Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


Update added on  August 27, 2011: As this issue of INSAF Bulletin was about to be circulated, news came that Parliament had caved in to the three main demands made by Anna Hazare’s team and he has now decided to give up his fast putting an end to the tamasha that had gripped urban India for the last month.. These three demands were: 1) Citizens Charter, 2) Lower bureaucracy to be brought under the ambit of the Lokpal, and 3) Establishment of a Lokayukta in the States.  Only a few legislators, notably the irrepressible Lalu Yadav, protested this parliamentary maneuver of acceding to demands made by a self-styled “conscience” of the country and his team, who represent, at best, a section of the Indian middle-class.  But the majority of the MPs, both in the government and the opposition, had already abdicated their constitutional responsibilities and prerogatives and were looking for any kind of exit from the situation of crisis created by Team Anna and magnified by the media that feeds off the same class that yesterday was proclaiming “mera bharat mahan” and is now clamoring to end corruption. It now remains to be seen how another giant bureaucracy constituting a parallel government armed with powers of investigation, trial, and punishment will somehow be able to curb corruption. Meanwhile, we believe that what we wrote on this issue just a day ago is still relevant to Team Anna’s crusade and the broader issue of corruption. 


A mindlessness of monumental proportions seems to have seized the minds and imaginations of middle class India who have flocked to Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption. Team Anna is openly making threats that if its own version of the Lokpal bill is not adopted in the next few days, it will shut down all the institutions of Indian democracy – the government, i.e. the executive, parliament, the legislative, and the judiciary. The former policewoman Kiran Bedi, one of the key members of Team Anna, was so carried away by this crusade that she proclaimed “Anna is India and India is Anna.”  Perhaps she forgot the associations this slogan has with the worst period of the Emergency in the 1970s. Read more…


The mainstream Indian press does not seem to be paying attention to the simple question of how the all-powerful Lokpal that Team Anna wants to install, with powers rivaling those of an absolute monarch, comports with the principles of representative democracy.  Instead what we see is a festivity of sloganeering by the mostly well-clad and well-fed citizenry on the streets of the metropolises of Delhi and Mumbai whose articulate voices spouting motherhood anti-corruption rhetoric (is there anyone speaking for corruption?) are echoed in the media. Indeed, this whole spectacle has exceeded the boundaries of absurdity when the builder community that routinely demands over half of its payments in black money is now stridently proclaiming its fidelity to Anna Hazare’s crusade. As a journalist described it, “They may be the pillars of corruption in India… but the builder fraternity thinks nothing of coming out on the streets” to crusade against corruption.


Team Anna’s crusade has been assisted by some clumsy and ill-timed interventions by the government, which first arrested Hazare and put him in Tihar jail in New Delhi and then had to suffer the humiliation of releasing him on his own terms, giving him a propaganda victory as well as ceding the high moral ground of the democratic right of freedom of speech and assembly.  Meanwhile, Manmohan Singh’s government is being held at ransom while the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are salivating at the prospect of replacing the Congress government with the support of both the right and left.  On Friday, August 26 The Hindu newspaper carried a report that stated: “The Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday did an about-turn on Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill after murmurs from within its ranks and directions from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which, after a recent three-day meeting in Ujjain, instructed all its front organisations to fully back Mr. Hazare’s anti-corruption agitation.”


Corruption in India is neither new nor novel.  The industrial magnates Mundhra, Birla, and Dalmia were bywords for corruption in the so-called license-permit Raj of the 1960s as was the Bofors scandal in the 1980s.  Every decade has had its own particular massive corruption scandal. Liberalization of the economy from 1991 was, in the eyes of its promoters and supporters, supposed to have reduced the scope for corruption by decreasing the role of government in the economy and hence the scope for the license-permit Raj type of corruption. However, it has not worked out that way in practice for various reasons.   New technology, for example, such as cellphones and other forms of communication made the airwaves spectrum into a hugely valuable scarce commodity. Government auction of the rights to segments of this spectrum, which had no intrinsic value a few decades ago, to private parties running cell phone networks is the biggest corruption scandal currently engulfing the country.  Furthermore,  nine and ten percent growth every year has had its own impact, not least in the sheer size of the mega business deals being made, a portion of which evades the legal tax net and ends up as black money. The circulation of these monies through “under-the-table” transactions or money laundering involves bureaucrats, businessmen, politicians, and their hangers-on and constitutes the core of the corruption that prevails in the country.


India is not a special case in this regard; similar stories also emerge from time to time in China in the post-Mao period which has also seen rapid and unequal capitalist development although the number of the absolutely destitute is relatively much smaller in China compared to India.  Given the enormous increase in the size of the consuming middleclass that came into being in India in the rather short period of twenty years new problems have come up and more people are drawn into the cycle of corruption than in the past. The lucrative life style of these almost 200 million Indians has been crowned by the undisclosed wealth and power of a number of political leaders both within and outside the government.  Sri Sri Ravi Sankar sitting next to Hazare on the Ramlila grounds is hardly unaware of the fact that his international empire has not been built through hard labor; the same can be said about the empire created by Baba Ramdev. There is not a single individual in Delhi or any other metropolis who has acquired a home in the last 20 years without paying the substantial part of the purchase price in black money. Yet they are now all out on the streets to fight corruption.


The anti-corruption movement has also corrupted left-leaning individuals and parties. There is a long distance, a very long distance, between “armed agrarian revolution” guided by Mao’s thought and fighting against corruption guided by the pseudo-Gandhian ideology of Hazare. But it is now being travelled.  According to a story in India Today magazine, some Maoist supporters think that there “are serious lessons to be learnt from Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign that has pushed large sections of urban India on to the streets;” others claim that the government’s attempt to suppress Hazare’s non-violent agitation through ‘force and deceit’ vindicates the Maoists’ stand on the nature of the Indian state.  Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao has suggested that “Hazare and his team, as true patriots, should join the Maoist movement.”


In an interesting op-ed in the Hindu of August 21, Arundhati Roy claims: “For completely different reasons, and in completely different ways, you could say that the Maoists and the Jan Lokpal Bill have one thing in common — they both seek the overthrow of the Indian State.” She would have been closer to the mark if she had observed that the common feature between the Maoist movement today and the Anna crusade is that both are profoundly anti-democratic. Both have a “my way or the highway” attitude. Anna Hazare’s crusade doesn’t want to overthrow the Indian state as much as want to use its machinery for its own ends.  Given the background of the core of his supporters, it is not much of a surprise that these ends are tied to ending the progressive aspects of the Indian constitution that call for affirmative action to removing the most egregious abuses of the age-old caste system.


Corruption can be ended but Hazare knows, or should know, full well that it cannot be ended by a government bill; he cannot even be sure that the institution that he wants to create in the name of a mighty Lok Pal would not instead turn out to be the Emperor of all corruption. But it is a populist soul-searching exercise that is able to attract a large amount of urban middle-class support while being guided by Manuwadis with different agendas.  Hazare might be doing it to replicate his authoritarian reform experience in the obscure village of Ralegaon Siddhi in western Maharashtra on a vastly greater scale that, for various reasons, has touched a nerve in the body politic of upwardly mobile middle-class India.


Hazare claims to be a Gandhian. But Gandhi usually raised important issues, most notably against communal violence.  Hazare, on the other hand, is promoting that as he should have realized when he praised the development of Gujarat under Narendra Modi who also led the anti-Muslim pogrom in his state. Gandhi highlighted the discrimination against Dalits. Many of Hazare’s supporters instead are motivated by using his movement to promote so-called “meritocracy,” in other words, getting rid of the benefits granted to Dalits by the Indian constitution.  The corruption that Dalits, who constitute most of the absolutely poor in India, suffer from most is embedded in the attitudes generated by the caste system in which local power structures are deeply involved.  Anna Hazare’s movement is not directed at that or, in a much larger sense, concerned at all about the corruption and stink of absolute poverty that the majority of India suffer from.

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