill do not include Dalits and Muslims. If Anna Hazare has to make this an all-encompassing movement to be deemed ‘Indian’, he has to make sure these other groups support his cause, or be contended that he represents only a certain section of Indians. A lady responded to my comment:
In what way does the Jan lokpall Bill not favor Dalits or Muslims? Do they not want a corruption-free govt?
The implicit assumption in the above question is: “If you are not with us then you are against us”, which seems to be the moot point of Arundhati Roy’s article against Anna Hazare Movement. Many editors of the print media have openly disagreed with Janlokpal Bill. Aruna Roy, a noted RTI activist, does not support Janlokpal Bill or the Anna Hazare Movement. Can we conclude that these people do not stand for anti-corruption?
When the Indian subcontinent was under British Rule, many Muslims aligned themselves with Muslim League away from the most popular Congress party. Does it mean that Muslims of India did not seek freedom from the British? They too wanted freedom, but it was not the same version of freedom which the Congress sought. When the members of Muslim League worked closely with Congressmen after the elections of 1937 they started to form an opinion that the Muslims in India will remain as second class citizens to the Congress and the Hindus. The Congress did not take measures to embrace Muslim League and instead left the rift to widen up. So, when the ministers of Congress resigned from the Government in 1939 because Great Britain included India in World War II without its consent, Muslim League members continued to serve the Government to aid the British in their war efforts, paving the way for a future Partition of India.
It was evident that Congress did not represent all Indians though they included few members from various communities to make it look like they represented everyone in India. Dalits under Ambedkar, Muslims under Muslim League and Sikhs under their own banner vied to represent their own groups, away from Congress, and they held discussions with British as separate entities.
Many Muslims did not approve of the methods employed by Congress which were distinctly Hindu. Gandhi was a devout Hindu who mixed politics with religion. Most of his congregations were Hindu in character, singing prayers and chanting devotional songs. Congress nationalists sang Vande Mataram in their fight against British which the Muslims found anathematic on two fronts - one, that it was initially used by Hindus to fight against Muslim rulers in Bengal, and two, it contained Hindu religious icons and imagery which Muslims did not identify with. The current Anna Hazare Movement, by chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and singing Vande Mataram, where saffron is the dominant theme, naturally does not provide a platform that Muslims can easily embrace.
Though Gandhi endeared Dalits calling them Harijans (the people of the God), Ambedkar did not agree with the attitudes of Gandhi towards Dalits. Gandhi looked at Dalits the way Abraham Lincoln looked at Blacks in United States. He wanted them to be free but still considered them inferior to others. Ambedkar sought a radically different method to emancipate lower castes in India, which did not find concurrence with Gandhi. The current domination of Anna Hazare Movement by the same groups which spearheaded anti-reservations movement, and the incessant campaign by the Anna Hazare activists to impose civil representative groups going by their credentials, degrees and awards reek of elitism, thereby distancing the Dalits of India. Consequently, the current movement is seen solely as a reaction of smug middle class Indians who mostly comprise the upper caste or the elite of the backward castes. It has not been able to include all Indians into its fold.
Not only do Dalits and Muslims feel out of place in the current Anna Hazare Movement. Many advocates and champions of constitutional democracy in this country do not identify with the demands and diktats of the current movement. The demands of Anna Hazare Movement, imposing their version of the bill as the legitimate wish of all Indians, do not find champions amongst certain sections of the society who remain opposed to the Janlokpal Bill, though they come out in the open to defend his right to protest.
The current Anna Hazare movement challenges the Government of India in claiming to be the legitimate recipients of the mandate of all Indians. Kiran Bedi shouts, ‘Anna is India. India is Anna’, to reflect that monopoly. In this respect, the arrogance of Government of India is matched by the arrogance of Anna Hazare Movement. While the battle between these two entities takes the front stage, the saner elements of the debate are thrown out of the door. There are some clauses in Janlokpal Bill which are quite contentious. The jingoism is not allowing the debate to happen.
Many do not realize this but the name ‘India’ says a great deal about India. If it had been ‘Hindustan’ or ‘Bharat’ we would have alienated many people living within. Nehru did a masterstroke when he took the name ‘India’ instead of ‘Hindustan’ or ‘Bharat’. By taking the name ‘India’, he achieved two things – first, he inherited the legacy of a rich history of a prominent role in the world politics that comes attached to the name ‘India’, and second, he ensured that no group in the country gets alienated.
The activists of the Janlokpal bill have been able to garner support mostly from those who earlier participated in the anti-reservation protests, and the Hindu nationalists who look at India as a Hindu goddess rather than as a secular country. And through this, it has alienated certain groups in this country. Anna at the most represents ‘Bharat’ or the ‘Hindustan’. And he has not embraced ‘India’ as yet.