Asghar Ali Engineer
(Secular Perspective September 1-15, 2011)
Lot has already been written on Anna Hazare’s fast both for and against but more for than against. Why then need for another article? Every article has a perspective and I have mine on and also each article for or against throws light on some new facts not covered by earlier ones. I had written earlier also from Gandhian perspective but more needs to be written. This was, whether one agrees with or not, is a very major movement having lot of implications for our democracy.
First, on how far Hazare is Gandhian and how far his method is Gandhian? He is being described as Gandhian by the media apparently because he undertook fast which Mahatma Gandhi used to. But can anyone become Gandhian just because one undertakes fast? This is really debatable. Gandhian fast was more about its spirit than its method or form. In my opinion mere undertaking fast does not make one a Gandhian unless other conditions are fulfilled.
What are those conditions? Gandhi was very particular, nay insistent on relationship between means and ends. He strongly felt if means are wrong, ends cannot remain noble. Thus above all his point of view was ethical and means are as important as ends. Now what constitutes means? Is undertaking fast is enough to put it under the category of ethical? For that we have to examine how Gandhi undertook fast and under what conditions and for what purpose.
Whenever Gandhi undertook fast he called it either repentance or self purification. He never insisted that his demands must be accepted as it is much less at the cost of democratic institutions. In fact he did not fast against Government. To say that only my demand is right and there can be no other point of view is not only undemocratic but authoritarian stand directed against democratic institutions.
Moreover, Gandhi never depended on anyone else when he undertook fast. It used to be his decision and to end fast also was his own decision. He never constituted any team and seek their advice nor asked anyone to negotiate on his behalf. Here not only Hazare insisted on his demand being accepted but also involved his team to negotiate and decide. Media also repeatedly referred to ‘team Anna’.
Gandhi never depended on parading people in thousands, much less in lakhs for legitimacy of his fast but his fast was never coercive and authoritarian. Anna had to depend on thousands or even lakhs marching to further strengthen coercive dimension of his fast. One of the members of the team Anna even threatened on 9th day of his fast that who will be responsible if something happens to Anna? The implication was the Government will be responsible and hence Anna’s (which in fact means team Anna’s demand) must be accepted in toto.
And ultimately this is what happened. Also, the people who were paraded came from urban middle class upper caste people and not representative of all sections of Indian people. Minorities, dalits, tribals and poor, not only did not participate (by and large) but even felt apprehensive about the consequences of Anna’s fast which undermined supremacy of the Constitution and Parliament.
These weaker sections of society definitely suffer from corruption as much as other sections of society and they will support any fight against corruption. But this fight cannot be at the cost of other problems of minorities and dalits which appeared to be so in case of Anna’s fast. They felt their existence and their fundamental rights are very much dependent on the supremacy of constitution and parliament.
Anna Hazare’s movement, on the other hand, appeared to represent majoritarian ethos and got enthusiastic support from main opposition party BJP and also RSS was seen advising BJP to lend full support to Anna’s fast and team Anna’s efforts. That made these weaker sections much more apprehensive. Also, RSS and main opposition support vitiated Anna’s fast ethically.
It got politicized on one hand, and on the other, accepting support from a party whose members are deeply involved in corruption wherever it has its governments in states, particularly in Karnataka. How can Anna who is fighting against corruption can accept enthusiastic support and large scale mobilization for a party who too stands accused of corruption. This seriously affects ethics of Anna’s fast.
Moreover Gandhiji’s fast remained a very serious effort to spiritualise politics whereas Anna and team Anna indulged in politics, accusations and counter-accusation thus eroding the ethicality of the end. Also, among the crowds there were people who were drunk and used abusive language. Also, as if all this was not enough, his supporters, at the instance of team Anna began to gherao M.P.s to accept Anna’s demands else…Anna himself approved of these acts. Even Prime Minister’s house was gheraoed eroding the dignity of the office of premiere authority in democracy.
Also, serious accusations were made against team Anna that foreign funds were accepted to finance such huge mobilization. Every day food and water was supplied to thousands or a lakh of people. Where the money came from? Did money come from impeccable sources? If so why it is not being disclosed? Some even accuse that VHP was supplying expenses for food. If there is any truth in this why Anna accepted finances from these sources. Does he have any link with these sources. Why did he not ask his team not to accept financing from these sources?
Anna, unlike Gandhiji, not only never undertook fast against communal violence in the country, he is not even known to have denounced communal riots. He even praised developmental model of Modi Government who was responsible for communal violence in Gujarat in 2002 and what is worse, he praised developmental model which benefits the rich at the cost of the poor which Gandhiji will never approve of.
It is in fact liberalization and globalization and super-profits being made by the rich which is greatly responsible for corruption, in fact, today, as unlike in the past, it has become main source of corruption. Gandhiji was basically concerned with the last person in society and he used to say that a development model which does not benefit the last man in the society is not worth it.
And Anna praised the developmental model of Gujarat which is nothing if not enriching and ensuring super-profit to multi-nationals and financial sharks. How can then Hazare be Gandhian? He used Gandhian tool but vitiated it with unethical and un-Gandhian ways. Anna is reported to have said on many occasions that the corrupt should be hanged. It means violence can be legitimately used for such purposes which itself is quite un-Gandhian both in form and content.
He also asked his followers in his ‘model’ village to beat with shoes those who drank liquor and also made them ride donkey and blackened their faces. These are all violent methods which Gandhiji will never approve of. This clearly shows an authoritarian strain in Anna Hazare and he seems to be in a hurry to succeed. Same thing he tries to do with his fight against corruption.
Corruption can be fought with laws and strong punishments. Hazare always insists on ‘strong punishment’. As pointed out by me in another article, it is more of a moral than legal issue. No amount of laws can even remove corruption. Even death penalty has not succeeded in reducing murder, let alone ending it. In fact our legal system is also corrupt. Our lawyers are ever ready to prove a murderer innocent. Gandhiji, on the other hand, maintained that a lawyer should never take up any case which he is not convinced is based on truth. And what is the guarantee that ‘Strong Lokpal’ will not become corrupt and then corrupt lawyers and judges will not be ready to defend them and prove them not guilty?
Corruption can be more effectively fought on moral grounds. And how can we have morally sound citizens when our whole education system is corrupt, based on high capitation fees for admissions and on the very concept of money spinning? We need strong value based education to produce strong moral character than strong Lokpal though the later may also be needed to an extent.
But one does not hear from Anna’s mouth anything about morality whereas whole emphasis of Gandhiji was on spirituality and morality. He would dive deep in his moral conscience for solution rather than talk of laws and punishment. One who is in a hurry to become messiah does not give importance to voice of ones conscience. He resorts to external remedies and punishments. To become Gandhi one must dive deep into moral conscience.