I’d rather not be Anna
by Arundhati Roy
Click on the link below to read the original article from The Hindu 21st August 2011
“While his means may be Gandhian, his demands are certainly not.”
A Response by Dr Felix Padel
I’ve been up since 4am, woken by hearing Arundhati Roy interviewed on the BBC world service – they seemed to cut her critique of Anna’s failure to critique corporate roots of corruption – & connivance of the media in promoting him – rather short!
Opinions differ wildly about Anna’s integrity. Like her, I see him as authoritarian & narrow-minded. While he’s bringing into much-needed focus the enormity of corruption, he’s focusing on the main bribe-takers – i.e. the politicians – rather than the main bribe-givers – the corporations and banks, and is as rigidly insisting on rapid implementation of his own deeply flawed & authoritarian version of the Lokpal bill as the govt’s pushing its own ludicrously flawed version. Rapid implementation can be extremely dangerous if it sets up a flawed structure that will “take over the government” with even less accountability.
What we see in the Anna phenomenon is a reduction of Gandhi’s fasting technique to a ridiculous extreme, superbly manipulated by the media. I can’t agree that the essence of Gandhi was in this fasting trick though, or that a public threat to fast to death is necessarily “violent violence”. It can be sometimes I’d say “non-violent violence”. E.g. when he used it in West Bengal, when he did actually succeed in stopping massive-scale Hindu-Muslim violence through a fast-to-death that came extremely near completion, I’d say this was in a sense a homeopathic use of violence against one’s body to stop massive outer violence. Yes there was a manipulation of public opinion, but in the sense of exercising a “correct control”, bringing a mood of extreme public violence under control.
Understanding the difference between what Gandhi did & what Anna’s doing is important & instructive. Arundhati’s recent article is the first time she has used “Gandhian” in a positive sense, to make clear the difference between the two.
But the idea that Gandhi was manipulative, and did become an adept user of media-power, is also part of why Arundhati dislikes Gandhi.
On the use of public fasting, do see the Lepchas. Their fast, which has gone on in relay for 4 years, has made very little impact, probably because they are so remote, in northern Sikkim, and as Buddhists, seen as very marginal in India – unlike Anna, who taps into the mainstream Hindu aesthetic. Also marginalised because the vested interests in big dams by construction, energy & mining companies are so extreme – at the centre of the whole issue of “ecocide” that Anna’s not addressing at all.
This video [& article], better than any other I’ve seen, reveals the full horrendousness of what is actually happening to all the rivers coming down from the Himalayas.
In West India, the Ganga & Yamuna descending from the glaciers have become or are becoming rivers no more, but a series of tubes chiselled through rock, leaving devastating waste and decaying ecosystems. In northeast India, 300 new big dams are being constructed on Brahmaputra tributaries in Arunachal alone – mostly already under construction to sabotage widespread protests. The Teesta is the major river in Sikkim, running north-south. This video shows the one big dam already completed with appalling impacts – 27 more are planned/under construction. It shows the Lepchas fast, and I’d say it’s an appropriate use of fasting, and deserves far more publicity.
When I tuned into the BBC world service just now at 3.45am just as Arundhati was being interviewed on Anna. What she said opened my eyes more to the heinous nature of the Anna charade. My brother had questioned “what does she mean comparing Anna with the Maoists as trying to overthrow the government?” I’d replied that partly, it’s because he’s being used by the BJP to overthrow the Congress leadership of the present government. This answer’s inadequate, partly because he’s made a public display of humiliating BJP politicians whenever they come to support him (though this doesn’t stop them coming).
She spelt out this aspect more precisely – he’s attacking the government full-on – but not the corporations or banks at all! Attacking the bribe-takers – among whom politicians are pre-eminent! But not the bribe-givers: every “AAM ADMI” [ordinary man] in India is a bribe-giver by definition – just to get routine bureaucratic work done, one has to give a bribe, so his solution is to focus on penalising the bribe-takers rather than the bribe-givers.
However the main bribe-givers are in effect, structurally, the corporations and banks – sometimes (with the latter) doing this illegally in massive bribes, but also doing this in “legal” ways, through revolving doors, corporate “largesse” and use of banking power. By not saying a word about the corruption stemming from the big companies, the World Bank & other banks (who also largely control the media) – it becomes clear who his real backers are, & why the media are highlighting him so assiduously.
In this sense, he’s truly attacking the role of government, even more than the Maoists do, but in the same way that Naomi Klein outlines in “Shock Doctrine”. In other words, what he’s really promoting seems to be the corporate state & a privatizing of government.
I’m examining these aspects more closely from now on. Attaching a document I’ve just made, highlighting statements by the 2 Anna-supporters I personally respect most, but also the confusion over details that Anna is promoting (highlighted by Arundhati on the BBC) at the same time as demanding an immediate implementation of the Lokpal bill. It’s interesting in this light that videos I’m looking at of Anna don’t seem to translate him…….. The Tehelka articles by Shoma are very revealing*, but I don’t agree with her final comments that Anna himself has complete integrity or that his intransigence on changing his own version is only a slight fault….
A Septuagenarian from Maharastra…
By Liz Crisp
I travel regularly to India. Prior to my current trip, I was asked to write something for ‘The Gandhi Way.’ I thought to myself – what on earth can I write about? Then one day, a 74 year old man from a village in Maharashtra decided to go on hunger strike. The press were hailing him as the new Gandhi-ji. The world was watching.
Here is my diarised account of Anna Hazare’s fast, based on reports in the Indian press.*
*(The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu plus second hand reports from Hindi language papers Punjab Kesari and Hindustan).
Sunday, 21 August 2011
Day seven of Anna Hazare’s hunger strike: just like Anna, India’s support for him is still going strong. From Bollywood stars to aam aadmi (common man), from famous Swamis to street Babas; the papers are full of people sporting Gandhi topis, Anna banners and the Indian tricolour.
At Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, the streets are flooded with rivers of people. Thousands of supporters throng Mumbai to hold a midnight vigil. All over India, people are carrying out direct action to show their solidarity to Team Anna’s campaign. Students are refusing to accept their degrees. Others are only willing to graduate in Topi hats in place of the traditional cap and gown. Rickshaw drivers are striking. Villagers from Anna’s hometown decline to wash for a day. Everywhere, people are mobilised into fighting corruption in their own localities. So far, it’s all been peaceful. Team Anna contrasts its campaign against the recent London riots.
Many are cashing in on the opportunity. The Times of India (which I seem to remember publishing an article a few weeks ago about the hunger striker being childish) is boasting of orchestrating the biggest ever online election. The mobile phone networks and bulk SMS vendors are raking in fortunes by the day. Delhi street beggars are calling this a fifteen day mela (festival) as they make a booming trade from topis, flags, and Anna paraphernalia. Whilst Anna starves, food vendors are more than trebling their daily profit feeding the hungry crowds. Delhi’s poor are making the most of free food distribution. The Hindustan Times reports one man saying, ‘I don’t know what the Lokpal Bill is. I’m just here for the good food’
Even Baba Ram Dev is back in a happier limelight after his own anti-corruption campaign disaster. Apparently the yoga guru’s strategy involved the use of guns and capital punishment. After he staged his hunger strike, as with Anna, the police turned up to arrest him. A violent scuffle broke out and Baba Ram Dev escaped in woman’s clothing – much to the disgust of his supporters. His hunger strike lasted but 3 days before he gave it up. Doctors advised him it was bad for his health (isn’t that the point of a hunger strike??). Afterwards, he kept a low profile, particularly as his own integrity was called into question when his closest aide, Bal Krishna, was suspected of obtaining a passport with false documents. However, a couple of days ago a jubilant Baba Ram Dev was pictured riding on the back of Anna’s fame, atop of a car, waving the Indian flag to a sea of people.
After a spate of embarrassing scam exposures against the Government (e.g. A Raja case, 2G Spectrum licences, the Commonwealth Games and cash for votes), it seems the anti-corruption crusade in itself has become a platform for opportunists. The Indian people are sick of being cheated but who can be trusted when corruption seems to be everywhere? A while ago, the opposition BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) announced its primary strategy was to be fighting corruption. But it is likely that most political parties will have skeletons in their cupboards, so who could take this seriously?
However, if the media is to be believed, the public appear to have put their faith in Hazare. The Gandhian has a long track record of social activism. He has proved genuine concern for his causes without benefitting personally. And he is also a very experienced hunger striker. From 1983 to date, he has completed 12 hunger strikes, from which his demands have either been all or partially met. The Maharashtra Government are so used to his protests that they have a special policy for dealing with Anna.
Previously Anna was little known outside of Maharashtra (opinion polls showing Baba Ram Dev being much more famous). With this latest national campaign, Anna has been propelled into the public limelight. On 4 August, the Government sent their Lokpal Bill to Parliament’s Standing Committee for consideration by 3 months. Hazare considered it a toothless piece of legislation and unfairly weighted against complainants. He submitted an alternative Jan Lokpal Bill which includes everyone under its ambit, from the local village Panchayat to the Prime Minister. His Bill also requires officers to publish a charter that accounts their public duties and demands a lokpal to be set up in every state. He wants his Jan Lokpal Bill accepted by 30 August 2011 or he will fast until his death.
The snowballing success of this campaign has been aided by a group of powerful allies, now forming ‘Team Anna’. This includes the formidable ex-commissioner Kiran Bedi, who was once re-named ‘Crane Bedi’ for daring to tow away Indira Gandhi’s car for being illegally parked. Bedi may have got a bit carried away herself today, as she’s just been slated for trumping the slogan ‘Anna is India! India is Anna!’ This smacks bad memories of Indira’s Emergency slogan (‘Indira is India! India is Indira’!).
Anna’s critics say he is forcing his view in a way that could be described as fascist. They disagree that one person should assert their view as being correct and therefore it must be enforced. Anna’s deadline does not allow due process to be followed according to democratic principles. The Parliamentary Standing Committee needs sufficient time to conduct wider consultation and include all views. Some say that his Bill will not address corruption as the Lokpal itself could also be corrupt. It’s also been suggested that corruption is endemic throughout Indian society and not confined to politicians. Change needs to occur at all levels.
To date, the Government has remained quiet. On the seventh day of Anna’s strike, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally speaks. He says his door is always open for discussion.
Day 8, 23/08/11
Doctors report that Anna’s body is beginning to show signs of starvation. They say they are not overly concerned as the human body can go without food for at least 30days.
Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has finally begun direct communications. He sent a letter stating that he is willing to send Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for “holistic consideration along with everything else.” Singh appealed to Anna to end his fast so that he could “regain full health and vitality.”
Parliament carries out no business that day. They are too busy arguing over how to handle Anna and the Lokpal bill. Other state parliaments are disrupted by similar debates. It’s not business as usual for Indian politics today!
According to the press, Anna’s critics are beginning to become more vocal. Muslims have expressed disappointment that his strategy does not represent them. Team Anna members have arranged to meet with Muslim leaders to smooth things over. Dalit leaders are reported as being riled. It was a Dalit, BR Ambedkar, who architected the Constitution. They say Anna is making a mockery of the democratic system – the political process is not ‘2 minute noodles’. Anna’s demands, print The Hindustan Times, are becoming associated with urban, upper-caste Indians and exclude lowercastes and Muslims. The Hindu prints an article where the writer describes Team Anna’s tactics as ‘messianic politics’, questioning if the masses at Ramlila Maidan represent all the people.
Day 9, 24/08/11
Manmohan Singh meets Anna. No agreement is reached. Parliament is split over the inclusion of the Prime Minister in the Lokpal and therefore Manmohan won’t make guarantees before the consultation process is completed. Anna is demanding that the Government’s Bill be withdrawn and replaced by his own one. Singh declines.
Government negotiators are reported to have said that Anna’s health is his own problem. The Government later deny that this statement was ever made.
Anna’s health is deteriorating. Doctors have given him two choices over the next 24 hours – either finish the strike or go to hospital. Anna is adamant he is staying put. If he dies, he calls for his supporters to fill the jails.
Day 10, 25/08/11
Manmohan Singh say “he [Anna] has made his point… I respect his idealism. I respect him… His life is much too precious and I urge him to end his strike.”
Singh says that Hazare’s Lok Pal Bill will be considered in Parliament, along with the Government’s own Lokpal Bill and A. Roy’s alternative version. Government, the Lok Sabha, the opposition and Maharashtra Chief Minister all appeal to Hazare to end his strike.
Anna is still fasting. He wants the Government’s Bill withdrawn. Anna frenzy is still going strong amongst the people. Large scale protests are reported across India. So far, they are still peaceful.
Chief of IBN 18 (TV station) writes a letter to Anna in the Hindustan Times (26/08/11). He applauds his action to date but pleads with him to stop now. He fears that, in the event of Anna’s death, violence will erupt on the streets. Comparison is drawn to Gandhi-ji, who never fasted until death. Gandhi-ji understood the beauty of compromise and said that fasting should never be undertaken “out of anger. Anger is a short-term madness.”
Dalit opposition is reported, concerns are expressed that Anna does not support their reservation rights [for public sector jobs] under the current Constitution.
Government is considering a framework for consultation on key pieces of legislation in the same style as the European White Paper system.
Day 11, 27/08/11
Anna apologises to Manmohan Singh if he hurt him. He says his campaign is against the system and not individuals.
There are reports of a few violent protesters in Delhi – a relatively minor incident, with no police retaliation. Culprits are arrested. Large scale, peaceful protests continue across India.
Parliament plans a discussion tomorrow. Anna will maintain his fast until after this debate.
Day 12, 27/08/11
Day 12. Triumph for Team Anna! Government has agreed to submit Anna’s Lokpal proposals.
Anna breaks his fast.
Disaster! No English newspapers!
So Anna symbolically ends his fast by the hands of two children, one Dalit and one Muslim, serving him honey and coconut water. The papers report on sympathetic hunger strikers across the country also ending their fasts. Of course, this story is no way complete and a new chapter begins as the Government faces the major task of working out an acceptable implementation plan.
Critics have slated Anna for being rigidly uncompromising. But The Times of India report that Team Anna were planning to throw in the towel had the Government not agreed their proposals (‘How Team Anna pulled a Fast One’). Anna’s health was more critical than his doctors presented and the team feared that the protests could turn ugly if he died. Anna has been careful to encompass marginalised communities in his post-fast speech. Team Anna pay homage to the politicians, BR Ambedkar and the media.
The Jan Lokpal may not be the answer to all evils. However, if it can remain free from corruption, it will at least give some power to local people. In the coming days, Anna is to talk about further goals, including the right to reject and recall elected representatives. Team Anna bid the people to “neither give nor take a bribe.”
What has amazed the world over the last 12 days is that, whilst the Indian people have been justifiably infuriated over the issue of corruption, large scale protests have been carried out with practically no violence. The London rioters should look and learn!
Anna is not a powerful politician or a celebrity yoga master. He is a septuagenarian with a Gandhian philosophy and cast iron resolve. He has managed to capture the hearts of the people, win over the media and move a government into submission.
But will it make a difference? I shall be watching this space…
Liz Crisp is a long-time friend of The Gandhi Foundation