June 2012, Week 2


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Mon, 11 Jun 2012 22:06:36 -0400
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I'd Rather Not Be Anna

By Arundhati Roy 

The Hindu (India) via ZNet 

June 10, 2012


If what we're watching on TV is indeed a revolution,
then it has to be one of the more embarrassing and
unintelligible ones of recent times. For now, whatever
questions you may have about the Jan Lokpal Bill, here
are the answers you're likely to get: tick the box -
(a) Vande Mataram (b) Bharat Mata ki Jai (c) India is
Anna, Anna is India (d) Jai Hind.

For completely different reasons, and in completely
different ways, you could say that the Maoists and the
Jan Lokpal Bill have one thing in common - they both
seek the overthrow of the Indian State. One working
from the bottom up, by means of an armed struggle,
waged by a largely adivasi army, made up of the poorest
of the poor. The other, from the top down, by means of
a bloodless Gandhian coup, led by a freshly minted
saint, and an army of largely urban, and certainly
better off people. (In this one, the Government
collaborates by doing everything it possibly can to
overthrow itself.)

In April 2011, a few days into Anna Hazare's first
"fast unto death," searching for some way of
distracting attention from the massive corruption scams
which had battered its credibility, the Government
invited Team Anna, the brand name chosen by this "civil
society" group, to be part of a joint drafting
committee for a new anti-corruption law. A few months
down the line it abandoned that effort and tabled its
own bill in Parliament, a bill so flawed that it was
impossible to take seriously.

Then, on August 16th, the morning of his second "fast
unto death," before he had begun his fast or committed
any legal offence, Anna Hazare was arrested and jailed.
The struggle for the implementation of the Jan Lokpal
Bill now coalesced into a struggle for the right to
protest, the struggle for democracy itself. Within
hours of this `Second Freedom Struggle,' Anna was
released. Cannily, he refused to leave prison, but
remained in Tihar jail as an honoured guest, where he
began a fast, demanding the right to fast in a public
place. For three days, while crowds and television vans
gathered outside, members of Team Anna whizzed in and
out of the high security prison, carrying out his video
messages, to be broadcast on national TV on all
channels. (Which other person would be granted this
luxury?) Meanwhile 250 employees of the Municipal
Commission of Delhi, 15 trucks, and six earth movers
worked around the clock to ready the slushy Ramlila
grounds for the grand weekend spectacle. Now, waited
upon hand and foot, watched over by chanting crowds and
crane-mounted cameras, attended to by India's most
expensive doctors, the third phase of Anna's fast to
the death has begun. "From Kashmir to Kanyakumari,
India is One," the TV anchors tell us.

While his means may be Gandhian, Anna Hazare's demands
are certainly not. Contrary to Gandhiji's ideas about
the decentralisation of power, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a
draconian, anti-corruption law, in which a panel of
carefully chosen people will administer a giant
bureaucracy, with thousands of employees, with the
power to police everybody from the Prime Minister, the
judiciary, members of Parliament, and all of the
bureaucracy, down to the lowest government official.
The Lokpal will have the powers of investigation,
surveillance, and prosecution. Except for the fact that
it won't have its own prisons, it will function as an
independent administration, meant to counter the
bloated, unaccountable, corrupt one that we already
have. Two oligarchies, instead of just one.

Whether it works or not depends on how we view
corruption. Is corruption just a matter of legality, of
financial irregularity and bribery, or is it the
currency of a social transaction in an egregiously
unequal society, in which power continues to be
concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller
minority? Imagine, for example, a city of shopping
malls, on whose streets hawking has been banned. A
hawker pays the local beat cop and the man from the
municipality a small bribe to break the law and sell
her wares to those who cannot afford the prices in the
malls. Is that such a terrible thing? In future will
she have to pay the Lokpal representative too? Does the
solution to the problems faced by ordinary people lie
in addressing the structural inequality, or in creating
yet another power structure that people will have to
defer to?

Meanwhile the props and the choreography, the
aggressive nationalism and flag waving of Anna's
Revolution are all borrowed, from the anti-reservation
protests, the world-cup victory parade, and the
celebration of the nuclear tests. They signal to us
that if we do not support The Fast, we are not `true
Indians.' The 24-hour channels have decided that there
is no other news in the country worth reporting.

`The Fast' of course doesn't mean Irom Sharmila's fast
that has lasted for more than ten years (she's being
force fed now) against the AFSPA, which allows soldiers
in Manipur to kill merely on suspicion. It does not
mean the relay hunger fast that is going on right now
by ten thousand villagers in Koodankulam protesting
against the nuclear power plant. `The People' does not
mean the Manipuris who support Irom Sharmila's fast.
Nor does it mean the thousands who are facing down
armed policemen and mining mafias in Jagatsinghpur, or
Kalinganagar, or Niyamgiri, or Bastar, or Jaitapur. Nor
do we mean the victims of the Bhopal gas leak, or the
people displaced by dams in the Narmada Valley. Nor do
we mean the farmers in NOIDA, or Pune or Haryana or
elsewhere in the country, resisting the takeover of the

`The People' only means the audience that has gathered
to watch the spectacle of a 74-year-old man threatening
to starve himself to death if his Jan Lokpal Bill is
not tabled and passed by Parliament. `The People' are
the tens of thousands who have been miraculously
multiplied into millions by our TV channels, like
Christ multiplied the fishes and loaves to feed the
hungry. "A billion voices have spoken," we're told.
"India is Anna."

Who is he really, this new saint, this Voice of the
People? Oddly enough we've heard him say nothing about
things of urgent concern. Nothing about the farmer's
suicides in his neighbourhood, or about Operation Green
Hunt further away. Nothing about Singur, Nandigram,
Lalgarh, nothing about Posco, about farmer's agitations
or the blight of SEZs. He doesn't seem to have a view
about the Government's plans to deploy the Indian Army
in the forests of Central India.

He does however support Raj Thackeray's Marathi Manoos
xenophobia and has praised the `development model' of
Gujarat's Chief Minister who oversaw the 2002 pogrom
against Muslims. (Anna withdrew that statement after a
public outcry, but presumably not his admiration.)

Despite the din, sober journalists have gone about
doing what journalists do. We now have the back-story
about Anna's old relationship with the RSS. We have
heard from Mukul Sharma who has studied Anna's village
community in Ralegan Siddhi, where there have been no
Gram Panchayat or Co-operative society elections in the
last 25 years. We know about Anna's attitude to
`harijans': "It was Mahatma Gandhi's vision that every
village should have one chamar, one sunar, one kumhar
and so on. They should all do their work according to
their role and occupation, and in this way, a village
will be self-dependant. This is what we are practicing
in Ralegan Siddhi." Is it surprising that members of
Team Anna have also been associated with Youth for
Equality, the anti-reservation (pro-"merit") movement?
The campaign is being handled by people who run a
clutch of generously funded NGOs whose donors include
Coca-Cola and the Lehman Brothers. Kabir, run by Arvind
Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, key figures in Team Anna,
has received $400,000 from the Ford Foundation in the
last three years. Among contributors to the India
Against Corruption campaign there are Indian companies
and foundations that own aluminum plants, build ports
and SEZs, and run Real Estate businesses and are
closely connected to politicians who run financial
empires that run into thousands of crores of rupees.
Some of them are currently being investigated for
corruption and other crimes. Why are they all so

Remember the campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill gathered
steam around the same time as embarrassing revelations
by Wikileaks and a series of scams, including the 2G
spectrum scam, broke, in which major corporations,
senior journalists, and government ministers and
politicians from the Congress as well as the BJP seem
to have colluded in various ways as hundreds of
thousands of crores of rupees were being siphoned off
from the public exchequer. For the first time in years,
journalist-lobbyists were disgraced and it seemed as if
some major Captains of Corporate India could actually
end up in prison. Perfect timing for a people's anti-
corruption agitation. Or was it?

At a time when the State is withdrawing from its
traditional duties and Corporations and NGOs are taking
over government functions (water supply, electricity,
transport, telecommunication, mining, health,
education); at a time when the terrifying power and
reach of the corporate owned media is trying to control
the public imagination, one would think that these
institutions - the corporations, the media, and NGOs -
would be included in the jurisdiction of a Lokpal bill.
Instead, the proposed bill leaves them out completely.

Now, by shouting louder than everyone else, by pushing
a campaign that is hammering away at the theme of evil
politicians and government corruption, they have very
cleverly let themselves off the hook. Worse, by
demonising only the Government they have built
themselves a pulpit from which to call for the further
withdrawal of the State from the public sphere and for
a second round of reforms - more privatisation, more
access to public infrastructure and India's natural
resources. It may not be long before Corporate
Corruption is made legal and renamed a Lobbying Fee.

Will the 830 million people living on Rs.20 a day
really benefit from the strengthening of a set of
policies that is impoverishing them and driving this
country to civil war?

This awful crisis has been forged out of the utter
failure of India's representative democracy, in which
the legislatures are made up of criminals and
millionaire politicians who have ceased to represent
its people. In which not a single democratic
institution is accessible to ordinary people. Do not be
fooled by the flag waving. We're watching India being
carved up in war for suzerainty that is as deadly as
any battle being waged by the warlords of Afghanistan,
only with much, much more at stake.


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