By Badri Raina
Bliss is it in this dawn to be alive,
But to be old is to be doubting.
(With apology to )
These are heady days in India. An orgy is underway in many parts, as angels of virtue shriek holy imprecations, ostensibly, to exorcise the demon ‘Corruption’, a word that has a nice Biblical-postlapsarian ring to it. This inventively constituted Ravana of our times, embodied, we are told, chiefly in the conjoint body of the politicians of the day, especially of the ruling Congress party, is now faced with the equally inventively constituted Ram in the person of . Suitably, this crusader, although he wears the pristine white, topped with a Gandhi cap, opposes the demon in hues which are increasingly more and more saffron as the hours go by (see ‘Is Anna’s Crusade Changing Colour?’HindustanTimes, August 19). No wonder that some electronic channels seem to have nothing better to do than to pour incandescent ablutions of fuel into the corruption-Kumbh, in the full knowledge of the politics they seek to advance.
The Anna Crusaders
Well-endowed citizens who think nothing of doing their bit of corruption day in and day out — in sale and purchase of properties, in tax-evading clevernesses, in getting their job done, whatever the job and whatever it takes (after all, the Shastras do say that you may employ any one of the principles of Saam, Daam, Danda, Beid —where Daam stands for inducement, aka, bribery), including by flaunting their ‘connections’ with ‘high-ups’, not to speak of corporates (those chief corruptors of national life who find no mention either in the government’s Lokpal Bill or in the alternate Anna draft, called the Jan Lokpal Bill) — dip their complicit hands in the Anna-Ganga, certain that all the spots will wash off.
Unlike in Semitic faiths, Hinduism provides Uppai (remedial ways out of any sort of ill-fortune or sin committed, depending crucially on the price paid to the Purohit, except of course in the case of Brahm Hatya, namely the murder of a Brahmin). So, if only had been a Hindu, her “damned spot” may not have been as intransigent. Unto each our fate.
Anna’s faithfuls thus wish the powers-that-be to bring back illicit wealth from foreign tax havens back to India, but have not yet asked any serious questions about the unaccounted monies within the country that constitute a parallel economy to the official one, of equal proportions or more. Not to speak of the obscene volumes of wealth stashed away in temples across the length and breadth of the land. These are not exactly suicidal revolutionaries, after all.
Indeed, these are people, as far as the eye can see and experience tell, who see no corruption in the facts that nearly 40 per cent of the world’s poor are Indians, that a half of India’s children are severely malnourished and a half of India’s lactating mothers severely anaemic, that close to two-thirds of all Indians have no access to clean drinking water or modern sanitation, that rates of female infanticide soar in India’s prosperous states even as the GDP climbs upward, but mostly into the coffers of a miniscule club of billionaires, some 69 or so, who own a quarter of India’s total GDP, that communal carnages are routinely vented upon religious minorities, that young lives are routinely taken to protect family “honour”, that lakhs of farmers are driven to self-slaughter because of neoliberal farm policies, that atrocities on low castes happen dime-a-dozen, while the corporate TV channels sing hosannas to the “India Growth Story”, worried only that “corruption” wrought by “politicians” may dent that story and bring back those sad days of leveling boredom (and what would the flourishing diaspora and the western world, however it may be crashing in debt, dust, and war-mongering thereof, think then of India?).
Just let the good Anna declare a fast unto death on any of the above issues and he might find that not a soul of the kind that now deify him — much like the hero in the film,Guide, where the distraught lover-guide is mistaken for a messiah and forced to undertake a fast unto death so the rains may come — walking in his step, all except me. For among the bulk who are now out in the streets are good old casteists, devoted communalists, committed worshippers of market fundamentalism, traditional upholders of patriarchy, and unflinching detractors of social welfare policies that oblige the “appeasing” state to squander “honest” money on India’s have-nots who, after all, are destitute because of their own laziness and karma of previous births, don’t you know.
There are, of course, those as well whose lives are too disempowered to play games, and who see in Anna an avatar come to deliver them of their misery. We wish these honest folks well in every walk of life.
The Anna Agenda
Remembering how the good old Gandhi undertook some of his most strenuous upliftment crusades precisely in relation to matters of caste and communal oppression, would it be too awry to expect that Anna might do the same? But, do pardon me, Anna ain’t no Gandhi. Do recall how he lauded Modi of Gujarat 2002 vintage during the course of his first fast at Jantar Mantar (see my ‘Anna Lauds Modi’, Znet). So, do not expect that he might expend the same sort of energy on seeing an effective bill to bring sectarian murderers to book as he seems to want to do in the instant case. Especially when you remember that just as a Lokpal Bill awaits Parliament’s endorsement as I write, so does another bill designed to curb sectarian mayhems wrought on various types of minorities by majoritarian pogroms. Or, for that matter, the other jinxed bill seeking 33 per cent reservation for women in the Houses of Parliament and state legislatures. Anna’s thoughts do not thither tend. Nor indeed of those who target ‘corruption’.
Recalling Gandhi’s Champaran Satyagraha on behalf of the then workers on Indigo plantations, how nice it would be to see this Gandhian Anna strike a blow on behalf of the millions of unorganized workers and street vendors who are today the hopeless and helpless victims of neoliberalism. There again, you have another thing coming.
The wonderful thing about “corruption” and “terrorism” is that these buzz words unite everybody, including the corrupt and the terrorist. Easy enough to lead such crusades where only the wicked government stands before you, waiting to be dislodged.
The Real Agenda?
Dislogded, did I say. Indeed, the point and purpose of the Anna crusade is, perhaps, neither corruption nor the anti-corruption bill. It is to get rid of a government that has another three interminable years to it, and, according to a recent countrywide poll conducted, indeed, by one of the corporate TV channels — no friend of the Congress party — the strong likelihood of being returned to power for a third wretched term in 2014. Unbearable thought for those forces who are dying to see India’s retail trade thrown open to foreign predators, India’s insurance companies substantially privatised, the provident fund monies of retiring and retired employees made accessible to the stock market for its “creative” purposes, arms purchases, including nuclear reactors, ordered in piles and bulk, not just from anywhere but the United States of America and its satellite, Israel, all cases of “terrorist” involvement against good saffron nationalists quashed, the likes of Modi saved for a date when he might be installed prime minister of a Subramaniam Swamy-like India etc.
And what could be more wretched than the fact that the above-mentioned poll showed three Congress leaders occupy the top three places as desired candidates for prime ministership, with the likes of Shri Advani — that never-say-enough-is-enough aspirant to the post — and Shri Modi polling a measly five and four per cent respectively! Galling in the extreme.
And, yes, let us say like it is: a statement did come from an official US spokesman, admonishing the Indian government to deal nicely with the Anna crusade. Hey, whatever Uncle Sam’s major domos might effervate from time to time about the Indo-US “strategic partnership”, the sad fact is that at a time when a collapsing US economy needs its Indian partner to “open up” to its goods, services and genetically modified seeds, the UPA government seems set on yet more monies to be wasted in social welfare programmes that only help the destitute Indian to survive, one day to another, but leave the US entrepreneur holding the sack of debt and likely default. Some “partnership” that.
Not that influential sections of the UPA government do not wish to do as Sam says. Boy, are both and Montek Singh Ahluwalia not dying to do so, egged on by the Sam Pitrodas, the Nandan Nilekanis, and the electronic corporates who salivate at the very thought of having them grace their studios. But there still are contrarian voices within the Congress that go the other way. No such problem with BJP if the Anna crusade could install it, as the JP crusade had done in the mid-1970s, if only for a short Indian summer. And incidentally, if both the JP crusade and the one led by after that failed to eradicate either the crass, authoritarian character of the Indian State or corruption, the reasons obviously do not lie in lack of moral fibre and so on, but in the class character of the State — something no crusader wished to do anything about then, or wishes to do anything about now. Including the BJP-led NDA government that was in power in New Delhi between 1998 and 2004.
As to India’s Left parties, having lost West Bengal, they are loathe to give any quarter to the UPA government, even if it means supping briefly with the enemy of enemies. Sad in the extreme. But, as you would know, they always know best.
The Anna crusade is, of course, the harbinger of hope of another kind. He and his lieutenants proclaim that the will of the “people” (O people, I wish I knew who you are at bottom) must prevail over the petty and ill-intentioned machinations of Parliament. To this effect a new theory of ‘referendums’ of which nothing exists in the Indian Constitution, is every day being floated, as well as the slogan that the crusade is now about a “second independence movement”.
Both those postulates must bring great comfort to others who have been seeking either “Azadi”, or precisely what Anna opines, a second liberation whereby the State is overthrown and reconstituted. The one difference being that whereas the Anna platform would wish to effect that reconstitution from the Right, the Maoists would want to do so from the Left. Others wish simply to secede from the Union of India altogether.
As to the idea that such crucial things as the content of an anti-corruption bill had best be settled through a referendum, what gorgeous possibilities lie in that thought. Indeed, here are a few issues on which sections of “civil society” other than those that comprise the Anna platform might want referendums held and imbroglios settled:
- How about a referendum to settle the issue of whether a magnificent temple should not after all be built on the site of the Babri mosque, which was vandalised and demolished equally through another referendum of sorts?
- To settle whether or not the Kashmir valley be allowed to go its way, and leave the Hindu-majority parts of the state to remain aligned withIndia?
- Whether more people than less in Gujarat would wish that state to be declared an autonomous Hindu-Rashtra?
- Whether the upper castes of Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh etc, should not be allowed to carry on with their time-honoured custom of “honour” killings?
- Whether the Shekhawats of Rajasthan may not reinstall the hallowed tradition of Sati?
- Whether female infanticide, caste discrimination, majoritarian citizenship, should not be formalised as practices that Indians may think best for a proper nationhood?
- Whether mining mafia or forest dwellers have first right to land, water, and forest products? Gosh, how those primitive adivasis would be voted out of home and hearth, precisely by the like of citizenry who now dance around Anna ji!
- And so on and so on. . .
Sting in the Tail?
During the course of these most heady days in defence of direct democracy, the Anna campaign has predictably drawn on memories of the imposed on the nation by the late Indira Gandhi in 1975, albeit, lifted by her within a year when she called for fresh elections. A telling reminiscence of that year was the famous slogan uttered by the Congress leader Devkant Barua, “Indiais Indira, Indira isIndia.”How charming that our current crusaders against authoritarianism should have sloganeered just the other day, “Indiais Anna, Anna isIndia.” Which tells you how much of what is now on display is about democracy.
Another thing: I ask myself which of the two facts may, after all, be the most detrimental to Indian democracy in the long term: one, the brief preventive detention of Anna, or the insistence of the Anna camp that Parliament must do as the crusaders say. Or else.
Do chew on that, as you enjoy the spectacle.