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Tired of Democracy? – Gail Omvedt

August 25, 2011

This guest post comes from  GAIL OMVEDT

Why are such masses of people (apparently: in our village some came out for a morcha organized by the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti) following Anna Hazre, when it is now clear that his Lokpal is an authoritarian, centralized and undemocratically pushed proposal?

Several articles, including those by Arundhati Roy and Aruna Roy, have made this clear by now.  I can find only one point to disagree with in the otherwise excellent article by Arundhati:  that, like the Maoists, the Jan Lokpal Bill seeks the overthrow of the state.  It does not.  The movement wants to keep the state, in an even more centralized form, but replace its current rulers with a new set.  And Ranjit Hoskote’s comment that “Anna Hazare’s agitation is not a triumph of democracy [but] a triumph of demagoguery” deserves to be remembered.  The increasingly authoritarian, even fascist forms of activities are disturbing even many of its supporters.

But why is this happening?   Many people are clearly tired of the ways of democracy inIndia, but why?  Arundhati comments that the campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill gathered steam after embarrassing revelations by Wikileaks and a series of scams.  This is an important part of the truth.  But it leaves out one factor.

Indian democracy has a system of reservations, which is currently being extended to OBCs – and demands have been heard from Muslims and from Dalit Christians that they also be included.  Reservations are anathema to many of the core supporters of Anna Hazare.  This includes, for example, a group calling itself “Krantikari Manuwadi Morcha.”  Its leader, one R.K. Bharadwaj has said, “Reservation is the root of all corruption.  The real revolution is to return to Manu’s merit-based society.”  It’s hard to believe – the author of all anti-merit demands for privilege according to birth!   Bharadwaj argues, “those with reservation are the ones in corruption. Those in the general category are the sufferers.”   This major aspect of democratizing and acting against the old privilege of birth, is hated by those who benefit from it.  Now those who hate it are getting a chance to divert attention into the single issue of “corruption,” with the hidden agenda of blaming much of it on reservations!

The fact that the Parliament has been considering returning to the caste-based census is also something that has troubled the Manuwadis of India.  This would be an important reversal of the decades old policy of trying to pretend that caste does not really exist, that it is withering away on its own.  Dr.Ambedkar had a pertinent comment about the Home Minister of the 1940s when the first Census without caste was taken.  He said, “The Home Minister of the Government of India who is responsible for this omission was of the opinion that if a word does not exist in a dictionary it can be proved that the fact for which the word stands does not exist. One can only pity this petty intelligence.”  Only by admitting a  phenomenon exists and devising policies to deal with it can it be overcome.

The Lokpal Bill itself is very authoritarian, in putting non-elected people of high class-caste background over elected officials and government bureaucrats (but not, as people have noted, over corporations!).  “Pal” means “guardian,” and in many ways the proposal recalls Plato’s Guardians – philosopher-kings who would rule the state.   Plato, of course, believed in something like a varna system – people would be said to have special “essences,” gold for rulers, silver for warriors, bronze and iron for workers and farmers.   So apparently does Anna Hazare.   Arundhati, again, cites Mukul Sharma on Anna’s attitude to caste: “It was Mahatma Gandhi’s vision that every village should have one chamar, one sunar, one kumhar and so on. They should all do their work according to their role and occupation, and in this way, a village will be self-dependant. This is what we are practicing in Ralegan Siddhi.” Is this theIndiapeople want to return to?  So it seems.  The deeply disturbing aspect of this whole event is the reactionary trend that political and social life, especially as dominated by “shiningIndia,” seem to be taking.

But corruption of course is a reality.  What is the solution?  It used to be (in the 19th century) just as bad if not worse in theU.S. than inIndia.  (Not that it is completely eradicated today).  It did not end through a supercop.  It ended through the actions of ordinary people.  Dr. Bharat Patankar, of Shramik Mukti Dal and a leader of many farmers’ and project evictees’ movements inMaharashtra, suggests peoples’ courts as a way out.  SMD’s annual melava in September will suggest ways and means of doing this.

In fact, corruption can only come to an end when the millions of ordinary people ofIndiafight it: by refusing to indulge in it, by taking action against the small local corrupt officials and powerholders they come against, by taking out morchas, taking action.  This is the way out –not “Guardians” chosen by Magsaysay Award winners.

38 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2011 12:07 PM

    The Lokpal Bill itself is very authoritarian, in putting non-elected people of high class-caste background over elected officials and government bureaucrats (but not, as people have noted, over corporations!).

    Huh? I seem to have missed this part in either of the two drafts.

  2. ooh, on the other hand permalink
    August 25, 2011 12:35 PM

    X supports Anna Hazare, x opposes reservation does it mean that anna hazare opposes reservation. The specter of Anna is haunting so many people in India from Prakash Karats to Gail Omvedts, from Arundati Roys to Prabhat Patnaiks. The responses tell more about their fears and biases. Anna & his team are not shouting against corruption, they are proposing a mechanism. Critqiues of that are understandable but neither Arundati nor Gail have come out with detailed critiques of that mechanism nor have bothered to tell us whether they find the whole idea of LokPal unacceptable and they are happy with current system to tackle corruption.
    Finally I am sure that both Gail and Arundati know Gandhi’s views on caste&varna and would have read Anil Nauriya’s piece on that. Gandhi’s views underwent a change and
    in the final years of his life he took an anti-caste position. What prevents them from
    acknowledging this. For how long they will raise the usual bogies. Cant they think of some
    new bogies.

    • August 25, 2011 3:13 PM

      Anna & his team are not shouting against corruption, they are proposing a mechanism

      Newsflash: The proposed ‘mechanism’ has been explained in this post, as well as elsewhere. The short of it is that the Lokpal is intended to be more powerful than Parliament, which is made up of the elected representatives of this country. The members of Lokpal are not elected by the public, and are hence not accountable to them.
      Which part of this is so hard to understand?
      Reading the actual text of the bill also helps. You did read the bill before you showed up here, didn’t you?

      • vallyettans permalink
        August 25, 2011 4:50 PM

        LOKPAL or anything for that matter cannot override parliament and there is no such thing in JANLOKPAL bill though it do have some draconian methods. Its just frivolous fear factor propounded by our very own politicians to mask their inability to counter corruption menace. If u r honest there is enough provision for you to be safe

  3. Abhi permalink
    August 25, 2011 12:50 PM


    Do you fear Anti corruption Law?

    • Lovelesh permalink
      August 25, 2011 1:23 PM

      Offcourse he is.

      Otherwise, there is no point opposing Anna’s movement.

      Since, we all know what our govt. has been doing, my question to all who think Anna’s movement is undemocratic:

      Whatever our govt. is doing, will that be considered democratic?

  4. Lovelesh permalink
    August 25, 2011 1:17 PM


    Is Anna Hazare pointing a finger on you? or on Govt.? or Opposition?
    If no, then why are you opposing a bill which will benefit whole country? He is just raising his voice against corrupt activities.

    As far as him being considered an authoritarian: Do you know that bills have got passed in 20 minutes in our parliament? They got passed because they were for the benefits of our politicians.

    But, when it comes to benefit of country (which apparently means loss to politicians), the bill is still hanging since last 42 yearsm without getting passed in 8 attempts.

    Will his version of Lokpal bring some benefit or undue advantage to his team?
    If no, then what’s the problem?
    If yes, then bring that point forward.

    • joe permalink
      August 27, 2011 3:15 PM

      The guys who appear here pointing an accusing finger on Gail, for explaining the brahminical aspect of the movement, are so arrogant that they do’nt even consider it. They want a complete surrender and belief in a messiah, which speaks volumes on their credentials. do you think, prabhat to arundhati to gail have never raised or engaged in serious problems concerning india’s polity in the past, or is that anna is the only phenomenon , worth reckoning, which happened in India.All said and done, nothing wrong in engaging with the movement , without abject surrender

  5. August 25, 2011 2:28 PM

    Folks like Abhi, who like asking such rhetorical and pointless questions, would do well to do a bit of homework, and find out who Gail Omvedt is, and why her views have enormous validity. This question is childish, and undeserving of a response.

  6. August 25, 2011 2:58 PM


    It seems you are going to be prosecuted by the Lokpal or Lokayut thats why in frustration you wrote this article.

    • Kumarpushp permalink
      August 26, 2011 2:47 AM

      Dear Tradingideas, Gail Omvedt does not have any hidden agenda as Anna team member have.Anna has got a clean image but what about Prasant Bhusan and his father.166 million dalits and 120 million muslims donot want any RSS and their umblical links to spread the anarchy in india and come back from behind.

      • joe permalink
        August 27, 2011 3:17 PM

        kumarpushp, the champion of dalits, cannot realize the kind of treatment Anna metes out to dalits in his village. Still he confers on Anna a clean image

  7. Geetali permalink
    August 25, 2011 3:43 PM

    ”The Lokpal Bill itself is very authoritarian, in putting non-elected people of high class-caste background over elected officials and government bureaucrats.”
    Could Ms mvedt please cite the source on which this comment is based? Thank you.

  8. August 25, 2011 3:45 PM

    How was the power of Tammany Hall corruption broken in the U.S? Back during Prohibition, not only were the politicians getting rich out of municipal contracts and pay-offs from bootleggers- they actually ran an extortion scheme whereby ordinary people were pulled off the streets and thrown in jail on false charges. They paid a bribe to get the charges dismissed.
    Gail Omvedt tells us ordinary people stood up against such corruption. This is true. Some did. They were never heard of again. What broke Tammany Hall was the Archbishop turning against the Mayor who’d shacked up with a show-girl and Roosevelt using Federal funding to promote La Guardia. But La Guardia over-reached himself. The early career of Roy Cohn is an eye-opener. His dad was a Judge and so he became a fixer, gaining fame- along with Nixon and Kennedy- by being one of Mcarthy’s young pit-bulls.
    Hong Kong’s notoriously corrupt police force was very thoroughly reformed- but the impetus came from the top.
    I am not aware of any situation where ordinary people and people’s courts have ended corruption. On the contrary, people’s courts have been a source of terror and extortion.

    Clearly, the Lok Pal office can easily, by fiat, be reserved for women from dalit or bahishkrit or non-Hindu background.True, the Lok Pal will reinforce caste loyalties because every accused will claim he is only being persecuted because of his caste. There will be an informal caste-based, or interest-based, advocacy/patronage network honeycombing the Lok Pal bureaucracy which will claim to protect people on the basis of caste solidarity or commonality of interest. However, this already happens in the Legislature, Judiciary, Administration and, of course, Civil Society which it in fact is constituted by nothing else.

    How ordinary Americans escaped corruption was by internal migration- if only moving out to the suburbs. The point about ordinary people is that they have little (Hirschman) ‘Voice’- ‘Loyalty’ is a joke- but, so long as they have ‘Exit’, a countervailing power exists.

    From the Economic point of view, Corruption is either a sort of price, wage or service provision dscrimination, or a type of tax- in either case the incidence of this inequity falls on those whose position is inelastic, who are trapped, who have no alternatives. People with higher Life Chances have more alternatives. But Life Chances are merely the dual of the Socially constructed constraints upon the individual. Notice that poupulist, redistributive, measures like rent control, property rights in jobs leading to feather bedding, quotas and so forth do not change these constraints. They dont change the signalling function of Socially constructed markers. They amount, over the longer term, to a transfer to existing tenants, or Unionised workers, or a ‘creamy layer’ of early adopters, from the young, the poor the less advantaged. Indeed, looking at things really long term, everybody loses because the excess burden on Society is crippling.

    On a point of information- do the high castes really not want caste-based census? I was under the impression that the reverse was the case.

    • Kumarpushp permalink
      August 26, 2011 2:53 AM

      You hindus are ruling India for 65 year thats why so much corruption in India.Hinduism is spreading corruption even their festivals are for spreading corruption you can see in Deepawali and other hindu festivals.caste system brought by Hindus and their gods on earth so without annihilating the Hinduism you can not stop the corruption.

      • August 26, 2011 3:10 AM

        Very true. Main cause of corruption is Hindus. Thankfully, under Mayawati, U.P is showing the way not just to rest of India but even advanced countries like Nigeria and Kenya.

      • Kumarpushp permalink
        August 26, 2011 4:38 PM

        Vivek You hindus are ruling India for 65 year you are worst than African counties ,have look on infant mortality,maternal mortality rate ,even your India is worst than bangla desh .Please look for WHO reports.In AIIMS ,people are living in toilets which is just 3 KM from your Hindu president hindus should die with shame what you did to India in 65 years.Your Congress and BJP had ruled India and you can watch the condition of India .Thanks for British who had given Railway ,Post and telegraphs, Judicial system otherwise you people would be drinking cow urine and applying the cow shits for all diseases.

    • joe permalink
      August 27, 2011 3:24 PM

      First, the notion tha t America has bid good bye to corruption, is wrong.Remember hurrican katrina, the ensuing landscams, the brutal marginalisation of blacks, Bush’s voting list manipulation etc. Rupert Murdoch-david cameron stuff in Uk. Your disdain for any people’s intitiative, by calling it terrorism smacks of elitism.As if nothing in the world has happened out of people’s movement.

  9. Kumarpushp permalink
    August 25, 2011 4:29 PM

    166 million Dalits are living in ghetto because of mahatma Gandhi fast till death.mahatma had robbed Dalit separate electorate rights and black mailed dr amnesiac. 166 million dalits support Anna but donot support bhushan duo who AT&T anti Dalits and anti mandal. Dalits should not and would not support the shadow agenda of rss and their people.

  10. Kumarpushp permalink
    August 25, 2011 4:31 PM

    Please read as dr ambedkar

  11. August 25, 2011 4:53 PM

    Bingo, spot on. What we need are judicial reforms, electoral reforms and police reforms. And thinking big and thinking in a liberating way.

    ‘Who will monitor the guardians’ is a big question i have when it comes to the lok pal. And another big question is, of course, why do we elect our representatives if we don’t trust them. Lets just have a panel of Magsaysay award winners who will select the parliament and the PM. All problems solved.

  12. August 25, 2011 5:02 PM

    This is probably not the forum to raise this point but, in the context of Gail’s invocation of ‘ordinary people and people’s courts’, Jurisprudence boasts few brighter stars than Carl Schmitt who was thrilled by Hitler’s ‘People’s Courts’ because it meant Hegel had been killed at last and his ‘Universal’ class of rational, rule-following, bureaucrats finally displaced, thus permitting the realization of the power of the people through the untrammlled auctoritas of their Tribune.
    Interestingly, in Thailand, the Fascist dictator Phibunsonghkram, who tried to abolish the bureaucratised Sakdina caste system, helped by ideologues who, being of Chinese descent, had no attachment to caste, offers a legitimating ideology based on Buddhism which is actually quite accessible for Indians and which is still of interest relative to that country’s popular agitations which put our own more modest convulsions firmly in their place.

    Is it just me or, watching Hazare on TV, is anyone else starting to think the old coot is just darling?

    Kiran Bedi- our great heroine when I was at School- on the other hand, comes off looking shrill, patronizing and politically on the make.

  13. August 25, 2011 11:33 PM

    Excellent analysis Ms. Gail,,,,,,,,,,your contribution to the Indian society is very high

  14. Lekh permalink
    August 26, 2011 5:26 AM

    Don’t mix caste and corruption. Please for god’s sake! That manuvadi morcha dude is extreme. And so are majority people on this forum. Our country doesn’t want such extremes. We have different extremism here. Everything will be somehow related to caste, human rights etc. We need people with common sense. Not the ones boasting jholawalla intellectuals or rabid conservatives.

    “In fact, corruption can only come to an end when the millions of ordinary people ofIndiafight it: by refusing to indulge in it, by taking action against the small local corrupt officials and powerholders they come against, by taking out morchas, taking action. ”

    And what about the corruption at the highest levels where ordinary man is hardly involved? 2G scams, commonwealth games scam…list can go on and on and on.

  15. Anurag permalink
    August 26, 2011 12:00 PM

    I don’t support Anna completely but we need to do something to crush corruption. corruption is tolerated when in limits, not beyond limits. The ideal way is to fight corruption. … Oridinary people should fight but tell me how? ..The only solace is RTI to some extent. Also, odrinary people can fight corruption at lower level but what about the stash hidden by top brass : politicians, judges, bureaucrats. …:
    A minister even controls bureaucrats, how long can ordinary people fight…????

  16. Kumarpushp permalink
    August 26, 2011 4:29 PM

    Why we should give Power to single handed hindu Lokpal, there should be panel of Lokpal and each should belong to hindus,Muslims and dalits.India is being ruled by Hindus president,Hindus defense minister, hindu foreign minister, hindu Finance minister, Hindu Political parties and now these barbaric people want a Hindu Lokpal to sits over 166 million dalits and 120 million muslims.Anna is being simple man who is being courted by Corrupt Bhusan duo who wants a Hindu Lokpal.

  17. AJAI P MANGATTU permalink
    August 26, 2011 11:56 PM

    Thank You, Gail Omvedt, the frenzy generated by this rewinding 24 hour TV show of Anna’s melodrama, we now watch the mobilization of new generation fascist movement supported by its elders. Media has become a power generating tool, keeping up its energy and madness- and I believe it is time to redefine the role of main stream media in a democratic society since its innate character is to kill everything democratic , contrary to what we have been taught.

  18. Srinivas permalink
    August 27, 2011 1:24 AM

    Ah… a good reference article on the level of thinking that one can expect of the great Gail Omvedt. Thank you Kafila for saving my future time!

  19. Kaveri permalink
    August 27, 2011 3:37 AM

    The India Against Corruption team’s own composition (almost entirely male (unlike the NCPRI, and this difference is already striking from who we see participating in the TV debates) and upper-caste) is indicative of the pool of people that will likely comprise the Lokpal. Many have admired the IAC’s ‘self-corrections’ in the course of the past 12 days but no-one from the core committee has called out to people at Ramlila grounds to desist from making anti-reservation or anti-Dalit comments. Are we to take that IAC supports/condones condemnation of affirmative action policies?

  20. Eggman permalink
    August 27, 2011 4:21 AM

    Folks wake up. Ambedkar and his neo colonial ideologies of dalit and caste has failed. There is nothing ambedkar or his followers can offer dalits other than empty rhetoric and stale narratives of manuvad, caste system etc. the reality is totally different. the poor people of the country should wake up and not take the opioum of dalit ideology.. it has done nothing to dalits in the last 60 years oher than a few fat cats benefitting from this.

  21. Asit permalink
    August 27, 2011 5:40 PM

    i congratulate ms gail omvedt for swimming against the tide the madness created at ramlilia maidan my corporate media, ngos, proneoliberal facebook crowd,liberal funding from lehman brothers and ford foundation

  22. David Stein permalink
    August 31, 2011 6:55 PM

    Corruption is a way that people who feel underpaid or unrewarded reward themselves for their achievements (!?). It is endemic throughout the world, but in societies with greater disparities of income, it is worse. Now that the US has joined the ranks of severely unequal nation’s, its political system, too, has become almost completely corrupt. Corruption is best handled through decreasing income disparities while at the same time strengthening the court system so that it can act as a decent a fair judge on behalf of society.
    For India, with its terrible legacy of caste-based economics and politics, this will prove a daunting task. Yet it is necessary to begin. There has always been a strain of authoritarianism in the Indian middle class – I remember all the talk after Nehru’s death about the need for a dictator/army rule. Yet as long as the middle classes see themselves as victims of both the government and the rising demands of the poor, they will push (and probably be heard) at the levers of power to ensure that their views are dominant.

  23. Rajab permalink
    September 2, 2011 9:10 PM

    Well isn’t the brahminical system corrupt and aren’t Anna’s followers false people. A friend of mine who has built three houses with tuition money now as the head of the department of an Engineering College has stopped his colleagues from taking tuitions. Well he made his money illegally and corruptly and in the name of Anna he stops other people from doing the same.

    What justification is there to these kind of corrupt supporters of Anna? It seems that there are a lot of people who are corrupt but want Anna to be supported against corruption i do not understand this paradox.

  24. Aquil Quais permalink
    January 28, 2012 11:00 AM

    There is no doubt corruption exists and plagues common man’s life. It must be fought, no doubt about it. But not the way Anna and his me want. Their fascist and brahmanical agenda is open. Thanks for Gail Omvedit’s enlightening views.


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