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If only there were no people, democracy would be fine…

August 22, 2011

This post has been jointly written by Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam

At Ramlila Maidan

We went to Ramlila Maidan yesterday, the four of “us” considerably swelling the numbers of about a lakh and a half of people there by 6.30 pm, when we left. They were either sitting inside, milling about outside all around its walls, or pouring in having walked from India Gate.  (Is the media exaggerating the numbers? In our opinion it is underestimating them considerably).

We got off our car at 5 pm, about half a kilometer away, at the beginning of Asaf Ali Road, and at that point we were at the end of a long orderly line patiently inching along in the sweltering heat. I can assure you from that point onwards, the four of us stood out by our upper class markers the way PLU do in any ordinary part of Delhi, especially Old Delhi. Even just really middle-class people were few and far between, the large majority seemed lower middle class to working class.  Much Vande Mataram all along, and just as we were muttering ‘what happened to the Inquilab’, we reached a section that gladdened our ears with the zindabad to revolution.  Yes, it was a small one, that section. (Do let’s stay away more from these places, that will help.)

When we reached the entrance to the Maidan at the back end, we realized we could stand there forever to get in – there was a mass of people in orderly ranks inside the barricade already, and the top of the line that we had walked past, was entering one by one. We decided to walk around to the main entrance and see if there was a greater possibility of getting in from there, and we circled the Maidan, which practically shares a wall with a masjid, the roof of which was lined with people looking down.

As we turned the corner, the crowd started growing, more groups of people shouting Vande Mataram, more flags, and we gradually reached first, the media entrance (which is also the exit from the maidan) and then another entrance through which some people were entering. We realized later that that entrance had probably been kept for those coming from India Gate, for by the time we left, there was an endless line outside that one too.

Inside, just people, people, people. No hysteria, no major flag waving, though many were holding flags; much of the performance you see on TV is done especially for the cameras. Away from all of that, people were just seated fairly quietly and listening to incendiary speeches like Pata hai aap ko, hamare mulazim, in mantriyon  ki tankhwah kya hai? Ek lakh rupaye mahine.  Kya hamein yeh haq nahin hai ki hum unse hisab mange? (Do you know what salary these employees of ours, these ministers, get? One lakh rupees a month. Don’t we have the right to ask them for accounts?).

That amount – One hundred thousand rupees – seemed so huge and unimaginable when we looked around at the kind of people sitting there…

We could just about barely see the huge Gandhi backdrop over the sea of heads, but never actually reached a point where we could see the stage itself, because towards the front, many were standing.  As we slowly pushed our way through a yielding wall of people to the front, which we never reached, because we gave up and turned back, not once did we feel unsafe or threatened (two of us were women), and the wall was never solid, but yielding and swaying to let people go up front, and to turn back.

Suddenly, we heard the strains of jaago mohan pyaare jaago and thought oh-oh… How happy our friends will be. (Because most of them are waiting with bated breath, with great hope, for our self-fulfilling prophecy to come true, for the movement go the Hindu right way.) Then we thought, but iftar was also celebrated here yesterday, so surely…And then we heard the words  of that well-known bhajan to Krishna, only they were jaago manmohan pyaare jaago – it was a prayer to our PM to wake up and listen to the people.  The audience also sang Raghupati Ragahava Rajaram, led from the stage, and as enthusiastically responded to the cry of Inquilab from there.

We could imagine our very own Sumangala Damodaran’s IPTA songs going down very well there, and had a brief moment of fantasy about the strains of Jaanewale sipahi se poochho echoing around the maidan. (No, never. Let us proudly stay away. We are proud members of the pure Left, don’t pollute Sumi’s music by making her sing there, to a hundred thousand people –  each and every one of whom must surely be communal and casteist).

In the short period we were there we randomly asked a few people where they were from .  Here’s the list in order of our meeting them:

Arunachal Pradesh Chakma Students’ Union

Farmers from western Uttar Pradesh

People from a village in Sonipat, Haryana

Some men from a madarsa in Nangloi

A whole team of darzis (tailors) from NOIDA

A middle class family (not  upper class English speaking, but sort of middle-middle) from Janakpuri, another from Rohini and another from Shahdara.

That was just a quick survey that took us about 15 minutes.

There were proportionally about as many women as there are in our kinds of protests, by the way, to answer a specific question someone asked us at some point; women of all ages and in all sorts of clothes.

Our friend Rachana Johri sent a mail which said in part:

“So I did go to Ramlila Maidan yesterday. I wasn’t there for very long but will definitely go again, if nothing else to sense the nature of this movement. It immediately struck me as different from the many marches and dharnas I have been too. I was immediately struck by the total absence of familiar people. I actually scanned the crowd to check for any university type and couldn’t find one. It was a Saturday so clearly work was not the reason. People were walking in largely it appeared on their own initiative. (This seemed somewhat altered already by the evening when Ashok and I drove past the maidan again. At that time people were arriving in trucks and I wondered what that meant) Anna was of course quite far away from the crowd. The area had a small partition for women. There were at least 300 women seated inside it. This separate space for women was fairly comforting although it was not mandatory for women to be inside. I found myself quite moved when I saw people distributing bananas with another person collecting peels in a bag. The entire atmosphere resembled a cross between a keertan and a langar. There was a distinct Hinduness to the idioms which worried me although someone like Nandy might say it is a South Asian quality. Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that I went and feel tempted to go again but I did feel alone and a bit of a foreign element in the context.”

We know what she meant. Unlike any other dharna or demo that we generally go to, where we expect to see many people we know, and sometimes every single face is familiar, this was one place where we were routinely mistaken for “media” whenever we talked to someone, for our class markers were so unmistakably different.

We were told by a friend who is deeply suspicious of this thing, in a revelatory sort of way that the Amarnath Yatra Trust is providing food at Ramlila. Perhaps. And a gurudwara did at Chhatrasal Stadium to the people detained there. We don’t how many and who are contributing in what ways.  But we did read in the papers of a hundred farmers from NOIDA who had cooked food for a few thousand people – from their own resources – and brought it along. But we did not see a single banner or flag or symbol of any particular group.

Meanwhile, another friend Charu Gupta told us her parents had been to Ramlila Maidan the previous day. They were so moved by the atmosphere, they wanted to come back again. They reported how, amidst all the chants of various Hinduised nationalist slogans (like Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande Mataram) that make us so uncomfortable, there was an announcement that it was time for the iftar namaaz at the adjacent mosque. Pin drop silence. Indeed, some of those ending their fast came and offered their namaaz right inside the venue, near the dais.

The Great Unwashed?

All the way back home, at different points – in the lower middle class areas of Shakarpur and in the middle class housing societies of Patparganj, we saw small rallies and processions, carrying candles; there were teenagers, the elderly. Those who could not make it to India Gate to join the big rally were taking out rallies in their own areas. There were neither TV cameras nor spectators – except those who were about on their daily work.

We wondered at the arrogance and cynicism that can only see communalism and casteism in these protests. The arrogance of the ‘Enlightened’ – who can only deal with ‘the masses’ as long as they are an abstract category and shrink in horror when confronted with them in reality. We kept thinking of the hundreds of thousands  of people participating in the movement. So many of them – easily the huge majority – were semi-literate workers or peasants. The ‘great unwashed’. These darzis and kisans are largely  OBCs, against whom the anti-Mandal agitation took place.   They are all there in pretty large numbers even if it is in their name now that the pious, pure Left stays immured in its fortress.

And while we are at casteism, why not also look at the charge of ‘communalism’? Today’s Jansatta carries a story “Andolan ka Daira Phaila, Muslim Bhi Saath Aaye” which mentions how organizations like the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board and the Okhla based ‘Real Cause’ have joined in the movement. Kamran Siddiqui of Real Cause claimed that members of his organization are going to Ramlila Maida everyday, in order to express support to the movement.  Shaista Ambar of the AIMWPLB also claimed that from the day that Anna Hazare was arrested, her organization decided to stand by him and the movement. And while the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid has been exhorting Muslims to stay away from the movement due to its communalism (and we know how secular his own track record is), the Imam of Fatehpuri Masjid Mufti Mukarram Ahmed also came out in support of the movement saying that it (and Hazare) have raised an issue under whose impact the entire country is reeling. He also said that the anger of the people on the corruption issue was completely justified.

What ‘Corruption’ signifies

We must confess, though, that we too came back with many questions.

We saw noisy intimidating exclusively male motorcycle rallies roaring into the area, and the slogan of vande mataram from them sounded like an incitement to violence. Another friend travelling with her small daughter in the Metro said she experienced real fear when a large group of men entered shouting the same slogan, and I know it is no coincidence that she is from a minority community. Nothing happened in either case, and perhaps we were responding to a historical memory, but the feeling of threat was real.

This is the messy terrain of mass politics, there are troubling tendencies and it throws up a whole range of issues for us to think about, completely afresh.

But we need to get one point repeatedly thrown at us out of the way first. We are no great votaries of the Jan Lokpal Bill and in fact, have on other earlier occasions, incurred the wrath of our left-radical community for our utter lack of faith in the Law. We stand by that larger position. For us the issue is not that of the Lokpal Bill but of what is it that is moving the people from all walks of life in such large numbers.

Clearly, the Lokpal idea or the Jan Lokpal Bill has here become the rallying point for a slowly accumulating mass anger – not just against one party or government (the Congress and the UPA) but against the entire political class itself. This anger was waiting to be tapped – and the political class or the system could have redeemed itself, had it taken up the issue of corruption.  It did not. Until an entirely new cast of characters came and occupied centre-stage. As we have said earlier, ‘corruption’ is the name by which a larger democratic principle is being enunciated quite clearly – the accountability of elected legislators to the people whom they represent.

A friend from Sri Lanka, Pradeep Jeganathan, asked, “Would you disagree that one of the underlying catalysts for this protest is felt need, by ‘the people’ for a point of neutrality, that appears to be beyond politics, like the supreme court used to be?”

We do actually disagree. This was the kind of critique that was initially made and is still being made by some, but as we have noted earlier, the Janlokpal Bill is about appointing an Ombudsman, and Arvind Kejriwal has explained that his/her powers are “no greater than that of an Income tax Officer ” who has the power  to scrutinize everyone’s tax returns, up to the PM. While there may be sections among the supporters of the movement who hanker for army rule/strong and incorruptible leader etc., what is reiterated from the platform (and we heard it again yesterday) is the people’s right to ensure accountability of the people they send to Parliament, and this can be ensured only of the overseer is not one of them. Not outside politics, but outside the circle of politicians and bureaucrats who must be kept in line. Very much inside politics as such, then.

If you’re not with us…

It is the logic of the development of a mass movement in all its messiness that we seek to understand, rather than look for that pure, 22-carat revolution where everything will proceed according to the programme laid down by the Left elite. Nothing less than our maximum agenda is acceptable – from SEZs to farmers’ suicides, from AFSPA in the Northeast to the murder of democracy in Kashmir. If you will not accept even one of these points, you’re out. We will have nothing to do with you. It is not “they” who say ‘if you are not with us you are against us’, this arrogant divisive slogan has always been ours, alas.

Those issues listed above are our issues too, but what if a mass movement does not raise them? What if it articulates itself around a more generalized and widespread concern? Any student of mass movements anywhere in the world knows that mass movements of this scale only arise around issues where the largest sections of the people feel affected by it. They can never arise around sectional issues – however big the sections concerned may be. And the question really is of the potentiality of the movement rather than what it is, at any given point.  It will only be inclusive to the extent that it is able to draw in the largest number.

We will of course have to part ways at some point to fight our separate battles, but we can come together for a specific limited goal.

What to do with religion!

The real question for us, however, is the one raised by some of the most thoughtful comments in the various posts on Kafila, especially by Rahul Roy, and by Rachana Johri’s email – of the presence of religious symbols and slogans in mass movements and how we might deal with them. Now, there is a very simple solution – become a mobile republic of one and secede. No questions asked and no responsibility to take. This is not an option available to those who believe in larger transformations of any sort, especially transformation of our ways of thinking, which are so deeply inflected by our beliefs, our cultural repertoire and myths and legends. These ways of thinking may include anything from caste practices to the practice of Sati.

Any change in these requires our engagement with on-going internal debates within communities – for it is important to recognize that no practice is uncontested internally. Mere legal enactments that outlaw specific practices can produce just the opposite results – as they indeed have. They simply widen the gulf of incomprehension between the secular modernist and the believer.

Creation and expansion of this space for internal dialogue with believers is critical – if we are to prevent them from being mobilized time and time again, by the religious right. Some people will have to take the risk of being ostracized from their happy community of secularists, in order to be able to ‘be there’.  Those who wish to preserve their purity are welcome to do so, but we have not forgotten that not very long ago, it was this aggressive arrogance which led to the labeling of the likes of Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee, and TN Madan as agents of the Hindu Right. But let it also be underlined that few secular intellectuals have been attacked by the Hindu Right in the manner that an Ashis Nandy or Prabash Joshi have been.

In the end, it is a question of strengthening the democratic fabric of society and the lives and dignity of minorities; for this, it is necessary that the Hindu majority stays away from the Hindu Right. And this project is doomed from the start if we continuously ridicule their ways of thinking, their symbols, and their untutored ‘unpolitical’ language.

So urgent is the need to attack the inconvenient and disobedient people, that often analysis is upstaged by rhetoric. Arundhati Roy for instance claims  “the Maoists and the Jan Lokpal Bill have one thing in common — they both seek the overthrow of the Indian State.”

Huh? India Against Corruption, with its most liberal and minimalist of agendas, directly addressing the state and seeking to make it accountable, is about overthrowing it?  And then Arundhati makes the even more astounding assertion that militaristic Maoist groups working through secretive cells are doing the work of transformation from the ‘bottom up’ while a massive non-violent movement is working ‘top down.’

What to say?

What ‘being there’ means

Many friends have raised the question about how they can possibly ‘be there’ when their soul is  elsewhere. Our answer is, at the very least, just don’t be judgemental and dismissive. ‘Being there’ does not mean that everyone has to be there, literally; it is rather the stance that we adopt that is important. There are already people there who are engaged in internal contestation in the movement – if you look, for instance,  at the composition of the core team and many others at other levels. Vituperative attacks will only strengthen the more negative tendencies within the movement and widen the gulf between it and the secular/liberal/ left sectors. The continuous equation of the movement with its most right-wing elements is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But being there physically also means something else. If we  enter the field physically  in our usual style – of being the vanguard, trying to ‘capture’ the movement, to split it – the entire effort would be self-defeating.  This is our shameful legacy and has never yielded any positive results.

Intervention calls for patience, engagement and transformation, not instrumental ‘takeover’.

Finally, many have asked – should we be in places just because large numbers of people are there?

Of course not, but do we have to turn away sharply in the opposite direction because the people are there?

87 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeebesh Bagchi permalink
    August 22, 2011 7:35 PM

    Thanks Nive. The sad passions driven critique culture of left has no horizon left. hope less are sucked by it and think, act, play, sing differently when faced with a reality that is opaque, confusing and open.

  2. suresh permalink
    August 22, 2011 7:58 PM

    May be at some time, one of you can do a comparison of Anna Hazare’s movement with the one led by Martin Luther King, Jr. for civil rights. I confess that I am not enamored of Anna Hazare. I am still less enamored of comparisons with Tahrir square and the Arab spring because the concerned regimes were not exactly democratic. Of course, India’s non-democratic actions are well-known but all said and done, there is a space for dissent as Kafila demonstrates vividly.

    For this reason, I find the comparison with Martin Luther King’s movement, conducted in another imperfect democracy, more relevant. On the face of it, there are some striking similarities, but also some differences.

    The matter that troubles many is the use of religious symbols. Note however that King used religious symbols explicitly in his speeches even though the cause he was fighting for was itself secular. Like the current anti-corruption movement, King too inspired many different groups to join in: recall the famous march on Washington in 1963. However, while King explicitly claimed Gandhi as an inspiration, he never resorted to hunger strike or any action which can be construed as coercive. The best that he did was to encourage African-Americans to use boycotts in Montgomery.

    I am not learned enough to develop this theme. But it seems to me that a comparison of the two movements will help us get a handle on this vexing question: In a democracy, when can we associate ourselves with a “mass” movement when aspects of the movement deeply trouble us?

    For myself, I can only say that I decline to associate myself with Anna Hazare’s movement. And I am one whose economic views will surely get himself labeled “neo-liberal.” Let that be, though.

  3. ravisrinivas permalink
    August 22, 2011 8:15 PM

    This movement is able to garner such a support because it does not talk in the language of we vs you, us vs you to the ordinary persons , and it talks only of Jan Lok Pal and corruption and US coming together . So it is easy to associate with them if one is against corruption and frustrated with the present government. Just two days ago I told my friend who is a trade union leader that the left could have thought of a similar bill or mechanism, built up a campaign on that over the last year or so and could have mobilized similar number of persons had it wanted to think outside the box. But when scams were discussed in the media, left started finding fault with liberalization and linked that with increase in corruption and scams than attacking corruption up front. It wanted to tell that if liberalization is there scams would be there and argued for a reversal of policies although it did talk of scam tainted politicians. This convoluted logic could never capture the public imagination.
    It might be good for writing articles and in scoring brownie points. The result is for all of us to see. Adherents of identity politics and pure left politics can learn a lesson or two from this movement. Single issue mobilizations may be transient, may not result in structural transformation against capitalist class and can still serve an useful purpose if the core group is well organized and is clear about its objectives.
    One can support Jan LokPal and also oppose the move for uniform civil code. One can oppose this LokPal and also support reservation for OBCS. One can support both reservation and LokPal Bill of Anna&Co. What may appear to be contradictory to one person may appear as coherent position to another. But the political discourse that fails to understand such positions will end up in labeling groups as this and that without understanding the fact that overlapping positions in some issues with contradictory positions in some other issues need not deter persons/groups working together for what
    appears to be a common cause.JP could inspire diverse groups in 74 to come together
    and the Janata Party of 1977 was a party in which socialists worked with the then Jan Sangh.It was a disaster in terms of long-term political survival but in short term could achieve what otherwise would not have been possible at that time given the political conditions. So irrespective of what critics and ‘confessors’ from the ‘pure left’ may say the Anna led campaign can result in changes that may reverberate across the country and spill over to issues that were not the agenda of the Anna led campaign.

  4. Rajeev Sharma permalink
    August 22, 2011 8:18 PM

    I used to be a sympathizer of leftist issues (esp SEZ’s, tribal rights & land rights) and felt disgust for the right-wingers but till now I hadn’t realized how narrow-minded, insular, misanthropic (how ironic), haughty and arrogant most leftists actually are.

    Thank you, Nivedita & Aditya, for opening my eyes. I find it difficult to believe that leftists accept or reject people on the basis of silly slogans like ‘Inquilab zindabad or Vande Mataram’..

    Arundhati Roy’s spiteful article in the Hindu and this article has convinced me that the leftists are bigger loonies than the rightists. I’ll no longer cringe when I hear people shouting ‘Vande Mataram’ but join them cheerfully in their sloganeering so that I can remove the last vestiges of misanthropy from every bone of my body.

  5. August 22, 2011 9:12 PM

    really, we should be there…

  6. DR. VIPIN permalink
    August 22, 2011 10:12 PM


  7. August 22, 2011 10:39 PM

    Even if the movement were completely secular, driven by common people, would it make the demand of an omnipotent Lokpal with executive and judicial powers, chosen via most undemocratic ways, legitimate? However wonderful the movement may be, what it asks is neither a solution nor an ideal demand. Hundred people asking a demon cannot make the demon right!

  8. Inasu Thalak permalink
    August 22, 2011 10:47 PM

    The reluctance of the “pure” Left (if there is such a thing as pure Left!) to join Hazare-led
    campaign against corruption is totally “arrogant” “elitist” “babu” “smug middle class complex”
    “utopian” to put it mildly. Indians of all classes, all social echelons, and castes have been
    suffering from “this culture of corruption” for too long. People are fed up with this, they have
    been “dishonoured” (so is India) by the numerous corruptions scandals over the past many
    years. How can any indian tolerate billions being literally stolen by the so called elected
    representative of the people. If the existing mechanism of checks and balances is powerless
    to bring the culprits to books, why not clamour for something afresh and probably more effective, deterrent? I do not think for a moment that Hazare has any personal gains in mind. May be he is being “used” by some “hindutwa” elements. Because, the Left has miserably failed to espouse this crusade against corruption of which millions of Indians are
    victims whatever their religious/political adherence. Do you know that in Kerala, corruption
    bribe, misappropriation of public funds and goods, favouritism are all woven into the social
    fabric inspite of the strong presence of the Left (of all hues)? Comrades, sympathizers and
    fellow travellers etc have done little to protest. All we have done, and still do, is to hairsplit
    as to the ideological “cleanliness” of the stand we take? Is this a hangover from the system
    of caste to which we all belong one way or another? For me ( I am born Xtian in Kerala, have been an ardent supporter of the Left and believe socialism is the politics of the future) chanting Vande Maataram is not antirevolutionary in the Indian context, Regis Debray mentions somewhere very pertinently that the sentiment of patriotism can be more
    effective in certain contexts than pure revolutionary zeal. (Just an aside esteemed comrades : how come the great Tagore dubbed the whole of south India as “Dravida” in
    his poem “Jana Gana Mana” aas our national anthem?)
    Inasu Thalak/poet-writer in Paris

  9. Nirmalangshu permalink
    August 22, 2011 11:01 PM

    It is not easy to be both precise and comprehensive on such a complex phenomenon. A true learning experience. Also pleasing since it matched my own experience of visits to Tihar, India gate, and mohalla gatherings. Ramlila tomorrow. One comment though. I do think Arundhati is essentially right about seizure of state power, although I do not agree that Maoists have got it bottom-up. They both got it top-down, if you like, but the vastness of popular upsurge has made it bottom-up in the Lokpal case, not in the Adivasi case. A bottom-up case in Chhattisgarh could not have ended up with over 6500 official Koya commandos/SPOs.

    I think we need to sharply distinguish between “leaders” and people’s response to some call. There is no doubt that much of the movement has been carefully orchestrated with the precision of corporate planning without any participation or approval from people. Hence, it had the form of a secret, conspiratorial operation. And that programme is certainly not restricted to Lokpal alone. As Anna revealed, they plan to cover land reforms, electoral reforms, universal education etc.–all outside the legislative system and forcing them down the parliament. But there is no indication that the original “secret” forum is going to be democratised. People will keep supporting as the fruits are plucked from the State. But that’s all that “people” do. Same with the Maoists. The glory of the people need not reflect on the shadiness of the “leaders.” The frequent, almost loving mention of Kejriwal, the designated PM, is about the only unpleasant aspect of the post.

  10. seema permalink
    August 22, 2011 11:05 PM

    very intense write up though looks casual…it gives a fair idea..great job nivedita n aditya..:0

  11. Charakan permalink
    August 22, 2011 11:37 PM

    Superb post. Janlokpal movement is a mass movement of non violent protest against the Government reluctance to curb corruption. Such a movement can be only termed as a Centrist or a Center-Left movement. How can some one call it fascist or Rightist reactionary?

    If you do not want to join a Center-Left movement of mass appeal it is fine. But do not ridicule it or call it fascist.

  12. Vijay Hiremath permalink
    August 22, 2011 11:41 PM

    I am not there and I wont be there for this so called second freedom struggle. As of today there is nothing to show that out of the people turning up at the Ramlila Maidan, how many people have actually read the text of the Bill and would agree with that.We all are against corruption but along with whom we should fight this battle is something we all have to think about.
    I am not with Anna and will never be because, he has openly supported Raj Thackeray and has also agreed with his idea of Marathi Manoos. Anna has openly supported Narendra Modi and his form of development. There is 24 hrs moral policing in his village. Drinking of alcohol is prohibited and if anybody enters the village in an intoxicated state is severely beaten.
    What are team Anna’s views on land acquisition, police firings, custodial deaths, encounter killings? How many times have they spoken of corruption in the police force? The Bill does away with sanction for prosecution for corruption, why is there no demand for such provision in the mainstream law? Hundreds of cases of custodial violence and encounter killings cannot be taken to logical end as the governments refuse sanction to prosecute the officers.
    Just because thousands of people turn up at Ramlila Maidan on public holidays does not mean we have to be there. We have always been against the majority and many of the struggles and protests the middle class has never cared about . How many people came to protest the Gujarat riots in your city? How many turned to protest against the police when a minor was raped by a policemen at Marine Drive? How many people turned up when ETV exposed the young men? Just because there are more people in a movement does not mean we have to follow them and join in their demands.
    We joining this movement gives legitimacy to the demands. Let people think why are the people who are always protesting away. Please dont jump on a bandwagon just because there are more people.
    I would be a sole protester for the cause i believe in rather than join a protest only because i see many people in the protest. It can never be about numbers. Numbers we will never have, but don’t let your other struggles and causes get silenced in this fake revolution.

    • August 23, 2011 3:04 PM



      Rahul Sharma

  13. August 22, 2011 11:46 PM

    Nivedita and Aditya, salutations to your will to present us with perhaps the first sociology of this movement. Also, the courage to present a different viewpoint to your friends is again worthy of admiration.

    I would appeal to the Indian Left to look at these protests for what they are and not lose more ground to the extreme right-wing elements.

  14. August 22, 2011 11:51 PM

    “Intervention calls for patience, engagement and transformation, not instrumental ‘takeover’.” Very well said, we can not be puritanical and expect mass movements to come into “our” framework, it has its own logic, momentum and if you do not engage with it effectively will achieve its own goal. We can not be by-standers, it is amorphous as the reporters from Kafila have elucidated, yes there are Hindu religious symbols, they are there because we have not practised any language or accommodation with these sections, we have long ago left the field free or we have never attempted to be there, now we have a chance at least to learn to engage and listen to, and if we miss the bus this time! Shudder to think, our worst fears will come true.

  15. Shankar permalink
    August 22, 2011 11:58 PM

    Hi Nivedita, Aditya, could you clarify this sentence: “While there may be sections among the supporters of the movement who hanker for army rule/strong and incorruptible leader etc., what is reiterated from the platform (and we heard it again yesterday) is the people’s right to ensure accountability of the people they send to Parliament, and this can be ensured only of the overseer is not one of them.”

    I had two questions: 1) I’m not sure how this mobilisation is about people’s right to ensure accountability of elected representatives; in what sense do the demands include making representatives accountable to people (as opposed to accountable to another institution, whose key feature is not that it is accountable to people, but precisely that it is powerful)?

    2) The paragraph goes on to say: “Not outside politics, but outside the circle of politicians and bureaucrats who must be kept in line.” In what sense – at a political level, as a demand, not as a technical question – will the Jan Lokpal be “outside the circle”?

  16. Himanshu Upadhyaya permalink
    August 23, 2011 12:04 AM

    But when did numbers become synonym of People?

  17. August 23, 2011 12:20 AM

    Good article. More interesting to read the few comments made so far.
    I salute the lowly soldier who brings out all these thoughts.
    Nivedita, as you said earlier, Anna Hazare and IAC perhaps don’t need us but we need them. To my mind, the Indian left or what is left of the left, has missed the bus. Not that the left political parties did not attempt to board it. I recall a lady from one of the parties being booed out of the stage at Anna’s fast at Rajghat as were a Chautala and Umabharati at Jantar Mantar.
    If you had looked closely you would have noticed the RSS activists working hard behind the scenes at Ramlila too along with people who hate their guts. I followed a small such group of youth on 16th from Rajghat to noida and through different sectors of noida as the supporters grew from 8 to over 300. At every point the youth leaders took care to follow up Vande Mataram and bharat Mata ki Jai with Inqulab Zindabad. They explicitly warned their friends and everybody else never to mention political parties or Individual names. The also took pains that we kept to the side of the roads and did not offend the police or block traffic as we walked in a human chain and later a procession. They apologised profusely with folded hands to every motorist we remotely inconvenienced. When we sat down to sing songs, they made sure Raghupati Raghava rajaram had the line Eshwar Allah loud and clear. . They allowed the chanting of Om and some sanskrit verses that the skull cap clad muslim traders did not show any aversion to merely because the atmosphere was not threatening and we all were comrades in the cause against corruption led by a selfless leader whom everyone in the crowd adored.
    This movement is different. I do not know how long it will last but every young man and woman who participated has gained a fire in their belly that sadly needs more Annas in their lifetime to keep burning. Hopefully one of these youth will grow in stature to replace Anna some day.
    I am certain that there are similar youth leaders across the country where the movement is active today. A selfless political movement with selfless leadership can only tap these youth but I do not see anyone matching this rustic barely educated charming old man.
    I also urge you to study the 5 step agenda of this movement after janlokpal. The final one they call variedly as decentralization or self sufficiency, which was M.K.Gandhi’s dream of building autonomous self sufficient villages. I do not expect leftist to remotely agree with this agenda and perhaps they will as usual bring a 100 dialectic arguments against it. But to me the dream of self sufficient autonomous communities joined together in a nation or world that has electronic direct democracy and has pushed the representative democracy to the museums of history is very attractive. It may never happen but these are times of extraordinary and rapid changes in the world and it is possible to sell any dream that breaks with tradition and promises a believable utopia.
    No I am not asking you or other leftists to buy this dream. I am only pointing out to the leftists that it is time to dream again of utopia but these dreams have to be refreshingly new achievable and believable to the youth of the country. It is time that the leftists make a clear break from the revisions they made to their own ideologies and compromised for a representative democracy that ultimately sold us to the USA agendas.

  18. Sumedha permalink
    August 23, 2011 12:25 AM

    Nivedita Menon’s has been the quintessential pure left feminist political activist. I am glad to see elements of some soul searching in the article. The pathological hatred of the Left for Hindus and all their practices has to have some reason but I do not understand it. In the eighties, in DU, I started reading the writings of the leftists on Communalism ( and I was very very much influenced by them at the time. Staying up nights to read the collected works of Lenin and Marx , discussing how to ‘ break’ the system etc) After a while it dawned on me that there was a fundamental flaw in their analysis which resulted from a blinkered point of view the minute you mentioned the word Hindu. The entire analysis was one sided and if I was a religious Hindu ( which I am in my own way) I was beneath contempt. ( The same for classic western feminist theory.)I dislike ‘isms’ because my opinions are beautifully split between left and right. On cultural/social issues I lean right and on economic issues, left. The Left has had to divorce itself from reality and logic and is losing space very fast because it has not had the genius to adapt Marx to India. Marx’s contempt of India has to be read to be believed ( I am sure everyone on Kafila knows it full well) and the Left has internalised it. Are there elements of a rethink? I hope there are because the Left has a great deal to offer in terms of meaningful politics and society but it has to relearn the Indian idiom.

  19. vinaysreenivasa permalink
    August 23, 2011 12:40 AM

    Dear Ms.Menon and Mr.Nigam,

    sincerely asking, what are your thoughts on the way forward? Speak to IAC leadership and see if we can engage with them? should we join the platform with them? or should we be subversive and see if we can expand the scope of corruption to include institutions fleecing people? or should we visit the rallies, analyse what is going on?

    There might be many radical elite who still consider that all those who are there are casteist/communlist etc. However, many others of us do not agree and we realise that an emotive chord has been touched, anger has been tapped and that there are a whole lot of people there.

    however, like a previous commentor said, its important to make a distinction between the people there and the leadership. the people, we all need to engage with, some of us do agree. but what abt the leadership? do you sincerely believe that the IAC leadership is a group you can have a common minimum agenda with?

    if you are arguing that we must not keep away from the campaign, you probably also have thoughts on what form of relationship to have with the campaign . please do elaborate on that in another post/comment.

  20. Kitapati permalink
    August 23, 2011 2:13 AM

    The indian left needs to introspect and not just act out of cliched categories.

    The left intellectuals have become like broken records repeating cliches like

    hindutva, vande mataram, majoritarianism, manuwadis, middle class exploiters etc. It is time for this group to rethink otherwise they are well down the path of extinction with no support other than in some exclusive academic circles.

    Why will Naxalism fail in india. It is because of people like arundathi roy who

    have demonized the hindus and so called middle class of india. If a movement has

    to succeed it needs to garner support from the educated working class. Naxals

    have no such support and hence doomed to fail. Demonizing the culture of the

    educated working class in india as demonic and exploitative and superimposing all kinds of categories like fundamentalism, fascism, casteism, totalitarianism on this group will only aliente the naxals from indian soceity even more. The main people who will suffer are the poor displaced adivasis.

    The left needs to come up with a proper narrative of india and the native

    traditions and religions of the country. What in toto many people group as hinduism. The current narrative is completely flawed and has no semblance of reality and has been cooked up by ivory tower thinkers masquerading as intellectuals. The indian left does not even have a proper objective evaluation of the hindutva movement. The proletarian revolution will only be a big pipe dream if this is not understood.

    Anna’s movement has proved once again the factors which can mobilize the masses in india. Anna Hazare’s movement does not need the left at all. The left as a matter of fact needs to tag along this movement if it has to survive. The basic question is there anything left in the Left other than empty cliches, sterotyping and sloganeering.

  21. LADHU permalink
    August 23, 2011 5:04 AM

    Thanks for new dimensions.
    I have a quesation In My mind that Why this Mania at this point of time? I’m not convinced by the reasons behind Anna’s follow up. Why people follow in this particular behaviour. There are many views on the current movement from extreme left to extreme right but nobody explains core quesation, “Why”. I found that political analyst also changing their stand and only describes the phenomenon, which is more or less shows the certain degree of political biasness. The driver of mass mania has not been explained.
    We can Agree with Anna OR Disagree but being a student of Political science I’m concerned about why this happens in this fashion? Why masses are there?, by leaving the very traditional notions…….Chalata hai…….hamare to karm hee aise hee hai……kya kar sakte hai.

  22. August 23, 2011 6:56 AM

    As thousands throng thoroughfares of metropolises holding candles against the dusk and wearing skull hugging caps saying I am Anna Hazare, there is something very critical that gets formulated. Anna is not merely fighting corruption; he is doing something else too. Beneath the veneer of a righteous moral fight, this man and his ilk is challenging the very institution of the Parliament, the crux of a democratic State. He wishes to curb everything that stands for institutions in the country and superimpose a Lokpal which, if ever in effect will be the ultimate word for an absolute Dictator. Beneath Anna’s movement is therefore a search for a dictatorial system, which will curb all that that goes in the name of a democratic State with checks and balances, a Parliament of duly elected persons. It is an assertion of the dictatorship of the citizens so alienated from the very democracy that is supposed to be based upon the will of the people. The tyranny of the Annalogs, the swell of the sea of humanity at Annapolis resembles the Storm of the Bastille, where the haloed halls of the Parliament are purported to be torn down as the punishment for sins of the government to have erected the walls of rules and propriety against the highest authority in the country, namely the free citizen.
    The target of the movement is the government, its Prime Minister, whose head must roll at any cost. Those who oppose Anna see in this a license to anarchy, are fearful of the death of a reasoned democracy at the hands of a willful vigilantes. Those who oppose Anna are against corruption through the instigation of the existing institutional arrangements; those who support him are nihilists. Such nihilism is at the very constitution of fascism. The arrest of the government by Anna Hazare, his wrathful posturing, his willful assertion that it is either his way or the highway, reflects exactly, in a mirror image of what the Indian State had actually become when it arrested Dr Binayak Sen, fired on protestors over Posco, killed in Kalinganagar and eroded spaces, ecologies, livelihoods and lives in Karnataka. And all of this happened through the system of bribes, where the corporate could bribe the government to twist rules for suitable interests. This is why corruption has become the space where the weak are shortchanged for the rich; and since the weak are also the more numerous, such acts of the Indian state are compromises on democracy. When the Indian state can itself douse democracy, how does it become the citizen’s prerogative to respect its case? Then go to hell, democracy, there exists none of it anymore says the angry Hazare. Readings from the Third Reich papers show that it was exactly through such a failure of the State that Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. If fascism breaks out in the streets of India, only the Indian government will have itself to blame.
    Personally, I do not blame Anna Hazare for the state of affairs on the anvil of anarchy; what worries me is the sovereign Indian nation state that with its elaborate rules and rights to fight corruption appears to get entrenched deeper into the problem with each passing day. There is a secret script that is shaping up between Anna and the government; it is that script that I intend to reach. Anna is attacking a government, a state that has turned a hundred and eighty degrees in its role as a mediator between the various forces shaping the society. The Indian state before liberalization formally vowed to protect the weak against the strong; in the aftermath of liberalization as the Indian economy and society gets more aligned to the interests of the global capital, the Indian state vows to remove the claims of the weak coming in way of the strong’s accumulation of limitless and mindless wealth. This turns the entire edifice of the Indian State and its Constitution into a lie. The Indian state stands no longer as a buffer between the interests of the rich and the poor, but aligns itself shamelessly with the rich against the poor. Such a realignment of the State has eroded its authority with the thousands who are on the streets today. The Anna Hazare movement shows how little the Indian citizen cares for the Indian state, democracy or no democracy.
    Corruption has existed in India since the aeons of time but never before now has an entire movement been centred on corruption; I wonder whether such a movement has ever been staged anywhere in the world. Never before now has corruption become a catchword to explain every kind of evil in the everyday life of an individual. Today’s corruption is something else; it is far beyond having to pay a bribe to get a phone connection, beyond having to bribe a excise inspector; today’s corruption is the 2G Scam, where a few people, some people are seen to have access to large moneys where no ordinary soul can even in her wildest imagination wish to access. It is this inaccessibility to wealth for most and its secret password in the hands of a selected privilege few that really enrages people; no wonder then at the crux of the imagery of money stashed away in the secret chambers of the hallowed Swiss Banks. Everything that the government does, the BRT corridor, the Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum, oil price hike, development through industrialization are seen to increase inequality in wealth, not through differential merit or qualifications but through differential access to be in the right place at the right time. The economy that drives through large monopoly private venture funds with blessings of the political class constitutes a coterie aided by none other than the democratic system. This makes losers hate democracy, become apolitical, jump due processes, disregard institutions, in short anything that constitutes that world that leaves them behind.
    Those who are today opposed to Anna in their fight against corruption refuse to accept themselves as losers even though they may have every objective indicator against them such as not owning homes, cars, designer purses and so on. They would rather activate the RTI, go to the consumer courts, write letters of complaints to authorities and whistle blow to media. These are the usual jholawalas, the intellectuals, the critical cynics of neoliberal growth projects. These people have stood outside the madness of global capital, many a time refused to belong, to jump into the fray of buying gadgets, owning homes and going on vacations abroad. Interestingly, such people who stand outside the competition consider themselves as the winners. These “winners” are the anti-globalization people with outdated beliefs in Keynesian economics, welfare state, public sector and market regulators.
    But those who support Anna, despite their management degrees, or foreign jobs and plush bungalows in America, look upon themselves as losers caught in uncertain employment, fearful of retrenchment, plagued by vagaries of their investments at the stock market or regretful of investments whose EMIs they can no longer pay. This is the pro group; who disdain politics because it brings in the claims of the have-nots into the enjoyment of the haves, who believe that privatization is the panacea for every evil and that the State should just up its tail and disappear beyond sight. Yet it is today that this group that contains people whose self image is that of a loser. This is the most interesting aspect of the sociology of Annacronyism.
    Neoliberalism has its own way of making people feel unwanted, unqualified, undeserving and underperforming. The more one performs, one is never really on top of things, the growing inequalities of income and wealth more so in the absence of State regulation leads to a loss of a sense of agency. In simpler terms, individuals feel less in command of her life, less capable of shaping it the way she wants to, less in command of her own future. All such trepidations transform into a battle against the one that caused it all, the State. The State is an institution that creates certainties in life, certainties that efforts would be rewarded, opportunities will be presented, and capabilities will be created. These are the basic function of the State in any civilized society. Unfortunately in neoliberalism, these are not possible; only global capital pursues its profits mindlessly and depends a lot on the State system to fructify its agenda. The State turns against its own citizen while promoting a Tata-Corus deal as in the UK, or the award of the 2G spectrum in India, or the speculation of wheat when food prices are shooting through the roof, or even the sinking of the public sector to benefit a private player in the same industry. Such turning of the State against its citizens is captured under the generic term of corruption. Anna’s team is fighting to reverse the dominance, from the State towards the citizen; that citizen who might be a nihilist, a negationist, and a fascist but nonetheless is only the mirror image of a State that has totally belied its own Constitution, perverted its institutions and used democracy only as a cover up of deeply oligopolistic practices.

  23. August 23, 2011 7:45 AM

    I was there on saturday and came back to home with some mixed emotions. I might be not that optimistic as you guys are or it could be that I had a tough day. But what I’ve found out that Media is filtering the news and only sharing the positive side of the whole episode. Anna is charismatic but the mass who is fighting the second freedom struggle as it has been termed, needs to learn the basic etiquettes who are going to be called as the 2nd freedom fighters. I have also tried to pen down a few observations from the complete trip. You might would like to have a look

  24. a g/n permalink
    August 23, 2011 7:47 AM

    more ‘middle classes’ for anna:

  25. Azurda permalink
    August 23, 2011 8:33 AM

    There is nothing like a ‘Iftaar namaz’!

    I believed switching off the microphone when you are doing a tamasha near someone’s home is a basic courtesy. Many Indians do it everyday and don’t even think of it as something ‘secular’.

  26. Vilas Talpade permalink
    August 23, 2011 10:24 AM

    This is a completely Delhi-centric viewpoint. Apart from the metros, there is no hoo-ha over this so-called protest by a guy who wanted non-Maharashtrians out of his state, who hasn’t had a gram panchayat election and believes he is right and everybody else is wrong. His minders are setting up the apparatus for a police state and the so-called leftists back him?

  27. Faiz permalink
    August 23, 2011 11:17 AM

    You must check the veracity of the report before citing it. You must go to Okhla and find out more about this NGO Real Cause. You’ll be surprised. (Aspirations of the) Muslims are not (keen to be) represented by any mullah, Imam or personal law board. It’s interesting that in some cases (like, referring to OBC participation) you look at people, and neither quote their leaders nor make a mention of any of their organisations, like Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz. But when you look at Muslims you shift tracks and ignore the individual voices and instead present evidence of their participation through the views of self-appointed leaders and organisations.

    • Aditya Nigam permalink*
      August 23, 2011 12:56 PM

      Have we talked about them “representing”? Have we said that these people represent all Muslims? We have simply said that some Muslims are joining in. Nothing more. Are you suggesting that they who go there are not Muslims? That they lose the right to be called Muslims? If so, I have nothing to say. So be it. We have no desire to decide who a true Muslims is. For us, anyone who says s/he is a Muslim is one.

      • Faiz permalink
        August 23, 2011 7:19 PM

        Sir, I’m not, in the least, suggesting that those who’re there aren’t Muslims. All I’m saying is you’ve privileged certain groups – self appointed representatives – over individual voices. I’m not sure if all those who pray behind the Shaahi Imam and Mufti Mukarram sa’ab in their respective mosques will be happy to follow their political diktats or opinions too.

        I thank you for taking out time to respond to my comments.

      • Aditya Nigam permalink*
        August 24, 2011 3:13 PM

        Thanks for your response. Here are just some more reports. The first one below is from, which is captioned: “Bukhari’s Anti-Anna Stand Draws Flak from Muslims”
        The second is from Times of India, entitled: “Anti-Anna Cleric Cuts Lonely figure”:
        I know what this means and who will be behind them, but as far as I am concerned, this is a sign that not all Muslims are adopting the same stance (just as not all Hindus may have the same stance) regarding the movement.

  28. Aalok Aima permalink
    August 23, 2011 11:51 AM

    Thanks Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam for your honesty of approach that is goes beyond pre-subscribed to ideological biases.

    What a contrast with the (once more) narrow visioned stupidities of Arundhati Roy in ” I’d rather not be Anna”

  29. Rajarshi Roy permalink
    August 23, 2011 11:59 AM

    “In the end, it is a question of strengthening the democratic fabric of society and the lives and dignity of minorities; for this, it is necessary that the Hindu majority stays away from the Hindu Right. And this project is doomed from the start if we continuously ridicule their ways of thinking, their symbols, and their untutored ‘unpolitical’ language.”

    Bang on bulls-eye. Glad to hear this from some of the most vocal leftist voices. Kudos to Kafila for breaking the mould.

    As many commentators have pointed out about Anna being a right wing radical or rhe state of moral policing in his village or his ideas about Maharashtra and Maharashtrians. Can we look at the cause for a while without looking the personal fallacies of the person?

    Some of my conceptions about leftists stand negated today. Finally, I guess we all can, irrespective of our ideological leanings, take a leaf from the kind of introspection Ms. Nivedita Menon & Mr. Aditya Nigam have done. :)

  30. M C Dinakaran permalink
    August 23, 2011 12:07 PM

    A revelation this post is, for people who were under the misconception that the movement was only a glass-house-bred phenomenon to be displayed to the opens as it suits the clever gardener. It is not a neutral supervisor the public is searching for, it is a pulverization of handed-down categories that the collective sighs of the harassed and toiling is attempting. Unknowingly Team Anna could tap into this immense Tsunami of frustration which had been moving silently under the depths of ‘realpolitik’, fashioned by the secret consensus of the business-political-bureacratic structure. Like JP’s movement this also may technically end in a failure, but it will also possess the inherent disruptive gene to throw up the right questions and conscientize the aam aadmi.

  31. August 23, 2011 12:19 PM

    most helpful thoughts nivedita and friend, needed this view from the spot , since i cannot go, 78 years old and wobbly, so it was something i was yearning for, a report from someone i feel linked to , in her perceptions and as an old friend.So there is the ground visit and the argument, including so many other milestones and views , including arundhatis which i really did not know how to react to, as i do love and admire her so much, so thanks again nivedita , i wonder what you and others like you think of an idea i have pasted on this web, on converting this into a constructive program ? must be sounding very tame to the kind of people we now are , strong thinking and radical , but it is also coming from one who belongs where you belong, devaki

  32. Satya Sagar permalink
    August 23, 2011 12:25 PM

    I agree with Nivedita and Aditya completely that the Left in India has lost touch with the people of the country. The Left should shed its snobbery and stop finding excuses for not being with the people, wherever they are.

    In fact it is not only Anna’s rally they should go to get an education from but also the next kumbh mela where 12 million people will gather peacefully to pray for a better life for themselves and hopefully the world too.

    The Times of India reported today (23 August) that around 8 lakh people visited the ISKCON temple. So while there were 1.5 lakh at the Ramlila there were five times more people at the Krishna Lila.

    The first lot may have been explicitly political in their demands about corruption etc., but the second crowd is also implicitly political as far as I am concerned. After all if I pray to Lord Krishna asking that my daughter should get a husband who does not take dowry is this not a powerful social comment? Even if they ask for a new house or a car, what is wrong with such materialist aspirations in the garb of spiritual salvation?

    After all the leadership of the Indian Left has always been full of spiritual people- leading ascetic lives, giving up their professional careers, ignoring the welfare of their own families- all in search of the purely idealist quest for something called ‘justice’ or ‘equality’? You can’t get more religious than that! To be spiritual oneself and look down upon the spirituality of the masses is the single biggest mistake the Left has made in India. It is time for a serious correction.

    They should realize unlike Nehru’s wish that factories become the temples of modern India what we still have with us is the reality that temples/mosques are the factories of modern India. So by default the working class (in this country) are not those who work in factories but those who go to religious places or on pilgrimages.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      August 23, 2011 1:19 PM

      Satya, seriously, you want “factories to become the temples of modern India”? Today, after Narmada Bachao Andolan, and Nandigram and the fundamental churning even within hardcore Leftists about the question of ecology?
      It’s a little too easy though, to misrepresent our argument as suggesting that wherever people are, the Left should be there. Both In this post and in my previous one, we have carefully spelt out the questions we need to ask before participating in a mass movement.
      But anyway. There is really nothing more to say to each other, is there?

      • Satya Sagar permalink
        August 23, 2011 2:32 PM

        Nivedita, the point about factories becoming temples of modern India was Nehru’s idea that I quoted, not mine. I think that the opposite has happened in India- temples have turned into factories- precisely because the blind urbanisation/industrialisation since Independence has sent people scurrying for spiritual cover. The Left or whoever is interested in social change for the better should understand that people going to temples and mosques instead of shopping malls is not a sign of ‘reactionary backwardness’ but as Marx put it about religion – a ‘sigh of the oppressed’.

        A blank refusal to work with ordinary people who wear skull caps or sport tilaks on their foreheads in the name of ‘secularism’ means ignoring a vast majority of this country’s population. That leaves most secularists in the company of only neo-liberal yuppies whose only religion is money!

        While you have definitely not suggested in your write up that the Left should go wherever people are I am suggesting it for the simple reason that the Left these days goes nowhere except in circles. It is this vast vacuum in grassroots activism that has left the Indian political and social space open for free play by all kinds of fundamentalist and retrograde forces.

        The Left (I include myself in this) has become like a bunch of commentators at a football game very articulately passing biting or witty remarks about what is wrong with the team that is playing. What they have become blind to is the fact that there is only one team playing on the Indian political landscape today and that is the Hindu Right, which is by far the most organised force in the country with no competition in sight.

        It is time to stop commenting and get down to actually playing on the muddied football field. It might involve getting a leg broken or a head smashed in but nobody said the football of Indian (or any) politics was a polite game! So along with Ramlila a trip to Krishna Lila would certainly be worthwhile and if one is worried about one’s secular credentials I will recommend the Haj too.

      • joe permalink
        August 28, 2011 3:25 AM

        nobody in in the organised indian political left kept off religion, except for a few acadmic types.consider CPI or CPM. They went out of their way to accomodate religious chauvinism of all sorts for votebank and even aligned wiht RSS. Even recently, kerala cpm aligned with madani for muslim votes. if you visit kerla or bengal , you will understand how they compete with congress in temple committees to durga puja. remember subash chakaraborthy , brahmin first then communist history. In this era of conscius dalits, who vehmently oppose hinduism itself as a savarna ideology, they mostly consider leftist of all hues as savarna. so if left become further kumbhamela-ised(thye are already so if you know a little on their caste based temple centric life in villages of kerala,)they may lose the dalit support. I wonder how periyar or ambedkar could organise mass movments by taking on hinduism and its symbols.

  33. August 23, 2011 1:10 PM

    Kafilatards. Amusing and also infuriating. If you pursued politics and activism with the zeal you show for self-marginalisation and the exclusion of all but those who follow congruent beliefs, then perhaps you’d have slogans to shout and causes to celebrate other than “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, We Shall Fight, We Shall Win”

    Yeah the Anna Hazare phenomenon is problematic. Yes, there are strong strains of totalitarianism of simplistic-ness rushing through it. But in a display of shocking sour-grapes, you refuse to engage with it, refuse to acknowledge that there’s gotta be something that’s stirring so many people. You know which kind of public figures co-opt religion, caste, language, dress, food, clothing, as symbols, as affinity engines as ingredients of an actual mass movement? Freakin successful politicians and public figures, that’s who.

    I swear. If you assholes saw an actual popular revolution actually take place, you’d stay out of it because some priest from ISKCON started singing karaoke bhajans in the middle of our equivalent of Tahrir Square. What exactly is your plan? The overground Left has committed hara-kiri as far as electoral politics is concerned. And the Indian State, avatar of brutality and buffoonery that it is, will kill ALL the people it has to to crush the Maoist insurrection. And here’s this… thing. This phenomenon that has seized the popular imagination. And don’t fucking cop out by whining about it being media-created or an urban phenomenon or contaminated by Youth For Equality types or, fuck me, go absolutely, unnecessarily apeshit ad hominem like Arundhati Roy did.

    And by the flourishing pelt on my black Mallu ass, you guys are Grade-A, top drawer, absolutely world-class hypocrites. The Andolan was criticised using exactly these axes: it was disconnected from the real. It was a media-created sensation. And, my personal favourite, “Have you Seen the Politics of Group XYZ that Supports this Movement?!!”

    As for your fucking squeamishness regarding religion. The next time one of you finds yourself humming / singing along to Indian Ocean’s Maa Rewa, remembering with wistfulness that time when you walked and walked for kilometres and shat in the open, examine the lyrics, look in the mirror and self-administer one number bitch-slapping.

  34. Snehal permalink
    August 23, 2011 1:20 PM

    Have the subscribers read this ?

    “Why I’d rather be Anna than Arundhati”

    available on the India Against Corruption’s website

    “India Against Corruption
    Ms. Arundhati Roy recently wrote an article in The Hindu against Anna Hazare and Janlokpal. It is unfortunate that she is misguided, and is in turn trying to demonise Anna’s protest.
    Check out this rebuttal to Arundhati’s claims, brought to our notice by a supporter.
    Why I’d rather be Anna than Arundhati”

  35. August 23, 2011 1:25 PM

    Typical romanticism of revolution and wanting a part of it….Delusion of left and left wing causes aside.. why dont they just keep to facts of this so called movement…..How can any liberal( and im not talking of left or right here) in right frame of mind be a part of the demand to create a draconian law likes of which Nivedita & Aditya must have been up in arms otherwise….. So you have quoted Arundhati’s article selectively taking only the rhetoric and not things like ” …to creating another gargantuan bureaucracy to police over government…i.e 2 oligarchies instead of One” seem justified somehow ..and not taking into account of NGO’s, Corporates & Media somehow smacks of hidden agenda…the fact that kejriwal being too simplistic in his descriptions is enough without going thru the fine print yourself! I find strange for you to not see thru the same in favor for the stubbornness bordering on dictatorial tendencies .. as for the people protesting for a cause…i still liken it to sunday protests instead of a sunday picnic!!Its really not the numbers that matter here… Lets not get too carried away by the hype for the sake of it ….

    • Sudeep permalink
      August 24, 2011 1:49 AM

      Anarkanu ji,

      >> in right frame of mind be a part of the demand to create a draconian law

      Why do you think the law is draconian?

      >> to creating another gargantuan bureaucracy to police over government…i.e 2 oligarchies instead of One

      even if one were to accept Arundhatis characterization of the govt. and the lokpal as oligarchies, two oligarchies, one to keep check over the other certainly sounds better than just one.

      >> and not taking into account of NGO’s, Corporates & Media somehow smacks of hidden agenda

      Are NGOs, corporates and the media in charge of investigating their own crimes? The govt. is.. Why doesnt it bother you?

      >> stubbornness bordering on dictatorial tendencies

      Even Gandhi was stubborn. At a time when no colony had been freed from the clutches of European colonialism for the past 100 years, he dreamt of Purna Swaraj. And what has ever been achieved by being reasonable? May I present to you two specimens of reasonable leaders.. Manmohan Singh, and Barack Obama. ‘Nuff Said.

  36. Aparna permalink
    August 23, 2011 1:43 PM

    Reading this report, I think I was wrong in my earlier impression(assumption, rather) that this was a movement exclusively of the urban elite “bad guys”(the social-network crowd, YFE kind of rightist caste-supremacist anti-reservationists and Muslim-haters, Ramdev-Ravishankar followers, people who don’t vote) which is conveniently labelled middle class activism by the non-participant middle class(me, us, left, etc).

    Arundhati’s piece for example portrays the movement’s leaders to be RSS-linked, casteist, corporate funded crooks who cooked up a media circus. That article is more likely to cause disillusionment with Arundhati than Anna, for some. The hardened uncompromising stances, the threat to dismantle parliamentary system, intended overthrow of the state–if these seem to characterise Anna movement, that may be the fault of the TV channels, a dramatisation of the slogans, overplaying the mood, skewing the real picture.

    NCPRI people are fussy about constitutional correctness: Taking away the independence of judiciary, doing away with parliamentary system, and such-like are a strict no-no because they go against basic structure of the constitution which can’t be amended. IAC is the other extreme which is totally convinced that the current the electoral system which elects the wrong people to legislate is really bad. A more fundamental difference between the two camps is this: their sense of time and time-wasting. IAC is characterised by an impatience, a belief that more talks, more committees, more discussion, more views, more time, slower pace are all unnecessary, are all simply eye-wash in the ultimate analysis–even if they agree to more time, they will do so unwillingly and cynically. Normally, I am a committee-sceptic; but in this case, I side with the NCPRI. When I see parliamentary committee ads inviting public views(a normal practice for key legislations) I think, “gee-I wish I had some feedback to give these people, but I am neutral on this particular issue, so I hope whoever wants to poke their nose in nation-building will participate in this to their heart’s content.”

    Gathering in large numbers without violence is a constitutional method. The common factor of Anna and Irom Sharmila is the use of individual fasting. A Gandhi method, but one I disagree with personally. It moves people, sometimes gets things done, but for it’s more like a gun to the head: a threat of a grim consequence if you don’t hear me, do as I say. To be used sparingly and as a last resort. This is the same feeling that moves us when we hear of a farmer suicide: would they have done it if there was some other way out? Did they have other ways out? Did my actions in any way deprive them of alternatives? Could the reporter have got the facts wrong, maybe?

    Reducing Aruna to “Sonia panellist” is as simplistic as reducing Kejriwal to Team Anna member. It would be wrong to believe that Anna is a simple old man with authoritarian tendencies who started a small movement that roped in Kejriwal etc as a publicist to sell it to TV and online audiences. The opposite could be nearer truth: Kejriwal started a small movement that roped in Anna and Ramdev and YFE etc to sell it to TV and online audiences.

    Corruption means different things to different people. To some it is bribe, to some it is discrimination or patronage or favoritism or queuejumping, to some it is politicians’ greed, to some it is evil corporates, to some it is big government, to some it is small government, to some it is police or army excesses, to some it is beaurocratic delaying, to some it is inefficiency, to some it is communal hatred, to some it is violence against women, to some it is bad roads, to some it is bad education, to some it is official apathy or misgovernance, and to some it is middlemen, to some it is modernity, to some it is premodernity, and so on. Just as corruption means different things to different people, so does the present movement mean different things to different people. To some it is impatient, to some it is long overdue; to some it is constitutional, to some it is not; to some it is Gandhian, to some it is not; to some it is a great forum, to some it is a tainted forum; to some it is adamant, to some it is reasonable; to some it is about the right to peaceful protest, to some it is about overshadowing parliamentary process; to many it is many different things.

    *Defection alert* :) Not really.

  37. Amit permalink
    August 23, 2011 2:22 PM

    I agree with the notion that corruption is just a converging point. But should a mass movement composed of people from all strata be called a genuine movement to eliminate labor self-alienation? But writers are not asking this question and they do not seem interested in, too. It seems to me that the writers are not connected with any labor movement with their full dedication, and that is why when a populist movement devoid of any structure comes to the surface, they are flocking towards it. Why lose patience? And this defense of Kejriwal that Lokpal would be just like an IT officer — this is tongue twisting. Lokpal will be another parallel bureaucratic system and cannot guarantee the elimination of structural inequities. Why share belief in state and bureaucracy when both together with civil society should wither away? Shall we work for movements that claim to divert attention away from class struggle and strengthen bureaucracy? Is this what the left should go down to? Only because an opposition has arrived which is tapping the hopelessness of people! This is just amazing. And when you go to a movement with prejudiced minds and you do not observe the preconceived notions, you find yourself in cognitive dissonance. The point is all these criticisms that ‘Vande Maatram’ slogans are the problem are invalid criticisms. They are not so much of a problem than the real core of the movement, which is based upon dissolving all fissures — caste, class, gender — and building mass sentiments on the big idea of nation. What are other views of Anna team and whether majority of supporters are behind those views? If not, then how could it be considered as a mass movement? Totality is important and I do not think the left should give this concept up so easily. The point is writers themselves claim that they are from upper class — then why the left should believe them? To me this is just a periodic movement of HIndu upper caste that shows its assertion time to time, albeit in different manners. This time it is allowing itself to be non-violent, respectful of other religions, less jingoistic and rich of morally charged politics. But structurally it has allowed right wing ideologies to prosper. This is a neoliberal movement of different nature than the present neoliberal ideology. It cannot be called a movement which enhances the dignity of human life that comes out of forms of labor conflicts.

  38. sadan jha permalink
    August 23, 2011 2:38 PM

    Thanks for such a nice post. It clears many stereotypes about the Anna movement. A careful observation about the composition of the crowd is extremely helpful in seeing through the blanket label of middle class movement.
    The question of symbols is also nicely placed. Because of the last two-three decades, we are comfortable with meanings of certain symbols. This is not to say that these meanings had no similar connection with the past. Symbols carried a whole range of meanings even earlier. At specific historical junctures, particular meanings acquired visiblity ( i.e. certain symbols of Gandhian non-cooperation-Khilafat were interpreted as acting as catalyst of communalism in the aftermath of NCM-Khilafat movement as interpreted by Mushirul Hassan or the issue of vande Mataram in 1937-1938). To cut the story short, many of the symbols, which are given communal or national stature often act as empty containers–as carriers of people’s aspirations, betraying any singular frame.

  39. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    August 23, 2011 2:55 PM

    Satya, I misunderstood your argument perhaps, and if so, I apologize.

  40. Mridu Rai permalink
    August 23, 2011 3:56 PM

    Dear Nivedita and Aditya,

    Thank you for your cogent counter-position to that taken by many of us so-called anti-establishment academics (among whom I count myself) and intellectuals (among whom I would not presume to count myself).

    I think the questions you raise about the cynicism of the above are well posed and I, for one, take them very seriously.

    That the power of this movement derives from a commonly shared popular anger against the impunity of corruption that has characterized our governing classes is certainly an important aspect of this largely self-generated support for “Team Hazare”.

    But what troubles me is that such a minimal common factor should be read as anything more than a convenient rallying symbol. Those pushing the rallying want us to believe that it is the most important–the only issue– which we, Indians, should be concerned about at present. Of course, the demand for accountability from our governing classes is a supremely important issue. Of course, speaking out against their brazen corruption is a matter of paramount urgency. But can we speak out against corruption only in this arena? I guess my concern is that if we want to make our governors accountable, then the questioning of their impunity must begin by addressing the question of why we, as a people, have made accountability to us itself a vacuous proposition. The wish to fight corruption in the absence of any serious questioning of the various ways in which we have entrenched social inequities and made peripheral to political functioning those millions of marginalized members of our so-called national collective, surely begs the question of whom our governing classes are to be made accountable to.

    And, beyond this minimal agreement on corruption, are we saying that “corruption” in fact means the same thing to all social segments gathered in support of Team Hazare? Do the upper middle classes define as corruption their own “little” encroachments on public property? Do they see as corruption their own “little” thefts of water and electricity? Do the patriarchal elements in that crowd accept as corruption their “little” demands for dowry? Yes, they all agree that India’s political classes are corrupt. And it’s very moving–I am not being sarcastic–to hear groups of people pledge not to give bribes. But that is a limited view of corruption that I believe will reproduce complacency about every other bit of our own corruptions. Being at Ramlila Maidan, I would like to propose, is a sort of ordeal by fire after which we can rest comforted that we have purged ourselves sufficiently so that our grave commissions of corruption can become our “little” sins.

    You are quite right: assuming a priori that this movement is casteist and communal smacks of rank arrogance and unhelpful cynicism. I am delighted to hear that you found very little — or at least no egregiously manifest — evidence of it in your visit to the Ramlila Maidan. But then isn’t that sort of evidence problematically based on the assumption that upper castes and communal partisans are always, in all arenas, overtly casteist and communal? Of course they are not at all times and everywhere so. We have shown time and again our infinite capacities for the discrete deployment of our prejudices; we know how to lay them aside temporarily.

    On this same point, in your earlier piece, Nivedita, you raise the following very important questions:

    “Any mass movement brings together disparate and sometimes starkly contradictory tendencies. Don’t we know that from the Indian struggle for independence? Was the Indian bourgeoisie absent from it? Or the religious right of all sorts? Or casteist and Brahminical forces?”

    Yes, absolutely. And don’t we know the damage that a movement simply papering over such stark fractures can do? Groups of Hindus and Muslims famously laid aside their religious differences to make common cause, but separately, in the non-cooperation and pro-Khilafat movements. But don’t we all know how that kind of parallel–as opposed to any more painfully forged truly common platform–mobilization produced when the thread that held it so slenderly together broke down? Yes, Gandhi’s rallies also brought together such disparate groups as you suggest. But we know which of those rallied there paid the price for the compromises demanded by the dominant groups in those assemblies, in the name of forging a united movement against the one common enemy–the amoral governing class of the time. Can we afford more such movements that point to numbers and the bringing together of utterly disparate groups to laud the vox populi, without, in fact, squarely confronting the dangerous reality that only some in those rallies will win consideration of their interests?

    But I do thank you again for prompting thought and questions about a cynically distant position that too many of us — “anti-establishment types” — have adopted.

    Best wishes,

    • August 23, 2011 6:19 PM

      Certainly the best articulated argument against joining the movement. Even if it does not persuade me to change my mind, it does lead me to think about the gap between the actual needs that people are expressing by rallying around this movement, and what they would get, should the movement succeed.

    • August 24, 2011 12:03 AM

      Sorry I did not understand anything. May be I am dumb.

    • August 24, 2011 6:28 AM

      I dont see why a movement like this would necessarily ‘reproduce complacency about every other kind of corruption’. I think that a good chunk of the protesters are protesting against the crony capitalism kind of corruption. After all, this movement only developed and came to the fore after the 2G, CWG and other large scale scams that involved corporates.

      One needs to reflect on the nature of middle class engagement in public life in last 20 years. They did not vote, they did not mobilize (apart from some anti-reservation protests, driven more by a sense of insecurity and scarcity than direct casteism IMO) , they did not protest. There was a general feeling of helplessness.

      I also think someone needs to do extensive survey work on the young middle classes to figure out what they actually feel about issues like land acquisition, communalism and tribal exploitation. There seems to be too much consensus among Indian academics regarding their beliefs. Just a simple example, if one is to believe the current consensus the comments on the Irom Sharmila article on ToI should be in defence of AFSPA, instead one almost entirely sees solidarity,

      Also even if the middle class is indeed communal and casteist, academia still has to explain why this is the case. I have not come across a good answer yet apart from the obvious defencies in social science education throughout.

    • M.S.S. Pandian permalink
      August 24, 2011 11:30 PM

      Dear Mridu, thanks for this. I never had and might never will have the sophistication to produce the arguments that you have produced. I am with you on this. I am deeply troubled with Aditya’s and Nivedita’s position. I, as a non-believing Christian, do not need Anna’s or Modi’s concession to practice or not to practice my religion. Aditya and Nivedita might think, as non-believing Hindus (I suppose so), that Muslims should be grateful to Anna for allowing them to do their namaz. There are many other ways of doing namaz, some ways of doing it need not have Anna’s, Aditya’s and Nivedita’s generosity.

      Also, I do not understand this term ‘political class’. I hope to understand this better someday. just a small hope. I might never.

      Let me add, Kejriwal and Prasant Bhushan think reservation is political corruption. What a conception of corruption.


    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      September 3, 2011 10:19 AM

      Mridu, permit me to come in rather late, with a comment I hope you will take as a serious (and not rhetorical) intervention. I was reading your excellent post in reply to Rahul Pandita, where I think you raise questions broader than the Harud festival, and which have resonance for the debate on the anti-corruption movement. I didn’t want to post this comment there, because I did not want to hijack that discussion too, to Anna!
      In your criticism of the anti-corruption movement above, you were clear that the disparate forces coming together over something called corruption in fact, tarred the progressive forces within it with the same brush as the reactionary. You ask above, “Don’t we know the damage that a movement simply papering over such stark fractures can do?” You insisted that the fact that “corruption” did not mean the same thing to all the sections within the movement was a serious problem.
      Now that you are being accused of making common cause with the religious right-wing which opposes the Harud festival for completely different reasons from yours (and mine – I too signed that letter) – I find you are making a completely different set of arguments with which I agree, in fact. You object there (in the Pandita response) to “the seamless weaving together of very different strands of opposition expressed to the holding of the festival”, you say “In this cavalier lumping together, everyone gets tarred by the same brush and becomes jointly the object of opprobrium”
      In short, you suggest correctly in that context, that differing motivations may come together over one single issue, that this coming together is the work of a particular historical moment, that coming together over this one issue does not mean that you all agree on everything. If in this instance, two sets of interests have come together – on the one hand, secularists and those who oppose the Indian state’s actions in Kashmir for democratic reasons, on the other, the Islamic right-wing who oppose Rushdie – and together succeed in derailing rhe Harud festival, each with different motivations, is this not an expression of the sort of political mobilization that is legitimately produced around single issues? Would you prefer to keep your hands and your theory clean by not associating yourself with a campaign in which forces are present that you find distasteful? Or would you rather come together on one issue (anti-Harud fesitval or the greater question of Azadi for Kashmir), and hope that your voice will be recognized as a distinct one, that the presence of secular democratic voices will be heard over those of religious fundamentalists and racketeers and anti-democrats, all with their own reasons for supporting the collapse of the Harud festival or the establishment of Azadi?

      • Mridu Rai permalink
        September 3, 2011 1:43 PM

        Hi Nivedita. It is always a pleasure to hear your views. Many thanks for your comment, which I read with full seriousness.

        I think I may have expressed myself unclearly. Thank you, therefore, for the opportunity to clarify my position, expressed both here earlier and in the context of my response to Rahul Pandita’s piece.

        You see, I think there is a vital difference that needs to be noted. While Anna Hazare’s movement claims to be a united movement, indeed a united popular movement (a janandolan), I do not see myself remotely as part of any movement in the context of Kashmir. My criticism of Pandita was in fact for suggesting that there was any deliberately mobilized unity of action among different constituencies that functioned entirely independently of each other in the context of opposing the Harud festival. I hold views that are my individual ones and express them independently of others. If there is an expression of a position I find myself agreeing with—as I found in the “Open Letter on the ‘Harud’ Festival that was posted on Kafila—I signal my agreement but, once again, as an individual.

        Therefore, although I won’t claim anything so self-important as wishing to keep my hands or my theory clean, I certainly and most unequivocally condemn and distance myself from certain constituencies and political positions with which I find myself ideologically at variance. These include the distasteful campaign accompanied by death threats that was conducted on that Facebook page (“Boycott the Harud Festival”). I also distance myself unequivocally from the position of any religious right wing elements. I condemn both sorts of positions whether it is in opposing the Harud festival or demanding or not demanding azadi for Kashmir. It is precisely in that sense that I found Pandita’s attempt to conflate these various strands not just reprehensible but also inaccurate.

        Best wishes,

      • Nivedita Menon permalink*
        September 3, 2011 2:37 PM

        Just one last time, I promise:)
        You have expressed yourself with perfect clarity. The point though, is that the differences that seem so stark and obvious to you between the Anna movement and say, the movement for Azadi or the campaign criticizing the Harud festival, are not as clear as you think. It remains a matter of your perception against Pandita’s.
        You may claim to be an individual but you are bound to be interpellated as part of “one side” by those who disagree with you, as you have been; and as is bound to happen with any campaign – who remains an individual in such a situation, regardless of how you feel in your heart?
        When you say “I certainly and most unequivocally condemn and distance myself from certain constituencies and political positions with which I find myself ideologically at variance” – so do we, most unequivocally in every single thing we wrote; and so did others of the Left secular persuasion who tried to engage with the mass movement against corruption. It certainly didn’t save us from being “tarred with the same brush”! (the phrase you use in your response to RP)
        All I’m asking you to think about is that exactly the arguments Pandita deploys against people like you, have been deployed against those like us in the Left who took the IAC movement seriously. (Indeed, you will find the exact phrase “tarred with the same brush” expressed as a fear in one of the early comments to my first post.)
        Let me reiterate that I find your response to Pandita entirely apposite, and your response to us, completely at variance with it.

  41. AJOY BOSE permalink
    August 23, 2011 4:56 PM

    I think it is the large numbers out for Anna that are really scaring away his left wing critics. In fact, one angry response to Aditya/Nivedita’s article actually goes to the extent of saying “We have always been against the majority ……” and again “numbers we know we will never have….”. This is actually far more true for the ‘pure’ left rather than the mainstream left parties or even the Naxalites who operating under the guise of AISA have either supported or started parallel struggles against corruption. All this talk about the dangers of the type of people associated with Anna’s movement and the anti-democratic nature of Jan Lokpal bill mixing large dollops of untruths and misrepresentation stems from some primeval fear of being swept away by the tide of mass unrest. At the same time, it is also a Brahminical revulsion at being contaminated by political untouchables. Mind you, these are the same people who bitterly criticize Maoists fighting their battles in the forests because they have divorced themselves from mass struggles. And it is the same people who wax euphoric about the sheer poetry of the popular upsurge at Tahirr Square completely forgetting the large presence of all kinds of sectarian groups including the Muslim Brotherhood there. At least, the traditional left parties however flawed their politics, have to engage with large numbers of people if for nothing else but grab back political power in the states they have lost in the last elections. Even the Maoists have a certain constituency among the tribals and a fairly large territory to defend and these require persuasion of people beyond just their little club of fellow travelers although this is done with the help of a gun. But our worthies of the ‘pure left’ have no such concerns or compulsions and can happily remain critical albeit inconsequential observers even as the parameters of India’s parliamentary democracy are being reset.

    • Sudeep permalink
      August 24, 2011 2:07 AM

      Nivedita ji

      Aise hi likhte rahiye, mai knicker utar ke laal langot pahan loonga.. :-D

  42. Sanjay Srivastava permalink
    August 23, 2011 6:30 PM

    Dear Nivi and Aditya,

    I’ve been going to the Maidan over the past few days and, hopefully, I will be able to formulate a fuller response to your positions at a later point. And yes, I think A. Roy is quite wrong to suggest that the protests represent some kind of anti-state sentiment. Were it that! At this point, however, what needs to be said that a less than complete agreement with the Hazare movement does not itself constitute disdain for the ‘people’, democracy, mass movements, OBCs, those who are religious, the middle-classes who do not speak English, those from small towns, the Gurudwaras and Dharamshalas that may or not be providing food for visitors…. Notwithstanding our likes, dislikes and fears — no amount of reading and writing does away with these — I think that psychologising disagreement might only serve to suggest that motives (particularly of those who disagree with our positions) are transparent. I am fully willing to accept that there is a range of opinions present between the poster questioning Sonia Gandhi’s parentage and calls for silence for namaz, but, similarly, you might consider that there might be those who might be trying to work out what the ground between the two (among other!) flag posts is. Yes, it may be that some might be slower than others at assessing the situation, but that’s another issue. It isn’t really about a fear, anxiety and disdain at the efflorescence of the ‘great unwashed’ (indeed those that regularly ensure that these are turfed out of the city through slum demolitions — RWAs, for example — are showing unequivocal support). Rather that, at least as far as I am concerned, I would like to get a clearer view of the podium. But, you know, the extraordinary amount of flag waving (whatever that means) made it quite difficult over the last few days. Hopefully, soon. Regards,


  43. Meenakshi Thapan permalink
    August 23, 2011 6:46 PM

    Ghazala, an open mind is critical in the troubled times we live in…a nuanced understanding of this ‘movement’, the complexities, the dilemmas and the contradictions, all need our patience, and openness to comprehend what is going on, ..thank you Nivedita and Aditya.

  44. August 23, 2011 7:06 PM

    Revealing and timely post… Thanks a lot!

  45. August 23, 2011 7:28 PM

    Everyone should be there, why not, if one has time, energy and resources. All mass congregation draws crowd and more crowd, Kumbh Mela for example. And when so much of glorification by visual media, why not go and have a see! People like to connect. And opportunities are rather not many these days. So go and see what is happening. And then whether or not you will wear a Anna head band or hold a placard depends on how resourceful is the Mela organisers are. In any case, your accountability and risk taking is not much. Also, Langar is there. So go and have a ‘meaningful’ participation to a cause of Anti-corruption just by being there. I am sure that there are a great number who are very actively participating. I am not talking of the Kejriwals or Bedis. I have in my mind the disgruntled people of the urban areas ,particularly the small and middle trading class, who are certainly not doing that well at present ( there will always be a large number of disgruntled people at a given time, corruption or no corruption) and put their grievance against the incumbent administration. Whatever I gather from the news, no peasant or working class participation has been seen yet. IIT students or Bangalore Techies are making more news value as compared to their participation. But they also participate in many such rallies like say, ‘environment’ or ‘walkathon’ etc for different causes. It is good. As I tried to say in the beginning, people love to connect with the society.

    The worry is whether or not their time, commitment and energy get misdirected and misused by not so accountable a program! Team Anna has proved that they can incite a spark that can light a fire and flame. But can it also manage and direct this mass energy to a meaningful end! Let us accept the fact that whatever comes to formation of the structure in handling corruption has to be done through the Institutions that we have. We certainly can not go back to Khap or Taliban way.

  46. miao permalink
    August 23, 2011 7:32 PM

    Brilliantly put by Ajoy. There’s not only the “Brahminical revulsion at being contaminated by political untouchables” but there’s also a Brahminical obsession about”rightness” and “wrongness”, and acute discomfort to engage with the “actual” people on the streets. Out on the streets, and railway platforms, and in the neighborhood parks, and under the tin-sheds of tea-stalls, the actual “people” are chaotic, nebulous and impudent enough not to conform to the cherished prototypes of the private Marxists, or “mobile republics”.

  47. August 23, 2011 7:56 PM

    I would like to suggest that it is the persona that is the most crucial factor for this huge public attraction. Whatever may be the other aspects of Anna Hazare’s persona it is impossible not to see an extremely strong, inward looking peaceful picture of a small size man with the white cap and a Khadi desi clothing, reflecting what can be called ‘everymans’s’ image of a Gandhian.

    Gandhians in terms of those who now live in Gandhian ashrams and meticulously perform Gandhian rituals – running schools and Khadi centres are almost completely absent from the public spaces to day. Earlier there would be a Narayanbhai Desai or a Radhakrishna or such figures milling within the public platforms in Delhi and elsewhere. The Gandhi Peace Foundation was a lively place where progressive and human rights groups would meet and some of the individuals, what I would call the traditional Gandhians, would be invited as part of a diverse group of commentators. All the noted Gandhian figures were part of the media debates and amongst opinion makers. In the last few years and may be more, particularly in the last few months after the passing of Lakshmi Jain, there is actually not a single Gandhian who is part of the public debating spaces or media debates.

    Yet in the minds of the younger generation , not only college students but all the way to middle level professionals, IT technicians, farmers and the vendors, rickshaw pullers and other citizens, there is a kind of awe for the national flag, for the freedom struggle, for what they hear about the Quit India Movement and so on. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is invoked on October 2nd, flashed every day on Doordarshan news. Many young people whom I have met in the age group 25-50 have often said – ‘We envy you. We were not there. How thrilling it must have been. How united all of you were?’ So there is a yearning.

    On to the scene is projected a Gandhi topi wearing diminutive man always looking serious if not frowning, going through the rites of praying in Rajghat, of by and large being silent but always looking peaceful, smiling, what can even be called warm hearted or loving. It is this image of the ‘Noble Gandhian’ that has triggered the heterogeneous widespread communities who have come to put their faith in ‘Anna’.

    It is well known that the majority of these flag waving chanting crowds do not know the various draft bills designing the office of the Lokpal. But they trust him to make it happen because of that emotional trust in a ‘Gandhian’. If one understands this then the kind of ‘badnaaming’ that is doing the rounds might be modified. It would be most useful if respectful conversations could be arranged and organized between the ‘professional members’ of the Anna team, the hard working drafters of the NCPRI bill and the less militant spokespersons from the UPA Government.

    Looked at carefully and with sympathy the solution seems quite simple. Those who are debating on the TV should stop enjoying their performances as adversaries and put this together to become proposers. TV anchors are creating bull fighting deliberately. It will be much better to move from the big fight mode to the Think Tank, Discussion Group, Working Group, and Negotiating Group mode. Surely out of the charmed circle of personalities which is being used by all the TV channels – about 50-70 of ‘chosen’ persons, Channels can create out of this a group reflecting on these elements and then making this into a ‘publicly available mediating group’. This would bring out of this andolan, the capacity of Indian intellectuals, public figures to translate and transform a public protest into a public policy.

    Give this a try.

  48. August 23, 2011 8:11 PM

    A perceptive report.
    Many points to be applauded.
    As one who believes in pluralism and that core of Hinduism is eminently in harmony with later day term, secularism, liked this report. It is a whiff of fresh breeze from some old friends in left – “secular” tradition.
    Thank you.

  49. Karthick RM permalink
    August 23, 2011 9:15 PM

    Maybe the quote of Anatole France was more appropriate here

    “Even if 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

  50. August 23, 2011 9:39 PM

    Thank you Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam for a demographic of the people who turned up at the maidaan. But, looking beyond inadequately informed people coming together to support a cause they understand, what is a writer’s role in this mess? Debates between the elite intelligentsia about their carefully manicured opinions have become increasingly blatantly self-serving. I found both versions of the bill inadequate. It is not the magic solution. In a country where the supreme court, for all its stands, has been compromised (even from the opposite end of the spectrum from A.Roy’s conspiracy-theoryish prophecies), how long before a body like the lokpal (in either form) bows to billion-dollar interests?
    Is it worth the effort for anybody?

  51. Rahul permalink
    August 23, 2011 11:38 PM

    I do not support either the Jan Lokpal Bill or the govt Lokpal Bill. However, I see the govt bill as the lesser of the 2 evils because it sets up another CVC like body with some extra powers, which may work well in certain cases. The JLP Bill on the other hand is draconian and dangerous because it seeks to create a super-cop and a huge bureaucracy with little accountablity. The JLP guys seem to operate on the belief that MPs are inherently BAD people while the “civil society” is inherently good. So as long as civil society gets to choose the Lokpal, it will work fantastically. If you value a democratic country, you cannot put the country in the hands of a dictator, howsoever benevolent he might be. A democracy can fucntion only if you have robust institutions, separation of powers and checks and balances. The JLP Bill undermines each organ of the state: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary without any guarantee that corruption would be eradicated. It is actually a given that it would not, it would only lead to far worse problems in the country since the lokpal would be used against opponents of various organs of the state. We should be wary of these people because Shanti Bhushan is the guy who drafted the Anti-Defection Act, which effectively put paid to any meaningful debate in Parliament. As to the Left, they have become completely irrelevant in today’s society. The poor do not look up to them and the rich never did. Their support base (miniscule one they have) is among the bureaucracy whose jobs the Left is too busy protecting with draconian labour laws while the vast majority of the people remain in unorganised sector. Industry does not want to hire full time employees because once they are hired they cannot be fired or their salaries decreased whether the company is making profit or not. Therefore, there is huge mechanisation of industry, while we have surplus labour, which have very little avenue of good employment except as contractual labour. The Left is also too busy looking down their noses at normal everyday people who pray to a God, do yoga with Baba Ramdev, and yes have a healthy scepticism about certain Muslims who seem to believe in grievance mongering rather than making any real effort to better themselves.

  52. dinesh permalink
    August 24, 2011 12:26 AM

    And few self styled guardians of constitution like you feel that you are the only people those are Enlightened and know better than masses.I believe You all read history, tell me when all the people involved in movements were really knowing all the aspects of the movement.People normally follow the main theme of movement if it strikes the chord with them. Precisely,this arrogance that refuses to engage with masses is the sole reason that space for left is eroding in mainstream politics and unfortunately loosing strength in parliament.You all like to quote some noble men. i also have a quote but don’t know who said.”Smallest of actions are better than noblest of intentions.” To engage masses, you have to work with them, have to listen to them and put forward your opinion and convince them. Alas!it is too difficult to work in between them and leave one’s comfort zone.

  53. Snehal permalink
    August 24, 2011 1:17 AM

    Ms. Aruna Roy is asked a question that the NCPRI’s suggestion (her suggestions for the Lokpal Bill), has 3 members in the commitee that will select the Lokpal. The three people suggested are the Prime Minister, The Leader of the Opposition and a sitting judge. The moot question is – How desirable is it to have political dominance in a committee that selects the people who are supposed to address corruption by politicians?

    Her answer can be listened to in the programme News Hour on TIMES NOW channel, 23rd August 2011. (Debate: No real promises from PM? – 2-The –

    When I listen to her reply, I don’t get it- what is she trying to say?
    She says ‘…the CAG is appointed by government, the election commissioner is appointed by government… if the government knows that this committee (selection committee mentioned in Jan Lokpal, which has many members and is not dominated by political office bearers) is going to select Lokpal, it will ‘load’ (?) (is she saying that?) those appointments.. ”

    Am I hearing correctly? I don’t understand.. Is she saying that a committee that is not dominated by politicians will make appointments more favorable to politicians than a committee that is clearly dominated by political office bearers?.. Can somebody listen to this and understand something different?

    • August 24, 2011 2:02 AM

      I think Aruna Roy is making some broad assumptions. She is saying as the CEC CAG etc are appointed by the Govt, and will protect the Govt it will have undue advantage in Janlokpal. I do not think it will work out like that.It all depends on the persons involved

  54. Snehal permalink
    August 24, 2011 1:21 AM

    The link mentioned in my earlier comment is

  55. Snehal permalink
    August 24, 2011 1:34 AM—2/videoshow/4382061.cms at timepoint 05:00 in this video.

    • Aparna permalink
      August 24, 2011 3:17 AM

      JLP views things in terms of balancing Politician/Judiciary/Independent Constitutional Functionary. NPCRI in terms of balancing Govt/Opposition/Judiciary.

  56. Snehal permalink
    August 24, 2011 2:34 AM

    The selection process of Lokpal under the Jan Lokpal Bill is described as follows:

    Selection process for the members and Chairperson of Jan Lokpal and Jan Lokayukta has been kept transparent, broad based and participatory.
     The 10 members and the chairperson of Jan Lokpal will be selected by a Selection Committee that would comprise of the PM, Leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha, two youngest judges of Supreme Court (SC), two youngest Chief Justices of High Courts, Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). The Selection Committee will make the above appointment from a pool of shortlisted candidates that has been identified by a “Search Committee”.
     The “Search Committee” is a 10-member committee formed as follows: First, the Selection Committee selects five members from retired Chief Election Commissioners and retired CAGs. However those CECs and CAGs who have any substantive allegation of corruption against them or who have joined any political party after retirement or who are still in any government appointment shall not be eligible. These 5 members will then select another 5 members from the civil society to make the 10-member Search Committee.
     The Search Committee will invite recommendations from various eminent people (like journalists, academics, etc). These names will be put up on a website and public feedback invited. The search committee will then, by consensus, choose 3 times the number of vacancies. This list will be forwarded to the Selection Committee which will then make final selections through consensus.
     All meetings of the Search Committee and Selection Committee shall be video recorded and will be made public.

    How is this not better than the NCPRI’s suggestion of 3-member selection committee comprising the PM, Leader of the Opposition and a judge?

  57. Kavita Krishnan permalink
    August 24, 2011 10:21 AM

    “जिन्हें इस आन्दोलन के संघ द्वारा अपहरण की चिंता है, वे खुद क्यों किनारे बैठ कर तूफ़ान के गुजरने का इंतज़ार करते हुए ‘तटस्थ बौद्धिक वस्तुपरक वैज्ञानिक विश्लेषण’ में लगे हुए हैं? आपके वैज्ञानिक विश्लेषण से भविष्य की पीढियां लाभान्वित हो सकती हैं, लेकिन जनता की वर्तमान आकांक्षाओं की लहरों और आवर्तों पर इनका प्रभाव तभी पड़ सकता है, जब आप भी लहर में कूदें.” – Pranay Krishna’s piece ‘Anna, Arundhati aur Desh’ and the previous one, ‘Anna aur Sansad’ at are insightful responses to those writers who see fascism or conspiracy in the ongoing anti-corruption movement.

  58. August 24, 2011 10:40 AM

    There’s snobbery and now reverse snobbery. Out there, ever so cleverly, it’s about the government vs ‘Civil Society’ and the JLP vs the Lokpal Bill; here, it’s all about the Left and the Other. There’s just no getting away from it, is there? Pontiifications, smart analysis and witty headlines is all it boils down to, isn’t it, trips to the hallowed ground and interacting with the Great Unwashed notwithstanding?

    Pardon the hyperbole but it’s a monumental shame that merits of the case, as also the means to achieve the end we all want, have been given the go by at every step in this ‘movement’. Can sheer numbers – no, let me rephrase that, sheer visible numbers – form the basis of any justifiable and rational argument? Because then, I’m afraid, we’re on a very slippery slope.

    Even if we were to disregard the antecedents of those heading this ‘movement’ (why we should do that, though, I don’t know), how do we ignore the faulty solution that’s being projected? A Frankenstein to fight the ogre? Good luck to us all.

    Is talking enough, as some enlightened souls tell us? Everyone is talking but no one is listening, which, as far as I’m concerned, can only lead to nose. Especially if one side sees their way as a democratic solution.

  59. justirreverence permalink
    August 24, 2011 3:00 PM


    This movement makes the govt/state the ultimate, all-pervasive and omnipresent villain. . Slogans need to be simplistic but positions and stances can’t be so. unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened: “Bhrashtachar mitana hai”= Sarkar mitana hai”? if only it was that simple. Many of the comments here reflect the same simplistic, binary positions. If corruption was like polio, kala azar or even AIDS we could have ‘removed’ it. but how do we remove bhrastachar/corruption without attacking ourselves that is to say our own value system? how many of us would object the next time we see a child labourer being thrashed. Or, will we reject the convenience of paying a small bribe? and choose the troubles of making the system work the right way. Swami NIgamanand died trying to do just that. yesterday in rural MP, a dead body was cremated on tyres and wood from the hut of the man who died. the state only has provisions for taking care of an unclaimed body, not for somone who can’t afford a decent funeral! Ms Roy makes the far-fetched paralled between Maoists and Annaists but there is some merit in her argument about Anna’s agitation taking attention away from corporate corruption. govt is the demon to be slayed. do that and the ideal state(ram rajya?) will be formed. I have my doubts.

    p.s: why is there no violence? because those who protest have no real stake in it..say unlike the Adivasis, Dalits and farmers or those threatened with displacement and starvation ?

    p.s 2: Anna working hard for Rahul Gandhi, just like Gandhi did for Nehru

  60. Uday Anand permalink
    August 24, 2011 9:19 PM

    Having myself been guilty of many of the things you have pointed out in this article, I have found this article extremely instructive and helpful in organizing my own thoughts. So thanks for that.
    I am also very glad that you highlighted the confused way in which we sometimes deal with questions of religion

    “In the end, it is a question of strengthening the democratic fabric of society and the lives and dignity of minorities; for this, it is necessary that the Hindu majority stays away from the Hindu Right. And this project is doomed from the start if we continuously ridicule their ways of thinking, their symbols, and their untutored ‘unpolitical’ language”

    This process of ‘ridiculing’ symbols of the Hindu majority is entirely self defeating because worse than even antagonizing a set of that majority, this makes the Left Elite almost entirely irrelevant in the minds of large sections of our country.

    It is this kind of ‘distancing’ from the masses as a reality instead of a theoretical construct that has made it so difficult for the left elite to identify with this movement.

  61. Snehal permalink
    August 24, 2011 9:52 PM

    can we have another democratic system, in which, people can demand referendums, and make their government conduct one, so that they do not have to come on streets every now and then and fetter their energy in justifying which personality they support or do not support. Can ‘one person, one vote’ principle, so cherished by Ambedkar, be exercised on each law and each issue, if and when the people choose to?

  62. Manash permalink
    August 25, 2011 2:01 AM

    The piece seems to flow into the realm of an experiential idea (or is it inspiration?) of politics which is deeply fractured, layered, and complicated. I think in such junctures, analysis cannot be abandoned for the sake of a “pure space” of experiencing the new.

    But the new seems to be occurring within a paradoxical atmosphere of high morbidity and opportunism. Point is not the heterogeneity of people (across class, caste and community) joining the movement, but the homogeneity of the consensus around the aims of the movement. That I think is what is worrying a lot of people whose scepticism doesn’t appear at all out of place at this juncture.

    Reminds me of a naughty twist of Marx by Milan Kundera in a story with a different context: “Optimism is the opium of the masses”. And maybe, sometimes, of individuals too :)

  63. August 25, 2011 9:30 PM

    Thank you for being there, for writing with your eyes, for busting the “only middle class” myth, and for demonstrating that purity – be it in movement politics or in a caste context – is pure bunkum. I am so tired of these unending insider/outsider arguments every time a new set of ‘outsiders’ mobilize themselves, be they young women on the Pink Chaddi campaign, or people unlike us fighting against what they understand corruption to be.

    The same ‘test’ questions keep on circulating. Are your motives and methods pure enough? How ideologically blue blooded are you? Are you, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion? It’s time someone took a serious look at power politics within and among political and social movements, and how we outcaste issues and people through the use of concepts such as purity.

  64. joe permalink
    August 28, 2011 1:47 PM

    The whole question of mass engaging with religious symbols etc,expressed in many debates here, smacks of some kind of a subjective academic elitism, i doubt.Because any understanding ofvarious brands of stalinist left woulld not have raised these problems,as such.As we know, even a corrupt cpm, even now can bring a bigger crowd, at short notice, in kerala or bengal.Thier leaders know how to engage with religious crowd or durgapooja without compromising on their position. Just imagine the kind of turn outs for a gaddar naxal song outing in the rurual belts,what ever be our take on their politics. These guys knew , how to engage with relgion or symbols , and be biggest crowd pullers ,among the least educated, nay, ‘animistic’ crowds. I think, the problem is more with the academic crowds.Remember A.K.G in kerala to Mao in china had been the biggest icons and crowd pullers , despite their professed atheism. Though, I do find intersting many valid points raised by nivedita,Gail, Saroj and kavita

  65. Mridu Rai permalink
    September 3, 2011 3:12 PM

    Hi Nivedita [somehow I couldn’t find a way to reply immediately below your comment so I posting this separately]

    As I said, it is always a pleasure to hear your views. Unfortunately, I still cannot agree with you. Rahul Pandita’s interpellation is his. Unfortunately, there is very little control I can have over someone deliberately misrepresenting my position. But no such interpellation can force me to define myself accordingly. And I believe I can still insist, every time anyone does attempt to define me inaccurately, that my individual position be recognized. It would be his/her task to prove I have done or said anything to justify my being unified within an “other side” that includes ideologues I condemn. Is that true of many of the people gathered at the Ramlila Grounds? Were not many of them in fact defining themselves as being consciously part of a united movement, that even overrode social, economic or ideological fractures?

    And let me state here clearly, that I have nowhere in my response to you and Aditya, remotely suggested that you had anything in common with either the “communal” or the “casteist” elements present among the self-identified followers of Anna Hazare. I disagree entirely with anyone who may have “tarred you with the same brush” as the votaries of ideologies that are not yours. I do not, nor have seen, anything in your comments/posts that would lead me to make such a grossly inaccurate conflation.

    I believe R. Pandita’s interpretation of my political position is as inaccurate as is that of people who have accused you of making common cause with elements you are clearly opposed to both in ideology and in praxis.

  66. May 8, 2014 11:17 AM

    Queel Ьonheuг de regarɗer ce poste


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