Thursday, August 25, 2011

Anna Hazare unleashing India’s Arab Spring?

He sat half reclined under a huge portrait of Mahatma Gandhi at Ramlila Park, New Delhi, with tens and thousands of supporters sitting in the Maidan cheering him as the fasting shadow of the Mahatma spoke against public corruption and his own perception of the Jan Lokpal Bill. He thought the government bill was inadequate to meet the demands of an effective law that could eradicate corruption from public offices. As Anna rose to All-India fame from a puny Ralegan Siddhi personalilty drawing support for his fight against corruption, the nation as a whole responded with a resounding voice and converged on Delhi from neighbouring states to lend their support for a ‘second independence’,  this time not from colonial domination but from a society sullied by widespread corruption. Anna’s meteoric rise has unnerved the ruling party and the Prime Minister has proposed that an effective bill could be moved with Hazare’s participation in an open-ended talk to incorporate some of his ideas into the Bill. In spite of that Hazare continues his 15-day fasting and refuses to compromise on some of his vital points that he would like to see incorporated in his Lokpal (ombudsman) proposals. Meanwhile, support for his fasting is spreading like wildfire all over India as he reminds the new generation of Indians of Bapu who dreamed of a strong and stable India on the prosperity of millions of Indian villages.

Anna is not holding out an empty dream before the Indians. Following the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda and Binoba Bhabe, he has experimented his reforms in his own village at Ralegan Siddhi. Anna who was an army truck driver, had thrice close encounter with death. During the 1965 Indo-Pak war all his comrades died following a Pakistan air raid. He was the only one who survived and he saw a bullet whiz past his head. He had similar experience of being in close proximity with death two more times. He was now convinced he should dedicate his life for the good of others and that there was some hidden meaning in his escape from death. He started his philanthropic work in his own village, Ralegan Siddhi. He inspired people to join him in his village reforms, built water reservoirs and canals, new crops were planted, improved varieties of cows were brought and in all these efforts he brought everyone including the Dalits or the untouchables. He banned consumption of alcohol, opened schools, supplied milk for the schoolchildren and soon the Gram Shava or the village councils were busy in evolving a new countryside. The whole social milieu changed. Anna has been awarded two prestigious civil awards, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan by the government of India.

Anna is not free from contradictions. He gave a speech in support of Modi, the Gujrat CM, though of course he later withdrew it. There are other lags too. As Arundhati Roy points out he speaks against public corruption alone; instead, he should also speak against the corporate and NGO corruptions.

There are two faces of Indian poverty which is one of the worst in the world. Both faces generate anger – an anger that could bring down a hail of disasters. One of the faces of this anger finds expression in bullets and bombs in the hands of the Maoists who also dream of establishing a people’s government free from hunger and deprivation. Some five states in eastern India have to cope with the Maoists and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. With the Nepalese Maoists lending them support aided by China from across the silk road, the Maoist insurrection which is one of the faces of Indian poverty may not cease sometime sooner than can be comprehended.

Anna’s protest, though non-violent, is also an expression of anger. But Anna is more dangerous than the Maoists. He has already won the hearts of the middle class Indians and a vast majority of them are behind him. It is anger that makes them rally behind Anna. The agitating mobs may ultimately force the Congress to accept Anna’s proposals. There are hardly any other alternatives before the Congress. If Anna is alive, he is going to be a political force to be reckoned with in the next elections. With all the ‘terrorist’ groups active in India, an Anna exposed in a Maidan is an easier target than Gandhi in his usual prayer meetings. A dead Anna (either owing to fasting or a terrorist bullet) could lead to disastrous political turmoil which may be difficult to cope with even with thousands of security forces.

To most Indians supporting him, Anna is a sort of reincarnation of Mahatma Gandhi and India cannot afford to lose a Bapu a second time. Anna’s rise is not a surprise in India 40% of whose GDP remains in Swiss banks.

And the contrast between wealth in Bombay and the starving population in Uttar Pradesh is scandalous and not even a double digit growth is going to set it right. That is what justifies the rise of Anna and his overnight All-India popularity.

The fasting Anna has proposed that his draft of Jan Lokpal Bill be placed before the parliamentary committee.

The ruling Congress would rather have their own Bill discussed with inputs from Anna’s draft. Manmohan Singh has taken a conciliatory stance and has invited Anna for talks. Anna says he is open to talks but only on his own terms and that means his Jan Lokpal draft should be placed before the Parliament which may come up for discussion and modifications, if any, provided Anna’s basic clauses are not excluded. Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill, drafted by Justice Santosh Hedge, Prasant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal seeks to establish an independent body free from government intervention even in the case of ministers and high bureaucrats. If found guilty, they would go to jail and their ill-gotten wealth will be confiscated. Anna’s angry supporters, however, are demanding death sentence for corrupt ministers and life-term imprisonment for MPs.

If the ruling Congress fails to appease Anna Hazare, the anger he has unleashed will soon engulf the whole of India with disastrous political consequences.