We should be there: The Left and the Anna moment

My head has been in a whirl the past few days with a single question – how do we on ‘the Left’ manage so unerringly to be exactly where ‘the people’ are not, time after time?

At this moment I don’t mean the organized Left, for the Left parties  have been cautious about criticizing  the current upsurge; they strongly defended the right to democratic protest when Anna Hazare and his colleagues were arrested, and now have launched a Third Front initiative on the issue of corruption and the Lokpal Bill; the students’ front of CPI (ML), AISA, has been organizing militantly on the issue for a very long time now, and is very much part of the campaign.

I mean the few hundreds who form my own community, the people with whom I have organized protests and run campaigns and sat on dharna and drafted petitions;  struggled against communal violence and sexual harassment,  for queer freedom and workers’ rights, against the nuclear bomb and nuclear energy, in support of reservations and against the moves in our universities to hold up appointments to reserved posts. Many of these people I know personally, some are among my closest friends, and many more I know as part of the broad Left/secular non-party tendency in the country’s politics, where I feel most at home.

Increasingly though, in the course of the current mass upsurge that has coalesced around the figure of Anna Hazare,  I have been feeling more and more alienated in my community, by  its  strident demands for absolute  purity of the radical position; its aggressive  self-marginalization and self-exile to a high ground where credentials are closely scrutinized;  its absolute incomprehension of and contempt for  ‘the people’ when actually confronted by them.

What I see is a carnivalesque celebration of the pure ideals of democracy – of the idea that ‘we the people’ are sovereign, that politicians are the servants of the people, that laws must originate in the needs and demands of the people.

(A young woman travelled alone from Nasik, courted arrest, and was held with thousands of strangers in Chhatrasal Stadium. “What a safe place Delhi is”, she told a reporter. “People are so nice and helpful”. Saddi Dilli, safe and full of nice people. Yeh carnival nahin hai toh kya hai?)

What my community sees though, is a mindless mob of communal and casteist middle classes. The compendium term of multi-purpose abuse – “fascist” – flies around fairly liberally.

It’s as stark as that, the gulf in perception.

So what was it they saw in Tahrir Square?  That glorious and moving groundswell of protest that we all celebrated – did we think of the composition of those crowds? That there were Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood), and people and groups who stand for full-scale capitalism, men who beat their wives and racists and reactionaries of every description?

Too, that is.  Apart from secularists and feminists and workers and trade unions and all the good guys.

Any mass movement brings together disparate and sometimes  starkly contradictory tendencies.  Don’t we know that from the Indian struggle for independence? Was the Indian bourgeoisie absent from it? Or the religious right of all sorts? Or casteist and Brahminical forces? (Of course the Left – the CPI –  even during the independence struggle was painfully tortured by such questions, and often did exile itself to its high ground, missing the moment completely. This time round, that historical memory seems to have stood them well, as Aditya Nigam remarked).

If absolute purity and a point-to-point matching of our full political agenda is required for us to support a movement, then feminists would be permanently stuck restively in the waiting room of history, for I can assure you that every mass demonstration you see anywhere ever, is packed with patriarchal men and patriarchalized women! Nor does any movement except the women’s movement ever raise patriarchy as an issue. But what is it that we take into account when we do support a movement? One – does the movement express a goal or demand that we support? Two – Does the movement as such explicitly take positions that are anti-women or anti-anything-we-stand-for? (Clue: the answers should be yes and no respectively).

The  huge movement in Goa that succeeded in scrapping the SEZ Bill was composed of precisely such a broad formation – from the Church to the Hindu Right, to all of the others  of my community as described above. They came together, they went their separate ways once their campaign succeeded. Nandigram saw a similar formation. Many non-party non-funded citizens’ forums have too. The Narmada Bachao Andolan is another broad alliance coalescing on a single issue.

Our problem is that our search for purity is all too often an expression of deep insecurity. A friend said to me recently, “But don’t you see, the RSS can piggyback on Anna Hazare’s movement?”  So why aren’t we piggybacking on it? What’s stopping us? The Hindu Right enters the movement against the Tehri dam, and promptly the Left forces move away, fearing pollution, leaving them a clear field. Another friend  calls this the saffronizing of the green – could it not, if ‘we’ continued to be present there, become the greening of saffron?

Initially, in the first phase of the campaign, Muslims in general are believed to have stayed away, but not for the reasons adduced by my community. That is, not because the movement itself seemed communal, but because of the fear of the secular UPA being overthrown by a communal government. This time the Hazare team had attempted to reach out to Muslim representatives before he embarked on his fast.  And when Hazare was picked up by police, the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind of Delhi did issue a statement condemning his arrest and advising the government to elicit his group’s opinion while framing the Lokpal bill.

But the overwhelming fear of Muslims appears to be the BJP coming back to power if the UPA is voted out. We don’t want the BJP to come to power either. So either the UPA must be made more susceptible to democratic pressure, or the Third Front should become a viable option. Or both. But don’t use the relatively lower presence of Muslims in the movement as another convenient stick to beat the Anna-wave with. (Sticks don’t work well against waves!)

I find the term ‘middle-class’ being used as a term of abuse not just by my folk (largely middle-class themselves) , but suddenly by a journalist who is generally  an unabashed votary of neo-liberal economic policy, with a memorable paean to KFC in his resume.  And suddenly too, I find that the quest for purity notwithstanding, my friends (opposed to both of the above!) are eagerly posting his piece all over the place.  Mihir Sharma’s tirade against the middle classes that begins with a “we” and moves rapidly into “they” was published in the relentlessly anti-Hazare Indian Express (the Times of India for some time now has presented a more variegated profile of opinions on most issues, for whatever market-driven reason, but it’s fine by me).  He collapses all support to Hazare as emanating from the elite middle classes of the gated colonies with an exaggerated sense of their own entitlements. But what I see both on TV and around me in Delhi, is the outnumbering of those middle-classes by a sort of aspirational lower-middle-class-to-working class population, some of whom may sometimes go to KFC as a treat, but certainly not those with whom we would have a drink or engage with socially. Is that the problem for Mihir then?  His piece widely circulating in our circles, is an attack on the entitled middle class expectation that all rules can be bent for us, we will protest where we want and when we want.  But any protest has to follow rules, he urges, and all protests are shut down by the police after all. Why should this elite lot expect rules to be bent for them?

I really don’t get this. All protests are treated undemocratically, so we should just get used to it? Inch by inch, space for protest has been steadily eroded  in the capital of this world’s whateverest democracy, and we have retreated and retreated, our backs almost literally to the wall now. Along comes a crashing tide of humanity so huge, so peaceful and non-violent, that it  simply takes back the city. Shouldn’t we be celebrating?

Medha Patkar said to the crowds thronging Tihar – “Hum koi maovaadi nahin hain ki sashastra bal bhej ke hum se jaldi nipta jaaye” (We are no maoists who can be easily dealt with by sending in armed forces). What an amazing tribute to the power of massive and sustained civil disobedience from someone who has pledged her life to transformation through these means.

Prakash Karat (not someone I normally quote approvingly), noted in Jansatta today, that the initial action taken against Hazare and the movement is reflective of the overall attack on democratic freedoms. So overpowering is this attack that any proposal to protest must now meet 21 conditions laid down by the police.

Should our reaction be “We had to meet those 21 conditions, why shouldn’t you?” or should it be “Your refusal to meet any pre-condition limiting a peaceful protest has opened up possibilities  for us’? (Clue: the answer is the latter. Also Karat’s answer, by the way).

There are casteist and communal elements out there in Ramlila Maidan today, and patriarchal and sexist elements; some sections of India Inc seem to support it, others, not so much (Nilekani had some sage words of caution against expecting a law to solve an issue as large as corruption. No, that’s right, the UID will do that). The Indian flag is everywhere, that symbol of repression in so many parts of the country reeling under the jackboot of the Indian state.

But there are also workers (auto drivers, dabbawalas, railway workers of MP) – all BJP walas, said another friend dismissively. How do you know, how the hell do you know? As it happens, the railway workers were members of an AITUC union. The only time BJP tried to join in a demonstration with its party flag, in Mumbai, it was driven away. And even if BJP-aligned workers are there, what do you want? Not just ‘workers’ but only left-aligned workers? And whose fault is it if there are none there? I don’t even think that’s the case though. Chandrabhan Prasad derisively said on a TV panel – where are the Dalits in that movement? And one girl in the studio audience stood up and said, ‘I’m Dalit, and there are many of us out there. How do you know there aren’t?’ And if YFE is out there, so is AISA, which stands uncompromisingly for reservations. If Vande Mataram is a popular slogan, so is Inquilab Zindabad.

Can we really be so blind to the nature of what’s happening?

The point is to ask those two questions: Does the movement express a goal that we agree with? Yes, I think it does. I mean here the larger goal of making governments accountable to the people.  And two: is there any expression in the movement of all those things that we oppose? No, there isn’t. I find the movement remarkable for its self-reflexivity and constant response to criticism. The first time round, there was that Hinduized picture of Bharat Mata, this time the backdrop is  Gandhi; the highly criticized provision for Magsasay  awardees and such eminences to oversee the Janlokpal has been dropped; Baba Ramdev marginalized, and I see no necessary reason why this kind of constant self-correction should not keep happening.

In my opinion,  ‘corruption’ has the emotive charge of ‘salt’ of the Dandi March. It touches every single person, and it highlights the oppressiveness of the state. A  political analyst who has recently come round to taking the movement seriously, Yogendra Yadav, explained on TV that this movement is not about Anna, it is not about the Lokpal Bill, it is not even about corruption, it is about ‘the people finding themselves’. (“Very well put, as always”, fawned Rajeep Sardesai).  I find this condescending in the extreme. The people think they are on the roads about corruption but really they are…

On the contrary. This movement is centrally about corruption, and corruption touches every single life in India. It touches the labourers whose muster rolls are faked, it touches the agricultural worker whose NREGA payment is swallowed up, it touches every poor undertrial and prisoner in jail on trumped up charges (was it surprising then, that the undertrials in Tihar fasted in solidarity with Anna?), it touches the farmer whose land is seized to be passed on to corporates, an issue mentioned by Anna Hazare in his speech at Ramlila Maidan (kisanon ki zameen zabardasti chheeni ja rahi hai). Holding government and the bureaucracy accountable for corruption will check corporate corruption, because guess whom the corporations have to bribe to circumvent every law and every rule?

And you tell me there is “no mention of poverty” in this movement? (You know who you are!)

Corruption is tied fundamentally to the RTI Act that effectively exposes it, so effectively that 8 RTI activists have been killed in the past seven months. Shehla Masud, the latest in this roll of honour, was on her way to a demonstration in solidarity with Anna Hazare when she was shot dead in her car by an assailant who escaped. Shehla was relentless in using the RTI to expose illegal mining in Chhatarpur district of MP by Rio Tinto, a UK-based multinational corporation. “Illegal” mining precisely means corruption –  government officials were being bribed by Rio Tinto to look the other way or to facilitate an activity that was destroying the environment and habitat of the region.

Shehla Masud was an RTI activist who saw herself as part of India Against Corruption.  The two are intimately inter-related.

As for the “blackmail” of insisting on being involved in drafting legislation – all of us know very well that small lobbies and groups from within my community have long influenced, or tried to influence, the drafting of law – laws on sexual violence and rape, against communal violence, on women’s reservations. And that is as it should be.

Law-making needs to be demystified – “it’s a very complex process”, they keep saying. So it is. We get that. We get a lot of stuff that’s complex – we have a right to the information that will enable us to arrive at a conclusion. That’s what the people on the roads are saying.

Before Fali Nariman said it, I heard a young law student stumblingly explain before a TV camera in English, which was clearly not his first language:  “They say the Parliament is sovereign. No. They should read the Constitution. The people are sovereign.”

And I love the way people say to the camera – Main Kapil Sibal se kehna chahta hoon, main Manmohanji ko batana chahti hoon – directly, they address these guys, the politicians, as if they have a right to. This is neither anti political nor anti political classes – it is the exact opposite. It is the  insistence precisely that we the people are political, we demand accountability from those whom we send to Parliament.

Look, I’m no fan of the way visual media have appointed themselves as leaders of this campaign, abandoning all pretence of objectivity. It makes me sick, to be honest. But the media has its ways and its priorities. It supports queer pride and attacks communal violence; it campaigns for the women’s reservations Bill; TRP’s lead it by the nose, toh main kya karoon. I’m not going to set my own political priorities and agenda in opposition to, or in line with what a semi-literate TV anchor has to say. Why the hell are you?

The Lokpal Bill of the government was the most insulting piece of rubbish a government could place before the people. It has been 40 years in the making, and 6 times it has been tabled without being passed. If Anna Hazare now declares  that he will not lift his fast until the Janlokpal Bill is passed in this session, he has been given good reason for it.

Discussions and informed debate on the Janlokpal Bill and NCPRI and Aruna Roy’s alternative are being conducted in many places including kafila (here, here, and here), but something else struck me. When Valentine’s Day burst into the Indian scene in the 1990s, many of us were derisive and critical of the conventional notions of romance embodied in it, of the commodification of love, and so on. But when the Hindu right began its often physically violent attacks on Valentine’s Day, we started realizing there was something subversive about it. What did the Hindu right fear from the possibility of unregulated “love”? We reclaimed Valentine’s day then, in all sorts of different ways.

What does the government, what does the Indian state, fear from a Lokpal Bill?

This is a moment pregnant with possibilities. Just as the attainment of national independence marked the beginning of new lines of conflict and the resurfacing of old ones, the success in any  form of this campaign will only inaugurate more differences. Just as the coming into being of “India” opened up possibilities and dangers, so will this. This is true of any project of transformation.

And just as “they” have set aside their casteism and communalism within the space of the movement, “we” will have to set aside our radical critiques of what ‘they’ stand for. We cant go in there in confrontational mode, but in solidarity with a minimum common agenda. For there are many thousands in there who are not communal, not casteist, not elitist, and we cant afford to lose them

The movement doesn’t really need us, let’s be clear. But do we need it?

Shouldn’t we be there?

152 thoughts on “We should be there: The Left and the Anna moment”

  1. Same feeling of ‘alienation’ here !!! experienced a difference..why should we join or why do we need it…..at least minimum solidarity matters as such !!

  2. very well put..but to answer a specific query on if we oppose the objective of the current protest movement.. YES many do!The govt. lokpal bill is worthless but The Jan Lokpal bill is a complete antithesis of it to the extent of being truly fascist and the arrogance of team anna which is second to the govt. only. I can live protesting alongside communal and casteist middle class but cannot be party to the fact that they have different reasons to be doing so and that is to show politicians down by any means possible even if they dont understand the difference in various drafts

  3. If Corruption has to be Controlled & Eradicated from INSIDE, will Force or Law from OUTSIDE do any thing at all????
    Can Lokpal do something to start Eradicating Corruption of the “INSIDE”???

  4. But, how does one join with a minimum common agenda in a congregation like this, without the risk of being painted in the same colours as those with whom we have the ‘maximum uncommon’? Let alone the right-wing, what about the facebook-photo-uploading-outing-to-the protest venue or the Saif Ali Khan Lays’ commercial like “dillogical” interest in protest wale? Moreover, this ‘movement’ is so overwhelmingly overshadowed by the 74 year old selfless ‘Gandhian’ man, that I doubt people are engaging with the issue as they should.. Anna jo kahein wohi thik? What about his prominent liking for hand-chopping of ‘the corrupt’… How does creation of more and more institutions solve the problem of corruption in the way it is projected to do?.. what if the Lokpal panelists are someday levelled with charges of corruption themselves?…. ultimately they’d be taken to the court or impeached by the parliament, etc. Why can’t that be used against ‘the corrupt’ even now?…. A people’s movement should canvass for the effective functioning of the institutions that already exist.. not blindly follow a ‘leader’ who stinks of dictatorial tendencies! No matter what devotees like Kiran Bedi say, for me Anna is not India, and India definitely must not be Anna, how can I join a crowd which cheers to the contrary?

    1. well said sneha…culnd hv been put better!! there’s a need for d sane to stand up n be counted in all this brouhaha ..which people like nivedita n medha patkar hv been joining up as bandwagon … i think is exactly why most of the others hv jumped in .. to bash political class while painting them with same brush

      1. No, I do not think it’d be fair to label Nivedita’s position as bandwagoning. Her position is well justified and she is exactly arguing for what you point out as the “need for d sane to stand up n be counted in all this brouhaha”… I have a few misgivings with standing up within the ambit of that congregation that I voiced above. However, what Nivedita is arguing for is not to take the ambit of that congregation as a ‘given’ but rather engage with it to expand it to include the terms of the so-called “sane”…. I just have my doubts on the merits of that exercise.

    2. I cant agree more. I also feel this is some mass frenzy which is going on and I have not even felt for a moment to be part of it or sympathetic of it. Thanks Sneha for articulating it brilliantly


    3. Well you always have the choice.If you dont want don’t go.As Nivedita wrote they dnt need you. Its clear.There are enough people who believe in it and dont feel disgusted to be seen among other fellow human being regardless of their caste,creed’ colour,gender,political stand and above all their intellectual level

      1. No. It isn’t as simple as that. By not going one is abdicating one’s right to differ from the position Team Anna is taking. The right to dissent Anna defends so vigorously (and I do too) must be allowed to me too.

        Enough people who believe in it is not enough. Few lacs who choose to reach there is not enough. the silent majority must also be heard. And it is not a case of ‘why don’t they speak’ ? The Constitution has laid out how the people must speak – through a vote.

  5. Wow….Awesome!…for the past few days my own analyses of this event has been missing a critical piece…though i have been close enough to feel it , i couldnt find words to articulate it..but Nivedita, you have delivered that critical piece to me….the socio-politico-moral dilemma of the left , the naysayers and the fence sitters..i dont include the opposers in this, because many of them do have valid reasons…but there’s definitely a section who would have had wet dreams about this kind of a popular uprising but are unable to join in becuase of their deep rooted (archaic?) political compulsions…Thank you so much!

    1. I feel there’s an oversimplification in attributing the dilemma of some people to political compulsions. As others have pointed out before, there’s hardly any clarity of purpose behind this movement except for a vague single point agenda – “Eradicate Corruption”. And if one were to look a little closer, it would shrink down to just getting the Jan-Lokpal bill draft presented in the parliament. The indifference of the main faces of this movement (Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal & Kiran Bedi) towards anything else but the draft bill is quite overt. And when the movement tries to assume the airs of a crusade against corruption (quite successfully so in the minds of the man on the street), it creates this image of this bill being a single pill that’ll rid us of all corruption. Let the leaders of this movement show even a semblance of depth apropos their understanding of the menace of corruption and I’m sure they’ll see far more support from their hitherto detractors, irrespective of political affiliations.

      1. But I think thats the very reason that this thing has such a pull among the masses…”India against corruption”…Noun verb object…simple introspection will yield an answer and you will know whether you are for or against…what else could it have been….Sample this

        “certain sections of the indian middle class (refer to annexure for exact definition) against certain corrupt practices of governance through a tripartite structure for vigilance, investigation and prosecution of such practices in the indian legislature, bureaucracy and judiciary while ensuring not to create a hegemonic…..etc etc” ..wont work

        hyperbole aside…i can concede that the message is too generic….the demand too simplistic….and maybe anna is a naive old man who actually believes in ‘india as a deity’ and ‘corruption as blaspheme’ constructs…all the more reasons for the intelligensia and other socially active sections of the country to now come forward and take charge…(not in the way Ms Aruna is doing, by deriding Anna and obfuscating the issue)…but constructively…

  6. Sneha, Arvind and Prashant have catagorically distanced and apologised for Kiran’s statement. Self-corrections, it appears, continues. We should also try to see how Prashant is pushing the larger agenda of democratisation of policy making process which he is strategically pushing forth. Just see the reaction to his point of referendum mentioning Nuclear deal, land acquisition, telangana etc. by the corporate representative!

    1. Though the “team” may have seen the point in distancing themselves from Kiran’s comments, has his-highness himself done so? Not, as far as I know. The “team” is ultimately just that, the show-stopper is Anna Hazare.

  7. Thank you Ms Menon, thought I’d explode reading some of the most bewildering reasons for keeping away until now. As for Muslims not being part of it, well if they are solely to be represented by a formal outfit/person then i may be wrong and if one is doing a super efficient and super humiliating head count to see the participation or non participation of the muslims in Delhi, you really can’t be sure. But since i write from Bangalore, I can do one for people who doubt – of the burqas and the skull caps and the children who are happy to do a ‘Anna Fast’ (as corny and middle class as it sounds) and the young men who are writing blogs and not breaking their ramadan fasts for the ‘movement’. In the mid afternoon music begins with – ‘Allah tero naam, eeshwar tero naam’, so now when one points and asks about muslims they are unnecessarily bringing attention to there ‘otherness’ – how much do muslims have to prove in this country- to the Right after blasts, to the Left after fasts!

    And it’s pretty preachy to tell the ‘middle class’ as i recently read and heard a columnist say- that we are not the ones who suffer from corruption, its the poor in the villages ( rightly so, no comparison) and it’s the middle class presence that’s taking away from this protest!! The terms is used as a pejorative so often that it exposes how much you really care to empathize with those you feel are radically different from you while expecting the same middle class to empathize with things that matter little to their existence in an obvious way, but are important to you. It was also in the same article explained like the idiots we are that the said middle class roughly falls within the income group of 20,000- to 1 lac per month if i remember correctly. Well, 20,000 is what my cleaning lady’s household income is ( she works in an office with her daughter and her son is a clerk in a small IT firm here, her husband a peon) and roughly 1 lac ours. How are we both put together in the well heeled pampered middle class that showed up on the streets? How are our agendas, our problems, our compulsions the same??

  8. Just saw on TV channels…a group of Muslims offering Namaaz before Iftaar, right in front of and below Anna’s stage. Could someone inform the critics?

  9. Dear Nivi, Thanks for writing this and for asking these very difficult questions. I just want to reiterate two things primarily as someone who is only watching all this through the media and just imagining the scene at ramlila maidan and wondering whether one is just feeling hopeful from afar. But your article makes me feel perhaps there really is something to this moment. One, a lot of our friends are concerned about the lack of a structuralist critique of corruption and the ignoring by the middle classes of other issues of poverty, inequality, neoliberalism, and state repression that friends have been organizing on.But as your article rightly points out, RTI and NREGA experiences point much more to a so called structuralist critique of corruption than anyone imagined. So I am struck by the fact that Aruna Roy, while being critical of the bills and the process, is very clear on that and doesn’t think that the issue itself is just a middle class one, that many of our left friends criticize. Second, I am amazed by many friends saying that you cant hold the government hostage- thats undemocratic- and I am surprised by this sudden self placed limit on the demands of the people – when you automatically assume limits because you/we have not set the blueprint of this movement. After seeing Medha, Swami Agnivesh, Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan there, I definitely felt that if these folks who are equally aware of the limits/critiques/the varied formations in the crowds are there, there must be something…thanks again for writing and hoping for a robust discussion on Kafila on these questions.

  10. I agree with the essence of this article, that the Anna movement should not be opposed simply because many of the supporters are from the middle class or the BJP. But it is possible to oppose it because the bill it seeks to thrust on Parliament is bad. That is Aruna Roy’s approach, and I subscribe to it.

    That said, the author’s analysis is sort of funny because of the simplistic compartments in which different opinions are categorized. Mihir Shah is labelled a neo-liberal based on an article in which he advocates regulating the real estate market. (According to her leftist standards, simply acknowledging the presence of a real-estate market constitutes neo-liberalism?) In that sense, she fails just as spectacularly as her leftist friends in distinguishing between the message and the messenger. And in the same fashion, the supporters of Anna Hazare fail to distinguish between the message and the messenger when a possibly corrupt politician gives a strong defence of the government bill based on solid legal arguments. This kind of thinking is not going to take us anywhere.

  11. ‘There’. Where exactly? In the maidan? In the “movement”? Which movement of the many that form this melée? The one that keeps shouting ‘Vande mataram’? Waves the national flag repeatedly? Why not take a stand with Aruna Roy and her colleagues and say instead that we should be looking more closely at the fine print of the legislation that’s going to be the real outcome of all the pressure politics and high melodrama? Why not express strong disagreement with the desperate attempt by Hazare and his clique to push their draft through into law at maximum speed precisely to forestall the kind of debate that a democracy has to be able to generate and to rule out any other set of proposals such as those of the NCPRI? When the crowds have melted and the hysteria died down, and the great “Popular Front” of Bharat Mata and Jai Hind dissolved into the old animosities of “civil society” as it really is, the egoism and self-interest of contending classes/castes outside the state, what will we be left with except one further piece of legislation? And if that fails to replicate the rigour and standards of, say, the RTI, an inspired Act brought about by a grassroots movement that was profoundly democratic in its conception, more profoundly so than the soap opera of a middle class that’s gone beserk over ‘corruption’ because the global pretensions of the CWG backfired so badly and caused “national” shame, all of this upsurge is simply going to end with an ineffective or a draconian law (depending on who wins), a corporate sector that’s immune from both, and a democracy that’s up for grabs.

  12. The movement led by so called civil society is turning towards fascism. It has mobilized mob to bow down the government. The Mob which is totally fanatic, just like anti Mandal Commission Forum, not ready to listen the dissenting voice. People from Krantikari Lok Adhikar Sangathan were manhandled on 17th August by the organizers while distributing pamphlet. They are chanting slogans like Anna is India , India is Anna, those who are not with us are against us, slogans like vande Mataram, Bharat mata Ki Jay. Pamphlet advocating the way of Bhagat Singh is not acceptable to them. This is the modus-opernadi of the so called civil society. Another aspect, the movement led by them is not for enlargement of democratic space, in contrary to, it is curbing the democratic space by killing all dissent. In crisis time hitler had entered into the political arena in similar way in Germany. The response of Anna’s right Hand Arvind Kejriwal on issue of corruption is not different from Jacobin of France. We should also understand the political economy of corruption in the society, how it effects different classes of the society.

  13. Please read today’s post of Chhattisgarh.net, if you haven’t already. There are reports of scores of villages being shut down, people joining indefinite fast, the struggle for Jan Lokpal aligned with a struggle to resist Raman Singh’s machinations. It is no longer a “middle class” movement. I am doubtful if it is even an “anti-corruption” movement anymore. The movement ought to continue and grow even if the elites are able to push in some legalistic solution to the politically very limited Lokpal issue. We can begin by shutting down all the universities in Delhi.

  14. nivedita,
    many congratulations for writing this well-timed piece, which raises crucial issues about supporting a horizontal mobilization of graciously non-violent type. however, i think participation ‘middle class’ is an encouraging issue who otherwise keep themselves aloof. much of the idioms of this moment are also difficult to express with older categories.

  15. beautiful article. I’m going to send this to my right of center friends who are obsessing over what Nandan Nilekani. If they’re smart they’ll realize this is a call to them as well

  16. Very nice article. In our discussion with friends, We fet that some of points in JanLokpal is practically difficult. But if we have to choose between GovtLokpal and JanLokpal, we will stand by JanLokpal. That’s only reason we go to support for it.

  17. The baggage of ‘historical mistakes’ of not being there has become too heavy to really stop and ponder if it is really ‘there’ this time.

    I can recall when the BJP’s star was seeming almost eternal under Vajpayee’, many of us on ‘the left’ had started lamenting the left has not understood religion, the soul of this country! And then any far-fetched attempt then to prove BJP against dharma and scriptures would result in desperate applauds.

    Isn’t this frenzy to have a supra-constitutional Lokpal, elected by seven enlightened elites, unaccountable to anybody and capable of intercepting our telephone/internet/awarding life imprisonment for corruption a reflection of our middle classes’ rightwing common sense, where many would have loved having military rule after independence to discipline the nation. Many still fondly remember emergency as trains ran on time.

    Our constitution, parliament and democracy have become too noisy for the upper-caste elite who have to listen to uncomfortable voices there which were absent for centuries. No glorification of parliamentary democracy here, but Lokpal-cracy is definitely a step backwards.

    Equating it with freedom struggle and saying we cant have a sanitized space exclusively for the left is also unconvincing. Theoretically, there is no harm in attempts of ‘greening the saffron’. But that also has to be decided on actually assessing whether we will be realistically become a counterweight or even our ‘participation with reservations’ would be merged in the carnival. When we are on our own turf- displacement, dispossession, womens/queer/social justice issue, it is the saffron that has to try. Too hard.

  18. It’s true that CPI and CPIM have called for a national day of protest, and have defended Anna’s right to protest. But they too have been, time and again, pitting ‘parliamentary process/supremacy’ against this movement, and thereby defining the latter as a threat to ‘democracy’. See http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2370253.ece?service=mobile, where D Raja (echoing Sibal) says noone can ‘dictate’ to Parliament; and Yechury, absurdly compares the Anna-led movement to the babri masjid demolition! Shades of the CPI stance during Emergency, seeing ‘fascism’ in JP and democracy in Indira!
    That’s not to say that Anna and those around him do not need to be made accountable too. If you lead a movement, you are expected to answer political questions on a wide variety of democratic issues. Yes, it’s good they’ve replaced Bharat Mata with Gandhi (I myself had brought this up in a meeting called by Prashant with Anna and Arvind, after Anna’s first fast) Yes, it’s good that Anna on 15 Aug (and since) has spoken of corporate land grab and firing on peasants/adivasis, as well as of poverty and price rise. But for an anti-corruption crusader, let’s face the fact that he is strangely silent on Bellary, Yeddy. Surely he could have welcomed the fact that his colleague Justice Hegde’s report resulted in the resignation of a CM? He praised Modi (though he retracted the praise later) – but isn’t what’s happening in Gujarat today, where whistleblowers on the police force are beuing victimised, an aspect of corruption – where public servants are pressurised to serve vested interests and be biased rather than serve public interest?
    Today, those conducting the Ramlila show did not allow AISA activists to mention AISA’s name! A cultural team of AISA students with some janvadi geet had to argue long and hard to be allowed to perform – though all sorts of vague ‘gayatri parivar’ type groups had a free hand.
    So while I agree wholeheartedly with Nivi that ‘we need to be there’, we also need to recognise that most of those leading this movement do not make it easy to be there, and we need to say to the movement – be more inclusive, do more to reach out to those movements and groups that are really fighting, on the ground… That is not to say it’s an RSS-orchestrated affair, or that most people there are RSS; but that RSS has easy clandestine access there thanks to the fact that those of us (even student groups/cultural groups) who wear our politics on our sleeve are not easily welcomed there.

    1. “That is not to say it’s an RSS-orchestrated affair, or that most people there are RSS; but that RSS has easy clandestine access there thanks to the fact that those of us (even student groups/cultural groups) who wear our politics on our sleeve are not easily welcomed there.”

      I would love to know the reasons for this phenomenon. Left politics (revisionary ultra left) is disliked among the middle class? or Middle class is more closer to RSS ideology in India?

      In both the cases, what’s the point to join such movement, which are ideologically isolated?

  19. Would LokPal Bill, and Mr. Bhushan’s insistence on referendum, include questions about accountability on Kashmir? Would the supremacy of the rule of authority in Kashmir over Kashmiri dissent come under criticism the same way as it is happening under Lokpal context? Since “the people” of India want to see themselves above their government, would such a demand by the Kashmiri people acquire a similar legitimacy in the minds of Indian middle class?

    What amazes me is not easy comparisons with Tahrir Square, but the absolute elision in analysis of the stark contrast with Lal Chowk.

    1. I think the answer to all your questions is no. Too much to expect from the fickle masses…I dont think any (or many?) of the people thronging Tihar and Ramlila are there against the ‘concept of corruption’, or its equivalence with oppression and social injustice.. For most of them there’s a direct translation of less corruption to direct tangible monetary benefits…more money..better material comforts (agreed…its a convoluted reasoning). Or else, it is the novelty of this new sentiment, this orgasmic, goose bumping jingoism and the solidarity they feel for a gandhiesque old man…in the end..these crowds are a market and the anna movement has some USP’s…

      Kashmir, alas, doesn’t enjoy the same kind of ‘pull’ on us masses. Nor do for that matter the other extremely marginalized sections and issues of this society. Au contraire, some of the above factors in fact work against the people of Kashmir – the same kind of fictitious, loosely framed nationalistic jingoism while brings more masses to the ramlila ground, it clouds our understanding of the real issues in Kashmir.

  20. Excellent, thought provoking piece. Seemed like a mild to moderate disdain of Hazare and his ilk was become ‘the’ stance on fora such as this one. Refreshing to read another point of view.

  21. This piece is beautifully reflective of an intelligent and analytical mind. I wish the government were not so arrogant. Do they believe that it’s all a media creation?

  22. I disagree with you in that we(the broad Left/secular non-party) should support the Anna-IAC movement, but I believe that your article brings up for discussion and reflection many important questions. I find the NPCRI approach the most reasonable one.

    Even the most tolerant of us have this degree of prejudice and intolerance. Intolerance and discrimination by caste, class, religion, sexual identity and so on are more easy to recognize and condemn. Those of us who shun such divisions, will find it hard to come to terms with our own latent prejudices. Intolerance towards people whose politics and ideology we hate and cannot agree at all with, is indeed a massive mental block for us. I don’t know what I will do with my hatred for the patriarchal, sexist, communal and casteist views and the people who hold them. It is their ingrained hatred that I most hate about them; but I think that my hatred for them is a reasonable hatred. Should I put it aside and and march with them on this movement? That question does not arise for me, because I don’t agree with the goals and methods of the movement. But even if I agreed with the goal and method, I would hesitate.

    1. Aparna,
      If you follow the Marxist view of study of societies one should not feel hatred for patriarchal,sexist and communal viewpoints.The Marxist method should help us to understand such views better and help us to device ways to over come such view points. There is no place for hatred and prejudices when u try to study societies scientifically.

  23. I second what Abhimanyu said: “Finally someone puts it with the right words and the correct amount of conviction. Very well written”.

    I was torn between my friends who had issues with the movement and chose to stay little away and strangers with completely different ideology but standing next in this campaign. I think this movement is more about people asserting their rights, making our democracy more participative rather than current passive representative style. I like NAPM’s stand in this issue and finally, I am all for “greening the saffron”.

  24. Could not agree with you more. This self isolation of left has dwindled the support it had. I believe there are many who appreciate the ethical upright behavior of this self proclaimed community but keeping in-difference just because one doesn’t have stamped enumeration of lefts written all over, is foolhardy.

  25. By “WE” Nivedita Menon certainly means, if I understand her reflections in the right spirit,
    “WE” people left of center, progrssive, committed to bring about social change. I feel that
    the leftist progressive camp in India is gleefully divided on the question as to whether Anna
    Hazare is a true Gandhian or an instrument in the hands of the right wing- BJP/RSS/VHP.
    Corruption in India as of today, let me tell you,is an all pervasive phenomenon. It exists in
    all countries all over the world, especially in the higher echelons of politics and business.
    Unfortunately in India, it strikes the common man the hardest. You only have to make an
    incognito enquiry in Kerala the state where the Left (of all hues) is still very present and a
    population with the highest literacy rate in the country. I personally feel that it was upto the
    Left to mobilize us into such a movement, roping in whatever groups wanting to join in the
    mouvance no matter the colour of their flags People are fed up with this culutre of corruption from Panchayat to Parliament and they have joined Hazare awakened by a sort
    moral/ethical anxiety about our society, Hazare may win or give up; the point is: he has been able to bring together people to fight against something which everyone agrees not
    befitting our nation, Call it nationalism or whatever: his message is clear THE NATION IS
    IN DANGER. CORRUPTION IS A DISHONOUR TO INDIA etc. He might invoke Rama and
    the scriptures. And WE the people of the rightous Left go on analysing the phenomenon
    with canons and texts borrowed from elsewhere. Regis Debray, who took part in the Cuban
    revolution, Chilean uprising and who was close to Guevarra and Castro, mentions in his
    analysis that ” revolutionary zeal is nothing in front of nationalist pride”, Gandhi understood
    this very well. But…we the people of the Left in India are prisoners of an unwanted orthodoxy – it has always been, it still is, while History moves on!
    Inasu Thalak/poetwriter lin Paris

  26. I am quite moved by this piece. I want to thank Nivedita for this courageous piece of writing. It makes me respect the left tradition (which is your traidition) more than I have in recent years.

  27. Very timely piece by Nivedita. It appears that this movement is showing signs of making a dynamic transition from one which had some rightwing tinges to it (praise of Modi etc) to one which has progressive potentialities. The increasing references to Gandhi and even Bhagat Singh by Anna Hazare can be viewed as signs of those progressive potentialities. If this movement is able to create a space for a political current in the country that is opposed to both UPA and NDA, its progressive potentialities would expand. If the Indian Left participates actively in the movement in spite of all reservations about many segments in it that Nivedita has mentioned, the Left can certainly work to strengthen its progressive potentialities. The outcome of this movement is not predetermined. Those who will participate in it will shape its slogans, demands and eventually its outcome.

    1. Sure Mini, as we say in our policy page: “…we request you to give credit to the post author and a link to the post.” Thanks.

  28. Every movement has a central theme and trajectory. There could be participants who are not within the mainstream, but hover in its vicinity. Mass participation in the independence movement did not mean that everybody shared the same vision of what they were fighting for. In fact I remember reading a recent book on independence and partition which refers to a Brit civil servant’s horseback journey through Punjab in 1946 in course of which he encountered a huge diversity of opinions on what freedom meant. Freedom from the moneylender for some; freedom from the Muslim for some — and there were in fact some who said that “azaadi” would bring “barbaadi” since it would lead to a fatal schism between the communities. In deciding whether to line up with the IAC crusade, we need to identify what its central theme is. Aside from “anti-corruption” which is a slogan almost as vapid as “pro-motherhood”, the spirit of the movement is represented in the successive drafts of the bill they have put before the public. Beginning with the “men of virtue” bill which spoke of a panel comprising Nobel laureates, Bharat Ratna and Magsaysay awardees and five-star ranking military officers being empowered to appoint the Lok Pal – and onwards to the current one – the spirit is profoundly anti-democratic. Getting a few thousand people out on the streets does not remedy this democratic deficit. Staying away from this manner of illogic and irrationality is still the only sane course.

  29. Kafila has the distinction of posting one of the earliest critiques (Shuddha’s) of the actual Jan Lokpal Bill, and the central point in that critique still stands: the Bill would create an enormously powerful unelected body that is not answerable to anyone. If Anna’s movement were simply against corruption, there would be no problem in our joining it. But it is not. Time and again it has been reiterated that the campaign is for the passing of the bill they propose, without debate or amendment. In the first place, that would not end corruption, since power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And secondly, it would replace India’s (admittedly deeply flawed) parliamentary democracy with an unelected dictatorship. The Bushite argument used – that if you are not with us, you are with the enemy – is also deeply disturbing. As Ponni has pointed out in another post, we have a much better alternative both to the insulting government draft and to the undemocratic Jan Lokpal Bill, namely the NCPRI proposals. If we want to engage with the movement – and I agree with Nivi that we should – isn’t the NCPRI draft the one we should be supporting?

    1. While I applaud Nivedita’s article, your comment articulates my concerns and hence participation would still be problematic, at least on a personal level…

  30. it will be interesting to see whether the IAC can get their janlokpal bill through parliament without any amendments. it is highly unlikely. it is also to be seen as to how long this movement continues in the face of an attritive strategy adopted by the congress and its allies.there is no need to join them there at ramlila grounds. we can easily hold separate demonstrations of our own supporting our versions of the lokpal bill elsewhere and dovetail other issues like displacement, tribal rights, dalit rights etc.

  31. Ms. Menon: The sheer number of people on the streets is absolutely no measure of the legitimacy or legality of any movement. Advani’s rath yatras for the temple in Ayodhya had a far greater turnout than the Hazare rallies. Just because the mob wants a temple doesn’t make it right and this is definitely not the way to make laws. If Hazare was carrying out a general fast against corruption, it would not have been a problem. An indefinite fast unto death to seek the enactment of a particular version of a Bill is extremely dangerous. What will your kind do when the masses go on a similar rampage for a temple at Ayodhya? The legitimacy of the methods used is as important as the ends sought to be acheived. The anger at Hazare and his ilk is at the methods and attitude towards those who dissent.

  32. Nivi, thanks for this wonderfully written and well-argued piece. Much of it is persuasive, but I think it still fails to convince me that there is space in this ‘movement’ for progressive ideas. It feels socially conservative to me, in its appeals to a value system it fears is vanishing, as if it ever existed; and I think it is reflexively anti-state in economic matters, and not in a good way for progressives — most Anna-fans I have spoken to are easily able to blame corruption in govt programmes on the existence of those programmes.
    Nor do I buy in the least the idea that the success of this set of people in browbeating the government opens up space for protest in Delhi. The state caved because this was a middle-class-led movement, and tv made them uncomfortable, and the functionaries of the state are as middle-class as anyone, and thus willing to make exceptions. Nothing here addresses, let alone pokes holes in, that argument.
    That being said, I agree that the fact that so many people are willing to care to this degree shows the failure of the left, mainstream and non-mainstream, to attract them and to grow. But perhaps that is not because it has failed to join other people’s ‘movements’, but that its own, too, have been formulated in a divisive manner?
    On a far less consequential note, thank you for mentioning me, specifically, in a tone more indulgent and less unpleasant than is usual for mentions of the Express on Kafila :) perhaps, though, if you really wanted me to be categorised as a neo-liberal, you should have linked to an old piece in which I did not express such disdain for market wisdom, for unrealistic expectations of endless ‘growth’, and call for much greater regulation, and scepticism about the wisdom of international finance? it appears you are as confused as I am about what the tag ‘neo-liberal’ means. Perhaps occasionally enjoying fried chicken is, indeed, the only useful signifier of the aptness of that slippery ideological insult. :)

  33. This is the only piece with lots of sense in the past few months of readings on Kafila on Anna. I was abhorred with discussions on the character of Anna and claims of authenticity which Indian (left) intellectuals from wide spectrum of society have been posting here and elsewhere and I had left me at loss to understand what has happened to it. As rightly pointed by you the fickle nature of purist intellectuals has earlier too led us to many difficult times. Thanks Nivedita for this refreshing piece!

  34. I think the piece addresses all the issues that are haunting all unorthodox, left leaning minds. The central question that has been raised is of course the perennial problem-why left has always positioned itself at a distance from all those communities whom ideally it should be engaging with? And the well cited political episode is the independence movement, where similar inhibitions and prejudices held .sway.
    what i feel that deep down, we are not able to shed the instinct of vanguardism that we feel is entitled to us as most of ‘us’ happen to have taken up formal courses in political theory. We are good at understanding things in their most minute and complex ways and it is perhaps the stark simplicity of people’s comprehension of issues on the streets that makes us feel uncomfortable or as has been said, ‘feel not at home’. Is it possible that we can reduce ourselves to common citizens and our ideas be more grounded in realpolitik? Lately, I have been thinking, if we could steer our skills towards assisting this moment rather than try to lead it or sit back and understand it ‘critically’. Could there be an open source, where informed suggestions could be made to those leading the moment? Most of us are good at consultancy, can’t we do it here?
    I agree with the idea that we should be there, I am just trying to think in how many ways could we be there.

  35. dear friends,
    political justice first,economic justice second and social justice is last to follow.you can see it, in mature democracies like US.If you will keep on insisting that masses are not pure. I am sorry, you will debate within your coterie it again and again but i fear no ground action will take place, as you feel uncomfortable and don’t want to engage with masses when opportunity arises.

  36. @Jairus, Rohini, Sukumar,
    I see that you have chosen not to respond substantively to any of the issues raised in Nivedita’s post but to simply reiterate the stance against which the post had been written in the first place. It is clear that our disagreements are of quite a fundamental nature and I will try to present some of them below. Before that, however, let me get one issue out of the way – and this relates to Shuddha’s post that Rohini has referred to. That post is quite dated now since many of the criticisms made there of the initial draft of the JLP bill have been incorporated (as Nivedita’s post itself mentions). Other provisions too are open to debate – and this is clear from the statement by the core team of IAC that they are willing to discuss the issue of the judiciary being brought under the ambit of the bill. Today Arvind Kejriwal further declared again that they are open to a rethinking of every provision of the JLP Bill, and requested all parties to join the debate. Shuddha had also claimed that the entire campaign was a UPA-created farce, quite clearly by now we know that’s not the case. To go on insisting on the critique made in Shuddha’s initial post is, to me, quite surprising.

    However, the questions that divide us go far deeper than this. In the first place, it is interesting to see that the anger and indignation that one witnesses in the statements and writings of most of our Leftist intellectuals with regard to this bill (JLP) is nowhere to be seen when it comes to the fraudulent versions of the Lokpal Bill presented by the government time and time again – including the latest one presented a couple of weeks ago. Nor have we seen any protest, any action or measure proposed by any party from the Right to the Left, while all the loot of the past few years were going on, except for farcical walk-outs and mock performances in the parliament – that great institution of democracy whose sovereignty is being suddenly invoked with great vigor by both the ruling Congress and the radical intelligentsia.
    While the entire political system was thus lying prostrate at the altar of corporate capitalism that has relentlessly looted the resources and the hard earned money of ordinary people, the helplessness of the people grew – and so did their anger. Not only did the parties not do anything, no steps to ensure accountability were undertaken (not even in the form of proposals, with or without the Lokpal bill, about what is to be done) even by the independent Left intelligentsia. And here I include Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander who have been a part of Sonia’s core team – the NAC. No one, in short, had anything to say or propose. Had something been done, the initiative would have been in your hands and no Team Anna could have arisen to capture popular imagination in the way it has. This is where our disagreements begin. We hold the Congress and the UPA government and the entire political class responsible for creating this situation, while most of our friends have chosen to maintain complete silence on the government’s culpability.
    While I have the greatest regard for Aruna Roy and Harsh, and we have always deferentially posted their positions on Kafila (and will continue to do so), can it be denied that they are now increasingly being referred to as ‘team Sonia’ – especially since they could not even condemn the arrests and denial of permission to the fast, till four days after Anna Hazare had been released! The most elementary lesson I had learnt during the early days of my initiation into politics in the turbulent 1970s, was to protest with all the vigour at your command at the abrogation of the democratic rights and the right to protest of anybody – irrespective of whether you agreed with the politics of the group in question or not. But this time round, we saw in utter amazement that the radical intelligentsia (not just the NAC members) not only passed off the entire episode in silence, it was Anna Hazare who was made the butt of ridicule and castigation in Facebook postings and other forums. Not a word condemning the arrests. Not a word of ridicule for Manish Tiwari, Kapil Sibal or Chidambaram – but only ridicule for Hazare. That was when I realized that there was something deeply pathological about these responses. I am convinced that these differences are so fundamental that they go far beyond the specifics of the current situation.

    Finally, a theoretical quibble, for that seems to lie at the heart of my disagreement with Jairus and Rohini. You seem to believe that there is something intrinsic to the movement – to any movement – that determines its ‘character’. Earlier Marxists would call it ‘class character’- which apparently decided the fate of the movement. Everything is apparently pre-programmed. This is true of something like the Ramjanmabhoomi/ Ayodhya movement or the anti-Mandal agitation, because they are very tightly controlled and you can only enter them on the condition of agreeing with their most fundamental demands. Their thrust is against specific, discriminated groups of the population and their discourse itself, is structured in a way that allows of no dissent. They therefore afford no space to any other voice or opinion.
    But this is certainly not true of all movements. Movements like the JP movement or the present one are in one sense radically open and their outcome depends upon how forces are arrayed, which forces come and what kind of energies they bring into the movement and the social base they mobilize, how slogans are deployed and battles fought. The development of the movement over the past few days itself is testimony to that. Those who are inclined to loosely fling around labels like ‘fascism’ would do well to reflect on these differences between these different kinds of movements.

    1. Nivedita: you have raised some absolutely pertinent points to be debated. This is something that needed to be done sooner than later, and you have posed the question in a cogent manner. It would be catastrophic for the left/progressive forces to ridicule and mock the movement and stay away from it.
      Jairus: Would it not be reductionist to see this as a “soap opera of a middle class that’s gone beserk over ‘corruption’ because the global pretensions of the CWG backfired so badly and caused “national” shame”? How many people in the movement are there because of a pathological nationalism which has global superpower aspirations?
      While Aruna Roy’s bill is democratic and nuanced, where is the groundswell of support for her, unless we expect her proposed bill to be adopted by the parliament because she is part of the NAC and this will be torpedoed from above? What do you think should be done to create the support for her bill when the numbers are with Anna?

      Am posting a piece on the Anna movement written in May:
      ‘Promises of India’s ”Two-Minute” Revolution’

    2. Aditya, Do have look at the latest version of the Jan Lokpal Bill (which is on their website). You’ll see that the heart of the bill remains an all-powerful unelected body that will wield power over the legislature, executive and judiciary. This central feature of the JLP has not been amended out. If Anna & team are willing to consider the NCPRI proposal that the judiciary should be covered separately, under a judicial accountability bill, why aren’t they also willing to consider other proposals of the NCPRI? The NCPRI is certainly as critical of the government’s Lokpal Bill as Hazare’s team.

  37. Wow! Love the razor sharp reasoning and catty style. Its a very good opinion piece. Respect, Nivedita!

  38. I wonder which category I fall in because I am neither opposed to the movement nor am I an enthusiastic supporter willing to fast and hold candles. I am not calling it a middle class dilettante expression of democratic aspirations nor am I accusing it of being a hindutva conspiracy. Is this a democratic churning? The answer is an obvious – yes. Does it have mass support? The answer is – yes. Do I think it is a middle class movement and therefore to be sneered at ? No, it may be a largely urban affair until now and even if it is, the middle class has as much of a right to vociferously participate in a political movement as the peasant in Orissa whose land is being snatched away for corporate use.

    But the question I am asking myself is that why am I still hesitant and not deliriously thrilled with the movement. Is it because I am part of a left that is historically destined to miss the moment because somehow I have put myself in a position that I will never be where the people are? Do I miss the moment when I am sickened by what the state and its powerful apparatus does to peoples, cultures and livelihoods in Orissa and several other parts of the country? Am I on the historically wrong coordinate when I feel Kashmiris are facing injustice? Do I completely miscalculate when I support and walk with my LGBTI friends for sexual rights much against the popular sentiments? Or is it that I am lined up on the wrong side when confronting violence against women? When am I the sovereign of ‘We The People’ and when do I lose the tag? Or let’s put the question in another frame, when am I truly defending the fundamental principles of the Constitution?

    In my own personal assessment I would tend to argue that where I stand and with whom I walk is dictated to a large extent by one, my understanding of political wrongs and injustices and two, by the demands that a particular movement is raising and three, by the method or mode by which the movement is conducting itself and last but not the least, my assessment of what the consequences of the movement will be to the larger field of democratic practice. To me, those are the only principles by which I can decide when to celebrate and when to worry.

    So, how do I understand the political wrongs and injustices that this movement is seeking to address. Yes, I do feel that financial corruption is rampant within the various arms of the state and almost every Indian is effected by this scourge. I remember once travelling without ticket on Indian Railways from Delhi to Dehradun in an unreserved compartment full of poor men and women returning to their homes after a season of working as construction labour in the capital. At some point a Railway Protection Force jawaan got into the compartment got in and extracted one rupee from each and every occupant of the bogey except for us five with our rucksacks and jeans who were going on a trek. His gentle advice to us was that we should shift to the second AC compartment where seats were empty. He never asked us for our missing tickets nor for the one rupee he had extracted from everyone else. The incident shook me up and I remember it ever so vividly even now. In the years to follow and because of the profession I got into, I have again and again witnessed up close the pathetic scene of money being extracted from people who can barely pay. In that sense I do feel that a lot of people in urban India at least are paying bribes that they can afford to pay not in all but in many situations.So, yes, corruption related to bribery and forceful extraction is a very serious issue that all Indians face and its implications are far more serious for people who are poor. In large parts of north and central India the complete breakdown of the judicial system which has become extremely corrupt is making the business of justice dispensation a farce. Therefore my thumbs up to this movement for building this solidarity against corruption.

    Now to the second principle — the demands. This is where my problem starts with this movement. My problem lies not in the social composition of the movement or the various political formations who may be pitching in or hoping to take advantage. It is quite touching to see that everyone from the RSS to the CPI (ML) hopes to either give it the right direction or ride the wave. My contention is that neither will but someone else and a relatively new factor is ultimately going to use this platform. But more on that later. What made Tahrir Square a symbol of protests across the globe was not merely the participation of every conceivable political species but the demand. It was not asking for an enquiry committee on the Hosni Mubarak state but its overthrow. And that is where to me the difference lies. The movement and the people who are joining in are made up of various political ambitions, personal frustrations and dreams of a different India but the demands reflect none of these democratic aspirations. And that is why I would question not just the wisdom and politics of those who have framed the demands but also the direction that this movement will ultimately move towards. The wrapping in of all that has been unleashed under the one supreme umbrella of the Jan Lok Pal Bill troubles me and more than that worries me. The complete silence of the Hazare team on other shades of opinion on the issue is not just arrogance but un-democratic. I keep asking the logical question that somehow keeps popping its head but then strangely vanishes from all debates. What would the stand of this movement be if the NCPRI Bill and approach is preferred by the Government and the Parliament? The question is not just rhetorical but of utmost importance because there is genuine concern about forcing through a pill that may ultimately become the disease.

    Now about the protest. Yes, it was wrong and unconstitutional of the government to arrest Anna Hazare and prevent him from starting his fast. We know from various protests that we have been part of that governments are always far more eager to follow the restrictions incorporated into the constitution rather than the rights and the principles. This may not be the space to go into how the UPA made one political blunder after another vis a vis this movement but the fact that it was willing to bend under pressure has not been appreciated as much as it should and at least to me displays that the government is still willing to play by democratic norms even when it must have been under tremendous pressure to take on a more authoritarian role. For large parts the movement has been joyous, carnivalesque and non violent. The high levels of volunteerism point towards an emotional investment in engaging with politics and a belief that systems can be corrected. Extremely positive when most people were not so long back dismissing urban India as no longer being interested in politics and only in making money. However, I have some serious problems with the way the leadership flirts with symbols that have been always contentious and I would find it hard to swallow that the eminent leadership was unaware of these problems. Some of these symbols like the Bharat Mata backdrops have disappeared from this current podium but still have a presence in the speeches. I am told that through several meetings the leadership was asked to remove these symbols and the fact that they heard those criticisms and did the needful is commendable. However, my concern is that these symbols may have disappeared from the eyesight but they haven’t entirely vanished from the heart of the leadership. The other day I heard Anna azaare narrating the story of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev walking to the gallows shouting Bharat Mata Ki Jai , Vande Mataram, etc. Now that from what I have read of the last couple of hours of their lives is a flase claim. From all accounts, Bhagat Singh read the first chapter of a biography of Lenin just before he was escorted to the gallows and the slogan he was shouting was – Inquilab Zindabad. Maybe it is a minor misdemeanour on the part of Anna Hazare but it worries me as to what really lies in his heart and what the magnitude of the misdemeanours that may follow. So, is my position an inflexible secular one that sees a complete separation between religion, religious practice and politics? No, I don’t think that is a tenable position and far from the way religion is interpreted practiced and used by people in their everyday in this country. And very importantly used in fascinating and diverse ways that is joyous, critical, challenging and also sometimes divisive. My problem is not so much about the presence of Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata ki Jai in the hearts and the worldview of the leadership of this movement but the absence of the Naara e Takbir – Allah O Akbar from their hearts and their worldview. I would argue that the inclusion of the takbir would make this movement and Hazare are a far more complicated and interesting space. Sometimes the exclusions speak louder than the inclusions. The criticism may sound insignificant but if we believe symbols have a significant place in politics and it is fairly clear that in the current movement it has, given the use of the Indian flag, the Gandhi topi, etc, then we need to engage with this both from the position of what it means for the present and for the future. Even as I write this I can hear a cavalcade of vans outside my house and the only slogan I can hear is – Bharat Mata Ki Jai!

    The issue of future brings me to the last point of the consequences of this movement. The impact that this movement will have on our futures will depend partly on of course the way the government and the Parliament will respond. I hope some compromise is struck and besides a strong Lok Pal Bill a slew of other measures are introduced to tackle corruption as this movement defines corruption and some sense of victory is generated. My worry is that in case this movement fails or ends up in an immediate sense of disillusionment and compromise the space is going to be taken over as it was the last time by far more dangerous tendencies like Ramdev. The Ramdev phenomenon is far more worrying because his reach is much deeper and wider than the current movement and his demands will be much more populist. I have argued somewhere else that the current movement derives its strength from being part of a certain Indian tradition where there is a mythological space for systemic corrections, the world is not turned upside down but the evil is expunged from the system to restore order and stability. The Ramdev treatment on the other hand will be a far more intense and drastic cleansing effort. It maybe argued that the current movement cannot be criticised for opening the space for others like Ramdev who to my mind represent a certain Indian fascistic tradition. True, they cannot be blamed and in fact I am glad they are there for the moment and it is not Ramdev leading from the front, however, I would also say that now the movement carries a certain responsibility to block those cracks for the Ramdevs to enter. And the only way they can do it is through defending the Constitution, setting norms for democratic debate and discussion and through their demands. I am not certain that they are following these norms because the debate is cleverly being posed as one between a corrupt government and the Jan Lok Pal Bill. The fact that there are other non-government voices that have something serious to offer is being ignored. And this does not augur well for the future. The coalescing of imaginations and frustrations into one single voice and one single solution in my opinion is a very dangerous trend that may have just entered our political practice.

    So, in the end, all I can say is that I may physically be present under the podium of Anna Hazare admiring the upsurge he and his team have managed to create but my heart, alas, is some place else.

    1. Stupid question. Also off topic. But why is “Bharat mata ki jai” seen as something that alienates the muslims? I agree it has historically been associated with the Hindu right. Can it not be adopted now? There is nothing inherently religious about it, is there? As opposed to “Allah-o-Akbar”. If you look at what it really means a Hindu could chant Allah-o-Akbar but it wouldn’t be a rallying cry for nationalist agenda. An atheist like me could perhaps take issue with Allah-o-Akbar being a rallying cry but not a Hindu. If the “mata” symbolism is what you have a problem with, would “Jai Hind” be better? If it’s nationalism you have a problem with, Hi five.

  39. Nivedita, Thank you for writing this and giving voice to many of the questions that I have had for not just the left, but also for many liberals in India. I think your piece raises more general question about how and why it is so much easier for us (by us I mean, secularized, left-liberal types) to remain “tone deaf” to other forms/expressions of politics? For how long can we continue to simply paint many who have become politicized as a result of this campaign as either fascist, RSS lackeys, BJP sympathisers, simply because they do not have a politics that fits our vision of it? And, what kind of democracy would ours be if we demanded that everyone conform to only our “progressivist” notions of how and on what terms one must enter into political conversations and debates?


  40. Dear Nivedita

    i salute you for writing this piece. This self-critical article about the “radical” intellectuals is much needed and timely.


  41. “My head has been in a whirl the past few days with a single question – how do we on ‘the Left’ manage so unerringly to be exactly where ‘the people’ are not, time after time?”

    Anna Hazare & his team have a clear cut focus and an agenda that is known to all. It is easily understood and his supporters have been adept in using communication channels and technology to spread the word and mobilize people at short notice. They do not think in terms of identity politics or communal politics. They dont care as to whats your faith/caste, they care about your views and what can you do. You folks can learn a lot from this. That movement has sufficient momentum and as acknowledged in the article it does not need “the Left” now. In fact having “the Left” would be a disadvantage as “the Left” cant think beyond fixed categories.. Keeping a safe distance from “the Left” is good for that movement. They cant afford to give up their agenda for political correctness and certificate from “the left”.

    “The Left” may try to use that a source to ‘recruit’ fellow travelers and supporters but it is too late. Anyway there will be opportunities to rue like this in future too :)

    1. i can’t agree more with nivedita menon here. some of these questions were eating some of us for past one week. why do we crib about the presence of right, why doesn’t the left send its unions, its organizations here?why does the left cede ground so easily. Till now for the varied crowds that are there and the fact that the anna team or even people joining in have not brought in any divisive communal agenda , the left should have been there for the reason that this is a secular agenda open for all to join.

  42. thanks Nivedita for articulating some of the discomforts that I was also having with the protest. Questions about where/which side of the political spectrum do I really belong? or is it always necessary to belong to some side? Yes, I think it is important also to be there as a group, to protest, to identify with the larger goal which none of us I guess have doubts that need to be supported. But yes, have been debating how can I be there in the same space that the Hindu right is also there? If UPA falls because of this, then is it the BJP again, one shudders, and does that leave out, shrink more and more spaces for us to actively participate. do we go collectively? individually? having read your article? still wondering, but the need to be there is felt. reinforced….thanks for that. Rukmini Sen

  43. Thanks Nivedita for an insightful and provocative piece. To your general thesis that it is a “absolute purity and a point-to-point matching of our full political agenda is required for us to support a movement” – which keeps the non-party left community mutely watching or derisively commenting or cynically assessing the anti-corruption crowds, I would like to add a couple more possibilities which may also be at work here. I am writing this as a member of that community which disappoints you (again and again):( So it is a need for self-reflexivity that inspires me to post this comment.

    1. That non-party left community is not very good at joining any movement which does not present a “leadership” role for “left” (whatever that means although it is usually a very narrowly defined term in such circles) ideas or ideologues. Some sort of zero-sum game which is the opposite of the party-left community which knows the power of sitting in oppositions, at least. This is in my understanding at least partly due to the lack of ability to analyze symbols in everyday life. For e.g., that the Anna movement is suffused with Gandhian symbols leaves most left folks stuck at the starting line (as you point out – the more virulently rightwing signs and ideas have been pushed into the background at least for now in the IAC movement). How to enter a thicket of symbols which are not part of the radical repertoire of left thinking and practice? How to talk with “ordinary” people (from all class backgrounds as you point out) who may not have (although some will, of course) a radical critique of the capitalist structure within which corruption is produced? Unfortunately, if this is true, then it only speaks volumes for us on the left to not be able to talk to anyone but the already converted (to the left; and that too whose egos do not wound us too much…). Ultimately, it is left in the lurch.

    2. Our political strategies and tactics do not pay much attention (to our detriment) to the possibilities of “infiltration” of mainstream movements – although the non-party left (as you point out) have always participated fully in such one-point issues that are clearly anti-patriarchal, anti-casteist, anti-displacement, etc. In short, your point about the specter of the BJP coming to power is useful to remember here, and I wish we could also remind ourselves how to extend support in strategic ways even as (to quote a historical insight, hopefully in the right spirit of camaraderie) a “noose supports a hanging man.”
    Here, I also sense a profound lack of clarity (on the left) about what moves people to act, and the power of beliefs to motivate collective action. This is surprising given that mobilization of people through the power of ideas and arguments that persuade are also an integral part of any left person’s historical repertoire (hopefully).

    Anyway, thanks for pushing us to think.

    In solidarity

  44. Agreed with a lot of what has been said Nivedhita. What bothers me is that while we are so completely worked up over the issue of corruption, we have completely overlooked the fact that those whipped up the mobs and stoked the fires of hatred and intolerance, brought down the Babri masjid, and engaged in the post Godhra pogroms are carrying on scot free.

    If the government machinery could swing into action and arrest those behind the bombay 1993 bomb blasts and sabarmati express fire, why not book those who were behind the babri demolition and Gujarat riots? Is corruption worse than murder? If Anna is the epitome of everything that is moral in India, I would like to ask him whether he would consider a fast on December 6th 2011, demanding justice for all those who got killed in the name of Ayodhya and Godhra.

  45. I agree with Nivi, Aditya and others. Does a massive movement that is anti-corruption, invariably turn out to be inchoate and prone to pnenetration. If that be so why do we now have the largest movement post-Gandhi, with such a large middle class component. What is vapid, illogical about anti-corruption, and the search for a modern ombudsman? Movements are not made by us, not on this scale. But we must accept variety. And what’s wrong with Vande Mataram especially as sung by A.R. Rehman?
    If nationalism is anti-corruption, it is easier for the Left to expose the profoundly corrupting influence of neo-liberal capitalism. And this nationalism unlike that of the RSS is not against any “other”. About Aruna Roy’s draft: this can modify the Anna Team’s draft if a large portion of the masses and intellectuals in the movement agree. That would also be true of amendments from the Left. But this is a historic moment, not the time to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
    Kamal Mitra Chenoy

  46. Excellent introspection by Nivedita Menon.

    Agree or disagree totally or partially with the Anna Hazare camp, it is a amazing phenomenon taking place in many parts of India.

    These are real people of the real world who refuse to see their selves and are perhaps largely oblivious of being slotted into one or the other compartments of ideological tags.

  47. This post is perhaps closest to the truth. The “left” of whatever shade is just not wanted, except perhaps for a temporary space for the Maoists. Don’t we hear the death-knell for the left? The response to Nivedita’s piece is truly enlightening; the piece and the responses raise a range of vital issues. But sadly, even though the piece is essentially a call for action, only two short and timid responses outline something of an action while the vast majority sermonize on why the left should not act, in fact “stay away.”

    It does not require a conspiracy theory to grasp the plan behind the IAC campaign. First, Agnivesh and Patkar stand solidly for Mamata Bannerjee in Lalgarh on 9 August, 2010, while adopting an ambiguous stand on the Maoists: they are fine only if they would give up arms. The fact that they reject the entire electoral system is not an issue. Agnivesh actually shouts “CPI (Maoist) Lal Selaam” in Chhattisgarh. Then they rope in master-strategist Arvind Kejriwal and locate Anna Hazare as a promising icon to launch a jan andolan to contest the parliamentary form of formulating public policy. Another Magsaysay awardee, Kiran Bedi, eager for a national role, joins in. The biggest coup was to convince Prashant Bhusan to join; Shanti Bhusan might not have needed much persuation. One wonders what would have happened if Sonia Gandhi was intelligent enough to include all these people in the NAC. Now it is too late (perhaps). The leadership and the formulations of this (core) group,the central committee, are non-negotiable. As Anna outlined, there’s a second line, a third line and so on.

    While the country was reeling under massive, juicy stories of astronomical scams, the corruption issue was skillfully picked up as a general rallying point for the masses. It is vague enough, broad enough, and immediate enough (but not “vapid”) to draw big crowds. More importantly, it was already a part of massive media focus. The rest is history. Now there are calls for land reforms, electoral reforms, from the same jan platform constructed by the same people. The parliament will continue to be there, but only to assent to policies pronounced in the streets. All of this makes complete sense and is fully consistent with any genuine notion of “people’s democracy”! If “people” are with them, why does the country need the left to pronounce these worthy causes?

    All the left can do to save itself from political extinction is to take the logic of this “direct democracy” to its end: raise the pitch even further, construct massive movements with indefinite hunger strikes as the prime weapon, demand cut in military budget, quadrupling education and health budgets, squashing all mining projects, withdraw army from “insurgency” areas, withdraw UAPA, AFSPA, and so on, while supporting IAC campaign throughout. All this away from the Ramlila ground, as Rahul suggested. The left is most comfortable in the universities (and GPF, IIC, ISI, etc.). Why not start there?

    As for the parliamentary left, why doesn’t it take up the Lokepal issue massively in support of Anna in Paschim Banga where Mamata is compelled to maintain silence due to her alliance?

  48. Thanks for articulating exactly what I’ve been feeling and been unable to put across clearly until now, for making me see what I feel clearly!

  49. Aditya — I think the Govt bungled badly in allowing Team Anna to snatch the civil liberties card. But I don’t consider that this is a matter involving civil liberties in any fundamental way. Certainly I find it somewhat repugnant that the BJP spokespersons — Rudy, Prasad and all the rest — kept berating the Govt for having watched in silence as Kashmiri separatists preached their gospel at Mandi house, while being quick to crack down on Anna. If civil liberties is the issue here, it was much more the issue in Kashmir last year. The 120 killed is testimony to that. Secondly, I don’t consider that the institution of a Lok Pal is at all necessary to deal with the rampant malfeasance we’re seeing in the apparatus of governance. The Govt bill is an inconsequential piece of rubbish, written under duress, simply because there was the threat of street demonstrations breaking out if it was not introduced in Parliament. In the event, it proved a failed gambit, but that still does not mean that the bill merits any attention. The bill is if you read it, not merely weak as the IAC campaign insistently says — it is in fact extremely strong in the powers it holds in reserve to crack down on any form of civil society grouping that offers an organised platform for the expression of dissent. That said, I think the changes that have been made in the IAC draft of the JLP bill have to be acknowledged, but it continues to be scarred by the sloppy thinking that went into the first draft. The main issue here is the shredding of the principle of the separation of powers and the immense concentration of authority in one body that would have the highest political and judicial bodies in the country under its jurisdiction. In the few conversations I’ve had with those behind the drafting of the bill, I’ve asked about this matter. And they have held out the assurance that the principle of judicial review would apply to every decision of the JLP, which would be the final guarantee against an abuse of power. This is simply begging the question. If it all finally comes down to the judiciary, we should be looking at judicial reforms and means of making it a more accountable institution. Similarly with the agencies of the political executive and the legislature. There’s no way that a JLP can deal with the endemic problems within these institutions by imposing its will on them. That would be a recipe for political gridlock. The only realistic way of dealing with the problem is to start from the bottom up, with electoral reforms — with instituting the right of recall for one thing. These are matters that require careful attention and serious thinking, not the political legerdemain of the Anna Hazare crowd. Kejariwal was on TV today in an interview with Karan Thapar, repeatedly making a distinction (which for him is fundamental) between the “people” and parliament – as if parliament is elected by aliens from outer space. Let us be under no illusions: “corruption” is the target today, but when the JLP proves to be a dud as it surely must, then the focus of the anger you see on the streets today will shift to participatory politics itself. You could ask me how I am so convinced that the JLP (even if the bill is passed as envisaged) will prove a dud. I only ask you: has the anti-dowry law put an end to that abuse, has the banning of pre-natal sex determination by law put an end to female foeticide — has indeed, the enactment of the Prevention of Corruption Act put an end to corruption? Let us not forget that it is the autonomy of the institutions that we have under parliamentary democracy — such as the CAG — and the transparency laws we have (such as the RTI) that has brought to light much of the corruption of the last few years and ensured that some kind of processes of accountability kick in. That is a process we need to consolidate and build upon, rather than place our faith in a body of virtuous men who will purge all other institutions of their evils. Why do we see such overwhelming support on the streets for the JLP bill and the Anna campaign? I think the reasons go far beyond corruption and embrace a whole range of other anxieties. That is a separate discussion. And is the NCPRI part of “Team Sonia”? That too is a separate discussion which I don’t intend to enter into.

  50. Just read on what way campaign is going in the name people support.
    It will really concerned to you. I am over bombarded by such mails daily. Now with people support trying to remove crime and corruption sooner it will be on reservation and majority of the society want to do that just because they feel they are correct and everyone else is wrong. Just want to point out mentality.What if tomorrow majority people support in sending minorities out of India in the name of public support after accepting all these India wont be democratic anymore. Our country is multi-colour country.There are many religions, casts, tribes all tied together by constitution. By favoring certain group just because there are few million ,billion people behind them is as good as killing democracy. Every body want clean governance but it should be bring out through proper channel. I have read Aruna Mam,s draft and I am fully agreed with it. By comparing both I feel Aruna’s draft is more human centric , realistic not just hypothetical like janlokpal, one lokpal will handle everything .Let it be it is no point to discuss here. Dont just be blind supporters,read study it then only support, because we as people with our support can create noble persons like Gandhi, Hajare but with blind support we might create Indian Hitler.

    Mial I received___ ”

    Let us join the revolution. Spare some time and attend some Anna supporting events in your city / town. By coming out from your home for few hours, you shall make India, best in the world. ( Sare Jahan se acha hindustan hamara ). Now or never.

    Smallest action is much better than the noblest intetions.

    Deepak Mittal
    Jago Party
    Let us remove crime, corruption & reservation

  51. With reference to Indian Muslims’ response: It seems that the further you get away from Delhi the more support you find for Anna Hazari. I read four or five Urdu newspapers (Hyderabad, Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai) on the Web. The only exception — being quite vituperative in opposing Anna — seems to be Sahafat (Delhi). It uses nasty language referring to him and his movement,a nd prominently publishes diatribes against him, for example by the so-called Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid and by Mr Arshad Madani. Interestingly, Sahafat’s Lucknow edition behaves differently. Perhaps the Congress funds do not reach it.

    1. Ah! perhaps there is something far deeper than the “reaching of Congress funds”?

  52. thanks, nivi, for writing this reflective and thought-provoking piece. what i identify with most is the constant tension between ideological critique and constructive engagement. this is such a common struggle for most movements we are a part of, as with this! and, as you say, the way ahead really doesn’t have to be an ‘either-or’ or an ‘all-or-none’ situation. we have to find ways to engage, negotiate, transform… thanks for broadening the debate and for reminding us about valuing democracy!

    warm regards

  53. Anna Hazare and his movement have been called ‘fascist’, subverting democracy, black mailing the Government etc etc.
    What my uncomplicated brain can understand is that frail old man was just trying the most he can do to reduce Corruption.
    Fascist? He is leading a most non-violent of agitations.
    Subversion of Democracy? He is trying to push the Government to table and pass a strong Bill in the most democratic way inside the Parliament. If this agitation was not there, there would not have been much discussion on Lokpal Bill. If Anna did not fast the Govt would not have come out with a Govt version of the bill so fast. Even if they brought out a draft bill it would have been languishing in cold storage or being send to committees after committees.
    The NCPRI draft also would have got the same treatment. The fact to remember is it was the humble attempt of an old man to risk his life for the cause that made this cause so important that there are more than 75 comments for this post.

    Black Mail?
    If the Government had credibility and people’s support and if it was brave, it should have just ignored the Fast or arrest Anna Hazare and force feed him as being done for Irom Sharmilla.
    What is stopping the Government from doing that?

    People, whether it is the lower middle or upper class agitate for the most burning issues affecting them. That is why peasants who are dispossessed of land in Orissa are ready to face bullets. That is why factory workers go on strike to get bonus. That is why lower/middle/upper class people are ready to take leave from their jobs and join a rally supporting Anna. You cannot expect them to leave their job to join a rally against Army atrocities in Kashmir or a protest against discrimination of homosexuals.
    The problem with most Left intellectuals is that they cannot see things from common people’s shoes. They think in a bookish way and expect everyone to think like that.
    They forget the Marxist way of studying society, but adhere to many ‘Marxist’ dogmas.

    More than the Bill, constant public questioning and pressure on corrupt officials/politicians/Corporates can help in cleansing and democratizing the Polity. The Public sentiment in coming out in large numbers for a peaceful agitation against Corruption augurs well for Indian Society.

    Any movement which brings out ordinarily selfish and inert people out into the streets for a peaceful agitation for the betterment of the Society should always be hailed

    1. well said charakan…its difficult for many of them to think in a simple manner. they just cannot relate to a real man in a real world. for then its disgusting to be a common man with a common sense.

  54. This maybe a little O/T but I find it weird that people keep expressing all sorts of fears about what a monster the Lokpal is going to become without even checking what happened with similar institutions in other countries. Indonesia has had a very strong Anti-Corruption agency for 8 years now, it has been tremendously successful and enjoys a great deal of public support. Hong Kong has had a somewhat weaker and somewhat less successful (though still largely effective) ACA for 20 years now. No charges of either having become a monster have been heard. One would expect these cases to be mentioned more often in the Lokpal Debate, but strangely people have been jumping to conclusions without looking at the evidence.
    My thoughts on this here:

  55. Okay, so the point about when the NCPRI came up with its condemnation of the Anna Hazare arrest has been answered. Something to think about for those who rush to brand them as “Team Sonia”. Another question I forgot to ask, rhetorical again: has the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of ATrocities) Act actually prevented the recurrence of attacks on them? And a final point: the studio audience on NDTV’s “BIg Fight” Saturday evening were overwhelmingly in favour of the Jan Lok Pal bill, but none among them had read the IAC draft. That average is perhaps mirrored among the hundreds of thousands who marched yesterday. So in the absence of an independent process of opinion forming, the debate comes down to a few questions: should the PM be included under the Lok Pal’s ambit? Should the judiciary be covered by the Lok Pal? And the instinctive answer to all these is “yes”, since we all believe deep down in a notion of equality. It is only when you think through these issues that various doubts surface. And the “with us or against us” crowd unfortunately, has ensured that these doubts are never really addressed.

  56. Thank you Nivedita for this brilliant piece. I couldn’t agree more with your view that corruption has the same emotive resonance as salt. To those who say that it is not corruption that ails the poor, but structural inequality, I would just ask them to visit the most remote villages anywhere in India, where chances are people would talk as much about environmental degradation, water scarcity, jal jungle zameen, as about ghooskhori, rishwat, bribes, etc. Even in villages in Chhattisgarh’s Maoist areas, people talk about do rupiaya chawal (the state government’s food ration scheme) and the difficulty of getting a ration card without paying a bribe. How does the demand for more transparent and less corrupt governance block the demand for a more equitable society? Doesn’t the tribal villager of Chhattisgarh have a right to state social security and services, minus corruption, as much as he has a right to a share of mining profits and fair remuneration for land, that’s if he wants to give up his land, and if not, the right to protest peacefully ? Why posit one right against the other?

  57. I appreciate each word of your precious article. I am observing the impact of these words on a rather direction-less and some disillusioned lot of “we on the left”. You have perhaps provided the right and timely I direction.
    i was a student leader of one of the Left party student organizations in the early 80’s. Today I would describe myself as a disillusioned leftist. I have witnessed corruption among the Left political leaders even where they are not in power, i have observed casteism, sycophancy and countless other behaviors that one does not expect from a left political party. I have since stayed away from electoral politics but have contributed my bit to public causes that I come across.
    i have been supporting the IAC movement with all that i have since April 2011. I hope others see sense in doing as you suggest.

    As for the Aruna Roy led NCPRI, the events smack of interpersonal ego more than any substantial difference in approach. , I went around searching for this superior alternative draft lokpal bill and could only find a few pages of approach/concept notes and powerpoint presentations.I could not find the real draft of the third superior bill.

    I attempted to ask people who were saying that the NCPRI draft is better than both the Government and Jan Lokpal drafts, if they have seen the complete bill draft as proposed by NCPRI.

    Nobody could give me the copy of any such draft except a bunch of approach/concept notes and presentations that news articles have reproduced faithfully.

    Apparently the NCPRI has not proposed any such draft beyond what i read in the articles and concept notes.

    It is not fair for me to criticize something that does not exist. I will refrain from commenting till I see how the NCPRI proposes to bring these together as a draft for bill(s).
    It is only when they try to draft a bill, they will realize if their suggestions can really be implemented.

    If they do have such a draft it will make sense to then react to these suggestions and I would love to see the draft and then share my comments or support such a draft.

    If they do not have a draft, I urge them to try putting all their suggestions into a draft and it will not surprise me if they come out with a revised summary of suggestions than what their media friends have touted as the superior third alternative.

  58. Have any one seen the NCPRI draft Bill that many are talking about? I am not asking about point of views of NCPRI but the actual draft of the Bill ready to be tabled in Parliament. If my information is right no such draft is available any where in public domain,only some point of views of NCPRI.

    1. Yes there appears to be no such NCPRI draft.
      It is important to put the suggestions in the form of a draft and test the draft against use cases. The use cases can be built from the known facts of actual corruption scams.
      There are some doubts if the same scam can be handled by multiple lokpals. What if a central minister is also found to be involved in a case handled by CVC that according to the NCPRI should deal with cases involving middle level bureaucrats? Do they then pass on the case to a national lokpal? or do they pass independent judgments on the same scam? This is only one procedural issue. There are others too.

      1. There is no such single draft, but the notes contain amendments proposed to the govt Lokpal bill and the Judicial accountablility bill and the whistleblower bill and to the existing CVC act.


        “Major Amendments suggested to the Government Lokpal Bill” could be the NCPRI equivalent of the JLP bill. The format seems a bit kludgy and multiple word docs don’t help easy access- something they ought to work on. It’s not exactly meant for educating interested public but in a format to present before the standing committee perhaps.

        They say “Where the complainant is not sure of the identity or the rank of the accused official, the law will provide (similarly to the RTI Act), for the transfer of the complaint by the institution which has received it to the appropriate institution, once that is clear.

        Q. If your institutions are segmented, wont people get excluded?
        The National Anti-Corruption Commission bill (RashtriyaBhrashtacharNivaranLokpal) proposed by the NCPRI provides for simultaneous coverage of all co-accused, even if by themselves they would not have been covered by the institution. So, for instance in a land deal where a member of the cabinet might be involved along with people down the line, right till the patwari at the village level, all the lower functionaries would also be investigated by the National Lokpal as co-accused.”

  59. Dear Nivedita,

    I am a proud member of that community being critiqued here. This community which strives, though it is not easy, to be right on all the issues. Why? Because in our country the standards of discourse are so low and the need for discourse so great, that we cant afford the compromises. Yes I have contempt for people who beat their wives, hold communal and casteist positions, yet rally for anti-corruption alongside a man whose means are diametrically opposed to the means we have used to protest. Yes people like Anna who think that villages are complete when people perform their caste roles, are pollutants the left community should never associate with. Just as today we think twice before sharing any platform with AIDWA, we should think 10 times before sharing one with Anna Hazare, and not just see the issue. After all, tomorrow Narendra Modi could sit on fast in Ramlila Maidan against corruption. People of my community would never join him because when on one issue you show your contempt for universal rights, what is the value of your voice on others?

    You seem to think Anna’s supporters are defending democracy and the right to protest. First they should know what protest really means in India. Where you don’t get the hospitality of the state, don’t get to wallow in the luxury of the choicest of protest grounds in Delhi – with fawning media attention. Where you try to march to Parliament from Jantar Mantar, get arrested in the hundreds and then run around to find propertied people in Delhi to get bail – all far away from the eyes of the media. Anna’s defenders of democracy – where is their opponent? We the left community are not the same as these people who think macho young men on bikes with bandanas riding around Delhi on motorcycles waving the Indian flag is any way to celebrate democracy.

    Yes we the left community – and many others who engage with their country’s issues – have of course tried to influence bills, against governments in the face of complete public and media apathy. We did it by reading bills, understanding and critiquing the dangers to liberty written in to them. How many people surrounding Hazare have read his bill and can identify the obvious dangers? Is it responsible for them to demand a law without understanding its implications even for oneself? Or to lionise a man whose views on crime and punishment would make the Taliban proud? And when did we the left community ever say its our bill or nothing, though we are unelected and can’t presume we speak for all in India.

    So if the left community is looking askance at the tamasha at Ramlila Maidan, I for one am proud and thankful. Even when it is the most unpopular thing to do, the left community is showing the courage of its convictions to say, sorry you lover of caste and chopping off of hands, you are no Gandhi. And yes, if all these people supporting him wanted to really be Anna, they should not be wearing Gandhi topis but khakhi chaddis and that’s why we shun them.

    1. Lesley,

      I’m with you. I’m not on the Left since I support liberalisation which, in my opinion, will guarantee more democracy, unlike the Left, which is more authoritarian, but it pains me that today there is absolutely no debate about the more 2000 bodies found in unmarked graves in J&K, while so much is being said about an issue that none of us have really studied properly.

  60. really brilliant piece… left has a history of taking wrong stand at the right time…!

    1. jo sab mai sochta aur kahata raha hun, wo aapne likha…aur bahut hi behtar likha!

  61. I was a little disturbed when I read this article yesterday. But after reading Arundhati Roy in The Hindu today, I feel that this article is clearly answered by Arundhati. My mind is clear now and no confusion triggered by Nivedita.

    1. Arundhati Roy started her article with a blatant falsehood.
      She wrote “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”.
      Did Anna or his team members ever say they wanted to overthrow the State?
      Why did Roy began her article with such a lie? Is it to create fear among the middle class supporters of Anna? Or is it to spread a canard like that so that it becomes easy for the Govt to charge Team Anna as ‘enemy of the State’?
      Roy is showing the typical ‘Left’ intellectual’s scorn and distaste for all Centrist movements.
      CPM’s Biman Bose talked like a Right reactionary politician when he said ‘Laws are not made in maidans”.

  62. thank you nivedita for helping us all, -LIke many others who have given their views on your piece i too was tormented , suffocated, not feeling comfortable by “our” criticism and distance, and yet not being able to say why I thought “we should be there “, without compromising my politics … it would be great and it is also urgent in myopinion that you and “we” those of us who have felt such relief and agreement with your analysis, come out with this expression – use this opportunity to bring the debate and the cause and the demand into our currency …dont know how we can do this, Kafila seems a good forum, how about links ? and especially with the feminist networks who I do not hear , who obviously are muted by the same reservations you have so well expressed as what thwarts “us” ?

    what can we do as next step ? seek the ideas from you and those who have responded to your analysis …

    One idea that has been running through my mind, even it it looks trivial, against your brilliant , “call” is, whether there is a way of getting Anna Hazare to appeal to the 1000s , to take a pledge , namely to never give or take a bribe, arguing that ultimately , it is individuals who can arrest it, through personal ethic , [shades of what nandan said here ]- and second whether we cannot also do some fine tuning of the idea of second freedom and civil disobedience being used by the anna team ?

    from what i know, second freedom was economic freedom, a just economic order , freedom from hunger and unemployement for the last. We need to bring that issue , the economic issue, [ arundhati in todays hindu, has a hint of this but of course she is on another road ] and secondly, another distortion of the concept of civil disobedience …

    to day i was with dr shanthi ghosh, who was there during freedom struggle, and she pointed this out, saying it was every citizen and every street and space that was protesting against the british , the boy cott, the hartals etc , – so it was different she said but i can see shades , and if we do some fine lining we can get this mass uprising to fine tune too ? can we influence the people on the podium at ram lila to do this ??

    It was just absolutely so healing to reada your piece nivedita, truly thought ful and brave ..thank you , devaki jain

    1. Exactly. And I think that the time has come for left leaning non party alignments to come forward and take charge now.

      There are serious cracks appearing already in the viablity of this movement which only some sensible people can help smoothen out.

      a) Increasing tones of communal elements : Kiran Bedi really seems to have lost it, someone needs to shut her up and put her on fast. Shouting banalities without thinking about them, patronizing the crowds, really adding nothing. Time to bring the second line of leadership of the IAC out. Or maybe other civil society honchos should join Anna on stage.

      b) “Lao ya Jao” – Oh s***! Who thought that up. Now the entire “respect due process” coterie is gonna be up in arms. C’mon people…Stop playing with fire

      c) Anna, maybe in his fast induced tupor, is increasingly relapsing to his ‘india as a deity’ metaphors and adding more communal tinges. He is an old man…set in his ways…i don’t think he is doing this to exclude any communities. That is his core belief system. But unless more inclusive voices are heard on the podium, risk of communal divide is increasing by the hour especially given…

      d) The speech by Bukhari, calling the movement anti-islam !! TOI printed it on the first page!! I dont really know the context, but sounds like a bunch of politically motivated arguments…

      e) Arundhati Roy’s article in the Hindu : http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2379704.ece#.TlHBgUgWyp8.facebook

      Ok…I know thats not really having an effect on the ‘masses’ who dont really go beyond the mainstream media for their daily dose…but its definitely gonna have an impact on some of the left leaning individuals already a part of this movement. (I dont know why she has this affect on me…though I dont agree with all she has to say…but somehow her words bring out the dormant nihilism in me and i surrender before the oppressive tyranny of the state)

      So my point being, there are definitely right leaning tendencies to this movement, but we can prevent it from tipping , if the left, comes out in full the support and hijacks the movement before they do…..jus sayin..

  63. Nivedita

    Your passionate appeal for a middle ground is good, but if we are to maintain our reason, we must not lose sight of the many mechanisms available to us to tackle corruption, and the hundreds of corrections required in civil laws to prevent. On my part, I’m with Nilekani, who has made a reasoned argument against demagoguery and passion. I guess this is because I believe in the Humanist way, the way that requires negotiation and rationalism. I’m not wrong to reject demagoguery, just as I allow that AH is not wrong to indulge in it. I don’t think there’s a wrong side.

  64. Thankyou so much Nivedita, for this piece. How difficult it is to see, to see beyond easy categorization. Courageous and thought provoking. Kudos.

  65. Dear Nivi, Great respect. Fully agree with everything you have written, and yet to read a decent rebuttal in the comments. Thanks so much for articulating the frustration shared by many.


  66. @crguna, some points you make which suggest a degree of restlessness with the current pace at which the public discourse is evolving on the issue of corruption. Like insisting that the NCPRI should put together a draft rather than just keep it at the level of talking points. The RTI legislation began with talking points and then went into draft bills and several laws — and all these were critiqued extensively. And when the central govt bill was moved through the parliamentary standing committee, the NCPRI actively intervened and got no fewer than 153 amendments introduced. So the process is long and arduous. It took, almost a decade of active advocacy to get an RTI law that is at least minimally effective — and indeed, impels those who’re engaged in corruption to attack and when safe, kill the seekers of information. The process of working out a law that will work, cannot be compressed into the time interval in which a 74 year old man decides to deny himself all nourishment and when he goes to meet his maker. Let us stop this charade of agonising over whether we should be with Anna or not. When Gandhi went on all his fasts, all his closest political associates would despair at their inability to influence the old man otherwise. Today, we find all Anna’s closest associates egging him on in the false expectation that victory is nigh.. Time to end this ghoulish charade.

    1. Sukumar, I feel comparing RTI with Lokpal is not correct. RTI is a new idea in Indian polity while Lokpal is an old one. Lokpal has been discussed for several years now. It is already working in several States now.It did not become a law in the center because the Political establishment is dead against such a law.Only severe public pressure and not back room lobbying will help. That is what Anna is doing.

    2. Don’t know why some people are quoting Arundhati Roy’s article in The Hindu today. Ms. Nivedita Menon’s writing here is far more reasoned and appeals to logic than does Roy’s article. People should stop going by names.

  67. left , particularaly CPI is already active in Anti corruption mpvement of Anna Hazare. We so have reservations , and differences with Anna’s janlokpal Bill and methods of his associates. but what do we have to sat about UPA govt and its lokpal bill and anti democratic methods.? we must oppose them[uPA] and hence all left and few regional parties have decided to demand withdrawl of govt lokpal bill and introduction of nrw effectove bill, passing of judicial accuntability bill etc

  68. It is a historical inevitability that this time also the left is not there where people are. Like in many other struggles, in this casse also also they just stand there by stoically observing the happenings, with certain innocuous comments here and there. Whats interesting in this melieu is that the oft repeated practice of every so called progressive thinking people in branding any movement against the establishment as something belonging to BJP gets mooted. Someone was commenting that the response that Anna Hazare receives is not just their resentment on corruption, but an expression of the pent up frustrations on many of their liberties getting barred on the ground of ‘reasonable restriction’, and about the shrinking space for informed dailogue in the Indian polity. If the political class does some introspection and reflection, it is good for them, and for the people also.

    Thanks Nivedita for this informed writing..

  69. when a known system of democracy heads towards anarchy and not improvement, what is the guarantee that a new invented system can uphold the power of truth and goodness ? after centuries of slavery under foreigners and 65 yrs of corruption and divisive politics by the insiders how is it possible to start afresh once again with a new plan ? is the concept of constitution no more viable ? Why doesnt team Anna define and explain the future strategy for 65 years atleast..? or is it just an obstinacy of a medium size philosopher who just talks in muhawaraz and quotes and the one who runs the show has nothing to explain except anger because of a disturbed childhood. Mr Kejriwal must prove he is bigger than Ambedkar, Gandhi, Nehru and Subhash..life doesnt run on a single emotion..structure of state cant be kept on ransom becz of a few handlers have failed..

  70. Nirmalangshu in his second post mentions that there have been only two short and timid responses for action in all the posts and then goes onto mention my name and suggestion that we should also stage simultaneous actions elsewhere for a good lokpal act and other issues. now this seems to imply that mine is one of those two short and timid responses. i would like to elaborate here to show how my response may have been brief but was not timid.
    Given its lack of questioning of the developmental model and the obvious capitalist exploitative policies of the government the IAC is a partial movement and so will face problems in future even if it manages to get the janlokpal bill enacted with a few minor modifications. Primarily because getting the lokpal bureaucracy to work will be even more difficult than getting the RTI bureaucracy to work. It must be remembered that the brain behind IAC, Arvind Kejriwal, started this mobilisation precisely because his struggles to get the RTI bureaucracy to penalise the recalcitrant PIOs could not gather steam. But he and others who want to implement the lokpal act will face the same problem as there will be the problem of the allocation of huge resources to get the establishment in place and make it work. otherwise like the RTI Act it too will not be implemented and the culture of impunity will continue. In fact in thirty years of grassroots work among the Bhil tribals in western Madhya Pradesh we have continually tried to get the many progressive legislations to work in their favour with little success. Primarily because of the difficulty of getting recalcitrant bureaucrats and policemen punished for their apathy and antipathy due to the prevailing culture of impunity.
    Now from a leftist perspective this is not at all surprising and this is why the Maoists are fighting for a revolutionary overthrow of the state and not trying to reform it. However, the history of leftism shows that even if the bourgeois state is overthrown the revolutionary one that replaces it does not automatically become just and democratic and instead in all cases it has in fact become autocratic and unjust. That is why I personally at a theoretical level am an anarchist advocating not just the overthrow of the bourgeois state but any form of centralised state apparatus. But in the prevailing situation it is extremely difficult to overthrow the Indian state especially as it is aligned with the much more powerful American state and so I have chosen to work within the liberal democratic space provided by the Indian Constitution. In tribal areas of the fifth schedule in fact the constitution combined with the PESA, FRA and the MGNREGS provides an anarchist framework. So in one remote corner of the country I am working along with my Bhil colleagues to try and give real shape to the anarchist provisions of our constitution. Last year in fact we succeeded for the first time in this country to get a proposed Wildlife Sanctuary cancelled by strongly implementing the provisions of PESA. Nevertheless this is a limited programme of action that is still reformist and not revolutionary in character but i doubt whether it can be called a timid one. Especially since over this period of time we have lost six of our adivasi colleagues in police or forest department firing on our militant actions.
    What enthuses me about the present mobilisation, despite its many obvious shortcomings, is that a huge turnout is taking place and the media for whatever reason is supporting it and this has brought the government to the negotiating table. something that people like us on the fringe have not been able to do and will never be able to do. its a step forward whichever way you look at it. a janlokpal act will definitely strengthen the hands of those who are fighting the prevailing culture of impunity. in my opinion such a huge mobilisation across the country, regardless of the kind of people being mobilised, is a sign of the deepening and broadening of democracy. i at least await the janlokpal act eagerly to add more teeth to our fringe struggles in alirajpur and that is why we have intensified our ongoing actions there and will in future make sure that the lokpal act is implemented to the best of our ability.

  71. The problem here is of identity. Who am I? Am I a BJP supporter? RSS activist? a Leftist? a Dalit? a Congressi? Hindu? Muslim? Christian? What is my identity? In my opinion for us bring about change in our rotten system the very first need is a change of attitude. Unless I change myself first no law much less even JanaLokpal will make any difference. Imam of Jamma Masjid proclaims that this agitation is anti Islam as slogans like Bharat mata ki jai and Vande Mataram are shouted. Chandrabhan points out that this is not the agitation supported by Dalits. These guys are being very very petty. This all is nonsence. IN this movement the only identity should be that I am an INDIAN and I will bloody hell see to it that corruption is rooted out. Janalokpal bill is a first tiny step. There after there has to be a change in attitude.

  72. Well written. We are not going to get a perfect movement made and home delivered to us, we will have to step in and make it into a movement that we think will deepen our democracy.

  73. Thanks Nivedita for putting this together so well. It should strike a cord with many of us.

  74. Does corruption and dissaffection with government because it is not transparent or honest a party political issue? Those who see this as an expression of the people as a whole will tap into their feeling, it is not left or right, people are just fed up. I am of Indian origin but from Australia, it is not a perfect place. Let me tell you though, there is no corruption that affects the common man in your day to day activities. We could talk about the lobby groups and the opaque funding of political parties but it is nothing like what I hear about in India as a day to day experience.
    My comment is therefore, connect with ordinary people, political parties live or die by it.
    Stay well

  75. Neither Sukumar’s postings nor Arundhati’s piece addresses the basic issue raised by Nivedita: what does the left do when millions of people are out in the streets in support of an essentially just cause? Whatever be the merits or otherwise of various Lokpal proposals, whatever be the (future) consequences of adopting any of them, the fact is that people are fed up with corruption for whatever reason and they think that a Lokpal is needed.

    Hence, acts such as (a) criticising the Jan Lokpal proposal, the character of the crowds, the role of the media; (b) “deep” reflections on past left strategies, lessons from the freedom and the JP movements, the salience of pluralist democracy; (c) expressions of personal predicaments, etc. are not going to help the survival of the left if these are the only things mooted on the computer.

    Arundhati’s piece finally initiates the (unpleasant) task of exposing the “leaders” of the movement and their vested interest in manufacturing dissent. The task ought to expand targetting Shanti Bhusan, Kiran Bedi, Sisodia, and the like (why not Agnivesh and Patkar as well?). But spare Anna and Prashant for now. Again following the lead from Arundhati, the structure and management of the IAC campaign should be analysed, including the source of funds. We also need frame by frame analysis of the media.

    But the support to the cause must continue in the streets if the left hopes to be with the people. And the only hope for the left to maintain its USP in public, and not lose the politics to Kejriwal and the like, is to align this support to other basic causes. Unless this happens, the “debates” will be limited to the computer, as they are right now.

  76. Nivedita, it was good to read what you say, as the introspective questions that you raise have been raising themselves in my mind and i am sure in many others. i particularly liked the formulation ‘The Hindu Right enters the movement against the Tehri dam, and promptly the Left forces move away, fearing pollution, leaving them a clear field. Another friend calls this the saffronizing of the green – could it not, if ‘we’ continued to be present there, become the greening of saffron?’
    And the analogy of a movement against corruption with salt march is quite apt.
    one of our friends who was at least ready to stand around and watch the happenings at the local Anna camp asked me ‘why is it that a slut walk which is middle class is ok and can get our support, but not this uprising’ and added ‘may be the comparison is not appropriate’.
    i read what you wrote and i admit i every word there strike a chord in me. but, no, i am not yet ready to join the movement and green it a bit.
    but the thought of sex-workers, trans-persons, queer people, dalits, feminists of all kind and trade unionists marching into the space staking a claim over it seems so radical that if it really happens saffron cannot remain so bright.

  77. I see that Nivedita and Aditya have moved this debate into a new space after visiting the venue of the protests. And I am (perhaps) among the many held guilty of wishing for a democracy without people. I plead guilty. At another time I would have made the journey down to the Ramlila Maidan to see things for myself and allow myself the chance to be awed by the mass gathering of peoples’ power. Not any more. The cynicism has gone much too deep. But I only need to address one (relatively minor) point made by Nivedita and Aditya in their new post and then I will bow out of this debate. We hear them (not in this post but in the new one) approvingly quoting Arvind Kejriwal, to the effect that the Lok Pal envisaged under the IAC’s draft bill will have no greater powers than an income tax officer.

    Just to disabuse them of this notion, here, verbatim is how article 7(5) of the most current IAC draft of the JLP bill reads:
    “If during the course of investigation into a complaint, the Lokpal feels that continuance of a government servant in that position could adversely affect the course of investigations or that the said government servant is likely to destroy or tamper with the evidence or influence the witnesses or is likely to continue with corruption, the Lokpal may issue appropriate directions including transfer of that government servant from that position.”

    Agreed.. a “government servant” as defined in the draft bill is somebody who derives his main source of livelihood from the public exchequer and is not an elected member of any legislature.. But let us now imagine how this principle would play itself out in a case where the PM is under suspicion of wrongdoing — remember, this is one of the issues on which the IAC is most insistent and inflexible. The PM is the head of the political executive and in theory controls every lever of the executive machinery. So by remaining in office while under investigation, he could conceivably, thoroughly subvert the course of inquiries. So then do we by extending this logic, give the JLP the power to remove the PM?

    Let us look back to the case of Kanimozhi, now behind bars for close to four months and denied bail by the trial court, the high court and the Supremes. What were the grounds on which she was denied bail? That being an influential person, she could conceivably disrupt the investigations and obstruct the course of justice.

    So what would this mean for an investigation into the PM? That he should be kept behind bars while the investigations are underway? If Kanimozhi, a mere MP could impede the course of investigations, what could an incumbent PM not do?

    This of course, does not mean that I have any serious difficulty with seeing a PM being frog-marched into jail. Only that the PM is in office by virtue of being the leader of a political party or coalition that commands a majority in parliament. His appointment and removal are within the sovereign domain of parliament. To bring in an extraneous body of wise and virtuous men to oversee a PM’s eligibility to continue in his job is deeply corrosive of the principles of parliamentary democracy. And of course, we are not in any way arguing here that parliament has been functioning as it should be, in upholding its sovereign rights. It clearly has not. But the democratic way of dealing with this is to reform parliamentary processes and procedures — not to institute a bully boy that sits above all the institutions and imposes its will upon them.

    Finally, Kejriwal was on Karan Thapar’s show recently, where he repeatedly made the effort to distinguish between the “people” and parliament – as if parliament is elected by aliens from outer space. And then we all know that if parliament is seen to be deviating from the right course midway through its tenure, there are any number of remedies available … Send them a signal through byelections, or through any of the elections that come up during the tenure of parliament. Exert pressure through oppositional politics within parliament. Petition through the courts and the media … these are established mechanisms of parliamentary democracy.

    A hunger fast has no place in a parliamentary democracy. It may have been a legitimate method of pressuring an alien, colonial regime, though Gandhi used it more often to bring moral pressure to bear on his compatriots on matters such as communal harmony and the caste system. And there were no arc lights or saturation media coverage accompanying any of Gandhi’s fasts … In fact, i posted two days back (on FB) a short excerpt from the recent book by Joseph Lelyveld, which points out rather poignantly that his four month long mission in Noakhali just as independence neared, had — the loyal Amrita Bazar Patrika of Calcutta aside — hardly any media coverage.

    A rather stark contrast with today’s faux Gandhians.

    1. Sukumar,
      There is nothing really left between us that we can discuss but since you raised the issue of ‘parliament vs people’ in Arvind Kejriwals’ statement in the interview with Karan Thapar for the second time, let me just offer a clarification for what its worth. You seem to think this is some outlandish distinction,m never heard of before. Let me just state that from Rousseau to Lenin via Marx (in Colletti’s phrase) this is one of the founding problems of political theory. That democracy is about popular sovreignty and that the General Will admits of no representation is Rousseau’s challenge liberal versions of representative democracy. This is a line of thought that runs right through, not only to Lenin, but to all forms of anarchist thinking which talk of ‘direct democracy’. The idea of representation has always been seen with great suspicion in all these traditions for a very long time. So to say, as you that parliament, merely because it is elected by the people, actually embodies popular will, is a big joke.

      1. there is also a tactical element when you negotiate. you always ask for more than you think you will get, and you always insist at the beginning that you will absolutely not compromise. ask your trade unionist friends.

        but when they speak to the people, kejriwal and company have always made it clear that the larger aim is corruption and they were willing to sit down and work with the government. the government sat with them and blew them off. what do you expect them to do?

        i have full faith in kejriwal and company. so far, they have led the movement with brains and guts.

        the left has guts, but i’m sorry to say, no brains at all.

        kejriwal for prime minister!

      2. We need to understand why that is the case. Parliament has been, for all the years of its existence, on collision course with the judiciary. Right from the first serious enactment that it entered into: which said that nothing shall prevent the elected body (representing popular sovereignty) from making special laws to protect the rights of those disadvantaged by history. The judiciary in turn, fought back by propounding the doctrine of the “basic structure” of the Constitution, which could not be amended by any Parliament, even by brute majority. And the third leg of governance, the legislature, has not been so active, partly because under the parliamentary model, the executive is a creation of the legislature, which then shuts up and allows the executive free play. However, there have been creative interjections by the legislature into the supposedly privileged domain of the executive, as when Jyotirmoy Bosu was head of the Public Accounts Committee, when Ramamurti was head of the Committee on Public Undertakings, and so on and on … and thus it went on. So you’re telling me now that a Ramlila Maidan gathering has the right to inject itself into this debate and promulgate a number of fundamental changes in the constitutional scheme. Sorry, I would like to know what the composition of that Ramlila Maidan crowd is.. You have told me that it is a good and representative mix of all of India’s people. I respect that judgment and I am not going to make that trip to the Maidan to check on this myself. But for some reaosn, I think that a parliament elected through a representative process, would be a better forum to debate this issue. Don’t know why. Maybe I am an old fashioned old fogey.

    2. if the janlokpal act becomes reality then the prime minister fearing that he will be frog marched to jail by the lokpal will ensure that he and his ministers do not do anything that can lead to this eventuality. that will ensure probity in public life. after all if the lokpal indicts the prime minister on fraudulent grounds he can easily go to court to get a stay. that remedy is always available to him. i cant see what is achieved through such nitpicking really. nobody is saying that team anna are messiahs that we should bow to. for whatever reason a situation has been created where a strong lokpal act is a distinct possibility and it will definitely aid in grassroots struggles of all kinds. if we have been able to use the RTI Act to advance our struggles then the lokpal Act will be even more powerful. so while working within the bourgeois liberal democratic system as we all are doing at present what is the problem with having a good ombudsman? finally it amuses me no end to see leftists defending the supremacy of parliament and liberal democratic niceties! i for one was thrilled to read in the papers today that some minister of the congress had said anonymously to a journalist that he did not dare to go to speak with team anna at ramlila grounds because he feared that he would be heckled by the crowd even before he could reach the stage! jai ho!

  78. This too shall pass….
    The points you have put across so eloquently are true…. But I am part of this “Middle class society” and our two most glaring problems are that :-
    1. we are unbelievably inconsistent and pride ourselves for it.
    2. we have remarkably short memory spans….

    by the time the elections come around(Well before that actually) we would have forgotten and certainly stopped caring about this issue… and we will vote the same crooks to power or the alternate lot of crooks to power…. I am not proud about these trait, just agonizingly aware….

  79. Finally someone from within this exclusive group has said something that many of us more ordinary folks have been wanting to tell this hallowed group. Thank you. Very sensible. We must get out of this ‘secular’ debate sometimes and address the real issues.

  80. Dear Ms. Menon,

    Your article is fascinating. To me, it reads like a thought provoking response to many of the (apparently) myopic reasons the Left may have cited to avoid endorsing the movement.

    I’m happy to report that my refusal to subscribe to Mr. Hazare’s agitation isn’t based on demands for ‘purity’, masking some latent insecurity. My concern is that the movement is not essentially against corruption, but towards pushing a much too powerful Jan Lokpal Bill in a manner that bypasses the legislative process. I take it that you were addressing very specific concerns in your article. But lest it be missed, the debate over support for this anti-corruption movement lies elsewhere, raising other and, I daresay, more probing questions.

    Support for Anna seems to be riding more on the impressionability of a people who see his bill as a key to an anti-corruption state, without seeing any need whatsoever to grapple with its provisions and their implications. Battle lines have been clearly drawn over bringing the PMO and the Judiciary under the purview of the Bill by Anna, who has subversively called the agitation a second struggle for independence. What does that do? It encourages the notion that even in a democracy, the state can be (and is) the outsider. Suddenly, the sovereignty of a people cannot be ‘expressed’ in the form of an Executive comprised of representatives elected by us. Nor is their anymore faith in the other two independent constitutional entities – the Legislature and the Judiciary. And so we have an Ombudsman step in, which, going by Team Anna’s version of the Bill, would have the girth and the power of a fourth entity. How do we sustain that in the present constitutional structure? I understand the need for reactive dynamism in the laws of a country, but they still need to be debated in a conciliatory and progressive manner, aspects that are altogether absent in the way this agitation is shaping up.

    Of course in saying all this, I may not be voicing the Government’s concerns, which may be far too predictable and founded on fear. But the prevailing mood is that only the Government has to cover a lot of ground, and has to man up to a Lokpal that is more powerful (and therefore more vulnerable) than we may realize. The point being lost in the joyful din of people taking to the streets is that it’s not just the media that is abandoning objectivity. Maybe we are too.

  81. Nivedita,

    You are awesome! I am a knicker wala, but the association of people like Kejriwal, Bedi and the Bhushans – who are no knicker walas – and Agnivesh, Patkar – who are anti knicker walas – does not stop me from supporting the movement, participating in its protest marches, donating money to it and so on. Even though much of the language of the movement is what people on the left would find themselves comfortable with, I am surprised that even the mere hint of a presence of people like me scares the left..

    Arre bhai, hum bhi Indian hain.. Stop hating us..

  82. How full of hope, how filled with enthusiasm, how bipartisan, how forgiving, how well-meaning, how revolutionary and most of all HOW NAIVE!!

  83. Great article – Thx. I think Revolutions have to be a conglomerate of different views and perspectives – different sects, may be “not so politically correct” but they have to come together for the larger good, to fight the bigger PEST in the society. We had a known “enemy” pre-1947 but now we have an abstract enemy weaved into the fabric of India for which unity is critical. We can spend hours finding problems with Lokpal bill (which I agree, does have a few) but then – NO ONE else is giving solutions…. provide us with a better solution, may be people will listen to that too. :

  84. When I read your name as the writer; first reaction was look one more Anna hater has come up in open. You piece was a pleasant surprise.

  85. Nivedita,
    If you are interested in joining the political agitation of the now-completely-emergent urban middle class of our times, a simple ‘let-us-join-them’ would not do. This movement, it seems to me, is much more about the self-legitimization of this new dominant class than anything else. So, yes, corruption is a major issue, and needs to be addressed on a war-footing, but the happy dream of joining the numbers can only happen if we are fully aware of the class-caste ambition of this huge group, and also are capable of critically mobilizing an antagonistic section within the class itself. I am afraid we are incapable of doing that. The futility of ‘perpetual-criticism’ as an elite cult is well-felt, but the solution, I am afraid, is going to be more difficult to achieve that you believe. Otherwise, we can simply be a part of the ‘numbers’. It is really a lose-lose situation.
    Baidurya Chakrabarti

  86. Here are three good reasons to stay away –

    1. No point in associating with this tamasha which will fizzle away once the media spotlights shift to another story.
    2. It is too late anyway and the politicians of all hues are already on the bandwagon. As Shekhar Kapur said, the train has already left.
    3. One should stay away from this movement on principles, till they have clarified their’s. Better late than sorry.

    1. very engaging and reflective piece…forcing one to go beyond rhetoric…but I can’t help but to feel the immediacy and intents of the “actors” and its implications vis-a-vis the issue at hand. Indeed, does this tamasha help us to address the core issue, the bill itself, leave alone “corruption” as such?

  87. That was a voice of sanity and reason – truly secular views. The left view should not disappear from the political discourse. It would be a monumental tragedy.

  88. Good piece of observation and analysis in a complex context:
    – when the PM reprimands the CAG,
    – when Sibal talks about zero loss,
    – when journalists are mired in RadiA-activity,
    – when civil society organizations are coopted into the govt through the NAC,
    – when Tiwari’s top-to-toe alliteration does no trick
    – when the Praja is tired of Rajas

    The grammar of anarchy must be learned anew.

  89. eloquent article. except that it completely misses the point. that imposing populist opinions on everyone will have disastrous consequences for the minority “classes” that she claims to vouch for.

    tribals, muslims, dalits, separatists, labor, gay views will be soundly thrashed in any public debate if we are to let the anarchy of the majority have its way. an overwhelming majority in india doesn’t give a damn abt the rights of the tribals and a majority support killing maoists mercilessly. a majority may have and still might vote to built a ram temple in ayodhya instead of rebuilding the mosque as it should be, forget 80% in nautanki janlokpal refrendums. nearly 100% of the non-SC/ST/OBC classes in india will support abolishing reservations. good-luck getting AFSPA repealed or a plebiscite in kashmir. the decidedly bania enterprize and the feudal upperclass (IT professionals included) will support any anti-labor measure if it keeps prices of industrial output low. this is a country with caste-based shaadi.com portals and honor killings. good-luck with gay marriages.

    i’m right liberal (aka capitalist, libertarian) and hence opposed to the anarchist methods used by Hazare and the anti-federal, undemocratic, big-government, plain stupid Janlokpal Bill. i support the creation of lokpal only as an ombudsman with very limited powers and no policing or prosecuting powers. NCPRI’s version reforming existing institutions and adding very little bureaucracy appeals to me. but hats off to the left liberals who have stood up and protested the majoritarianism of the annawalas. pls don’t be swayed by the whiny articles like the one above.

  90. I am with you on this completely. I can sense the pain and anger. Thank you so much.
    I wish we could talk about it in schools openly but we are told that educational institutions are apolitical spaces and we must not support any political party, thus the need to tread carefully (read fearfully).

  91. There is an honesty about this piece by Nivi Menon. Even if you are against a big press like The Hindu, their editorial dated 29 August 2011 contains an irrefutable thesis, cogently, persuasively and powerfully argued.

  92. now that the agitation has been withdrawn after a compromise, has the democratic process been subverted? if not it is time to rethink , atleast for some intellectuals.

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