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India’s Second Independence Movement

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By: Rohit Kumar

Anna Hazare has apparently been India’s Guy Fawkes from the 1990’s till today

While India harps on its place on the world stage – a burgeoning middle class with wealth and access beyond any other Third World country – and tries to make itself an economic, political and military superpower, there are troubles in its underbelly that need urgent attention; before the system fails and the so-called democratic politicians are sent packing.

No, this is not about the Naxalite/Maoist rebellion, or of unrest in the Tamil south. This is about the nationwide movement against corruption in India, led by Gandhiwadi Kisan Baburao Hazare, affectionately known to India’s youth as Anna Hazare.

A retired Army soldier, veteran of the 1965 war with Pakistan, and civil activist, Anna Hazare has toiled long and hard for the backward masses of Ralegan Siddhi, a village in Parner taluka of Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra, India. He has transformed Ralegan Siddhi into a modern village with functional social structures and with a vibrant political culture that addresses the needs as well as complaints of the people.

In 1991, Anna Hazare launched the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan (BVJA) (People’s Movement against Corruption), a popular movement to fight against corruption in Ralegaon Siddhi. In 1997, Hazare shifted his focus to the state, targeting Maharashtra Social Welfare minister Babanrao Gholap of the Shiv Sena for malpractices and malfeasance in the purchase of some power looms. After a lengthy battle – during which Hazare was also arrested and incarcerated for three months – Gholap resigned on April 27, 1999.

In 2003, while Hazare brought corruption charges against four ministers of the Congress-NCP government, then-chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde formed a one-man commission headed by the retired justice P. B. Sawant to probe the charges. The P. B. Sawant commission report, submitted on 23 February 2005, indicted Sureshdada Jain, Nawab Malik, and Padmasinh Patil – the former two resigned in March 2005. What is interesting is that three trusts – Hind Swaraj Trust, Bhrashtachar Virodhi Janandolan Trust, and Sant Yadavbaba Shikshan Prasarak Mandal Trust – headed by Anna Hazare were also indicted in the P. B. Sawant commission report.

But a little while before this, in the early 2000s, Anna Hazare had proclaimed that “All corruption can end only if there is freedom of information” – he had worked tirelessly to strengthen the Maharashtra Right to Information Act, and laid the foundation for a Right to Information (RTI) Act to be enacted in 2005 by the Union Government. On 20 July 2006 the Union Cabinet amended the Right to Information Act 2005 to exclude the file noting by the government officials from its purview. Hazare began his fast unto death on 9 August 2006 in Alandi against the proposed amendment. He ended his fast on 19 August 2006, after the government agreed to change its earlier decision.

Therefore, Anna Hazare is an old stalwart of battles against the corrupt and insensitive government of India, whether of a state or of the union. He is the champion of the people, and the spearhead of their struggles against unjust rulers who have only been replaced in ethnicity, but not in motivations. In 2011, Hazare initiated a Satyagraha (soul force or truth force) movement for passing a stronger anti-corruption Lokpal (ombudsman) bill in the Indian Parliament, as conceived in the Jan Lokpal Bill (People’s Ombudsman Bill) that invests broad powers in the peoples’ ombudsmen, or Lokpal, by bringing acts of the prime minister, higher judiciary and the acts of the MPs under their purview. This move is being severely opposed by the Congress, and by their ministers in the Joint Drafting Committee, which was created and announced in the Gazette on April 9, 2011, four days after Anna Hazare started his ‘fast unto death’ in Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. When he broke his fast – after the government acceded to the formation of a committee representative of the government and the civil society – he aptly termed his movement against corruption a second freedom movement, or independence struggle, in India. This time, it would not be the British, but corrupt Indian politicians, who would be ousted using Gandhiwadi tactics and the power of the Indian youth.

Civil society members of the drafting committee remained adamant that keeping the prime minister and judges of Supreme Court and High Courts out of the purview of the Lokpal would be a violation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

In this backdrop, Anna was also furious at the government’s highhandedness in disrupting Swami Ramdev’s (known as Baba Ramdev) anti-corruption protest at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi, on June 06, 2011. Delhi Police raided the Maidan when most Satyagrahis were sleeping and Ramdev was busy at a meeting with his core group. A large police force lobbed tear gas shells and baton-charged the area to evict the crowd between 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. Police had arranged buses to drop supporters at railway stations and bus stands in advance; they had ammunition ready and all the policemen were in battle-gear wearing vests and helmets and kept some ambulances on standby.

Meanwhile, Baba Ramdev requested policemen: “Do not beat the people here, I am ready to court arrest”.

Delhi Police kept Baba Ramdev in a government guesthouse for a few hours and then sent him to his Ashram in Haridwar under police custody. Police fired tear gas and baton-charged people who were peacefully fasting, to chase them out of the Ramlila maindan. 53 persons were injured and were treated at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, AIIMS trauma center and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. According to New Delhi railway station authorities, supporters continued to leave in batches through the course of the day. While several supporters spent the day in a park near Ramlila Maidan, others took shelter in Arya Samaj at Paharganj.

Baba Ramdev was taken by police outside Delhi and prohibited him from entering Delhi for 15 days. After being banned from entering Delhi for the next 15 days, Union Home Secretary G. K. Pillai said the Baba was on his way to his Ashram at Haridwar under police custody. On reaching Haridwar, Swami Ramdev declared in a press conference that his fast unto death will continue. About 5,000 supporters were still missing according to Baba Ramdev. Dr Jaideep Arya, a key advisor of Ramdev’s team, said that about 19 girls students from the Chotipur Gurukul, who were seated near the dais, are estimated to be still missing. Suman, women’s representative of the Trust, said many of these girls were roughed up when the police tried to reach Baba Ramdev and were crying since police officials were pulling their hair, dragging them badly and their clothes were torn. Police, however, said no one was missing. T.V. channels were telecasting the the footage of the scene in Ramlila Maidan.

Anna Hazare and other civil society members decided to boycott the meeting of the joint Lokpal Bill drafting committee scheduled on 6 June 2011 in protest against the forcible eviction of Swami Ramdev and his followers by the Delhi Police from Ramlila Maidan on 5 June 2011, while they were on hunger strike against the issues of black money and corruption and already doubting the seriousness of the union government in taking measures to eradicate corruption (from which they were immensely benefitting). Hazare and his associates pride themselves on being “apolitical” (as if that itself were a badge of honour), and persist in seeing the problem entirely in terms of the government – politicians and bureaucrats – without noting the nexus they form with local and international corporate power through capital transfers. Their renewed demand for yet another Lokpal law conveniently ignores the point that the lack of genuine implementation of existing laws is often the most obvious way in which corruption occurs – and this is the argument most vehemently presented by the Indian government.

It seems that Anna Hazare, and those whom he inspires, is performing the same role in India that Wael Ghonim did in Egypt; while Wael was anonymous and trying to bring down an autocratic dictatorial regime, Anna is the poster-boy of the movement and is attacking the system of corruption that perpetuates the status quo of corrupt power structures and corrupt political parties in India. Anna has brought India closer to revolution than any other South Asian country – even after considering the strides made by Moussavi in Iran and by Imran Khan in Pakistan. Anna may not be as charismatic as Guy Fawkes, but his strict Gandhiwadi appearance and tactics have endeared him to the Indian population, especially the youth, who are eagerly looking for any role model to follow in returning India to its “incredibleness”. Writing for the Guardian, Jayati Ghosh states that many Indians feel betrayed with neoliberal economic policies that have increased fraud and corruption, thereby exacerbating inequality in all walks of Indian life. Scams and scandals have become a staple of the economic environment. The numbers keep growing, as hundreds of billions of rupees are extracted in various ways, while the poor keep suffering because they do not have anything but they can watch their fellow countrymen have everything. Market-oriented reforms in India delivered higher aggregate growth but also significantly increased economic inequality and material insecurity for the majority of India’s population. As the elites and burgeoning middle classes become more confident, they become more brazen in flaunting their consumption to a population that is generally denied any such access and may even be facing worsening prospects. All indicators suggest that economic illegality, fraud and corrupt practices have ballooned in recent times in India. Perhaps the government already knows something that is not yet explicitly recognized in the woefully-biased Indian media: that the Indian growth story has been wholly and solely reliant on corruption, which has been rephrased as ‘functional corruption’. Anna is definitely capitalizing on “a great betrayal” felt by a populace that had been told that the era of neoliberal economic policies would end vices that were supposedly associated with greater government involvement in economic activity.

But despite these populist gestures, there is another side to Anna as well; In a press conference in April 2011, Anna Hazare praised Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat for his efforts on rural development along with Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar, saying that the same should be emulated by the chief ministers of all states. Subsequently, Modi wrote an open letter to him, hailing him as a Gandhian and anti-corruption activist, while Digvijay Singh, the General Secretary of the Congress party, criticised him. In May 2011 – just a month later – during his visit to Gujarat, Anna abrutply changed his view and criticised Modi for rampant corruption. He urged Modi to appoint a Lokayukta in Gujarat. He also commented that the media had projected an incorrect image of Vibrant Gujarat which was totally untrue compared to the situation on the ground. According to Yogesh Pratap Singh of Tehelka, Anna has also been accused of being “enamored with authority” and conveniently remains silent on major issues of people who create access for him to authority. This makes him a questionable character to lead India’s revolution, but it seems that the general public – or janata – are more disturbed by corrupt ministers than by any hint of corruption in their civil society. It is also commendable that the Indian people – despite having a ‘vibrant’ democratic system which has suffered no cessations in the electoral process – have mobilized themselves (or have been mobilized by the youth) and are taking their problems head on themselves. It is a sign for Third World countries that there is only so much that you can depend on a post-colonial state for, and if your problem is the government itself, then it is you – the citizen – who can do something about it. Nobody else, but you.

Because people should not be afraid of their governments.

Rather, it is governments who should be afraid of their people.