'Dictatorial' Anna Hazare is not about lasting social change

Team Anna might train its guns on the Congress but it's not just Congresswallahs who are speaking up against the Gandhian. After the Mumbai letdown, some former comrades are saying 'I told you so.'

Sandip Roy January 03, 2012 15:27:20 IST
'Dictatorial' Anna Hazare is not about lasting social change

It’s well known that success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. Now that Anna Hazare’s Mumbai fast has been pronounced a damp squib, many of his former aides are coming out of the woodwork to say “I told you so.”

Look, they say, it’s not just busy Mumbaikars didn’t show up in droves for the Anna fast. Not a single Marathi newspaper rallied behind him either. “Maharashtra knows Anna better than any other state,” Sadashiv Mapari, a former sarpanch of Ralegan told The Telegraph.

In a previous article for the same publication, reporter Jaideep Hardikar listed some of the bumps in the Anna record when it comes to his home state.

In 1997-98 he failed to provide evidence against a Shiv Sena minister he had accused of corruption.

In 1994 he accused Sharad Pawar of graft but then withdrew the allegation.

He has been silent on accusations his volunteers face about extortion across Maharashtra in connection with his anti-graft crusade.

Dictatorial Anna Hazare is not about lasting social change

Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi. Reuters

The problem say his former aides, is that when it comes to Anna, it’s my way or the highway. “He has no vested agenda but his style is dictatorial,” says social activist Baba Adhao. That’s why the idea of powerful Lokpal is so appealing to him. He is not about lasting social change says economist HM Desarda, “a one-time comrade.” “It is more proprietary for him. His is not a public movement but a Hazare movement.”

Former MLA Kumar Saptarshi who worked closely with Anna in the nineties told The Telegraph Anna does not like “collective or democratic dialogue.” “There’s a problem with the term Team Anna: it’s a misnomer,” says Saptarshi.

Team Anna might not agree and dismiss all of this schadenfreude given that these are all “former” aides and colleagues who might have some axe to grind when it comes to Anna Hazare.

What might be more worrying to the movement as it seeks to regroup, is the resurfacing of an old thorn in its side – Anna’s caste problem. At the height of the August fast, Team Anna had tried to defuse it by having a Dalit and Muslim girl break Anna’s fast. It made for a great photo-op. But now it’s reared its ugly head again, thanks in part to an essay by Gail Omvedt for CounterCurrents.org.

Omvedt says the reasons Dalits have been less than enthusiastic about Anna Hazare is because they sense that it is a backdoor attack on reservation. One of the groups supporting Anna is quite blunt about it.

“Those with reservation are the ones in corruption,” says RK Bharadwaj of the Krantikari Manuwadi Morcha. “Those in the general category are the sufferers.”

Anna Hazare might say he cannot control who supports him and who says what in such a broad-based movement. But Omvedt says Hazare “has quite explicitly, linked his vision of the self-sufficient village with the traditional hierarchy of caste duties, explicitly using caste names to describe the functions to be performed in the village.”

This does not automatically translate into oppression of lower castes says Mukul Sharma who studied Ralegan Siddhi for his book Green and Saffron: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics. Anna is a crusader for the removal of untouchability and caste discrimination. He sees the village as joint family where everyone has an assigned useful role (be it farmer or chamar) and “where the people following him consider it their natural right to obey, and the exercising person thinks it a natural right to rule.”

Anna’s world view is really a village view – a village with one chamar, one kumhar, one sunar, and limited access to television and electronic media, ironically the very things that are the foundations of his movement’s success in the rest of the country. The danger of that view was pointed out long before Anna, says Omvedt, by none other than Karl Marx.

We must not forget that these idyllic village-communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies.

“Hazare is perhaps the major figure on the Indian political scene to have as his base such a traditionally run village,” says Omvedt.

Anna might be keen to revive this model of a self-sufficient village where someone like him is the respected arbiter of disputes. His idea of village regeneration is about a list of proscriptions and prescriptions writes Sharma in Kafila: No shop can sell bidis or cigarettes. Only religious films like Sant Tukaram can be screened. Only religious songs can be played on loudspeakers during marriages.

It is true that the villagers themselves decided to live by these rules. But the question, say his former aides and colleagues,  is does the rest of India want to live in Ralegan Siddhi?

Read The Telegraph's series on the reservations of some of Anna Hazare's former colleagues here and here.

Read Gail Omvedt on the role of caste and politics in relation to Anna Hazare here.

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