Tuesday, September 20, 2011

India: On Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign - an opinion by AWorldToWin NewsService

from AWorldToWin NewsService

India: On Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign

19 September 2011.
. In early spring, the 74 year-old veteran campaigner Anna Hazare began a hunger strike in a New Delhi park to demand the Indian government set up a Lokpal, an independent anti-corruption ombudsman's office, in every state. Styling himself after Gandhi, Hazare's hunger strikes, peaceful marches and other forms of non-violent action against government corruption and for other reforms began in the 1990s.

Officials brought Hazare and his team of prominent lawyers and activists to assist in drafting the Lokpal bill. When negotiations broke down in June, Hazare staged another hunger strike in late August. He was arrested and then released when he agreed to to the government's outrageous demand that he limit his strike to 15 days. On day 13 of the strike with hundreds of thousands of people coming out to support Hazare, the impasse was ended. The Indian Parliament voted to establish anti-corruption agencies at the state level throughout India.

In the last few months, many Indians, especially among the middle classes, fed up with the pervasiveness of corruption in their daily lives, compounded by the lack of roads, poor education, inflation, an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor and sorely disillusioned with the government, came out to support Hazare.

The appeal of a movement against corruption is not surprising. For example, over the last year three doctors have been murdered in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. One after another, each had been in charge of dispensing two billion dollars of government money that was supposed to provide health care to the impoverished masses. The third doctor was killed in prison, having been jailed on suspicion of killing the first two doctors. He was reportedly ready to name senior politicians behind the theft of these funds.

The ruling Congress party, recently mired in several corruption scandals, was upended by Hazare's grassroots support in the streets and at a loss about how to respond.

Hazare is mistrusted by Muslim community leaders and many see the core of his movement linked to right-wing Hindu fascist groups who foment anti-Muslim sentiment and are responsible for physical violence against Muslims. Some see the core of the anti-corruption movement as right wing and caste supremacist, It has been denounced by Dalit ("untouchable") groups. Some think the Lokpal initiative will result in a super-cop agency with sweeping powers that will invade privacy. They view the supporters around Hazare as an Indian version of the fascist Tea Party movement in the US, and point out that these people are quite comfortable with intensifying Operation Green Hunt, a government counter-insurgency campaign. Others argue that important groups in the private sector that are major dealers and benefactors in corruption -- private corporations, big NGOS and the media who work hand in hand with the government and big business -- will be exempt from the scrutiny of the Lokpal.

We are reprinting an article originally entitled "A New Weapon in the System’s Arsenal" from the August-September 2011 issue of Samkalin Teesari Duniya by Anand Swaroop Verma which gives yet another insight into the role played by Anna Hazare in Indian politics. Additions in brackets are ours, and the article has been slightly edited for non-Indian readers.

All those people who believed as well as propagated the idea that the present system based on capitalist exploitation and imperialist plunder is rotten to the core and that there is no other way for the betterment of humanity than to overthrow/demolish it can discover to their dismay that Anna Hazare has demonstrated with an element of success that the present system itself can save ordinary people from impoverishment if some reforms are undertaken. Anna has managed to put a break on all those people who were getting further disillusioned with the anti-people nature of the system. Anna has provided necessary oxygen to the ruling classes and irony of the situation in that all those people who are themselves victims of exploitation of the system are themselves carrier of this status quoist vision. It is a tragedy of our times that they are engaging themselves wholeheartedly in saving that very system which has made their life hell.

The ruling classes in the country who were getting apprehensive over the growing surge of the people's movement in different parts of the country are today feeling relieved with Anna's intervention. It is quite natural that broad masses of the people get confused when they witness growing fights within different sections of the ruling classes about who would hold the reins of power. But as far as espousing the honour of the saviour of the system is concerned there is perfect unanimity. The bonhomie between the ruling party and the main opposition on this matter was on full display in the special session of the Parliament held on 27 August when Pranab Mukherjee of the Congress and Sushma Swaraj of the BJP [Congress's main rival, a Hindu chauvinist party], echoed each other and its reverberations were easily felt on the Ramlila grounds [a public park in New Delhi]. Taking necessary lessons from a speech on the floor of the house a day before, Anna not only remembered Dr Ambedkar [a respected revolutionary scholar and Dalit lawyer who fought hard against the caste system] while breaking fast the next day, but also selected kids from Dalit and Muslim communities for offering juice.

The thirteen-day movement led by Anna Hazare would be remembered as an unprecedented and historic event in the annals of India's history, not only because lakhs [one lakh equals 100,000] of people participated in it or seven channels beamed it day and night but rather the long term impact it is going to have on our society. It need be remembered that the strength of any movement or its impact on the society cannot merely be gauged by the participation of lakhs of people in it. If that had been the only criterion then India has witnessed some movements within last 30-35 years which saw participation of millions of people in it. Any movement's success or failure in taking the society forward or backward depends upon the simple fact of who is leading it and their "vision". Till date we have witnessed anti-corruption movements which were used to reach the pedestals of power fully exploiting people's anger and grievances. It is a characteristic feature of Anna's personality that people do not see any such danger. They are aware that this saintly-type man from Ralegaon Sidhi is not hankering after power.

Anna's movement is qualitatively different from earlier movements as acted as a polarising force among all those formations who are struggling for broader social transformation. The revolutionary left forces in the country are neither in a position to mobilise people in a similar manner nor is it possible for them to sustain the momentum for such a long time as Anna did. A simple explanation is that the system itself decides its approach vis-a-vis any movement depending upon its basic character. The media also decides their approach on similar considerations. Would it have been possible for the journalists and camerapersons of any channel to cover Anna's agitation without the consent of their owner? Would corporate bosses have rendered help to any such movement which was intended to attack at their roots, the way they rooted for Anna? A report by India's Ministry of Home Affairs tells us that the NGO sector in this country received 40,000 crores [one crore equals 10 million] in the last three years -- the same NGO sector whose operatives formed the core of team Anna at some time or other. All these people are benefiting from that very system which is getting rotten and is waiting for its demise. Oppressed people in different parts of the country are struggling to give it a decent burial. Today one is witness to a saviour of the system who may be 74 years old but for the custodians of this system needs to live longer in this leaderless era.

Does is it need repeated emphasising that the original source of corruption lies in the neo-liberal policies of the government? These policies have led few people to become billionaires and have simultaneously marginalised working masses in large numbers. These policies have opened up limitless possibilities before the corporate sector, which have led to unprecedented displacement of people from the little lands they own, the water sources they use or the forests they inhabit and has led to their elimination in case of their resistance. These policies have helped the media acquire strength and become such a powerful player in the echelons of power. All those people who are benefiting from these policies would never want them discontinued.

In fact, the growing discontent and upsurge against these policies witnessed in different parts of the country have become a cause for concern among the ruling classes. In this situation if there appears an individual who has led a spotless life, who has kept himself aloof from power politics and who is leading a movement which does not aim to attack the roots of the problem, then it is natural that the system would consider him nothing less than a saviour. Anna's arrest, his release, differences over venue of fast and similar related issues have come up because of conflicts among the ruling classes. They are not having an impact on the root issues.

It is being said that Anna's movement has helped people remember the Satyagrah movement led by Gandhi during the independence struggle who have merely seen it in photographs or movies. We should never forget that another stream existed during Gandhi's times which opposed his philosophy, led by Bhagat Singh [one of the most influential fighters for independence, hung by the British, a Marxist who became a symbol for revolutionary youth across India]. As far as ideas are concerned Bhagat Singh was far ahead of Gandhi. Bhagat Singh had prophesized in 1928-30 itself that if we achieve independence under Gandhi's leadership then White Britishers would be replaced by Britishers of our own skin as there would be no systemic transformation. Around 80 years after Bhagat Singh's prophesy Anna Hazare also had to repeat the same from Ramlila ground, yet Hazare, like Gandhi, was given "space" in the media by the system. It has been our experience that whenever forces committed to basic social transformation raise their heads, attempts are made to silence them. If you attempt to save the system which is on its deathbed then the system would be ready to provide you with every comfort.

Anna Hazare's speech on August at Ramlila grounds after breaking his fast has made clear his future agenda. Like an experienced politician he has talked of raising all the issues which would create an outward impression of a struggle for change of the system but all such struggles would culminate in strengthening the system, make it more sustainable, more repressive and stronger. Anna's movement has not finished on 28 August rather it began on that day. With his journey from Ramlila grounds to Gurgaon hospital where the State was providing security to his ambulance and reporters were busy providing live telecast one could sense the shape of things to come. This is a new weapon in the system's arsenal which will be a big challenge to all those people who are engaged in struggle for revolutionary transformation in the system

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