Anna Rising: A Reality Check
By Amaresh Misra
Even after the successful resolution of the August crisis, the stand-off between the Government and Anna Hazare continues, with `Team Anna’ crying foul at each and every occasion. Much has been said about the mishandling of the Jan- Lokpal issue by the Government and Congress trouble-shooters. In fact, the problem on part of not just the Congress but the entire political class—of failing miserably to read the new grammar of people’s politics, beyond Parliamentary functioning and money-muscle-media power—introduced by the August crisis—continues unabated. But serious questions have emerged also about the way Team Anna handled itself and its agenda during the August agitation.
For one, during final negotiations, insistence of certain Team Anna members to organize Parliamentary debate under Rule 184, which calls for voting, made it unwittingly a part of BJP’s game-plan, which too was pursuing the same objective. Ultimately, the debate was conducted to convey the `sense of house’. So what kind of a victory did Team Anna achieve? If anything, the government when it got its act together, played smart, pleasing all sides, convincing even the BJP to shed its intransigence.
Kiran Bedi’s expression of how she met LK Advani—and how the latter called her `beti’ before offering support—put several well meaning democrats off. It also highlighted political naivety that seems to beset Team Anna. When the government has slapped a financial notice on Arvind Kejriwal, the effort to collect money from the public—as Kejriwal’s supporters announced—to pay individual dues—is bound to backfire. It seriously erodes the credibility of any movement that is fighting expropriation of public money by individuals.
The manner in which Team Anna members went about utilizing foreign funds also, goes beyond the mere contribution of a Ford Foundation to a single individual, or a movement, at a particular juncture. It raises the basic question: can a people’s movement survive on outside funding? Can people’s initiatives stay reduced to NGO type functioning?
On two other issues—decentralisation of power and political participation—Team Anna again is unable to clarify its position. Panchayati Raj—a major move towards decentralization—was created by the present political system only. While Panchayats and other local bodies have led to limited empowerment in the villages, it has been seen that its benefits have been cornered largely by old and new rural elites—the old landlords, Kulaks and a new section of brokers, also from amongst the OBCs and Dalits. So, in the name of further decentralization, even if more powers are given to villages, will this suffice in improving conditions of the overwhelming masses of poor and backward section of the rural masses? What is needed is structural change along with decentralization in villages—thoroughgoing land reforms, which would shift the balance of power in rural India in favour of the poor masses and the small peasantry.
Team Anna however is silent on this issue. While admitting that they constitute a political movement, Team Anna members talk about not including electoral or party politics. This position is rife with confusion. After all, the Indian Parliamentary, multi-party system, despite all its faults, even the presence of criminals, is still the highest form of democratic expression in this country. While it is true that people’s movement can never be restricted to Parliamentary or party approval, it is also fair to acknowledge that movements—if they are to coalesce into serious political statements and change living conditions—have to go through party formation and electoral participation of some kind or the other.
The current mass upsurge actually hides a revolutionary potential. Class and cultural divisions created by corporate culture—its cosy and corrupt dalliances with the Indian political class, its buying of public and government undertakings at throwaway prices, its stranglehold on urban and rural property, its looting of natural resources, its contempt of peasant India and the poor, its choice of corruption as a way of life in India’s burgeoning crony capitalism—lies at the root of people’s frustration. Despite all good intentions, Anna has only touched the tip of the iceberg. His team hardly talks about corruption in the corporate, media and NGO sector. It does not touch upon lack of civil liberties in Kashmir or Manipur. Use of Vande Mataram type symbols, preclude the involvement of a large minority-Dalit-OBC section. This lacunae might lead the movement to adopt utopian-anarchist-
The political class—including well meaning, liberal-left sections in the Congress—are trying to understand the current phenomenon. While serious politicians are writing and admitting the need for electoral, democratic and political reforms, there is only a partial critique of corporate corruption, and almost no analysis of the economic roots of Anna’s agitation. Class disparities and the degradation felt by the common man in face of ugly display of wealth and power are not being considered as viable factors. The wide ranging anger from Kashmir to Manipur to Kanyakumari to Mumbai via Chattisgarh— regarding civil liberties, mass graves of innocents killed by security forces, repeal of black acts like AFSPA, the condition of Sharmila Irom, appalling treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka, discrimination against Muslims and Christians, politics of bomb blasts and right wing terror, hanging of Afzal Guru, pending Ayodhya case in the Supreme Court, issues in the Naxalite belt—is also being ignored: the political class is not taking a holistic view of the situation. The fact that India is standing on a powder keg—ready to blow up anytime—and that mere electoral and change of behavioural patterns is insufficient—is not being appreciated.
In such an atmosphere, given the fact that politics abhors vacuum, it is yet to be seen whether current political formations, including the Congress, can grasp multi-dimensional issues or whether India will see the rise of a new, Democratic Party or alternative. Anna’s show was only a rehearsal. The real political drama has yet to unfold.