Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images
Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare walks away from the stage on the 11th day of his hunger strike at Ram Lila grounds in New Delhi on August 26, 2011.
Araminta Wordsworth Aug 26, 2011 – 5:43 PM ET
Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth brings you a daily round-up of quality punditry from across the globe. Today: Few people would disagree with the need to root out corruption in modern India. That’s why Anna Hazare’s campaign has struck such a chord across the world’s largest democracy.
The Hindu conservative Anna Hazare, who’s often compared with the liberation hero Mahatma Gandhi, has said he will fast until death unless the government adopts his suggestions in toto. Enthusiastic crowds have rallied around the 74-year-old, chanting, “Anna is India, India is Anna.”
Now cooler heads are making their views know — they fear democracy is being washed away by a messianic cult-like leader.
Hazare’s proposals to end corruption by setting up an independent agency — Lokpal — would heap another layer of bureaucracy on a country already tied up in red tape, they argue. These people would be unelected and appointed by Hazare and his high-caste associates, a completely undemocratic process. At Northern Voices Online, Gail Omvedt asks,
Why are such masses of people following Anna Hazare, when it is now clear that his Lokpal bill is an authoritarian, centralized and undemocratically pushed proposal?
The Lokpal Bill itself is very authoritarian, in putting non-elected people of high class-caste background over elected officials and government bureaucrats (but not, as people have noted, over corporations!). “Pal” means “guardian,” and in many ways the proposal recalls Plato’s Guardians —The philosopher-kings who would rule the State.
The movement wants to keep the state, in an even more centralized form, but replace its current rulers with a new set.
An editorial in The Hindu picks up on the authoritarian nature of Hazare’s proposals:
While his means may be Gandhian, Anna Hazare’s demands are certainly not. Contrary to Gandhiji’s ideas about the decentralization of power, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a draconian, anti-corruption law, in which a panel of carefully chosen people will administer a giant bureaucracy, with thousands of employees, with the power to police everybody from the Prime Minister, the judiciary, members of Parliament, and all of the bureaucracy, down to the lowest government official. The Lokpal will have the powers of investigation, surveillance, and prosecution. Except for the fact that it won’t have its own prisons, it will function as an independent administration, meant to counter the bloated, unaccountable, corrupt one that we already have. Two oligarchies, instead of just one.
The British news magazine The Economist is worried by what it sees as Hazare’s messianic tendencies:
To craft a campaign against corruption into a movement around a single figure is faintly troubling. The claim that “Anna is India, India is Anna” sounds close to cult-speak. As it happens, the Supreme Court, the auditor-general, a panoply of civil activists and a more assertive press have all helped to hold the corrupt to account this year. Several powerful figures have been jailed.
Other doubts exist about Mr Hazare. Some Muslim leaders are suspicious of the nationalist, and what they see as at times Hindu-dominated, tone and imagery of his campaign. Low-caste Dalits … also question his stand …
The most revered Dalit leader, the late B.R. Ambedkar, chief draftsman of India’s constitution, has been much quoted this week for an early warning about the “grammar of anarchy,” by which he meant using Gandhi-style fasts to impose your will on a democratic government. Hunger strikes, a form of blackmail, might have been justified against the British, but not against elected leaders.
Descendants of Gandhi himself agree, reports Anjana Pasricha for the Voice of America:
Gandhi’s great grandson, Tushar Gandhi, says there are crucial differences in the way the two leaders have used fasting as an instrument of protest. Mahatma Gandhi is also known in India as “bapu” or father.
“With Anna it is more of an attempt to browbeat the government into absolute surrender and submission. It definitely is an attempt to arm twist.,” Gandhi said. “With Bapu it was in his own words he said that my fast is an act of love to bring a friend back on the straight and narrow and not an attempt to vanquish an enemy.”
In an opinion piece in The Hindu, Prabhat Patnaik points out Hazare has become increasingly hardline as his campaign gathered steam:
[His demands have moved] from “we have a democratic right to protest and place our views in public,” which is an unexceptionable proposition, to “Anna will keep fasting until his bill is adopted or amended with his permission,” which amounts to holding a gun to the head of the [government], and by implication of Parliament, and dictating that the bill it has produced must be passed, or else mayhem will follow.
The government’s flip-flops are indicative of incompetence; the Anna group’s flip-flops arise because of the compulsions of a particular style of politics on which it is embarked, which can be called “messianism” and which is fundamentally anti-democratic. The fact that it is striking a chord among the people, if at all it is (one cannot entirely trust the media on this), should be a source of serious concern, for it underscores the pre-modernity of our society and the shallowness of the roots of our democracy.
compiled by Araminta Wordsworth
Posted in: Full Comment, World Politics Tags: Araminta Wordsworth, Full Comment Abroad, corruption, India, democracy, Anna Hazare, messianism, Mahatma Gandhi, Lokpal Bill