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Hazare’s campaign fails to unite support

Though the cause is considered just, the motives and methods used are raising doubts

  • A.J. Philip, New Delhi
  • India
  • August 24, 2011
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In the Bhagavat Gita, the sacred text of the Hindus, Krishna says: “When righteousness is weak and faints and unrighteousness results in pride, then my spirit arises on Earth.”

Many people in India believe that his spirit has arisen in Anna Hazare, a septuagenarian Gandhian, who has been on hunger strike since August 16, demanding the creation of a powerful national anti-corruption agency called Lok Pal (ombudsman).

Successive governments have been making false promises on this score, even as corruption has been increasing.

What has given impetus to this latest anti-graft movement is a string of scandals, involving federal ministers and officials. It is believed that in the allocation of a second generation telecommunication bandwidth, called 2G Spectrum, the exchequer lost revenue of nearly US$35 billion.

Several civil society organizations banded together under the leadership of Hazare, who began his career as a truck driver in the Indian army but earned public acclaim for transforming Ralegan Siddhi, a drought-prone village in Maharashtra, into a self-sufficient model village.

When Hazare staged a hunger strike in New Delhi on April 5, the government exercised the easier option of seeking five names from him to constitute a committee, which had as many ministers, to draft a bill to fight corruption.

However, the joint committee failed to show a united front with the result that two competing bills emerged from the exercise.

Hazare calls the government bill weak and farcical and wants his version called the Jan Lok Pal Bill (people’s ombudsman) to be submitted and discussed in the current monsoon session of parliament.

One feature of the government’s draft bill Hazare opposes is that the prime minister and the higher judiciary are excluded from scrutiny.

Though Hazare has been able to capture the imagination of the middle class, particularly in cities, there are dissenting voices within his own camp.

Civil society leaders such as Magsaysay award-winner Aruna Roy, instrumental in demanding and obtaining the Right to Information Act, do not approve of the dictatorial tone of his campaign.

Equally important, not everyone who supports him demands that the higher judiciary be brought under the Lok Pal.

The creation of an institution, which can send shivers down the spine of every constitutional authority, will definitely contravene the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution propounded by the Supreme Court. A 13-member bench of the court has ruled that no government had the power to alter the “basic structure of the Constitution.”

Thus, the possibility of the apex court striking down a law that makes its judges answerable to a superior institution cannot be ruled out.

There are people who question Hazare’s nomination of the five people who helped draft his bill, which included Hazare himself and a father-son team – Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan. With a limited education and no skill at all in drafting legal documents, Hazare should not have nominated himself.

Had Mahatma Gandhi, whom Hazare purportedly follows, been in charge, he would have definitely included in the committee a representative from each of the minorities and other weaker groupings.

Though not many question his sincerity, fears persist that he is controlled by Hindu nationalists, who are not prepared to wait for the next general election in 2014.

When Arya Samaj leader, Swami Agnivesh, uses the Hazare stage and says that “we must take encouragement from the fall of [Libyan leader] Colonel Moammar Gadhafi,” it shocks everyone who finds the comparison odious. However imperfect India’s democracy may be; it has withstood the test of time and given every citizen a say in it.

While Hazare is really worked up over corruption, many cannot forget that he did not utter a word against the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat a decade ago and anti-Christian atrocities in Orissa’s Kandhamal district three years ago. After all, communalism is even more dangerous than corruption.

In the early 1970s, another Gandhian -- Jayaprakash Narayan -- launched a campaign for what he called “Total Revolution” by focusing on corruption. By supporting this movement, Hindu nationalists managed to come to power for the first time in 1977.

The political game is the same, though the methods have changed. While everyone wants corruption to be stamped out, it should not end up as a ruse to destabilize democracy and usher in anarchy.

The writer is a New Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be reached at ajphilip@gmail.com
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