The Anna monopoly - How govt ignored other groups

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  • Published 19.08.11

New Delhi, Aug. 18: Sections within civil society have reservations about Anna Hazare’s movement but the government’s failure to tap them may have lent credence to the impression that his group was speaking up for the entire nation.

Although leaders like P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal have argued that no single group could claim to be the sole representative of civil society, the Centre has not seriously tried to open channels of communication with other groups to widen the debate.

Many academics and activists are uneasy about Hazare’s methods, although they are not necessarily government sympathisers and some of them believe the root cause of the crisis lies in the poor conduct of the political class.

Rajendra Dayal, who teaches political science in a Delhi University college, said: “Democracy has many languages. If the government represents the sovereign will, Anna is claiming to represent the popular will. In this atmosphere, the deliberative component (discussions) should flourish. We need a larger debate.”

Dayal regretted that Hazare, whom he sees as a wonder of the Indian democratic process, had been undermining the deliberative component by insisting that his was the most privileged point of view.

“This should be unacceptable, no matter how much popular support he (Hazare) commands,” Dayal said.

“It is also undemocratic on his part to reject restrictions in the name of the right to free speech and (the right to) protest, since nobody is above the law. And it is presumptuous to claim that no violence will occur at his gatherings because he has a Gandhian background.”

Barun Mitra, an activist who runs an NGO, contested the notion that Anna’s agitation was Gandhian.

“He says that those who drink liquor in villages are tied to a tree and beaten up. He is doing the same to the government because his law is not being turned into the law of the country,” Mitra said.

“Gandhi never used the political tool of fast in the same manner and for the same purposes as Anna. Gandhi calmed Bengal when it was burning in communal fire but the Anna agitation’s backbone has been created by the RSS.”

Activist Shabnam Hashmi sees a threat of the communal forces taking over Hazare’s movement which, she says, is flawed anyway as nobody can demand a particular kind of legislation.

There are others, too, who deny that the Lokpal is a panacea for corruption and feel that the movement has been built on misconceptions.

In the crowd of Hazare’s supporters are boys who believe their salaries will triple and come tax-free once black money is brought back from foreign banks. Some seem to believe that Hazare would become the Lokpal himself and stamp out corruption.

One girl at India Gate confessed she had joined the protesters because this government had imposed caste-based reservation; a boy said he had come because he detested Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari.

To Savita Singh, director of the School of Gender and Development Studies at Ignou, the situation reflected a “crisis of legitimacy for the state”. She blamed the holders of high offices and asserted they should change their conduct.

“Important functionaries’ un-state-like activities and their presumption that they are beyond the law have created this crisis. There is now an en masse understanding that the state is not there and people cutting across caste, class and religion are looking for alternative spaces,” Singh said.

“The social contract with the state has lapsed. Anna is offering a new contract, right or wrong. This is just a momentary formation, a situational effect, but the political class can restore sanity by changing its conduct, by regaining credibility. The government requires creative political thinking and needs to understand that an effective anti-corruption mechanism is not an Anna demand but a historical demand.”

As of now, Congress and government functionaries have been either blaming the media or alleging that the RSS or certain business lobbies are behind the Hazare campaign.