Friday, April 29, 2011

Why do I, among others, feel excluded, Mr Hazare?

Over The Top - A Himal blog, 27 April 2011

By Sharib Ali and Shazia Nigar

The effectiveness of the Jan Lokpal bill, drafted by our respected Annaji and other luminaries, has been argued by many. Shuddhabrata Sengupta has dismissed the bill on Kafila, Nigam while accepting its appeal seems cynical about it, and P Sainath in a lecture at UC, Berkeley has famously asked us to ‘forget it’. These are, of course, opinions from civil society which has attempted to assess the bill – or in fact, the movement – and what it can achieve, as opposed to the masses who see it as the final solution, so to speak.

I am probably too naïve to pass a judgment on whether the bill will be able to rule out corruption from a complex society such as ours – we have just been too good at it. But in spite of my desire to help remove the ills that plague our country, I, as a student and a Muslim, feel quite excluded from the movement, and not just from the movement, but from the very idea of the Indian nation that the ‘second revolution’ seeks to build. This I feel from the political aspirations of those who not only sat with Anna, but whose contributions were central to the movement itself.

What actually happened in the three-day spectacle was a legitimate expression of public anger over injustices seeking to get away in the name of fate, but arising from an unequal and exploitative social structure. We have been talking about rising food prices, rising crime rates, famer suicides, and unscrupulous looting, in streets, at homes, in local trains, and rotten fields of failed crops. What Anna did by sitting there in perfect white kurta was to transform this anger into a sane, civilized and harmless movement against a specific grievance: corruption, which has been unusually high and widely reported in the last few years. There is no doubt that, Anna was able to connect with a much wider audience, beyond the influence of the corporate media.

The 90-hour spectacle, performed on television sets across the country, produced a collective catharsis of the anger accumulated over the last two decades in India. With its controversial tryst with neo-liberalism, and wondrous rates of growth accompanied by wondrous rates of suicides and dispossession, genocide, communalisation, and the rise of terrorism, we had felt suffocated. This is not to say that the anger has now disappeared. It is just that at that specific moment when Hazare fasted, the middle class moved beyond their four walls and came together for a potential revolution.

The ‘revolution’ we just witnessed arrived with a bang and became a brilliant safety valve, but sought to produce just a whimper – and that too, a seriously debated one. It never, from its very inception, sought to alter the state of affairs in any meaningful way or in a way that questions, or threatens the powers that be – and here I don’t mean just the present government, but very hegemonic order itself. It is here lies the answer to Sengupta’s question on the difference between this fast and all the others.

Given the quite harmless character of the fast and its therapeutic potential to strengthen, sustain, and perpetuate not just the system but also the specific desires of those in power, it was not surprising that all parties joined in, and consciously promoted the spectacle – from corporate media to bureaucrats and politicians.



I joined in with great enthusiasm when it all started. The impeccable white of Anna Hazare on his fast at Jantar Mantar was comforting. But then as the cameras zoomed out, it was a little unnerving. India was there, for sure – standing tall from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and wide from Northeast to Gujarat. But there was in that particular representation of India something that blocked my vision entirely – a deity draped in deep red. It was a shocking, though not an unfamiliar, sight, reminding me of all the calendars of banks and companies that came to my home with their versions of Bharat Mata. But what was it doing here, right at the center where people sought to build a new India?

Below Bharat Mata stood the faces of three leaders: Gandhi, Vivekananda, and Rani Laxmibai. On the left were the staring faces of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. A peculiar choice, from the mosaic of leaders, invoked to inspire and bless the proceedings. The peculiarity stems, not from the character of the historical figures themselves, but rather, from the way they have been appropriated by the Hindu rightwing to promote the Hindutva brand of politics: a mix of ideas of purity and violence. Vivekananda is evoked in every argument of the ABVP, the RSS and the BJP.

Standing in front of Bharat Mata and other visionaries, Hazare requested his fellow countrymen to join in his struggle against corruption, but the very vision and its ideals as displayed behind him seemed to be an indicator of who was invited and who wasn’t, for, in the collective imagination of at least one third of the nation’s people, India has never been a sari draped Bharat Mata, while Vivekananda and the others have remained a reminder of saffron fear.

I am probably over reading it, but am I unjustified in expecting sensibility from a movement on which I pin my hopes, or in which I want to participate?

The exclusion was not concretized yet, and not until it all started – from chants of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, to the saffron brigade joining in with RSS national executive committee members; other senior office bearers like Madhubhai Kulakarni, Bajaranga Lalji Gupta, Dr.Shyam Sundar, Om Prakash; and several other ‘karyakartas’ sitting in with Mr Hazare, while Javed Anand, a journalist was asked to join because they did not want ‘bad Muslims’.

Then Ramdev stood on the platform talking of bringing ‘pavitrata’ to the nation and hanging all the corrupt ones. I was confused. Listening to him and to news reports of Anna Hazare’s support of Raj Thackeray’s agenda against north Indians, coupled with tales of public floggings and bhajans as the only celebratory music allowed in Hazare’s model village, I wondered at the nation that he, along with his friends, wanted to build. That Anna Hazare sat surrounded by, and enthusiastically enjoyed the support of a colorful set of people who think that Muslims don’t belong in India; who think that homosexuality is a disease; and who belong to a color which has come to symbolize a demolished Babri Masjid, hundreds of massacred Muslims in Bombay and a bloody state-sponsored riot in Gujarat, is in itself not a problem.


Everyone has the right to participate in the building of a new nation. The presence of Medha Patekar and others from the civil society was a case in point – all were there against corruption. But I had hoped, and let’s confess, prayed for the crucial line between receiving support and joining the brigade to stay. But after the majority of India joined in and the spectacle reached its climax with Hazare being touted as the new Gandhi, Hazare’s (first) statement of his vision collapsed this line and brought together all those little signifiers around him into a final, definitive and meaningful gesture of exclusion.

‘The kind of model that Gujarat and Bihar chief ministers have presented, that model should be emulated by all other chief ministers…’

But let’s come to rural development first. According to the Planning Commission report Gujarat hosts 31.8% of the poor, the highest in India. At the same time, 16,000 farmer suicides have taken place in Modi’s vibrant Gujarat. The agriculture production has also decreased from 65.75 lakh tons in 2003-04 to 51.33 lakh tons in 2004-05. Further, as pointed out by Mallika Sarabhai in her letter to Annaji, Modi’s regime in Gujarat has witnessed several instances of corruption. There has been no Lokayukta in Gujarat for nearly seven years, so hundreds of complaints against corruption are lying unheard. From the Sujalam Sufalam scam of IRs 1700 crore to the NREGA boribund scam of IRs 109 crore and the fishery scam of IRs 600 crore, every department is involved in thousands of crores of scams. The poor and the rural people are being sold to Modi’s friends, the industrialists.

It is difficult to understand how Mr Hazare was unaware of the situation in Gujarat. Even if Gujarat had a blindingly beautiful picture of rural development to present, how could our new leader present Gujarat as an ideal state, where very recently about 2000-5000 Muslims were murdered and another 150,000 rendered homeless in an act of communal genocide? How could Hazare present Modi as an emulative Chief Minister when the latter not only organized and saw through the genocide, but also had the nerve to call it ‘Gujarat Shining’? Is the genocide of Muslims absolutely disconnected from humanity or from that very idea which informs what Mr Hazare calls ‘rural development’? Is this the new India (free of corruption, of course) that we are building?

As the Bill gets embroiled in controversy, losing its strength as several key people either are disassociating themselves from it or threatening to do so, it is time not to play identity politics. What we should work towards is something that will be a step towards inhibiting the conscious, unscrupulous looting of the common people of India – and this requires a lot more than just bringing to court all those who have been caught in scams.

And when that happens Mr Hazare, I would like to be a part of it.

Sharib Ali and Shazia Nigar are students of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

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