‘Anna’lyzing Hazare

I rarely worry about current affairs, since they are not my interest, but the situation in Delhi has some historical precendents that prompted me to add my two bits to the equation.

For the second time in recent Indian history, an honest, practically saintly man is threatening to bring down an Empire (for that is what Indian Governments for the past few decades have been) by simply refusing to eat. Indians, emotional as ever, suddenly are consumed by a nationalist frenzy that should be scary even for a hardened dictator, let alone an economist-politician.

Is it a creation of the media? in part, without doubt. But there simply is no other way of mobilising so many people that I’m aware of. But the recent spate of politicians gettting too stupid to get caught contributed to this, without doubt. Also, the new generation of Indians, growing in self confidence that comes from world-wide admiration for our IT sweatshops, who think they have analyzed the situation perfectly and know best what is good for the country, have also added fuel to the fire.

On the side of the muted minority, a few who are wary of such frenzies occluding the real issues, whatever they may be, are criticizing the new Great Indian Show as shallow and ignorant of ground realities. They believe that it simply exposes the shallowness of Indian democracy and worry that the democratic process will be hijacked by the coercion of a few capable of moving millions.

Whatever may be the case, it is undeniable that this fast has fired the imagination of the country like very few events over the past few decades, including winning the World Cup and the Godhra mess. The reason for this seems simple — people can relate to and understand the anger against corruption, since they face it in their everyday lives, all the time. Though it may seem desirable, but worrying about Irom Sharmila and the AFSPA, or what conspired in Gujarat early in the 21st century or the inhuman treatment of tribals in Jharkhand or Orissa can hardly be part of their daily exertion to make ends meet. When someone raises their voice in support to Anna Hazare’s fast, they have that clerk in that department in mind, not Ratan Tata paying off the UPA government or the Birlas buying out tribals in Orissa.

If not word for word, but in spirit, the exact same debate had been carried out between Gandhi and Tagore some 90 years ago. I had described it, though with a more abstract focus, for a term paper last year. When Gandhi roused the people to join the non-cooperation movement in the 1920s, Tagore took exception to his methods, which to him depended heavily on the presence of a strong personality like Gandhi to be around to work. It would not ‘deepen democracy’, he said (though not in the same words), as some journalists have been murmuring about the Anna Hazare movement. It had the potential to degenerate into empty flag waving and slogan raising and to smother genuine criticisms and concerns, according to Tagore. For more details, have a look at the above pdf.

90 years on, Tagore’s fears did pan out, and India still requires a saintly figure to stop eating to rouse them against the Empire. The methods are still fundamentally anti-democratic, like Gandhi’s fast against separate electorates which spawned the Dalit movement of today (which hates him for it), or his throwing out of Subhash Chandra Bose from the post of Congress President. Gandhi’s political proteges chafed against the tight leash with which he held them back, to advance his ideas of a non-violent nation which they neither understood nor appreciated until the horror of the Partition. They would have gladly ignored him if it was politically feasible, and this happened during the final talks with the British before they left India.

That this debate continues in present day India is significant in atleast two ways: One, the question of how to involve the mass of the Indian population in the governance of the nation has not been solved satisfactorily. Two, the intellectual and moral legacies of those great Indians, Gandhi and Tagore live on to this day.

What model of governance would suit a country where the ‘Northie’ and the ‘Madarasi’ still cannot see eye to eye, and the Brahmin and the Dalit still cannot sit at the same table? The easier way would be to try and homogenize the people by means of an imaginary past, like the RSS actively are doing all over, or rouse people based on issues close to their hearts, however temporarily, like Anna Hazare is doing. The harder way, which Tagore espoused and which Gandhi implicitly agreed to later in his life when he resigned from the Congress and plunged head on into the Constructive Movement to help villages become self sufficient and the centre of any economic organisation in India, is to ‘deepen democracy’ so that people can in some sense rule themselves (which is after all what ‘Swa – raj’ means), and exert control over their lives.

This, however, would require a very different kind of socioeconomic organisation from the one bequeathed to us by Ricardo, J. S. Mill, Marx and Manmohan Singh, in chronological order. The British legacy in India was to fundamentally alter the material lives of people in some respects, and as I have mentioned before, to change it requires a lot of time or a lot of violence. So too for the society and economy which derive from it.

India has grown in confidence, no doubt, but it is a result of the arm twisting tactics of the World Bank and IMF (who first forced the Indira Gandhi government to asymmetrically distribute agricultural inputs to usher in the Green Revolution, and then forced the P. V. Narasimha government to implement what has come to be known as ‘Manmohanomics’) rather than any innate genius of the Indian people. Our so called ‘gifts to the world’ that Swami Vivekananda was so proud about, are only inheritances from our ancestors, which only goes to show that as a civilisation, we are stagnant in the 16th or 17th century. Like Tagore, my hope is that India can show the world that a Northie and Madarasi need not see eye to eye to build a prosperous nation, that a Hindu and a Muslim need not dissolve their individual identities to forge a strong country. That will be her greatest contribution, a mark of her genius.

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8 thoughts on “‘Anna’lyzing Hazare”

  1. I firmly agree, in fact i was talking about the same thing with some other dude here. That people are obsessed with savior figure, i did like the overall cause about corruption which is deeply evident but the gang tactics is far too primal and old skool.

    This belief in a common savior is common to humans not just Indians, many cultures across the globe fantasize in singleton savior and ‘they happily lived ever after’ scenarios.

    As you suggested self-sufficiently running local sectors are necessary in India since where you divide and deepen the democracy. The overall pressure the rural population causes on management is causing all this mess.

    But ‘India’ is run by Nehru Empire now, we are still following Dynastic Politics in Congress where now “Rahul’ Gandhi is all set to take the jump without having a check on his credibility of that role. This is more like Kings born in the same blood line. So for me it looks like we have not moved an inch even after 60+yrs of independence, ‘Feudal’ Kinship Democracy.

    1. It is a frightening scenario, no doubt, that some dude unknown outside his friend circles a decade ago is suddenly PM candidate!!

      Even though the savior figure is a common theme throughout history/humanity, We are still the world champions in pilgrimages, which should tell you a thing or two ;)

  2. ‘…my hope is that India can show the world that a Northie and Madarasi need not see eye to eye to build a prosperous nation, that a Hindu and a Muslim need not dissolve their individual identities to forge a strong country …’

    How exactly can a country be prosperous/emerge as a strong nation when internally the situation is 2 people can’t see eye to eye or everyone is obsessed with their individual caste based identities?

    1. That is exactly what the British gave as a reason for justifying their rule in India.

      Two examples of countries whose leaders thought everyone should think the same way are Nazi Germany and Communist China. An example where the corporations thought everyone should think similarly and want similar things is USA. None of these to me represents what I would like India to be (not that it matters what I think, but anyways ;).

      A strong country encourages dissent and diverse opinions and world views, else we get into the rut that the US is in right now. Similarly, you don’t need to agree with everything anyone else says to be hospitable or civil to that person. It is only when in a diverse country everyone tries to assert their rights while forgetting their duties that problems arise, in my view.

      To put it in another way, pursuit of artha, ignoring the demands of dharma always has bad consequences.

      1. Hmmm well, problem with diversity – one size doesn’t fit all. For example, some new law may not be accepted by our diversity though it COULD possibly benefit the majority in general. Everyone is trying to assert their rights and leave it at that as you mentioned.

      2. Precisely why we must think of better ways of socioeconomic organization. The legacy of our colonial masters still holds great sway over us. So strong, in fact, that we are unaware of it — the perfect prison is one which convinces you that you are not in a prison.

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