Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is Anna Hazare a Corporate and/or Government Stooge?

We have NDTV here in South Africa, well via satellite.  Sometimes I sit watching it to remind myself of my year in Delhi.

Not much has changed on NDTV.  The busy screen with constant "breaking news" scrolling below everything even advertisements.

The other thing about NDTV that annoys the hell out of me is the Anglo-Indian lifestyle it promotes.  All kinds of capitalized light-skin and light-eyed Indians of the corporate kind sell this and that as if there is one prototype of Indian.

This is not unique to India.  This meaning the Anglo-ization of its broadcasts and public life.  In Mexico, for example, I looked to find brown skin faces reading the news or as continuity announcers.  There were none in the times I watched.

Given that NDTV hardly represents all India why is it that it sees anti-corruption Anna Hazare as "all India"?

How has this man captured the "national imagination" as the talking heads on NDTV say all the time?

An email from India today led me to read Arundhati Roy's deconstruction of Anna Hazare and it connected with and article by Vidya Bhushan Rawat yesterday that questioned Anna's silence on "untouchability" issues.

Rawat writes in part:
India at the moment is at the cross roads. Anna Hazare and his team have presented a Janlokpal bill which according to them will wipe out corruption from India. They feel that corruption is the root cause of all our evils. Now, one does not know whether they consider the caste system, untouchability, dowry as corruption or not. We do not know whether billions of rupees of cash, Gold and other treasure in our religious institutions are corruption free or meant for something else.

Anna seems to have caught the fancy of India’s upper caste upper elite and middle classes. Right from the film stars to our business tycoons every one is taking oath to fight against corruption. The local businessmen, dibbawallahs, auto-drivers, taxi unions, doctors and government servants also seem to agree with Anna and want that corruption should be ended. The Prime Minister of India also want the corruption should go. Advani and Gadkari want to hang the corrupt except Yadurappa. Anna wants to hang them but do not have the courage to ask the same treatment for Ramdev and Ravishankar or any other religious guru or corporate leader if they are found guilty. He also wants to keep safe the ‘civil society’ from any charges of corruption.

This seems to be well planned exercise with solid backing from India’s corporate. Now, it is coming to lime light and sources are alleging that the Tatas and Anil Ambani group may be behind the campaign.
Roy's critique of Anna is very similar to Rawat's.  She asks who Anna Hazare (not his real name by the way) is and why is he so supported by Indian and international capitalist interests:
‘The People' only means the audience that has gathered to watch the spectacle of a 74-year-old man threatening to starve himself to death if his Jan Lokpal Bill is not tabled and passed by Parliament. ‘The People' are the tens of thousands who have been miraculously multiplied into millions by our TV channels, like Christ multiplied the fishes and loaves to feed the hungry. “A billion voices have spoken,” we're told. “India is Anna.”

Who is he really, this new saint, this Voice of the People? Oddly enough we've heard him say nothing about things of urgent concern. Nothing about the farmer's suicides in his neighbourhood, or about Operation Green Hunt further away. Nothing about Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh, nothing about Posco, about farmer's agitations or the blight of SEZs. He doesn't seem to have a view about the Government's plans to deploy the Indian Army in the forests of Central India.

He does however support Raj Thackeray's Marathi Manoos xenophobia and has praised the ‘development model' of Gujarat's Chief Minister who oversaw the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. (Anna withdrew that statement after a public outcry, but presumably not his admiration.)

Despite the din, sober journalists have gone about doing what journalists do. We now have the back-story about Anna's old relationship with the RSS. We have heard from Mukul Sharma who has studied Anna's village community in Ralegan Siddhi, where there have been no Gram Panchayat or Co-operative society elections in the last 25 years. We know about Anna's attitude to ‘harijans': “It was Mahatma Gandhi's vision that every village should have one chamar, one sunar, one kumhar and so on. They should all do their work according to their role and occupation, and in this way, a village will be self-dependant. This is what we are practicing in Ralegan Siddhi.” Is it surprising that members of Team Anna have also been associated with Youth for Equality, the anti-reservation (pro-“merit”) movement? The campaign is being handled by people who run a clutch of generously funded NGOs whose donors include Coca-Cola and the Lehman Brothers. Kabir, run by Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, key figures in Team Anna, has received $400,000 from the Ford Foundation in the last three years. Among contributors to the India Against Corruption campaign there are Indian companies and foundations that own aluminum plants, build ports and SEZs, and run Real Estate businesses and are closely connected to politicians who run financial empires that run into thousands of crores of rupees. Some of them are currently being investigated for corruption and other crimes. Why are they all so enthusiastic?
Roy is skeptical that Anna represents a revolution of any kind.  His vision is supported because it speaks to corporate interests to finger the state and press on with the further privatization of the Indian state. 

Nyla Ali Khan is more strident in his criticism of Anna than Rawat and Roy.  In a short article he asks why Anna is only willing to negotiate with political elites in India as if they represent all India (and as if India is one national byproduct of its nationalism:
Much as I admire the determination and perseverance of 74 year old Anna Hazare to go the whole hog by undertaking an “indefinite” fast, I cannot help wondering at his politics. Are Anna and his team validating the culture of the Congress by asserting that the only two personages Anna is willing to negotiate with are Prime Minister Singh and Rahul Gandhi? Last I heard, Rahul Gandhi was the scion of the Gandhi dynasty and the General Secretary of the Congress. When did his position or credibility supersede that of the Union Minister for Home Affairs of the Republic of India? All I can say is that Chidambaram is in for a tough fight. I just recalled that another personage Anna considers worth his while to talk with is the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chauhan. Perhaps the ethnic, regional, and linguistic commonalities between Chauhan and Anna would facilitate the mammoth task of speaking for a gigantic nuclear power, India. Also, is Anna, in the frenzy of his crusade, forgetting that India is a country riven by caste, class, regional and political divides? The diversity of this country cannot thrive on facile attempts to create the homogeneous category of “Indian.” Nor can it thrive on dubious attempts to gloss over xenophobic provincialism or a highly culpable state-sponsored marginalization of a minority community. The increasing communalization of Indian politics is a juggernaut that annihilates the myth of secularism in India.
Rawar, Roy, and Khan represent alternate voices on the Anna Hazare juggernaut.  I am naturally disinclined to be swayed by national products (nationalists) who see to reassert the "commonsense" of the state.

I learned a lot of things in India and hope to go back soon (without the Guru) and travel some more.  The one thing that stood out for me in my time in India is that there is no one India.  Indian nationalism is a fiction or rather a myth-making ideological posture.

Nowhere else was this point more salient than in Kashmir which for all intents and purposes is occupied by India.

When I think about the many folks I met in Kashmir who abhor their occupation it makes me wonder why Anna has not raised his voice to support the independence of Kashmir.

Roy has.  And she has thrown her considerable international celebrity behind poor communities who remain mostly invisible in mainstream elite Indian politics.

For this reason I am more inclined to be listening to her than Anna Hazare.




Rahul said...

always voted for cond party , i was great fan of rahul ,sonia and sheela dikshit,but after anna hazare i never voted for congress all congress party are curropt,pm toh bus naam ka hai power toh ghandhi's ki hai ,today's middle and poor people r suffering due to corruption all neta r geeting richer's day by day ,they all has made us idots for long time .bt now we have to fight for our rights and fight against corruption ,give more support to anna

Saiba said...

I admire Ms. Roy and think that she is one of India's most important voices.
Her views and research on problems of Dams, Mines, Corporate influence, Supreme court patterns, Naxalite/Maoist situations etc. have changed the presumptions of her readers.

However on this particular issue, her article doesn't seem to be reaching any conclusion, nor does it seem to point out any truly worrisome fact.

Kindly correct me if I am wrong, but she doesn't actually argue with the 3 points that the final consensus is formed upon. (or any other basic tenet of the proposed bill)

So while I do appreciate her caution in the matter and will follow the same, I do think that her current position is not the best alternative she had.

The other Ms. Roy (i.e. Aruna Roy) took a more constructive approach to criticism by actually providing an alternative draft that makes the implementation of Lokpal more realistic and functional.

Wish that we had seen something similar from Arundhati. Her own version of how things could/should be.

Ridwan said...

Hi Saiba:

Thank you kindly for adding your thoughtful comment.

You raise excellent points and I will be the first to admit that those of us sitting outside of India need to see the deeper complexity.

My entry still remains a worry about the caste implications and the manner that team Anna has taken on an extra-democratic route to push its agenda.

Would such a bill be heard and given the same attention if it came out of Adivasi community?

Nonetheless, I am truly appreciative of your constructive and engaging comment here - it should be taken seriously and I hope some other folks would weigh in too.

If you have other views that should be posted please let me know and I will put the links up too.

Peace to you,

Saiba said...

Hi Ridwan,

According to my current knowledge of facts, I would offer following thoughts towards the conversation:

1. Caste implications: To find definite answers regarding caste implications, should we not examine the legislation to see if it has any bias or injustice inherent in it? (As far as my awareness goes, currently the proposal doesn't favor any particular caste in any way.)

That should be the test. Because if that isn't, then there is no objective criterion that could ever give anybody a clean chit.

2. Extra-democratic route:
I think this is a really important issue. And a whole other (and bigger) discussion.
Currently I would just submit that if we regard this as extra-democratic, then many peaceful struggles, such as the African-American right movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., will also be counted as extra-democratic.

3. Regarding Adivasi community:
I agree with you that if Adivasi community would have risen this issue, then most likely it wouldn't be taken seriously. They have been treated in an extremely unfair manner so far.

But then it wasn't taken seriously even when IAC picked it up.
Such issues get raised all the time, and are Never taken seriously.
There was some serious strategy, work and some good timing that forced people and government to take this seriously.

For links, here are some views from the protesters' side:


It has been a long post. Kindly feel free to edit/del it however you like. Your thoughtful response just kind of made me jot things down.

Ridwan said...

Thank you kindly Saiba for taking so much time to offer more food for thought.

Again, you raise excellent points that must be pondered.

I agree that the legislation is not implicitly anti caste.

I think though that many caste activists worry that they have been excluded by design and that Team Anna has not pointed out the corruption that lies underneath caste.

As I understand it a few commentators have wondered why the bill has been taken seriously even though it has not followed the prescribed constitutional route (what I mean by extra-democratic).

We should remember that Ambedkar was very important in writing the Constitution.

Nonetheless, thank you for adding value to the discussion and for making me think.

I have asked a couple of folks I know in India (Delhi) to think about adding thoughts too.

I hope they do.

Through discussion we can only understand more :0)

I will look at your links, thanks again.

Please do continue to add more thoughts Saiba.

I need to think through what you said some more.

Peace to you,

Saiba said...

Thanks to you too Ridwan. You are right, through conversations we do understand more. :)

Ridwan said...

My absolute pleasure Saiba. Thank you.

I hope to hear more from you as we move on.