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‘Anna Hazare’, Democracy and Politics: A Response to Shuddhabrata Sengupta

April 10, 2011

In an earlier post, (hits to which have broken all records on Kafila), Shuddhabrata Sengupta has raised some extremely important points in the context of the media-simulated coverage and celebrations around the ‘Anna Hazare’ movement. I agree with the central argument made by Shuddha – which is about the authoritarian, indeed totalitarian implications of the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill (though, as many commentators to the post have pointed out, the Bill really remains to be drafted and passed in parliament).

I have no doubt whatsoever that any demand that simply seeks a law of the sort that has been raised by the movement (even in the proposed form), is completely counterproductive. Indeed, it is naive. Matters like corruption or communalism cannot simply be legislated out of existence through tougher laws. Inevitably, they will lead us up to China type situations where you will end up demanding summary trials and executions. Even in the best of cases, a law and state-dependent mode of addressing such problems, adds to the powers of a corrupt bureaucracy. I also agree with his (and Bobby Kunhu’s) criticisms of some aspects of what they have both chosen to designate as ‘mass hysteria’ of sorts – I certainly do not agree with this description but that need not detain us here. I am  interested in something else here and that has to do with the way the movement has struck a chord among unprecedentedly large numbers of people – mainly middle class people I am sure, but the support for it is not just confined to them. In fact, on the third day of the dharna at Jantar Mantar I received an excited call from a CPM leader who works among the peasants in villages of northern India in the Kisan Sabha, about the response to the movement he had encountered in his constituency. I doubt that this was a support simulated either by the government or by the electronic media.

On 30th January this year, when many of us were participating in a largish demonstration in Delhi demanding the release of Binayak Sen, precisely on that day a huge demonstration was held on this issue of the Jan Lokpal Bill. The fact that all the usual suspects like us were there at the Binayak Sen demonstration, meant that there were innumerable others, not the usual suspects, who were there at this other rally. Yes, some people could have been in both places, but by and large, the presence at the two rallies was very different. And there was no ‘media-simulated mass hysteria’ at that point. If Arnab Goswami and Times Now (and other TV channels) have now picked up the issue, that can be read as trying to appropriate a movement that was gathering strength independently of them. (By the way, it is also instructive to see the anger of the demonstrators at India Gate against Barkha Dutt in the video posted by Anirban in a comment on Shuddha’s post.) And if one looks at the cast of characters who have been associated with the mobilization, there are many (including Anna Hazare himself) who have been working tirelessly in villages and towns across the country.  And while I hold no brief for Anna Hazare or the others, to reduce the entire movement to a media-simulated, anti-political middle class urge is to completely misread the signs.

What is disturbing in Shuddha’s post is the attribution of a kind of conspiracy where, apparently, UPA government and the electronic media have been complicit in ‘orchestrating’ this movement. I think this claim not only does not stand up to any actual scrutiny of facts on the ground but is, on the contrary, based on the mode of reasoning that is a staple of political rhetoric:

“We have been here before. Indira Gandhi’s early years were full of radical and populist posturing, and the mould that Anna Hazare fills is not necessarily the one that JP occupied (despite the commentary that repeatedly invokes JP). Perhaps we should be reminded of the man who was fondly spoken of as ‘Sarkari Sant’ – Vinoba Bhave. Bhave lent his considerable moral stature to the defence of the Internal Emergency (which, of course, dressed itself up in the colour of anti-corruption, anti-black marketeering rhetoric, to neutralize the anti-corruption thrust of the disaffection against Indira Gandhi’s regime).”

This passage is then followed up by a reference to the regime sponsored mass mobilization of the cultural revolution in China. Suggestions like these are taken to new heights in Bobby Kunhu’s post when he says:

“The timing also seems to be impeccable for reasons apart from TRP. India Inc. was facing a credibility crisis and the crisis had managed to drag the office of the most iconic representative of the lot – Dr. Manmohan Singh into every dreadful business. And then every representative of India Inc. seemed to be at the receiving end of the crisis – corporate houses to media icons. From Kashmir to Tamil Nadu – Manipur to Chattisgarh – people in the margins seemed to be mobilizing themselves trying to take their fights into their own hands. Mere cricket was not enough. A more serious national diversion was required – a diversion that would also help in subverting the multiple simmering discourses on democracy.”

What is the evidence for any of these claims? Give me any event, and I can guarantee you that I will cook up a conspiracy scenario (of the kind that Shuddha and Bobby do) with circumstantial ‘evidence’ of this nature. Our discomfort at certain kinds of mobilization cannot and must not become a reason for us to pass off that discomfort in rhetorical claims about the mobilization.

It is interesting that Shuddha and Bobby Kunhu posit this movement as one that is directed against democracy, in terms almost identical to those of Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Mehta argues:

“But the claim that the “people” are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing. In a democracy, one ought to freely express views. But anyone who claims to be the “authentic” voice of the people is treading on very thin ice indeed. It is a form of Jacobinism that is intoxicated with its own certainties about the people. It is not willing to subject itself to an accountability, least of all to the only mechanism we know of designating representatives: elections.”

This can be said of any movement and any popular struggle; indeed, Mehta has made it his vocation to argue for liberal, procedural democracy every time there is a mass movement. From Mehta’s point of view – and from the point of view of the powers-that-be – this is a perfect argument for their intention is absolutely clear. They do not want the boat rocked under any circumstances. Every form of dissent must be tamed and brought within the ambit of the rotting structure of the parliamentary system, under whose sign every single act of fleecing of the people has taken place – Suresh Kalmadi, Sheila Dikshit, the Bellary brothers, the heroes of the 2G spectrum scam (and of course the Nira Radia folk!). We have been silent witnesses to the political system  – to which Mehta sings paeans and whose virtues Shuddha seems to have suddenly discovered – lying prostrate before the marauders and looters of public money. Now, I understand where Pratap Mehta is coming from but Shuddha, when you say the following, I am stumped:

“Finally, if, as a society, we were serious about combating the political nexus that sustains corruption – we would be thinking seriously about extending the provisions of the Right to Information Act to the areas where it can not currently operate – national security and defence; we would also think seriously about electoral reform – about proportional representation, about smaller constituencies, about strengthening local representative bodies, about the provision of uniform public funding for candidates and about the right to recall elected representatives. These are serious questions. “

Electoral reform! And who will contest the elections, dear Shuddha? The same lot who from the Right to Centre to Left have now distinguished themselves by their service to corporate capital and their fleecing of the public exchequer? Here you almost begin to sound like a bourgeois policy-maker (or political theorist) advising saner and more responsible methods. I am also surprised that you find the threat to democracy coming from a movement that makes its demands to the government and the parliament, and makes them in the most peaceful, non-violent manner possible! After all, it is the parliament and the political parties that will have to draft the Bill (or give the draft the final shape) and pass it in parliament. What can be more democratic than that? For even the people behind the current draft of the bill know that this cannot but go through a period of negotiation, scrutiny and democratic debate, if the Bill has to become law.

I think it is also important to underline that for many years now, in India at least, issues have been posed outside the domains where formal politics takes place. Think of all the important issues that have been raised over the last two decades: the question of land acquisition, mass displacement of populations, nuclear energy, communalism and the anti-communal struggles, Right to Information, Forests Rights Act…none of these issues, have either been raised or even debated in parliament except under mass pressure. Was there even a squeak from the worthies of Left and Right who populate the parliament and legislatures, each time the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam was raised? Was there a squeak when innumerable villages and towns like Harsud and Tehri, drowned for the sake of the luxurious consumption of the metropolitan middle classes? So, your sudden faith in the system and its democracy, and your claim that only those who contest elections can be really ‘representative of the people,’ really surprises me.

The current movement, to me, is only a sign of the fact that there is no faith any longer in any of the institutions of parliamentary democracy among large sectors of the Indian population. Increasingly, their issues emerge through those whom you and Mehta dismiss as the ‘self-appointed representatives of the masses’. Indeed, I fear that if movements of this kind are also dismissed, and with the political class long out of reckoning, there is really no other option that the large masses of people will be left with except to support non-democratic Maoist-type outfits. I cannot help recalling here the long debate on Maoism that we had on Kafila where I had, among others, argued about the efficacy of democratic struggles in stalling many an SEZ project. Not one of those struggles Shuddha, had the prior permission of the state and its certification of being led by a “legitimate elected representative” of the people. They were democratic struggles nevertheless, at least in my sense of the term.

Mass movements throw up their own leadership, and sometimes the pulse of the masses is  sensed by a charismatic leader. To de-legitimize  this phenomenon by claiming the formal electoral process as the only reflection of democracy is to limit democracy to its most formal liberal procedural version. I think we need to remember that the Right to Information Act itself, is a product of a movement which has indeed gone far beyond the confines of a purely liberal provision and has invited some of the most violent reprisals from those whose corrupt practices it affects. People have been killed – often with the connivance of political parties and their leaders – for using the provisions of the RTI. These people have no other recourse but work with ‘self-appointed’ leaders – usually a term deployed by power for those who have not received the official stamp of approval by the state.

80 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2011 7:42 PM

    Mass Media generated hysteria? Have a look.

    I was there. And many others like me, middle class no doubt, but not because of mass media.

    It is the top trending topic on Twitter. What mass media?

  2. April 10, 2011 8:02 PM

    Thank God! I had thought that once the fast was broken, it was time only for the vulturism.

    It is another characteristic of well exploited thinking that when the people have acheived unprecedented success, they are unable to digest it. It “feels” wrong to have rights, to demand rights.

    The numbers of detractors of Anna Hazare spiked immediately after the government agreed. It was time to second guess. Even ones who had supported earlier started seeing all kinds of problems. People have lost faith in themselves. It is a movement taking us into unknown terrian. It is more useful to prepare and move forward with purpose than to imagine everything going wrong, because we simply don’t know what the future will hold, and there is no precedent.

  3. Priti permalink
    April 10, 2011 8:06 PM

    If you don’t trust Parliamentary democracy and do not want to participate in the processes it has in place for people’s participation or even think through ways to reform the system to make it more responsive, what exactly is your alternative? Even with all the corruption within the present system, I would take it over a coercive and totalitarian movement such as Anna Hazare’s where he and his bunch of civil society activists are trying to thrust their version of a Bill down people’s throat through blackmail. The movement is spurious because it misleads people into thinking that it is a fight against corruption when it is basically only a fight to get 5 people’s version of a Bill enacted through coercion. If it was actually a fight against corruption, then where is their blueprint to reform other laws related to corruption, bring in more economic reforms that would take away the government’s discretionary powers and such other matters. Its clear that this is nothing but a power trip for the activists who DO NOT represent anybody but themselves but want the power of a elected representative without ever winning or having the capability to win an election. If it were not so, there would have been other civil society activists on the Joint Committee who may not necessarily be supporters of Anna Hazare’s bill but have other ideas of their own.

    • April 11, 2011 12:40 AM

      Ignorance is bliss. You people deserve the corrupt netas like Raja, Pawar, Kalmadi.

    • April 11, 2011 11:06 AM

      Try to find 5 non-politicians to support your views

      • Priti permalink
        April 11, 2011 10:58 PM

        So why don’t you guys suggest alternatives rather than sneering at me? I am very clear as to what I prefer with warts and all. I do not want a “benevolent” dictatorship of civil society activists who I cannot hold accountable by any means whatsoever. I would much rather engage with the system and make efforts to reform it from within. Corruption is not a by product of parliamentary democracy, it is a by-product of a system where laws are designed in such a way that it incentivises rent seeking behaviour. If you cannot hold a person accountable for his performance, you will have corruption and incompetence. If you allow a government too much discretionary powers to bestwo favours through licences, you will have corruption.

        • Rajen permalink
          April 13, 2011 6:35 PM


          I think the author made it very clear. Anna Hazare’s demand is very much within the parlimanetary democracy process.

          All he is saying is that let there be 50:50 representation in DRAFTING what gets presented IN THE PARLIAMENT and PASSED BY THE PARLIAMENT.

          And waiting for parliamentarians alone, we have been waiting since 1971 for this bill to be presented. It needs movements outside of parliament to get the parliament to move.

          Finally, I am TOTALLY WITH YOU about not wanting to dictatorship. It will be interesting and instructive for you to read Mein Kampf where Hitler describes his early years in which he went and sat in the German parliament. The Apathy that he describes in the house, left a mark on him. THe social political system of Germany allowed that discontent to be channelised in a way that he took over as a dictator.
          Here in India, it is people of high moral standing with Gandhian values have channelised it to a people’s movement that merely demands a 50% say in drafting a bill. Were it not for morally upright forces like himself to channel discontent against parliamentary systems, sooner or later, fascist extra-constituional forces like Shiv Sena, Ram Sene, Maoists, Ulemmas etc would quickly fill the vaccum and take control. In fact they already have.

          You have a lot to thank Anna for protecting you from those forces.

          • Priti permalink
            April 16, 2011 9:44 PM

            There is more harm done by so-called “morally upright” people than the ones who do not claim moral uprightness! I have not voted for Anna Hazare so I do not view him as my representative by any standards. I do not believe in his ideology nor do I support his blackmailing tactics. If he wants to represent people, he better do it through legitimate means ie election. In a democracy, that is the ONLY legitimate means of deciding who is a people’s representative. If he thinks he cannot win an election (as he has said), but wants to enforce his point of view by force, then he wants to wield power to which he is NOT entitled! It is NOT the task of a civil society actitvist to draft a Bill. Drafting and debating bills is the primary task of an MP (that’s why he is called a legislator)!!! Civil society can legitimately give its opinions through various points of engagement such as when standing committees invite comments or ministries invite comments for draft bills.

  4. April 10, 2011 8:07 PM

    One way or the other, we are in this. It seems to me that investing our energy in making it a good future rather than criticizing in anticipation of an unknown result presumed negative is a better choice.

  5. voyeur permalink
    April 10, 2011 8:20 PM

    Thank you very much sir. I will not say you have said something new that I didn’t know. But you have put very articulately what I was fumbling around to say. Also gives me some heart to know a man of stature and and understanding such as you are on the same side as me in this debate. My confidence had taken a beating after Bobby Kunhu (who taught me at some point) on the other side. No I judge the discussion on merits only. But still, small people like us are awed easily.

  6. Prasanth permalink
    April 10, 2011 8:25 PM

    @ Aditya Nigam
    Fair enough, there’s no conspiracy. And I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you talk about the ‘other’ crowd at Jantar Mantar. So who organised them? Are the rumours floating around about the role of certain spiritual gurus true?

    Now let’s say you ignore these rumours. I think it would be fair to judge a crowd by its demands. You yourself admit that the proposed Jan Lok Pal bill has “authoritarian, indeed totalitarian implications.” So technically, what you are saying is that if ten thousand people support such a totalitarian bill, it is fine since that is what the people want?

    I understand your frustration with established procedures and your point that it has been movements outside the ambit of the state that have raised many significant issues in recent times. However, and this is important, none of them have proposed reposing power in the hands of an authority who is unaccountable and is selected by authorities equally unaccountable. When support for such an authority is the beginning of a mass movement, I can see only dark times ahead.

    Many of us have become so disenchanted with the system that any sign of popular mobilisation seems godsend. But forgive me if I cannot see as a positive thing, a platform where Baba Ramdev calls for hanging corrupt or a gathering of people who call the most massive centralisation of power in recent times a Gandhian ideal.

    That poor dead man lived his life fighting against centralisation, If he were alive I suspect he would rather be reading Joseph Lelyveld’s biography than participate in this movement.

    • Sridhar permalink
      April 11, 2011 1:22 AM

      The agitators supporting Hazare want ‘something’ to be done and they know that Jan Lokpal is only a starting point and it has to legitimately pass thru umpteen filters before it becomes a reality. Why can’t some learned people get this? If the ruling goverments were more forthcoming where was the need for this activism?

  7. World Citizen permalink
    April 10, 2011 8:41 PM

    “Electoral reform! And who will contest the elections, dear Shuddha? The same lot who from the Right to Centre to Left have now distinguished themselves by their service to corporate capital and their fleecing of the public exchequer? “.. You are now being as naive as the people who drafted the Jan Lokpal bill. Why are you assuming (just like the drafters of the bill) that there is a clear demarkation between the corrupt (“the same lot”) and the non corrupt (us). Such an assumption is naive and disconnected from reality. The entire objective of having electoral reforms is so that anyone can contest the elections without selling their soul to corporations who sponsor them. Which is impossible the way our democracy operates as of now. I will give you that this movement is not limited to just the middle class but you are mixing two different things here. The genuine resentment of the people with the drama that was orchestrated at Jantar Mantar. They are completely different things. What revolution lasts 4 days???

  8. Anirban Bandyopadhyay permalink
    April 10, 2011 8:43 PM

    The debate as now framed by Prof. Nigam boils down to procedural questions of representing people and the legitimacy ot otherwise of certain forms and spaces of protest. For Mehta, legitimate representatives of people must be elected into formal legislatures. For Nigam, they need not necessarily be elected representaives of people by means of formal legislative election, as long as they reaise issues relevant to people’s life and livelihood in public forum without taking recourse to violence. Nigam suggests Sengupta’s denouncement of the ‘Hazare movement’ comes dangeorusly close to a Mehta kind of position upholding only formally elected politicians as legitimate reperesentatives of people. I think it does not. Sengupta’s essay does emphasize the need for electoral reforms. As such it does not accept the system as it exists today as perfect. On the other hand Nigam, while apearing to give up on the democratic potentials of the formal system of political representation, is nonetheless keen to emphasize how Hazare merely demanded that the drafting committee acoomodate some civil society representives. Nigam probably implies that in doing so Hazare movement too acknowledges the legitimacy of the bourgeois legislature. Neither Mehta, nor Sengupta or Nigam therefore is doubting the final authority of the legislative state. The operative terms of the debate boils down really to the space that Hazare movement seeks to occupy. Here Nigam sees it as a culmination of the many small local democratic movements of protest led by dedicated grassroot activists. He at least is trying to find a role or an agency for these grassroot activists in the spectacle that the three day Hazare movement became. It is here that I think Sengupta has a problem. He thinks that these genuine grassroot movements and activists were in fact marginalized in this spectacle by the media and the celebrities. It is not easy to see Farha Khan or Ramdev leading grassroot movements, despite one’s fondness for Nigam’s self assured, and self assuring, prose. It is precisely in the hijacking by the Telegenic and the momentary of the dedicated and and long drawn out collective struggles at the grassroot level that there is a problem. Why can’t the rich and the famous be seen at the sites of those grassroot movements? Why must those tireless leaders be held hostage to the attention of the TV camera for their movememt to be called legitimate? Why can’t the capital based intellectual bring the TV channels down to the ground of resistance? It is because dedicated resistance lacks glamour. It is mostly boring and longwinding. The three days of Hazare movement at best lent the grassroot resistance movements some glamour. But it did so on the terms set by the tv channels and the urban chatterati. It is up to Nigam to welcome the entry of glamour to resistance, but he is being blind to the terms at which glamour is coming. Finally, glamour, like capital, looks for maximum profit in the distribution of its attention. The next few months will prove how right Nigam is in linking up the grassroot movements for democracy with the hazare movement. Candlelight calls for democracy and grassroots struggles among the poor and the displaced do not gel easily. If Nigam thinks these four days have witnessed that revolution, good luck to him.

  9. psdf permalink
    April 10, 2011 8:55 PM

    About electoral reforms – We need a negative vote as well. One option on the EVM should be a ‘No’ vote to signify that the voter does not want any of the other candidate to be elected. In a constituency, if the negative vote wins, then all the candidates should be barred from contesting another election for next 10 years (from anywhere else as well) . Hope that would mean that parties will then field good and right candidates.

    • April 10, 2011 9:22 PM

      Not a chance that the politicians will agree to the “no” vote. For the same reasons as for Anna Hazare being opposed. This farce of a democracy that we have needs the facade in place and will go to great extents to maintain it.

  10. arif permalink
    April 10, 2011 9:17 PM

    Mr. Nigam, I am sure you might have been really troubled by the posts of Mr. Sengupta and Mr. Kunhu, so here comes your reply which seems to be rather harsh. May be you too have given up on the importance of politics in a country which is largely not run by rules, laws but by emotions, affiliations to religions, castes and various other group identities and are looking for a hero, as the media projected it, who can give an impetus to people’s empowerment against (your judgment of) incompetent, non-performing, corrupt political class. Or maybe you have been floored by the overwhelming support to Anna Hazare which was limited to TV screens, as in my town the fight was on for daily routine chores, and it would be an eye opening evidence for me that you mention the name of the town where the left leader works and saw support for Anna Hazare’s movement. I largely stand by what Mr. Sengupta and Mr. Kunhu have written and I do not buy your perception of the situation coz i don’t believe in pickle protests and televised revolution about which you seem to be really excited, hope it works and my cynicism dies down. Nobody is holier than thou even in civil society; forget about the political class since you have already made it evident that they are highly incompetent and corrupt. Just a few reminders about the present movement: Highly male dominated, largely Hindu, support coming from all those actors who in future can potentially misuse the tool of fasting into demanding irrational provisions; largely urban middle class, NRIs, funding from the corporate was evident and if you still think that it’s an all-india movement then I am sorry that being such an enlightened member of the Indian intelligentsia, you have also been tricked by the live revolution and bollywood type idealism. So my concerns in response to your post are: do not profess that this movement was an all-india movement, restrain a little from denouncing the parliamentary politics and system (coz they still seem to be more accountable than the corporate sector, judiciary and the greatest of all class the elite intelligentsia), good you mentioned narmada, singur, etc. You seem to be quite selective in choosing your revolutions and actors who are behind these; exactly the way corporate media has been doing. The urgency in you to react to this particular incident has left an impression on me that somewhere down the road you are lending legitimacy to not only a reactionary method of getting things done but also undermining other pertinent issues; corruption does not operate in isolation Mr. Nigam, it has its castes, its religions, its gender and etc. Unless and until there is a churning in the Indian society on the more pertinent issues of solving caste, communalism, redistribution of wealth, accountability of judiciary, a well matured and responsible media and corporate being checked properly, we can have Lokapals, Maha Lokpals and all the superlative denomination of Lokpal, nothing is going to move anywhere unless we change our glasses and start calling spade a spade. And one more thing, sorry forgot to mention Irom Sharmila, I thought since you are so much impressed with Anna’s way, you could have not only mentioned her name in your piece but also now you can recommend Anna hazare to support her, which he might decline, coz he too chooses his issues and fights; and so do you.

  11. Ponni permalink
    April 10, 2011 10:34 PM

    Thanks Aditya, Shuddha and Bobby for making a debate happen around this!

    I must admit, the one question that remains in my head through out this saga is that of “what about this issue arouses the centiments of the ‘not the usual suspects?’ in a way that a campaign against the arrest of Binayak sen or the Irom Sharmila’s now more that a decade fast against AFSPA doesn’t. Am almost jealous of this quick success honestly speaking. However pointless an dangerous the subject matter of what the ‘success’ implies in terms of the Bill the fact that ‘a social movement’ has garnered support and made the state respond makes me think. Here I am only speculating with ‘middle class protesters’ in mind. considering that miniscule minority of people within resistance struggles in India, a couple of things come to mind. And do correct me if I am wrong.

    It has definitely been easier to mobilise around newer legislation be it the this bill or the Domestic Violence bill for example than it has been to undo things such as operation green hunt or the AFSPA. This is of course not as a general rule but maybe just as a trend one might see vis-a-vis mobilisation. The image of the ‘learned palirament’ or the ‘learned judge/court’ as is often send in lawyers circles, as we know is very much part of public psyche as we know. So garner broad based support to undo actions of these ‘learned people’ then seems difficult. This of course it not in anyway a rigorous observation but a possibility.

    Another is the question of ‘fixing the ills of society’ as opposed to systemic critique. The campaign against corruption does not necessarily deal with the issue of what corruption means. It often boils down to the everyday ness and the scams. Extremely important as this maybe it ir far from sufficient and even convenient. It does not always look into the corruption that is built into the structures of the powers that be. It doesn’t necesarily look into the fact that seemingly non-corrupt practises may infact be corrupt in thought and worldview where it denies justice to some groups of people in society. Irom Sharmila’s fast has a single point demand. But that demand unfortunately has all of these ramifications that are connected to the heart of the ‘indian nation’. Similarly for example, Himanshu Kumar’s struggle against operation green hunt and everything else that plagues chattisgarh. I mention these two becuse they are also Gandhian. As is everyone else it seems- Medha Patkar for example.

    So maybe the question is really of which social struggles can ‘succeed’. The ones that seem to work are that of the ‘ideal’ citizens of this esteemed nation who ask pointed questions about ills of society or ask for ‘rights’ as ‘citizens of india’ as long as they don’t question the very basis of the nation or citizenship. Gandhian-ness seems to be a pre-requisite but even within that there seem to be hierarchies.

    It reminds me of the queers strangely. For so many of us, involved in the queer movement, it is clear the victories that the queer movement seems to enjoy as compared to others. For example the profound apology from TV 9 for their homophobia, the same TV channel that to my knowledge alone is known for offensive coverage about various communities, atleast in bangalore. I have never heard them apologise before for anything. So, here we are, the queers, with the potential to shake up the very rubric of society, family, caste, religion, state, nation etc if we wanted to. But for now we are asking for rights within the nation as citizens. We don’t know where we will go from here and we have a long way to go but this is definitely where we seemt to be now. And it’s working for us mostly. (touch wood. Don’t want to eat my words with a horrid judgment from the supreme court) Many queers otherwise oblivious to most social movements, like those discussed above, were all enthusiastic about the Anna Hazare saga. This of course is not coincidental. We’ll have to see what happens in the future. But for now, we could be seen as the Anna Hazares in some sense. (the irony of the support of Baba Ramdev to Anna Hazare notwithstanding! :) )

    So the question is not of conspiracy theories or the legitimacy of the people leading or participating in the sturggle. It takes a lot for people to get on to the streets and that too in large numbers. And in today’s day and age, we must thank our stars it can still happen. But we do need to reflect on what works and why in this country. We need to look at who this ideal citizen is who can ask for rights and sometimes gets it. It reminds me in some sense of the movement for ‘tamil eelam’ which brought out people in large numbers after ages in Tamilnadu. I remember it with intense sadness. It did not have the class based elitism of the Anna Hazares but had in common this imaginary nation and a particular demand that is not interested in any systemic critique. And of course a demand where it’s implications for even the people the protesters claimed to stand up for were not thought through and there is an intense policing of this thinking through that continues. In that sense, it is quite similar. There are rumours of writing, comments or status updates of non-anna hazare supporters miraculously vanishing off facebook? Does anyone have any information on this?

    About the Anna Hazare movement itself and all its critiques and limitations: we have those critiques of all the movements we witness or are part of. Sexism in most social movements, homophobia, caste based insensitivity or lack of interest, regional hierarchies; the list goes on. The question is of the threshhold of critique beyond which we can no longer stand behind a movement. Is a critique; that the demostration is being held in front of the picture of ‘bharat mata’ with connotations in contemporary india that we might not be a fan of or with the blessings of Baba Ramdev; is this a critique that can make us still stick around in ‘critical support’ or have they crossed the line making us want to step back and not associate at all? The bill itself of course not being worth it at best and dangerous at worst.

    One line from Shuddha’s post stays with me “Nothing serves power better than the spectacle of resistance”. I am concerned about this spectacle and what it could mean for resitance in this country, at a time where it is becoming more and more hard to sustain.


  12. Ponni permalink
    April 10, 2011 10:38 PM

    aur kya bole?! ‘ideal citizen’ he turned out to be Mr. Anna Hazare!

  13. April 10, 2011 10:41 PM

    in both shuddha’s critique earlier and aditya’s response now, the crucial fact that liberal democracy, whether of the parliamentary variety or of the grassroots variety propagated by hazare, not being able to tackle corruption because of its lack of a critique of the control of financial capital over the global political economy is glossed over. financial capital has brought obama to his knees and made him backtrack from all his pre-election promises and brought the usa government to the verge of a shutdown and that is a far more significant event from the point of view of the global fight against corruption than the middle class mobilisation around the lokpal bill in India. The people of Egypt are back in Tahrir Square because the army there is kowtowing to financial capital and backtracking on action against the corrupt forces of the Hosni regime. Nothing concrete is emerging from the Arab revolutions and similarly nothing concrete will emerge from the Jantar Mantar mobilisation either unless there is a programme of action against the control of capital over development and politics in this country and worldwide. this is not to say that marxist revolutionary techniques should be adopted but just to underline the complexity of the problems we face which defy simplistic solutions.

  14. jyoti punwani permalink
    April 10, 2011 11:19 PM

    all this talk about elected represetatives- since when did these worthies begin to represent us? most get elected on just 30 % of the vote. and surely we all know what these MPs and MLAs represent! Such touching faith in our Parliament and assemblies!

    • Dark Lord permalink
      April 11, 2011 12:55 PM

      At least they are getting 30% of the vote. The ‘civil society’ worthies are not even contesting in the elections

  15. Dhanesh Sharma permalink
    April 10, 2011 11:26 PM

    Aditya Nigam’s response came as a relief after Shuddhabrata’s post.

    Mr.sengupta’s very well cushioned his spineless logics and preconceived notions with his eloquent writing skills and large army of words. He himself Doesn’t give the basis of relating Annaji to the “sarkari sant’ while challenging the basis of other’s relating him to JP.

    His sole grievance seems to be that the lokpal will not be a democratically elected representative and in his opinion the answer to all problems seem to come through public representative’s while completely missing the point that the lokpal bill is the consequence of the anger people have towards “DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED PEOPLE REPRESENTATIVES”. Is he completely ignoring the role The Supreme court plays in safeguarding the democratic interest of the nation ??As far as I know Chief Justices and judges don’t fight elections.

    The self sympathetic tone of the post was also rather disturbing. Terms like “at the risk of heresy” or “I may be called a ‘cynic’ ” gave an impression that the people protesting at Jantar Mantar and their supporters all over the country instead of being contributors to a peaceful protest are a part of some lynch mob or a group of vandalizers!!

    You are free to choose YOUR revolution Mr.Sengupta but not at the cost of discrediting those who are fighting for US!!

  16. Punam Zutshi permalink
    April 11, 2011 1:13 AM

    Thanks for your post ..It occurs to me that recently whistle blowers who were in fact killed have been middle class.One has been more nervous that Anna Hazare would end up dead for a cause that is not so easy to handle…But if the ‘happening’ rather than the movement ( see Shiv Visvanathan is a rallying point, a call to conscience and commitment one must not belittle this….

  17. naveen jankar permalink
    April 11, 2011 1:42 AM

    a “just” government is not a something which can be sorted out neatly and once and for all, it is a contradiction in terms. revolutionary movements like in france and many other countries have led to a new set of people in power but not necessarily better. and such is the process of history. The coming of power of Napoleon in the aftermath of the French revolution was never the intention of the revolutionaries but at least the incumbent Bourbon and nobility clans were destroyed and driven away. the bourgeois middle class is against any struggle which has even little imperfection. almost any excuse to maintain the status-quo. and hence history has stopped with the congress dynasty rule interspersed with some other more or less the same politicians seeming elected by the people. with dwindling resources and too many people to share the world, it seems ridiculous to not bag as much the pie as possible before somebody else does it. the ichchha-purti elites and middle-class are the actual corrupt with our self-righteous drive for success, wealth, status symbols and euphoria-thru-splurging. Is it possible that the babus and politicians who made all the extra on the side dont have to smell the stench of the rotting country we live in? only nature seems to renew and nourish, in spite of the mess man has made of the planet. no parliamentary democracy will not save us. but till we find something which does, we might as well try out revolutions.

  18. April 11, 2011 2:37 AM

    As far as Mr. Hazare’s movement is concerned , i disagree with it vehemently for a couple of reasons.

    The first reason is concerned with the precedent this movement sets. Corruption like many other problems is a symptom of poor governance. However as history shows us , in a democracy , these symptoms remain short lived in the long run. The indian republic was founded as a constitutional representative democracy. This is the very basis of India as a nation state , and this basis will never disappear in the long run. A social activist no matter how famous , is undermining the democratically elected government. This creates a precedent that self appointed guardians of our society have the right to browbeat our representative government. While his goal laudable , Mr. Hazare’s methods call in to question the very legitimacy of our constitution , and the precedent his fast has set is very dangerous.

    the second reason , is to do with his direct demand , that an equal number of civil society activists be involved in the drafting of the Lok pal bill. This is once again unacceptable. The fact is that while experts on various topics can be included in the legislative drafting process by the express invitation of the legislature, self appointed do gooders cannot hijack the constitutional process of legislation . Mr Hazare , demands to be made the head of the drafting committee. No man , no matter how noble , can undermine an institution on which our country is based , in this case, parliament. The effect of Mr. Hazare’s demand is that he implies that he is superior to the institution of parliament.

    The third reason , is to do with the effectiveness of the institution of the Lokpal itself. The concept of an ombudsman is not new. It needs to be understood , that like other institutions of governance , the Lokpal will only function well , if the basic functions of governance are being carried out effectively. What I am trying to say is , that the creation of one institution does not guarantee any reduction in corruption. The institution of the Ombudsman has been there for quite some time in Jamaica , Russia and Pakistan , and all three countries rank below India in the Transparency Index. The only countries where this system is very popular is Denmark and Sweden. However , this system is effective there , by virtue of the fact that like all other institutions of governance , the ombudsman is also very effective. Thus having a surplusage of institutions does nothing to solve the actual problem.

    The fourth reason is to with the nature of the problem which is being addressed. My cynical nature leads me to believe , that the reason why there is mass support for the lokpal bill is two fold. Firstly , this campaign seems to have attracted the attention of the media , and thus various civil society activists and the middle class are enjoying the publicity which this campaign is attracting. Secondly , the institution of the Lokpal has been marketed as a magic pill which will cure our country of corruption. Corruption is a cancer , and there does not exist any single shot panacea against what is arguably a pandemic. Thus if our civil society is actually serious about tackling corruption , there efforts will be much better served by simply focusing on the abysmal state of health care and primary education in our country. Unfortunately , focusing on topics such as the curriculum of rural education , the salaries of village teachers , their pension scheme , their qualifications , the quality of medicines provided in village pharmacies etc , are not very exciting topics to discuss. And these problems cannot be solved by the stroke of a pen.

    This brings me to my fifth and final reason. As a country we need to realize , that corruption is a symptom of ineffective governance. The only way we can eradicate corruption is by concentrating on building our capacities at the rural level. Corruption has only one cure , and that is the principle of democratic accountability which is based on a premise that the voting public shall exercise a rational choice. As long as large swathes of our country are faced with the blight of illiteracy and poverty , voters will never exercise a rational choice. And the elite or the politicians of this country will know , that irrespective of the number of scams or scandals they are implicated in , in the end , they only need to trick voters into electing them. A small example would be the manifestoes of the AIDMK and the DMK which have been released with respect to the upcoming Tamil Nadu Assembly elections. If political parties can still hope to get votes by promising a populist handout of a color television , corruption will never leave this country.

    In the end , we need to realize , that as a people we cannot depend on one single individual to deliver us from our ills , the days of the lords taking form and walking the earth are over. If we are to prosper , it is only by understanding the extent of poverty in our country , forcing the government to tackle the same and improve the basic functions of governance. Even if Lord Ram was to walk this earth again , as long as 70% of our population survives on less than two dollars a day , nothing will improve. Anna Hazare may have a noble intention , but his actions have done nothing to solve the problem which faces us , and have resulted in undermining the only possible solution we have. The notion of a constitutional parliamentary democracy.

  19. April 11, 2011 2:42 AM

    I was very glad to see Prof Nigam’s post, as it opens up a genuine debate among those of us who are wary of “easy fixes” yet also, presumably, desire to see mass-based movements for more fundamental change.

    @ Sengupta: It makes sense to question the mainstream media when it uncritically celebrates the anti-corruption movement, and to question politicians who are supporting this to pat themselves on the back.

    It also makes sense to ask questions about “mass movements”; the ideas and leadership of the movements matter too, not just that they are “mass.”

    But it does not follow that _since_ the media supports a movement, or since politicians try to make gains from it, or since some of the leaders have loopy ideas, the movement is inherently corrupted, inadequate, a spectacle, etc.

    Sometimes we seem to tie ourselves in knots. We speak of masses and of fundamental change, but whenever there is any success or any mass participation–which, at any initial stage, is bound to be incomplete and limited–then we write it off.

    Instead, I think we need to emphasize that movements and revolts are processes, with multiple possibilities within them. Especially ones like this, which is fueled by popular anger about being fleeced by the powerful.

    Some of this multiplicity is because of the different forces within movements. For instance, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) support of Hazare is all about linking corruption to the long-standing movements against “the naked loot of our natural resources rivers, forests, land, minerals etc.” (

    I know for a fact that many of Hazare’s other supporters couldn’t give a damn about NAPM’s position: “Even as we struggle to demand for a stronger Lokpal and Lokayukta to root out the financial corruption and irregularities in different government schemes […] there are far larger issues at stake for our movement.”

    We can’t say right away whether the movement will transform into such a deeper radicalization or not. We won’t get an instant answer on this. We’ll have to see which ideas are dominant when the movement confronts questions whose solutions it has not figured out yet. (The Egyptians did not plan to have to retake Tahrir square.)

    It’s a good thing, though, that even the current leaders like Hazare and Kejriwal have kept saying, “This is just the beginning.” Indeed, what they mean by this seems to have changed over the span of days. First they said it to mean “We will come back tomorrow.” Now, after the fast is broken, they mean, “The deadline is August 15, and we don’t want a watered down bill to be passed.” In a few months it may mean: “an anti-corruption bill is not nearly enough.” Or the entire thing could fizzle out.

    What I mean to say is that movements are messy, not pure and pre-packaged in terms of leaders and ideas. Personally, I am compelled by NAPM’s position: both to point to the need for a deeper radicalization, but also to engage with the existing movement, as it is in the here and now, in order to help enable such a radicalization.

    • Aditya Nigam permalink*
      April 11, 2011 10:55 PM

      Thanks a lot Pranav, for this very thoughtful comment. I am especially grateful that you brought up the NAPM position that I myself identify with most – even though it was only implicit in my post. I also believe, as the Lefties of yore used to say, ‘unity and struggle’ within coalitions, within organizations and within alliances. To unite on any issue does not preclude, on the contrary, demands a relentless struggle to see that its democratic and radical possibilities are not traded off in any unscrupulous way. Every mass movement of this type, as you rightly say, is full of contradictory possibilities: they could take a radical turn if radical forces intervene intelligently in the situation; they could take a fascist turn if they leave the field vacant for reactionary forces. The fact that a movement like this arises at all, is first and foremost, a consequence of the failure of the entire political class to raise such issues – which means that already things are dangerously tipped on the edge. No movements (unless they are decidedly led by an ideological vanguard) is inherently either radical or reactionary; its character is determined by the composition of its participants. Thanks once again.

      • April 12, 2011 6:12 AM

        Thanks for taking the time to read all the comments! The “old Lefties of yore” position is exactly where I’m speaking from. The Stalinist notion of vanguards has completely destroyed this legacy. My firm belief is that if leftists only work with folks based on litmus tests of ideological purity, we not only cut ourselves off from genuine shifts in consciousness on the ground, but also limit our own development in terms of understanding the contemporary moment. We’re as much shaped by these events as others are.

  20. Jeebesh permalink
    April 11, 2011 10:03 AM

    Aditya you wrote a week back, to Anuj – “Some day, hopefully not in the very distant future, we will have to return to this moment of post-political celebration of the ‘popular’; we will have to revisit it in order to uncover its own pathologies.”
    (2nd April, 2011 on Kafila)

    I thought, in his commentary on the Anna Hazare phenomenon, Shuddha was taking you very seriously.

    • voyeur permalink
      April 11, 2011 10:40 AM

      Very pertinent catch there Jeebesh.

  21. Shankar permalink
    April 11, 2011 10:05 AM

    I think most of our debate on this issue is badly missing the point. We are counterposing “social movements” to the state, asking whether Hazare’s protest was a real “movement” or not, etc., and forgetting the key point raised in Prasanth’s post above – what defines the character of a movement is not only its base and tactics but its ideology. Cynicism in the institutions of representative democracy is a definite reality in India today. Such cynicism historically can lead in two directions – revolutionary mass struggle when there is an organised left force; and fascism, or fascistic tendencies, when there is not. The “anti-corruption” movement has distinct strains of the latter. This is why (not because of media hype etc.) it is attracting widespread elite support, and also why it is attracting real mass support.

    I am not in any sense using the term “fascism” or authoritarianism in the Pratap Bhanu Mehta sense – because a fast is “coercive” and all this other nonsense (a fast is not coercive; just ask Margaret Thatcher, who simply let Bobby Sands die, or the Indian state, which has force fed Irom Sharmila for ten years). Rather I am referring to the ideological vision that seems to underlie this movement.

    Fascism was and is after all a mass movement. The mere presence of mass support does not make a movement necessarily liberatory. Given its current contradictory character there is no need for us on the left to oppose this movement, but there is certainly reason to be wary of where it is going.

  22. Lakshmi permalink
    April 11, 2011 10:48 AM

    It’s sad how not a single editor, columnist, blogger, has asked how this attempt to involve civil society in and against contemporary politics should be taken forward. We need a genuine third force in politics. And this is probably the first time any legislation concerning the aam admi has been discussed by the urban middle class. Doesn’t that alone say something?  Instead the intelligentsia and media are busy cooking up conspiracy theories or villainising/idealizing  as usual. And most of the comments here that oppose the hazare spectacle as anti-political have no substance in them to even take us to a place where we can begin to think of a space between civil society and political society where such pressure can be brought on elected representatives. Their cynical circumspection ends up merely being pro-establishment.

  23. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    April 11, 2011 12:03 PM

    How I love your complicating moves, Jeebesh! I was actually contemplating bringing in all these issues when I wrote the post but eventually decided against it because the was becoming longer than I expected.
    But before I respond to your perfectly aimed googly, thanks a lot everybody for the comments. Ponni, I am as troubled by Anna Hazare holding up the example of Gujarat and Bihar (or Modi and Nitish!) but then, surely you realize that they are legitimate representatives of the people, stamped so by the electoral system.

    Jeebesh, I have in the past two years, off and on, written about what I refer to as the ‘implosion of the political’ – that is of the formal domain of politics: elections, parties, representation, government etc.
    But the implosion of the political does not mean the end of politics as such. On the contrary, it means, precisely that as the domain of formal politics (the political) gets evacuated of politics (and reduced to policy, at some level), it is from outside its folds that social and political struggles begin to emerge. Though I do not want to make large, global generalizations, even the emergence of the Obama phenomenon in the US (before he became incorporated as President, faithfully carrying out US policy worldwide), he emerged into the scene as a consequence of politics outside the political.

    Closer home, in my piece above, I had listed out how some of the crucial issues and struggles in Indian politics over the last two decades have emerged from outside the domain of formal politics. My problem with the post-political celebration of the ‘popular’ is precisely that it began to celebrate this implosion of the political as the end of politics. Now, it seemed to say, that the era of the avant-gardes is over, the masses and the popular have arrived and must be celebrated. empty celebration of consumption as desire, for instance, marked much of this stance. Central to this celebration is the abandoning of any idea of critique (for critique is always avant-garde and presumes the agency of an enlightened elite). There was a specific brand of American postmodernism that posited this end of all values, critique and the striving for transformation (as you know, this was a particularly strong current in Art vis-a-vis commodity and commodification etc). My position has never, even for a moment abandoned the transformative agenda, nor the need for relentless struggle. And therefore, my comment to Anuj (which you have cited) was just this: how do we recuperate that transformative, political moment in the event of the crisis of modernism and the modernist Left? This is still a question and I have personally taken a decision to continue to take positions (sometimes strong positions); even to continue to see myself as a Leftist of some sort, though I disavow the modernist project.

    • Rajesh permalink
      April 11, 2011 3:41 PM

      Apologies if you have already read it, but a good piece about Annasaheb in his home turf is Mukul Sharma’s `The Making of Moral Authority: Anna Hazare and Watershed Management Programme in Ralegan Sidhi’; EPW, May 20, 2006.

  24. April 11, 2011 12:04 PM

    Let us remember that all these middle classes and youth were not just
    blindly parroting Anna Hasare’s demand and following him that way.Of
    course, there can be conflicting interests and priorities once a
    loudly expressed desire for change is set in motion.
    The dynamic of change is not so much in just understanding or even
    articulating the agenda, but in consciously leading the multifaceted
    agencies of change & carrying forward the revolutionary content. Even
    the very demand raised by the Gandhian (which is about urgently
    constituting a committee to put in place Lokpal system to preempt
    corruption in public office) pales into oblivion with large
    mobilization of people’s energy against corruption.
    Radical forces should indeed get mobilized to create even mightier
    constituencies of popular support; but this could best be done only by
    organizing beyond an agenda of direct engagement with the state power,
    and that too with a minuscule section of population to wage the entire
    It may be only by partaking in such kind of mobilization that issues
    affecting the people could be brought in sharper focus.
    While the typical binary of Gandhian non violence vs Communist
    violence (as often invoked by the poplar media and the liberal section
    of the intelligentsia) could well be rejected, going further will
    necessarily imply a shift in focus from personalities to the issues.
    (This a slightly modified version of my comment put in a related
    debate elsewhere.).
    Gandhism is understood by many people in many ways..some talk of real
    and fake Gandhian/Gandhism..But Ambedkar had near lifelong engagement
    with the real one!

    In the above youtube link , among other things, Ambedkar points out to
    his foreign interviewers that Gandhi often spoke in double tongue.
    While in the Harijan (English journal run by Gandhi) he wrote as a
    leader upholding the values of democracy, in his Gujarati paper (named
    Deenabandhu or something like that) he spoke openly in support of
    caste and other renegade values.

    Now, the historic fasting by Anna Hazare and the bargain he clinched
    with the UPA II Govt seem to be reminiscent of Gandhian struggles
    with the Britishers. Raising chosen issues and firing the imagination
    of the people, all the while, keeping the moral high ground just for
    having distanced from any political agenda of ultimate choice being
    given to the people.

    • RAJAN permalink
      April 12, 2011 12:34 PM

      Yes the UPA II will benefit by this and Anna seems to be country bumpkin among sophisticated politicians. The UPA II took the Fizz of Anna before he could do greater damage but the damage has been done. The processes of democracy need to be short circuited for those who are middle class and upper middle class and those really suffering because of corruption like the Dalits who indulge in manual scavenging and those who languish in Jail or do not get jobs and accommodation because they are dalits and Muslim have no one to fight for them.
      Irom Sharmila is on a hunger strike for ten years none of these so called masses even care about that. What does Anna care of this? Well a lot of half literate technocrats ( Edward Said’s term) will support Anna and Modi blindly when social development has not taken place.

  25. Anirban Bandyopadhyay permalink
    April 11, 2011 12:30 PM

    Very interesting how quite a few responses speaks about individual entitlements to ‘choose’ revolutions. I realize I too was choosing mine, in that I was not choosing Hazare’s. There is therefore a rhetorical marketplace around. This rhetorical marketplace is somehow assumed to be a free space, in that every individual appears to be free to choose his or her revolutions. There are two points to be made here. One, once we implicitly agree on treating idea exchanges as a free marketplace, we must at the same time debate about how free such a space really is. It is easy to understand that neither individuals nor market is an innocent or stable category. The autonomy to choose one’s revolution therefore is subject to several conditions, and conditionalities. Just as a response shows, we could be thinking, for instance, in terms of which revolution ‘works’ within a given framwork of legalitiy and so on.
    Two, I may be wrong, and what I am reading as a marketplace may as well be conceptualized as a commons. But the very fact that there are many ideas about a most desirable commons once again leads us to a paradox. This may be illustrated with instances of citations of Hazare’s remarks in favour of institutions like the ones Thackerey represents. There is a basic disconnect here. We must understand Hazare is not a political phosopher with a very clear and consistenttent ideology. If he was, he would be living us with ten volumes of collected works by now, if not more. In any case those who have, like Gandhi, has time and again said we take congnisance only of his latest position. Now we cannot legitimately expect Hazare to remember every single thing he has uttered in his life, not to say anything about the translation by the journalists. What we are debating here is probably what the ‘hazare revolution’ signifies-does it represent a victory of many people’s struggles by having received media attention or does it represent a dilution of their cause, being reduced to a spectacle, to be consumed by a show-hungry nation of consumers? Frankly, Hazare, for all we know, may not even be thinking in these lines. He may be content with small, concerete, institutional steps towards removal of what he sees as corruption by public servants. In a throwback to old political science jargon, he may be seen as trying to bring some pressure to the government. In that sense we are trying to theorize his actions and its significations from our respective vantage points, and therein lies both the vitality and the limits of our endeavour. I think what is called for at the moment is a cogent therorization of Hazare’s political ideas before we proceed any furter to dissect this ‘revolution’. To what extent did he know what he was doing, in other words, and to what extent were his ideas about his action hijacked? I for one would love to be directed to a study of his ideas.

  26. April 11, 2011 12:37 PM

    “Once Anna said this, the whole press conference was hijacked by pseudo-secular journalists!.”

    Shri Anna Hazare today praised Gujarat Chief Minister for rural development work he has done in Gujarat.
    Speaking in a press conference on Sunday afternoon, Shri Hazare said other states should follow the Chief Ministers of Gujarat and Bihar and should go to the root.
    Hazare said this when he was asked by a journalist that how he would like to react to the support given to him by only two Chief Ministers in India – one from Bihar and other from Gujarat.
    “I have said even before that these two Chief Ministers are working good and other Chief Ministers should also follow them. Other Chief Minister should work like these two Chief Ministers and go to the grass root.”
    Once Anna said this, the whole press conference was hijacked by pseudo-secular journalists. They asked three to four different questions on Narendra Modi, reacting to which Anna again said that Narendra Modi is working well for rural development, and his work should be followed by other states. Reacting to repeated questions by journalists on Modi, Anna said that even Narendra Modi can have some shortcomings, but I am talking about his rural development work.
    Reacting again to raining questions about Narendra Modi, Shri Anna further said that he would give 100% (mark) to Narendra Modi or any other Chief Minister only after he passes Lokpal bill in his state. When Anna was asked about riots, Anna said he doesn’t support any riot.

    • Rajesh permalink
      April 11, 2011 3:35 PM

      Is Annasaheb correct about Modi and rural development? Gujarat undoubtedly has a number of imaginative schemes that support people’s collective action. But corruption and contractor-raj are still rampant. On a recent visit to Gujarat, I found that farmers preferred taking funds from an NGO than working through the Panchayat and NREGA to build water harvesting structures. The latter would mean working through local politicos-cum-contractors, leading to cost-inflation and time over-runs. Maybe Annasaheb gets his views on Modi through the same media that has dubbed Modi an efficient administrator.

  27. Rakesh permalink
    April 11, 2011 1:35 PM

    There is something that troubles me about the way that the Anna Hazare movement is being conceptualised in terms of a momentous event. Shouldn’t we stop and ask ourselves why it is that the government was so eager to accede to this hunger strike, while there have been much more strident efforts for more horrifyingly basic issues of life, homestead and livelihood (I’m thinking of the hunger strikes by the NBA as well as of Irom Sharmila, but there are numerous other examples). Why is a government that has repeatedly proved its ability to simply force feed individuals and therefore stave off the unbearable result of a hunger strike, acceding to this fast even before it has rightly begun? Is it possible that the movement has been so extraordinarily successful because what it does is to reaffirm the current loci of power in its very attempt to counter them? Is this just that literal an example of what Walter Benjamin called law-making violence?

  28. r.k.manocha permalink
    April 11, 2011 1:59 PM

    Kuchh toh hua…naye rastey khulengay..

  29. durgeshwari permalink
    April 11, 2011 2:23 PM

    where is the article ‘Anna Hazare’, Democracy and Politics by Shuddhabrata Sengupta????
    I was reading the article and it just disappeared!

  30. profhughakston permalink
    April 11, 2011 3:41 PM


    Definition of Fascism : a radical, authoritarian nationalist political ideology.

    1.Fascists believe that a nation requires strong leadership, singular collective identity, and the will and ability to commit violence and wage war in order to keep the nation strong.
    <<< One of the proposed Selection committee member: a Nuclear weapons Hawk Abdul kalam

    2. A key element in the creation of fascism was the fusion of agendas of nationalists on the political right with Sorelian syndicalists on the left
    <<< Mixing of the rightwing Swami Ramdev and leftwing Swami Agnivesh.

    3. Benito Mussolini stated in 1922, "For us the nation is not just territory but something spiritual… A nation is great when it translates into reality the force of its spirit”
    <<< The dominating presence of Bharath matha imagery at Hazare’s fast.

    4.Fascists spoke of creating a "new man" and a "new civilization" as part of their intention to transform society. Hitler promised a “social revolution” for “remaking” the German people.
    <<< All those rants about “Second Independence” for India

  31. profhughakston permalink
    April 11, 2011 3:43 PM


    What Anna Hazare is trying to achieve with his protest is, in the long run, very harmful for the country. Protesting against corruption in itself is, of course, not wrong and should even be encouraged, but what Hazare is trying to do is influence the working of a democratically-elected government and the due process of law-making by what is essentially blackmail.

    The constitution of this country clearly lays down a number of safeguards, processes and institutions that are designed to deal with all these issues. If someone has a problem with corruption, report politicians to the police. File a PIL. Or better still, don’t elect them! Sharad Pawar seems to be the target of this particular protest, and if the people are so aghast by his behaviour, don’t elect him the next time.

    Violating the due process to achieve a goal — and this is admittedly a noble goal — is adding to the problem. It sows the seeds of anarchy. This is trial by the media and trial by a kangaroo court. Who are Anna Hazare or his followers to decide what should or should not be included in the Lokpal Bill? Leave it to Parliament. That’s what you elected them for.

    Many have brought up the example of popular movements in the Middle East that are currently in vogue. Everyone forgets one major fact. All those governments were autocratic. This is not Gandhi versus the British. There is no enemy. Our government is our government. We put them there, and often enough have booted them out every five years if we don’t like them.

    Allowing extra-constitutional measures to be used to influence the process of lawmaking sets a dangerous precedent. Today, it’s taking on corruption. How do we know that tomorrow it won’t be used to push some other majority agenda (and one shudders to think of the kind of majority agendas Indians have come up with — Babri Masjid being a case in point).

    India’s main strength lies in it’s ability to have maintained democracy for 60 odd years while all others who became independent around the same time have failed. The wellspring of the Indian democracy has been the strength of it’s Constitution and institutions. These are above all issues and above all people. They’re not perfect by any means but need to be upheld to ensure that every issue goes through the same due process. That is democracy.

    If Anna Hazare has a problem, and does not want to use the courts, then let him deal with it in the ultimate manifestation of public opinion — the ballot box.

    (KARAN Bedi in Times of India)

  32. profhughakston permalink
    April 11, 2011 3:47 PM

    Suppose tomorrow there is a terrorist attack in India like 26/11.

    This time some hugely popular big politician/industrialist/actor/sportsperson dies.Say, BigB or Rajnikanth or Ratan Tata dies.

    Terrorism is one issue which can unite young educated middle-class India faster than corruption.During Kargil the whole India, including scamsters came together. Its not that these corrupt people had suddenly developed a love for India.Actually, it was our hate for Pakistan. Hate is a stronger, quicker adhesive than love.

    This time Swami Ramdev goes on fast. He will withdraw his fast only when India attacks Pakistan.

    In Indian media there are enough rabble-rousers. After 26/11 the editor of TOI Mumbai wrote an open letter to PM, telling him to “behave like a real Sardar” etc.( On Saturday. the headline of TOI was “India Wins Again”. If India wins, who loses? The govt.? But we elected this govt. in 2009. Isn’t this a case of my right hand fighting my left hand?)

    In the age of 24X7 media, news of Ramdev’s fast will spread like wildfire. Thanks to facebook and twitter, in one hour Ramdev will have thousands of supporters. In one day, lacs. In one week millions and in one month crores. The whole bunch of hindu fundus- Shiv Sena, RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal will throw there weight behind him.

    Then what?

  33. profhughakston permalink
    April 11, 2011 3:49 PM


    The nation is energized about Anna Hazare’s fast at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. Many people are uniting in support of the cause, and many are expressing opposite views also. But no party is raising a fundamental question. What is the necessity of post or institution called Lokpal? The question can be debated on two levels. First, there is no guarantee that corruption at the top echelons of government will decrease by the appointment of Lokpal. The appointment of Lokayuktas at state levels indicates to the same. But this is minor or superficial level. The main question lies much deeper. Why should there be any need of institutions like Lokayuktas or Lokpals? Whosoever is corrupt should be punished legally. There are laws to prevent corruption. The laws should be applied properly. The responsibility for judging corruption lies with the judicial system. The administration’s responsibility is to investigate and collect necessary evidence for the trial. If the administration doesn’t perform its duty properly, then the judicial system takes the responsibility to get the task done properly. But the crux is, everyone performs the duty which is delegated to him.

    Herein lays the logical and fundamental irrelevance of posts like Lokpal or Lokayukta. Why should any other institution carry out the duty of the court? The court itself should get active to implement the prevailing anti-corruption laws to prevent corruption at the top levels of government. The judiciary can recommend creation of stringent laws if necessary. But it is meaningless to create a parallel judicial system for that purpose. That is why in matured democracies of developed countries this kind of parallel institution is a rarity. Two different judicial systems create unnecessary confusion, which can invite major complications in the judicial process. Simultaneously, it is harmful to the dignity of the court. In our country the tendency to create multiple posts or institutions for a single purpose is ancient, well-known, and practically omnipresent. This is a bad habit of Indian society and government. This habit leads to obesity of the government. Accumulation of excess fat is not an indicator of good health. Neither for a person, nor for a country.

    But this is just one side of the story. The other side is also important. The presence of a separate judicial system for trial of corruption of high-ranking government officials violates one of the major fundamental rights of democracy. The right that all citizens are equal in eyes of law. This equality is often-repeated, but in practice often-violated. One of the reasons for violation is of course inherent discrimination in ancient society, which becomes visible in the behavior of police station to different levels of court. But the discrimination is not only in behavior, but in fundamental system, the framework of the system, and the rules for creation of the framework. If everyone is equal in the eyes of law, then why the corruption cases of government officials can’t be tried in the court where the aam aadmi is being tried? Those involved in the movement for methodology for appointment of Lokpal and its legal complexities are not even raising this fundamental question. This indicates, this society is still incapable of understanding the nature of government of a mature, modern democracy. Indian democracy has a long way to go.

  34. BinuK permalink
    April 11, 2011 4:42 PM

    Alain Badiou: You need to be the students of these movements, and not their stupid professors. :)

  35. Asit permalink
    April 11, 2011 5:31 PM

    i have a simple question for everyone
    what is the difference between a spectacle and a genuine mass movement

  36. Ammu Abraham permalink
    April 11, 2011 7:12 PM

    “It is interesting that Shuddha and Bobby Kunhu posit this movement as one that is directed against democracy”
    Surely, they must have meant Parliamentary Democracy of the type we have. The group around Anna Hazare, include those who have for long felt that India should have a Presidential form, like the U.S. They want the Prime Minister to be brought under the purview of the JLP Bill, but not the Prez. Without commenting on the current and past people wh have occupied these positions, one should take a look at the rest of South Asia to fear such an outcome. A two party system, and an ’empowered’ President is what some folk are looking to as the answer to the electoral ‘draw’, which is but the reflection of a polity seriously fractured since the latter part of the 1980s.
    The JLP Bill and the ‘movement’ around it does not bear parallel to the struggle for land or forest rights or anti-communal activity. Of the last, one hardly sees anything, despite Anna Hazare’s reassurance that he is not for communal disharmony. Indeed he is not known to be active on issues like struggle against casteism and communalism. He would not see these as corruption and something far more debilitating to the moral fibre of the polity.
    That is not to say that we should all not debate on the clauses of the bill.

  37. aditya lalith permalink
    April 11, 2011 7:16 PM

    Should the success of Anna Hazares fast be interpreted as the Rise of Fascism in India and Ring alarm bells for Democracy.

    First the wikipedias definition of Fascism : is a radical, authoritarian nationalist political ideology.

    Wiki: Fascists believe that a nation requires strong leadership, singular collective identity, and the will and ability to commit violence and wage war in order to keep the nation strong.
    <<< One of the proposed Selection committee member: a Nuclear weapons Hawk Abdul kalam

    Wiki: A key element in the creation of fascism was the fusion of agendas of nationalists on the political right with Sorelian syndicalists on the left
    <<< Mixing of the rightwing RamdevBaba and leftwing Swami Agnivesh.
    Wiki : Benito Mussolini stated in 1922, "For us the nation is not just territory but something spiritual… A nation is great when it translates into reality the force of its spirit”
    <<< The dominating presence of Bharath matha imagery at Hazare’s fast.

    Wiki: Fascists spoke of creating a "new man" and a "new civilization" as part of their intention to transform society.[142] Mussolini promised a “social revolution” for “remaking” the Italian people.
    <<< All those rants about “Second Independence” for India

  38. aditya lalith permalink
    April 11, 2011 7:27 PM

    I donno about North but here in AP we had scores of news channels actually Organizing candle light vigils and rallies , Their banners had some catchy phrases , trademarks of their TV channels were Extra.

  39. Suhasini permalink
    April 11, 2011 9:45 PM

    lovely! feel like a proud Indian trying to exist in a “democratic” set up for real. India feels like a “democracy” and I feel PART of it.

  40. ISHWAR DOST permalink
    April 11, 2011 10:20 PM

    Adityada, thanks for a superb post and also for ensuing rich comments not always in the favour of your arguments. Based on above discussions, some questions:
    1. If a movement articulates limited, partial, inadequate aspirations, demands, then should it be condemned? (e.g. all single-issue based movements, local, regional movements and movements not aimed at complete overhaul or radical change.) > Should our critique always based on Universalist and Total position?
    2. To what extent should we take the side of State? (Especially, when neo-liberalism had become the logic of state itself (and not only of some parties))
    3. Are civil society initiatives and agitations outside of democracy/ against democracy? Is representative democracy confined to election? Is there democracy beyond elections? (Public spheres, associations, trade unions, mass agitations—even in their degraded forms).
    4. Those who are talking about accountability, elected representatives, etc.; how do they see the phenomena of the separation of political and economic power, the separation between legislative and executive?
    5. Is one partial movement is always against other partial movements (e.g. jaitapur, human rights, etc)? Or is there need of connecting all the movements gradually?
    6. Some commentators raised the question of ideological content of the movement, are they approving the form (civil society, coercive fast, etc.) of the movement? Question of content of politics is important. But should we not confront the question that why left is being unable to generate middle class spontaneity? (Despite the fact that a sizable middle class is still part of TUs and other mass organisations of left) Why left is being seen only either supporting or opposing movements aimed at institutional reform?
    Last set of questions is important. I genuinely wish that left/progressive forces lead the movements of structural or radical reform. (If reform is not bad word for them)

  41. April 11, 2011 10:49 PM

    Dear Aditya,

    My friend Anoop Kumar said today on facebook : “Many people are shocked with Anna Hazare’s so blatant leaning with hindutva-vadis and right wingers. But for many of us this is not at all surprise. We would have been mighty surprised if without such leanings he would have got so much media coverage and epithet like ‘Gandhi’ and media not ridiculing him for calling his own agitation as ‘second freedom struggle’

    I guess that is one of the “pulses” of this revolution that some of us sensed earlier than Mallika Sarabhai or Shabana Azmi did.

    And another important thing was the caste angle (it was mentioned clearly in Bobby’s article), which you have completely left out in your response: By arguing that Nobel prize and Magsaysay awards be made qualifications of those who should draft the law against corruption. This echoed the Youth For Equality line, an easy way to exclude a large section of people and their feelings.

    You said it right: “The current movement, to me, is only a sign of the fact that there is no faith any longer in any of the institutions of parliamentary democracy among large sectors of the Indian population.

    Anna elaborates it, leaving no space for doubt: “Ordinary voter does not have awareness. They cast their vote under the influence of Rs 100 or a bottle of liquor or a sari offered by candidates. They don’t understand the value of their vote.” [Report from today’s Indian Express]. Precisely the reason why me, Bobby, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Shuddha and many others felt this is a subversion of the democratic process.

    You add that “Mass movements throw up their own leadership, and sometimes the pulse of the masses is sensed by a charismatic leader.

    In fact to sense this pulse, we don’t even need a ‘charismatic leader’. You start a movement to gun down (or hang) Raja, Lalu, Kalmadi and all ‘those’ corrupt politicians, you will find huge support from all these people as well as the media. (‘Rang De Basanti’ had capitalized on this self-righteousness of the caste-Hindu middle class in India. Our rulers also loved that film very much. It was considered patriotism, revolution.) They will continue to remain corrupt — the middle class as well as the media, the caste-class nexus will continue and their mutual favours will be considered normal, the Chidambaram kind or Kapil Sibal or Manmohan or Ambani kind of corruptions will never even be called corruption.

    • Aditya Nigam permalink*
      April 12, 2011 1:58 PM

      Thanks Sudeep. I think you have raised some very significant questions. My difficulty at the time of writing was to limit the ambit of issues to just a few questions about how we might possibly read the mass support which the movement has received. And here I insist that it was not just a handful of people – the issue struck a deep chord among very large number of people – most of whom may not even have come to demonstrate their support. As you would have noticed, I have put ‘Anna Hazare’ in quotes in my post, because I was not really concerned at the point in looking at Anna Hazare the person but rather the sign around which, at a particular moment, a certain sentiment got articulated. I have long heard tales of Hazare’s style and his method from friends like Mukul (see Mukul’s post today) who have worked on him. Beyond a point, that becomes less important to me – especially when a mass sentiment starts getting articulated around the persona. One can recall Shahid Amin’s study of Chauri Chaura where apparently some of the accused testified that ‘Gandhi baba’ exhorted them to take to arms! Gandhi baba, of course, was too embarrassed and withdrew the non-cooperation movement after his followers burnt down the police station.

      I am also in agreement with you and Anoop about the use of Hindu symbols – which as Mukul points out, can often be brahmanical and caste-marked. And if it leans towards Hindutva, it becomes doubly problematic. But here I am only concerned with the way the argument of democracy and elected representation completely ignores how much the Modis and other Hindutvavaadis are stamped by the legitimacy of being elected, people’s representatives. And, just to take my argument one step forward, which political party is free of having at some point of time or the other legitimized or made common cause with the Hindu Right. Even the Left parties have had coordinated action in and out of parliament. Mayawati has had full fledged alliances with the BJP while many other OBC or regional parties have been part of the NDA for a long while. I need not recount all that. Now, two wrongs certainly do not make one right, but we can’t have different standards for judging the comprises and often behind-the-scenes deals that political parties make and for non-party movements (you will also note that not once have I used the term ‘civil society’ here for these movements). But yes, they do represent an active citizenry rallying around a charismatic leader, however, problematic that may be.

      The second issue that you have raised – and which I did not respond to in Bobby’s post – is that of the caste angle. Yes, the caste composition of parliament and the legislatures has changed radically over the last two decades – and clearly this is a sign of the democratization that the electoral system has led to. I have no disagreement up to this point. But surely you will agree that while this was new and important in the 1990s when the transformation was taking place, the story does not end there. Must we not also ask why, precisely in this period of democratization (and I mean it) there has also been the most vicious and predatory attack on people’s livelihoods, both in the cities and the villages? Must we not ask why the democratization at the caste level has also fallen in line with the neo-liberal programme of mass dispossession, SEZs, expulsion of the poor from cities and so on? Must we not ask why, at this level, all parties and chief ministers begin to talk the same language and implement the same polices? After all this was one of the key questions at the heart of the Maoism debate. So, are we going to freeze history in the 1990s? If not, questions of class and property will have to now come up alongside those of caste. Certainly, that does not exempt the ‘Anna Hazare’ movement from its blindness to other larger issues and that is precisely the kind of criticism being raised by many of its allies.

      Now, to the question of Anna Hazare’s contempt for the voter. My own submission is that he is stupid enough to say it. Most political parties (with the possible exception of the Left but now even that is becoming suspect) actually believe and act upon this dictum. They are just smart not to say such politically incorrect things.

      Finally, a point about Bobby’s citing Bipan Chandra on the JP movement. I am sure Bobby remembers that Bipan belonged to the CPI-Congress brand of intellectuals who, blessed by the Soviet Union in those days were bent on proving that the JP movement was fascist – and that this eventually landed these worthies in the lap of the Congress, supporting the Emergency. Then, as now, the space in the JP movement was yielded to the Right (RSS affiliates), because the Left was busy trying to preserve its purity. Then, as now, the Jan Sangh/ BJP took no time in moving in to support the movement. Movements like these do not have any essential character; rather their character depends upon its political composition. If the Left and radical forces leave the field open for the Right, then they only have themselves to blame.

      • April 14, 2011 11:46 AM

        Dear Aditya,

        I think this part needs a reply: “..Must we not also ask why, precisely in this period of democratization (and I mean it) there has also been the most vicious and predatory attack on people’s livelihoods, both in the cities and the villages? Must we not ask why the democratization at the caste level has also fallen in line with the neo-liberal programme of mass dispossession, SEZs, expulsion of the poor from cities and so on? Must we not ask why, at this level, all parties and chief ministers begin to talk the same language and implement the same polices? After all this was one of the key questions at the heart of the Maoism debate. So, are we going to freeze history in the 1990s? If not, questions of class and property will have to now come up alongside those of caste.”

        Thanks for admitting that one has to ask questions about caste ‘also’ — I find it a positive sign, after completely leaving out the caste angle in your article.

        One of the states where this mass dispossession and mass killings in the names of SEZs etc have happened the most was West Bengal, a state ruled by people who talk this ‘class’ ideology. The states ruled by the ‘lower caste’ leaders, in particular UP, Bihar and even Tamil Nadu, were much better off. That itself tells you that history has not stood still since 90s.

        About Anna Hazare’s contempt of voters, you say “Most political parties (with the possible exception of the Left but now even that is becoming suspect) actually believe and act upon this dictum. ” I don’t know why you say this. The parties come to power with votes from the people. What parties try for is to gain support of people. Anna said he would not get even the security money back if he contests elections — that would tell us something about the ‘huge mass support’ you attribute to him. Parties don’t run on an attitude that “we will surely lose badly if we contest elections”, with the exception of a couple of leaders like Manmohan Singh.

        • Aditya Nigam permalink*
          April 14, 2011 8:27 PM

          Well, Sudeep, you choose to read this, typically as my ‘having left out’ ‘the caste angle’, and now, it seems, you have ‘corrected’ me! If that gives you satisfaction, so be it. I maintain, however that the caste angle was not relevant to my post. I was mainly responding to Shuddha on the question of the formal domain of politics and brought in Bobby’s piece (and Pratap’s) to underline one point of commonality. But you can have your satisfaction, I wont arguer further on this.

          I do find it interesting that most of those who want to talk about ‘caste’ do not want to ask any further questions about it. From Narendra Modi – another backward caste leader to a whole range of others whom Kancha Ilaiah calls the foot-soldiers of Hindutva; from direct and indirect alliances with BJP – even during the Gujarat massacres to campaigning for Modi; from their complete surrender to neo-liberalism – apparently nothing of all this matters. What matters is celebration of the ‘democratic revolution’. Thanks if I do not find it a tad better than Anna Hazare (the person) himself.

  42. anand permalink
    April 12, 2011 1:23 AM


    We need to induct people from all walks of life to have a say , in policy making of India.Atleast 300 parliamentarians should be nominated by their parent body who should not be affiliated to any political party – like Teachers, Professors from educational institutes, Universities, journalists from media , Indian Defence forces, Scientists,
    Judges, businessmen , Farmers, labours etc for fixed tenures. It is very important not to leave Business of Running & Manageing India to greedy , spineless foolheads any further. But Current crop of Politicians cutting across all parties would not allow this kind of Constitutional amendment.

    Hence if required float a political party to achieve induction of people of spotless integrity in parliament. I can see Anna, if you launch a political party , geniune people will step out voluntarily and together they will get unprecedented public support ,even overshadowing Congress win with Rajiv Gandhi after death of Mrs Indira Gandhi. And there should be no doubt that even the first timers with clear concious will be able to Run the country in spectacular way 1000 times better than todays (Mis) Leaders.

  43. Manash permalink
    April 12, 2011 12:04 PM

    I think Aditya has it right when he points out Suddha having erred on the side of optimism regarding electoral changes, etc and also his apparent dismissal of the possibilities of a any kind of mass movement unregulated by the political structure but emerging, in a way, from within, with some kind of a leadership from various sources. And Aditya isn’t saying he thinks these movements might result in something progressive or extraordinary but we should not rule them out by having a conspiracy theory. Though generally speaking, this argument sounds fine, but from the write-ups and news pouring out on Hazare, for example, the optimisms already sound bleak. In fact, the picture doesn’t seem to be gratifying. If one reads the conglomeration of diverse symbols used in the protest, from a Bharat Mata over the Indian flag to Gandhi and Bhagat Singh turned into a mix of non-violence and aggression, it appears that Hazare’s inclusive ideological programme is as diverse as any typical nationalist project. Also, I was wondering if one more aspect needs to be seriously looked into: from being a regional figure fighting corruption, Anna has suddenly gained a national character. Often, in such cases, a detailed study of the regional case will illuminate what the movement has to offer. Mukul’s piece gives us a good indication of things we can expect. It is hard to imagine, the larger character will change some of the fundamental views of the movement and its leader. Those who aren’t totally cynical about Anna, despite having similar reservations about him the way his opponents have, are willing to see and understand the movement as one throwing up new (democratic) possibilities of engaging the state. The de-centring of Anna, that way, might be a good idea. Having witnessed many violent dead-ends of the options of struggle, maybe Anna shouldn’t be dismissed as a phenomenon, even if he isn’t everybody’s figure of choice.

  44. scharada dubey permalink
    April 12, 2011 8:30 PM

    If elections and elected representatives were the only means of safeguarding democracy, then we would be facing bleak times indeed. Why do Shuddhabrata, Bobby Kunhu, Prof. Mehta and the rest find the present situation so threatening to the electoral process and such a ‘coercion’ of democracy? Such a position seems to suggest that we, as ordinary citizens, actually die between one election and the next, when we again have a chance to speak with our vote. The spirit of democracy should be much more pervasive than mere elections or electioneering. Questioning institutions that may have become life-threatening for vast sections of our people (and some would say the criminal waste of public money in the CWG, 2G and other such scams is indeed life-threatening) is an important part of engaging with the polity of this country, and all citizens have the right to do so, whether they are tribals protesting land acquisition for SEZs, or Tweeting marchers in candle marches expressing solidarity for Hazare.
    I think we have become enmeshed in a debate about the political correctness of Anna Hazare and that of his sympathizers on the streets without focusing on any of the real worries around all the recent protests in our country.
    When Jat community leaders blocked rail traffic to the capital for days, why didn’t elected representatives condemn such methods as coercion, (or indeed neither did any of our above mentioned friends) if it wasn’t a craven pandering to what is after all, a ‘vote bank’?
    When there was a vacuum created by the decline of the trade unions and student leadership in the mid 80s, totalitarian forces rushed in with their model of patriotism and we had to suffer the ‘movement’ for a Ram temple with all its horrific implications. In today’s open-ended protests, isn’t the presence of fashionistas and celebrities, the baba log and the urban housewife, an insurance against the semi-religious fascism that Hazare is being accused of practising in Ralegaon?
    When we begin to make simplistic equations like Anna Hazare loves Narendra Modi, are we in fact missing out on the simple fact that today’s crowds actually didn’t even know who Anna Hazare was till a few days ago, and probably won’t know that much about him tomorrow either (unlike the conscious and self-aware souls on kafila!). They just needed a rallying point. That he could provide them one between the World Cup and IPL shows that the issues this agitation brought to the fore are more important for people than the man who brings them up.
    And lastly, why has the Jan Lokpal become such a bogey for us, articulate citizens, when there are bound to be many steps in its drafting and final passing in Parliament where we can make our interventions through our ‘elected representatives’!

  45. rohit negi permalink
    April 12, 2011 11:58 PM

    If I may, let’s take Anna’s comments on Modi seriously for a minute. Modi represents, quite frankly, the worst of parliamentary democracy. Why then does someone like Anna, who if nothing else is well-schooled in Gandhian politics (and we can critique Gandhi on a number of points, but seeking ‘communal harmony’ is something he took very seriously), speak admiringly of Modi?

    I think this needs to be looked at through the problematic of ‘development’. In a way, the Indian postcolonial state is fundamentally configured around the question of development; ethnographically speaking this is a concept that has much traction on the ground. In fact, it is what mediates the relations between the political society and the state (during the course of interviews recently in a Delhi slum, a woman said to me ‘I’ve given my applications for BPL, Viklang and Laachar but have received nothing from the govt. How is one to survive?’ That she speaks of herself as laachar in order to position her in a certain way with respect to the state is awfully revealing).

    But, and even though our state is composed around it, development is seen as something outside of politics, which then allows for statements like these: ‘I know Modi killed many Muslims, but look at all the development in Gujarat!’ I feel this is what happens with Anna here.
    Incidentally, this is one of the things at the root of the Left’s predicament in West Bengal: ‘where is the development?’ A large Left-ruled state like WB should ideally be a model for all others in terms of education, health, transport etc. Instead, Modi’s Gujarat takes that spot in popular imaginaries.

  46. Naqshab permalink
    April 13, 2011 10:50 AM

    It is nothing but a bloody hypocracy of the Indian corporate media that by mobilising the public opinion and manuplating people to relly for support Anna Hazare, they pretend “civilised” and “being responsible”…!! If this country is really sensitive to the non violent means, various expressions of protest and voices of dissent …..say fasting; Irom Sharmilla has been fasting in manipur from past 10 years, no body seems to give it a shirt….. Is it because she wants to save human lives by asking the rogue police state called India, to repeal the draconian law called “Armed Forces Special Powers Act” (AFSPA). Or is it because for common Indians consider saving of Lakshimi (money) a sacred job than protecting human life…..!! India is a country of contradiction and hypocracy…

  47. Gyan Prakash permalink
    April 13, 2011 12:05 PM

    @Aditya. I think Shahid Amin’s portrait of Chauri Chaura is not quite the relevant example here. Perhaps the Laclau-Zizek debate on Populism is? That discussion throws up issues of the populist celebration of a homogenous “people” rather than a differentiated social body, the idea of the Leader, the notion of direct action (because the constitutional protocols are rigged against the people), etc. Many of these features were visible in Bal Thackeray’s Sena in the 1960s, which positioned itself as non-political, and concerned only to defend the general interest of the “people” (Marathi manoos). It too had a charismatic leader, a distrust in constitutional procedures and faith in direct action.

    • Aditya Nigam permalink*
      April 13, 2011 9:33 PM

      Thanks Gyan for bringing in this reference and the example of Shiv Sena. But my point is also that unlike Shiv Sena that is/was pretty much an ideologically controlled movement (at the apex, decision making etc), here it is not. There is a nebulous quality and the sign called ‘Anna Hazare’ was being read by different people very differently, investing a lot in him – coming very close, if for a brief while, to Laclau’s ’empty signifier’. To that extent, Laclau’s populism stuff is relevant I suppose.

  48. V Krishna Ananth permalink
    April 14, 2011 7:47 PM

    Loved reading the post. Aditya raises a few important questions.

  49. Shishir Jha permalink
    April 16, 2011 2:06 PM

    I’d like to thank Aditya for the article. In particular raising the following very pertinent point: “I am interested in something else here and that has to do with the way the movement has struck a chord among unprecedentedly large numbers of people – mainly middle class people I am sure, but the support for it is not just confined to them.” This, I think, is the real question which I think has not been too satisfactorily addressed in the subsequent discussion.

    Before my two bit on this, I think one should also state, contrary to the cooptation of Anna Hazare theory by the Congress, that the latter gave in precisely because the anti-corruption groundswell could have negatively effected
    the prospects of Congress in state elections. So it was indeed excellent timing.

    Could it be that the loose category called the “middle class” accused of many misdemeanors, many of which are true, is actually beginning to positively reel under the weight of a very ‘corrupt regime’ and this in, a complex way, is also related to the numerous other issues for which sections of ‘civil/democratic’ society is constantly struggling against? Instead of necessarily dismissing this reaction as severely constrained within the neo-liberal logic, it perhaps behooves on the left and democratic forces to begin to articulate the deeper potential ties between the ‘corruption’ for apparently correcting the ‘market’ and the corruption that brutally sustains the market.

    If we keep missing these opportunities then I agree with Aditya, when he says: “If the Left and radical forces leave the field open for the Right, then they only have themselves to blame.”

  50. Manash permalink
    April 19, 2011 1:27 AM

    An Important Question:

    Everyone who posts in Kafila replies back to questions and responses. Of course not all the time, to evrybody, but to those they feel stimulated or provoked enough to engage with. But what is it about Mr. Shuddhabrata that one never finds him replying back to responses and questions which are asked back at him?! This has not only happened recently but also earlier. Does he mean to say others have more time and he, being a political activist with increasing “fan following” perhaps, less time to respond to those to respond to him? What kind of an attitude is this?

    I raise the question here, as Shuddha’s post is already filled with a record breaking number of praises and criticisms. I have no desire to add to that clutter, having already enthusiastically done so once already!

    I thought my friend Sunalini’s response, despite my own personal disagreements, warranted a reply, and Aditya wrote a whole new post to raise certain questions regarding Shuddha’s stand. But Shuddha has not found time or reason to respond to any of these questions including of course those by numerous others. Is it some kind of diva-ism? Does he think he’s “arrived”?! My propensity to construe answers is directly proportional to this strange absence, this unacceptable silence on the part of Shuddha. If he has no time to respond he should write in magazines and newspapers and not on Kafila. Because readers in Kafila write to engage because that’s what the space is about. I guess he’s forgotten it.

    To write provocatively and have a sharp political stand is a good thing. But it doesn’t always involve analytical and other skills. One learns one’s limitations from others. But in this case, the others seem not to exist to the writer. If this is the attitude, I guess lot of people have to say good-bye to Shuddha’s posts.

  51. nirmalya permalink
    April 24, 2011 8:21 PM

    I submit that the Lokpal is actually a good idea, if it is not made into a permanent fixture but dissolved after an appropriately long period. This is because to successfully fight corruption, you need to change the norms of the society. And this institution can, through setting precedents, strongly influence these norms. However if not dissolved eventually, the institution suffers the risk of being corrupted and becoming counter-productive.

    Elaboration on this theme here:

  52. unnimaya permalink
    August 14, 2011 2:24 AM

    you are doing a good thing.WE ALL ARE WITH YOU……….

  53. Atul permalink
    August 23, 2011 2:19 AM

    This is a Civil Movement that even the World is closely watching. We must be careful not let these disgusting Politicians think they can get away with it. They have sucked the blood of the Nation for years. Time to take this Movement to its logical conclusion and get Anna’s Lokpal Bill sanctioned. We must NOT let up the pressure on these Jokers. But it was heartening to see some Congress guys come out in Mumbai insupport of this Bill. Great !

  54. August 23, 2011 11:29 AM

    A super watchdog of democracy and a politician of the politicians is performing his Fundamental duties.What none of the licensed watchdogs could do since last 65 years, Anna Hazare did. The most effective ways to strengthen the media’s contribution to democracy, and to maintain an ideal relationship between media and society, is to let people access proper information. Which is also essential to the health of democracy. This is done by investigative journalism which refers to forms of activist journalism aimed at holding accountable public personalities and institutions whose functions impact social and political life. Investigative journalism ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation and also serves information as a “checking function” by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them. But even after 62 years of formation of Representative democracy in India, since 1950, India’s mass media has failed to achieve it, even to a reasonable standard.

    But today, Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption has taken him to such a standard that fights to the corridors of power and challenges the government at the highest level. People, the common man and well known personalities alike, are supporting him in the hundreds swelling to the thousands all over India.

    After a freedom struggle of about 90 years, we have achieved Independence in 1947 and then India has formed a representative democracy. Accordingly, India has enacted its constitution by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949, a constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organisation is governed. India’s Constitution came into effect on 26 January 1950. The preamble to the constitution of India reads, “we, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and …”. Where, a “republic” is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, retain supreme control over the government and a “representative democracy” is a form of government founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people i.e. a government in which all eligible people have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.

    However, though it is the duty of media to monitor a government and ensure that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation and also to serve information as a “checking function” by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them, unfortunately such is not the ideal fact noticeable in India even after 65 years of Independence. Due to illiteracy, poverty and population most citizens of India casts their votes out of ignorance and misinformation and also fails to ensure that the representatives elected by them uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them.

    Fortunately, India is now blessed to have Anna Hazare as one of India’s well acclaimed social activists, and a former soldier in the Indian army, who fights Indian anti-corruption movement, using nonviolent methods following the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. The whole India has to learn from Him.

  55. August 26, 2011 5:17 AM

    It is said that Jan Lokpal Bill is a tin chest to keep the key of legal systems and administrative structures safely. But our doubt is very obvious. If the envisaged bill is passed where we will keep the key of that Jan Lokpal? Alas, our legislature, executive and judiciary will remain the custodians of the key. Then again we can start another epoch of struggle for ‘Mahajan Lokpal Bill’.


  1. Concerns about the Anna Hazare movement – a case for humility | Kanishkanarayan's Blog
  2. The polarizing figure of Anna Hazare | Rohit Negi | ScarletGuju
  3. The Anna Hazare show « Asian Window
  4. The Polarizing Figure of Anna Hazare « बरगद… Bargad…
  5. Gandhi-Ambedkar-Hazare: Politics and the Grammar of Anarchy « Chasing Fat Tails
  6. Articles on Anna Hazare’s Campaign by Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Bobby Kunhu Aditya Nigam | Today's Hot

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