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Winds of change
Uday Dandavate May 22nd, 2011 By announcing a fast unto death to force the government to engage the representatives of civil society in drafting of a Lok Pal Bill, Anna Hazare has ignited the conscience of the nation. A nation benumbed by a series of corruption scandals sees in Anna Hazare a ray of hope. It was surprising to read the reaction of veteran journalist B.G. Verghese to Anna Hazareʼs fast when he wrote “A fast unto death is coercive and undemocratic and amounts to emotional blackmail, which undermines parliamentary democracy”.
I have never had any doubts about the significance of Anna Hazareʼs movement. This is not the first time that the instrument of fast has stirred the conscience of a nation. Mahatma Gandhi used fast as a part of his experiments with using Soul Force or Truth Force for political action. The essential aspect of fast being the character of the person undertaking a fast. A leader of impeccable character such as Mahatma Gandhi could use it to even stop a communal riot in Bengal.
Lord Mountbatten acknowledged the impact of Mahatma Gandhiʼs fast in his memoirs, “while 55,000 man boundary force in Punjab was swamped by riots the one-man boundary force brought peace to Bengal'
In 1974, Chimanbhai's government in Gujrat fell amidst mass civic unrest as a result of the Nav Nirman movementl lead by Umashankar
Mankad, Manishi Jani an others. Gujarat then went under President's Rule. Through 1975 the Central Govermnent led by Mrs. Indira Gandhi was dilly-dallying with the election schedule. Morarjibhai Desai fasted and got the Government to declare the election dates, even if they fell in the middle of the summer heat. The election resulted in the victory of the Janata Morcha and election of Babubhai Jashbhai Patel as the Chief Minister perhaps within days of the Emergency proclamation. The impact of Morarjibhaiʼs fast was not limited to restoration of a democratic government in Gujarat alone. It contributed significantly in building momentum for JPʼs movement for “Total Revolution”.
After reading Mr. B.G. Vergheseʼ comments I made it a point to visit Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi where Anna Hazare was meeting with a small group of journalists from Maharashtra. One of the reporters asked him for his reaction to the accusation that he was undermining the institution of Parliament. Annaʼs response was,
“In a true democracy people are supreme. It is the people who empower the village Panchayat. A strong village panchayat will empower the institution of the state legislature and a strong state legislature will bring power and dignity to the Parliament. As a humble villager my movement aims at strengthening democracy at the grass root level, from village panchayat up. I am alarmed that the elected representatives in the Parliament often forget where their true strength comes from- from the villages of India. I
am not undermining the democratic institution. On the contrary I am trying to strengthen it by awakening the people in the villages. I will travel all over India and mobilize people against the corruption that is eating up the roots of our democracy”.
Annaʼs comments brought back memories of growing up in a socialist family. I was not fortunate enough to see Mahatma Gandhi in action. However, I did participate in Jayaprakash Narayanʼs march to the Parliament in March 1975 and have met him several times. During the dark days of emergency I have had the opportunity to meet with many of the leaders of the underground movement and have witnessed at close quarters the indomitable spirit of those imprisoned by Mrs. Indira Gandhi. As I grew up amidst the socialist fraternity and later amidst various iterations of the Janata party, Janata Dal, National Front and United Front. I have had the opportunity to meet both the opportunists and the reformers. I can say with humility that sitting in front of Anna Hazare I was overcome by the same emotion I felt when I met Jayprakash Narayan at the Express Towers in Mumbai. Listening to his response reminded me of the humble interactions SM Joshi would have with the press (who we fondly referred to as Anna as well), his clarity of thought reminded me of N.G. Goray, and his resolute facial expression reminded me of my own father who never let political maneuvers distract him from his focus on his ideals. I could feel winds of change sitting in front of Anna Hazare.
Annaʼs movement has created skeptics as well. For example Praveen Mishra, co-founder of the “New Socialist Party” in Gujarat wrote in his article in Ahmedabad Mirror, titled, Peopleʼs Victory, Really? “I saw celebrations similar to those of India winning the World Cup. Noise, tricolours, drums, dance, police, chaos, cameras, and plenty of saffron. With Bharat Mata as the most prominent symbol and pro-Hindutva slogans, I felt I was in the midst of a Ram Mandir movement. The posters and banners of babas and god men dominated ground zero. It appeared to me a very well scripted political drama and not a spontaneous apolitical movement. I could witness several political boundaries and sixes being scored in this shorter version of the protest. With peaceful satyagrah and aggressive nationalism on display, I saw Gandhi and Godse coming together”.
As I read through Praveenʼs column, I was reminded of the post emergency Janata Party days when a section of the socialist fraternity, led by veteran leader Madhu Limaye, persistently raised hue and cry, over the designs of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in using the Jan Sangh ingredient of the Janata Party to pursue its communal agenda. While the members of erstwhile Jan Sangh continued to use their presence in the government to plant RSS cadres in positions of influence, the radical socialists engineered a split in the Janata Party and brought about the downfall of the first ever non-congress government at the national level. Distressed at the destruction of his instrument of Total Revolution, Jayaprakash
Narayan, responded in despair, “Hamara Baag Udhvastha Ho gaya”. (Our garden has been destroyed). The fall of Janata Government did not stop the Jan Sangh from spreading its influence. In due course they formed the Bharatiya Janata Party and gained public sympathy as a party that stood by the peopleʼs movement. Events of later years have proved that though Shri Madhu Limayeʼs diagnosis of the situation was accurate and his predictions about RSSʼ long term designs prophetic, his prescription in bringing about a downfall of the Janata party by feeding the ambitions of Shri Charan Singh to become the Prime Minister, discredited the socialist movement in the eyes of voters and planted the seeds of politics of opportunism. It is no surprise that some of the proponents of the decision to bring down the Janata party government have over the years ultimately aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party and even become ministers in the National Democratic Aliance governments at the center and in states.
It is important to learn from the events of 1979. In my view Anna Hazare has his hand on nationʼs pulse and has galvanized the youth. As always, opportunist elements will hover around him and try to draw maximum mileage out of the movement. However, I do believe that the core team around Anna Hazare is a team of impeccable secular credentials and there is a need for progressive forces to rally around Anna Hazare and co-create a vision of a progressive and just India.
As the UPA completes its second year in office, there are still two more years before the next election, for the progressive forces to harness the energy and the hope generated by Anna Hazareʼs movement into a new model of development and a new vision for the future of India through participation of the youth.
Anna Hazareʼs movement is a warning to those elected representatives who have abused Indian democracy by turning it into a business. Over the years numerous scams have made people realize that elected representatives have allowed themselves to become tradable commodities. Rather than political alignments along ideas or ideologies, we are witnessing mushrooming of small political parties, each hoping to extract its own bargaining power, a lucrative ministry and a leverage to make a deal with the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister. The idea of denying professional politicians a platform at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi resonated well with the audience because the corrupt politicians have discredited the political class through pursuit of power.
The Congress party has played a big role in undermining the democratic institution of India. In 2004 when Dr. Manmohansingh took over as the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar succinctly articulated what was on every congressmanʼs mind. During an interview with CNN he commented on Sonia Gandhiʼs much publicized renunciation of power, “She's the queen, she is appointing a regent to run some of the government's business. But it is she who
will be in charge.” What an irony- we have a Prime Minister whose constitutional authority is not acknowledged by his own party. He would have brought dignity to his office had he contested a direct election to the Lok Sabha. He instead took refuge in a technicality in electoral law and entered Rajya Sabha from Assam by manipulating the records of his domicile. He devalued his own office by presiding over a cabinet decision to create a National Advisory Council (NAC), which legitimizes the sway of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi over the government affairs. Congress party has made a mockery of democracy and undermined the supremacy of people by installing a Prime Minister who is shy of contesting a direct election. The Constitution of India only recognizes three pillars of democracy, the Judiciary, the Executive and the Parliament. The Congress party has built a new pillar to the power structure by instituting the office of the National Advisory Council that empowers Mrs. Sonia Gandhi with no accountability. Congress Party is obliquely projecting Sonia Gandhi as a benevolent dictator of India.
The immense energy of Anna Hazareʼs movement has forced the Congress Party into a firefighting mode to protect its prospects at the next election. The public anger against corruption has forced UPA II to start taking action against the corrupt members of the alliance. After following the grand old tradition of encouraging or neglecting money laundering as a perk for their support in coalition politics, action is now being taken against corrupt politicians. Congress members like Suresh Kalmadi and alliance partners such as
Karunanidhi now look bewildered at the holier than thou attitude of the Congress Party. They suspect this to be a new strategy of ditching the alliance partners before the next election by discrediting them and taking credit for, what has never been Congressʼ strengthclean politics. It was ironic that after agreeing to Civil Societyʼs demand for a joint committee to draft the Lok Pal Bill, Rahul Gandhi, Congress Partyʼs heir apparent, made a claim counter to Congress Partyʼs reputation. While acknowledging the support Anna Hazare has received from people, he said- “Congress Party has always fought against corruption”. Having lost elections several times in the past on the issue of Corruption, Congress Party recognizes that allegations of corruption easily stick to the Congress Partyʼs brand. The current mood of the nation does not serve the Congress Party well.
Anna Hazareʼs shadow will loom large in the next election. His recent meeting in Gowhati attracted a large turnout. By distancing his movement from professional politicians Anna is defining a new niche to be filled with people who bring a new vision for modern India. Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, and Mamta Banerjee have already learned that in order to win the hearts of their constituents they have to maintain enough distance from discredited National parties and alliances. The next election will not be a choice between Congress and the BJP. BJP failed to sell its “India Shining” campaign. Congress Party will have a hard time selling its newfound activism against
corruption as being credible. The Nation is looking for a new alternative. It is time to rally around Anna and provide that alternative.
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