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Anna Hazare : Facts and Fallacies


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It’s been a month since Anna Hazare’s fast and people have already forgotten about him or there are other important incidents to look into.
 
However, since there has been so much talk about Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement, here is some basic information that you might have missed in all the frenzied action.
 
Who is Anna Hazare?
Most middle-class Indians had not heard of Anna Hazare until he became the face of the anti-corruption movement. Anna's real name is Kisan Baburao Hazare, and he hails from Maharashtra. He worked for a while as a driver in the army. He apparently was on the verge of suicide when he happened to pick up a book by Swami Vivekananda, which inspired him to take up social service. He returned to his impoverished, drought-prone village. His water conservation efforts won him praise and support.
 
What has he done so far?
His philosophy is shaped by Gandhian ideals of truth, non-violence, and village empowerment. Wikipedia gives us an idea of the projects he took up in his village. They cover prohibition, education, sanitation, grain and milk production, water conservation, removal of untouchability, and collective marriages. He has also campaigned against corruption earlier. In 1995-96, his campaign against corruption resulted in two ministers losing their jobs.
 
Why is he in the news?
He is spearheading a movement to demand stricter laws against corruption. His core team in this campaign comprises Arvind Kejriwal, former income tax commissioner, Kiran Bedi, former police commissioner, and Santosh Hegde, former Lokayukta member. The government of India (irrespective of the party heading it) had put a proposed Lokpal Bill in cold storage for decades. Anna and team wanted this slow going to end and take up the bill in parliament and get it passed as a top priority and make it a potent weapon against corruption.
 
They achieved their initial demands after a fast undertaken by Annaji at Jantar Mantar and were part of a joint team with Govt. to draft the new bill.  However, differences continued on key issues ending in Govt. team going ahead with their version. Anna Hazare and his team found the Govt. proposed draft of the bill weak to deal with the problem of corruption, and demanded that the prime minister and the judiciary also be included under its preview.
 
Why are some people opposing him?
Politicians feel he is undermining the authority of parliament, whose members are elected by citizens, and placing ' civil society', which he wants in the new anti-corruption mechanism, at an unfair elevation. Others feel his demands, if conceded, will create more chaos and confusion in a country burdened with too many procedures. They feel institutions exist to deal with corrupt politicians and government officials, and a new one won't serve any purpose. Anna's argument is that institutions like the CBI are controlled by politicians, and can therefore not discharge their duties impartially.
 

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How has such a mass movement built up over the last couple of months?
The UPA has much to answer for. Instead of trying to bring to book people behind its mega-scams, it was busy cementing its coalition and running down activists behind the Lokpal movement. From maligning protesters to spreading rumors, the government has tried several dirty tricks. What it hasn't done is to tell the misinformed masses what the Jan Lokpal bill is  all about and how it can't solve the entire nation's problems. The government isn't speaking lucidly about how our country already has independent agencies such as the Central Vigilance Commission, the Comptroller and Auditor General's office, the Election Commission, and the Central Bureau of Investigation to fight corruption. A Lokpal would only add to the long list of investigating bodies in the country. Instead of explaining why it is against Team Anna's version of the Lokpal, it goes about arresting Anna and creating a huge sympathy wave for protesters, bringing back memories of the Emergency era.
 
 
What are the mistakes that have fuelled public sentiment against the government?
Anna's arrest catalysed common citizens. It made them take to the streets as they saw the government's action as undemocratic, an obstruction of their rights. The Congress has spoken in many voices, confounding the issue further. From a minister calling Anna Hazare mad to Abhishek Manu Singhvi announcing the government is open to discussing 80 per cent of the bill, the UPA has made a farce of the issue. Manu Singhvi's statement shows that the government was ready to extend an olive branch only when things seemed to be going out of control. The government has blamed Lokpal activists of compromising India's security and integrity, when there was no vandalism, and even a basic law-and-order problem was not in evidence. Some Congressmen were so foolish as to draw a parallel between the recent London riots, comparing anti-corruption protesters to hooligans. Kepi Sibal went to the extent of saying that Anna was undemocratic. Manmohan Singh said that his government is taking the strictest possible action against the corrupt, but everyone knows how he went slow on nailing those guilty in the 2G and the Commonwealth Games scam. It was only after our apex court had intervened that arrests were made. All this gave an overall impression that the government is not serious about curbing corruption.
 
Khristina, a journalist, says that "even when there's an illusion of something good, we would want to be a part of it. I guess this happens because all of us want to be a part of the 'greater good'; to say 'I was there'. Of course, there could also be a 'herd mentality' at work. In fact, many may not fully understand Anna's 'Fight against Corruption' and its implications, but the knowledge that it may result in something good is causing this frenzy," she explains.
 
This is where Team Anna has got their strategy right; they are fighting for the good and the betterment of the nation. A vast majority feels they should be behind Anna Hazare and support the movement. On the other hand, the government has failed to explain its stand to the nation. Its communication strategy, if it has one at all, has failed miserably. Others feel that Anna and his supporters are trying to rouse public sentiment against established evils like corruption, but the resulting wave will do very little towards actually getting rid of bribery in daily life. The leaders are merely encouraging blind faith and putting themselves on pedestals to be worshipped the same way modern-day politicians do."
 

Sonu, a barber said that "we for sure need a Lokpal Bill because it will bring in a clean government. Anna Hazare should be worshipped for what he is doing." Not just Sonu, but many felt that the Lokpal can be a solution to all their problems, from water supply to ration cards to gas connections.
So what do we understand from the Sonus of this world?

Many supporting Anna Hazare's movement doesn’t have the slightest clue about the specifics of the bill. They think the Lokpal Bill is a magic cure for all the ills in the country. Team Anna (led by Arvind Kejriwal) has captured the imagination of everyone tired of the bureaucratic and political corruption in this country. Their call to fight 'corruption' with a 'fast' is working wonderfully in mobilizing people. What is being forgotten in all this is that the team is offering a simplistic solution to a complex problem. Team Anna is offering a quick fix to corruption via the Jan Lokpal Bill.
A comparison between Dr. Ambedkar & Anna Hazare
During the 1920s and the 1930s, Dr. Ambedkar combined mass mobilization with legal methods in the anti-untouchability movement, but never allowed unconstitutional and coercive methods to take hold, despite instances of violent attack on “untouchables.” Once he came face to face with Gandhiji with the latter's fast-unto-death and he had to compromise on the demand for a separate electorate with what is the present-day political reservation. As Dr. Ambedkar observed, due to certain aspects of Indian culture our people are highly vulnerable to hero-worship. How a yoga teacher could convert yoga devotees into religious devotees and finally into political supporters within a few years' time is a classic example of what hero-worship and bhakti can do. Dr. Ambedkar also went on to add that bhakti or hero-worship in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul, but in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship. Following Dr. Ambedkar's example, Team Anna should use constitutional methods and enhance people's faith in them. Otherwise it will convey the message that only coercive and unconstitutional methods work.
So what is the bottom-line?

Anna and his team should recognise that for a new democracy like ours, which is operating within the framework of undemocratic relations based on the caste system, constitutional methods and social morality need to be cultivated and promoted with a purpose. The Lokpal Bill is too important a piece of legislation to be passed under threat and unreasonable deadlines. All its aspects need to be discussed with extreme care and with consensus among all sections.
Dalits have begun to express concern about its implications for them. In a society where the anti-caste spirit and prejudices are present in abundance, they feel that given its proposed wide-ranging powers, it may be misused. Anna Hazare knows that the road to social change is a difficult one. He helped Dalits in a number of ways, including by repaying loans taken by Dalits with contributions from villagers. Yet he could not bring about fraternity between them - Dalits continue to stay in segregated localities in his village. Corruption, like untouchability, is deeply embedded in the social fabric of our society. Therefore, besides legislation its eradication requires changes through education and moral regeneration.
 
As a believer in our democracy, I feel we have enough institutions that can counter the corrupt. I don't feel the need for a new Lokpal Bill, but if the government continues functioning the way it has been, the day won't be far when widespread rage grips the nation, leaving us in anarchy.
 

 
 

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