Thursday, September 1, 2011

Look, who all didn’t like the Anna fast: Imam Bukhari and Shiv Sena, Rahul, Lalu and Arundhati

While I am not a blindfolded hero-worshipper of Anna, and in the past few days there has been much written about the flaws, omissions and oversights of people with him, I thought that the most interesting part of the past fortnight is the assortment of people who stood up to be counted against the manner in which Anna went about his campaign.

It has been a highly unusual coalition of forces, to say the least. A coalition which was not just against the model of the Lokpal bill or its technicalities, but against the very model of a sustained civil society lobby forcing parliament to acknowledge the need to do something, to look at change without the need for a 50-MP pressure group within Parliament lobbying for it, without a political party pressing for it and thereafter converting a subsequent victory into electoral advantage.

Look at the spectrum that tore into Anna’s methods, objectives and doggedness.

Imam Bukhari, that progressive upholder of democratic institutions, was clear that communalism was a greater threat than corruption, and therefore by not raising that issue, by talking only of corruption, and by raising such patently communal slogans such as Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Vande Mataram, the Anna campaign had hurt the sentiments of the community. And Anna got us to see what I would never have imagined – Imam Bukhari sermonizing on the need to emulate Mahatma Gandhi’s “inclusive approach”. Yes, Imam sahib, Gandhi “included grievances of every Indian constituency”, to quote you, but tell me, if you find Vande Mataram insufferable and communal, you could not have approved of Gandhi’s bhajan sandhyas, surely? Just imagine, Raj Ghat has “Hey Ram” inscribed – don’t Gandhi’s last words suffice to make him communal in your perspective, if a Bharat Mata slogan is enough reason for you to start dividing this along religious lines? Give us a break.

The Honourable Imam’s point was echoed soon after in better drafted English by none other than Rahul Gandhi who warned that accepting such civil society demands was dangerous, since today the proposed law is against corruption but tomorrow it may “attack the plurality of our society and democracy”. It was not heartening to see Rahul and Imam take identical positions, but at least we got to have a clearer idea of where everyone stands. Rahul also declared on the floor of the House that Anna was attempting to issue individual ‘dictates’ which would weaken the democratic process – which by definition is ‘lengthy and lumbering’. Ergo, any attempt to make it the reverse – quick and responsive – was, of course, a very subversion of democracy itself. For the first time we had it on record that the political system is not apologetic about what we keep cribbing about – it believes that if we have democracy, the lengthy and lumbering is part of the package. I have written at length on his speech in my previous post, so am not taking it up again in detail.

A wide spectrum of leaders – many of whom freely abuse each other on other occasions – stood united to ‘defend the backward classes’ against the agitation. But why is an anti-corruption agitation, a demand for a stronger Lok Pal, a Forwards vs Backwards issue? Ram Vilas Paswan, one of our more affluent leaders, explained that “People from SC, ST and OBC communities are afraid if similar movements will be launched to take away reservation and other benefits provided to them by the Constitution.” But, Paswan ji, the three groups together make up over half the country’s population. Would they not be able to argue their points for themselves exactly the way the Anna campaigners have done? Why do you need to nix the anti-corruption initiative on a caste and creed ground? BSP leader Dara Singh Chauhan made the amazing statement that “Dalits had been left out of the Lokpal Bill”. What does that mean? Backwards were left out? Sikhs were left out? The people from the North-East were left out? Displaced Kashmiri Pandits were left out? The Lokpal Bill – or anything at all that instills the fear of God in the salivating hordes of moneymakers growing in our systems – is not something from which anyone can be “left out.” Tomorrow we’ll lobby for appointing a Lok Pal along a rotational quota system, lobbied for by respective parties? Can we never see beyond this mindset for any national debate?

PL Punia, currently chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, and Congress MP from Barabanki, who for years was Mayawati’s trusted bureaucrat – memorably during the whole Taj Heritage Corridor episode – said Anna’s campaign posed a “threat to Baba Saheb’s Constitution”. Excuse me? You cannot reverse-appropriate the sanctity of the Constitution along caste lines. I am sorry, but the Congress was not Gujarati even if Gandhi and Patel did much to build it up, the INA was not Bengali even if Bose ran it, and the Constitution does not need to be defended along such lines even if Babasaheb was its architect. What mindset is this? And what did Hazare ask for that causes affront to the NCSC? Or this is an extension of the party line by other means?

The other upholder of ethical behaviour and Constitutional sanctity, Lalu Yadav, was clear during the debate in the Lok Sabha that ‘This is not the first time that Parliament is debating the issue of corruption. There is nothing historical about today's debate.’ Come on, Lalu. Debates over corruption can hardly be expected to strike a chord with you. Of course it is not the first time corruption is being debated. That is exactly why there is this much angst – you know you can sit and debate and ensure nothing is actually done which makes anyone uncomfortable. Except that, this time, the pressure was far too much to acknowledge that there has to be more than debate. And you have a problem that this is an NGO game and “Yeh log chanda pani se apna jal pan karna chhahate hain”? I don’t think it’s a secret that far too many NGOs are more interested in funds than work. But you, dear Lalu, of all people, have a problem with people arranging “chanda pani”? Really?

But the anti-Anna angst has not been a self anointed backward / minorities leaders’ alignment; far from it. The Shiv Sena doesn’t like Anna’s agenda either. The Sena’s Sanjay Raut told the media that Anna’s Ralegaon Siddhi is the ‘Gangotri of corruption’ and declared that fasts are not going to end corruption. True enough. The Sena has never believed in fasts to end anything. Far simpler to throw stones at buses, theatres, and at anyone you don’t agree with. Raut was also distraught that “Some NGOs are misusing Anna’s name to make money.” Now, what would the Sena know about making money, eh?

At the other end of the spectrum is Arundhati, of course, who had her share of the limelight through her impassioned article, wherein she explained that the Maoists and the Lokpal Bill both sought to overthrow the Indian State; that Anna supported Raj Thackery and Modi; that this was a war backed by Corporates. The one thing I comprehended was in her concluding para: ‘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’. Now, come to think of it, isn’t that something like what Om Puri and Kiran Bedi were saying, in less stylised prose?

So, if you look back, you realize that Imam Bukhari thought Anna was communal, while the Shiv Sena thought he was corrupt. Rahul thought he was issuing individual dictates, Lalu thought the whole debate he raised was pointless, while Arundhati thought it was a grand conspiracy.

While I do realize that the Lokpal agitation has had its limitations and deficiencies, this rewind of all those who have slammed it leaves one with the sense that if they all think this needs to be stopped – well, somewhere, fundamentally, this man is doing something right.

The biggest validation of the Anna campaign is, ironically enough, the gallery of those whom it made uncomfortable.

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