Monday, August 22, 2011

Anna Hazare: The Second Gandhi and Danger of Political Bhakti

Till very recently, Gandhi was one name that made rounds among the educated middle class of India as the villain behind almost all the ills of this country.  Even the Gandhi film by Richard Attenborough could not make much difference in India, though that film is credited for increasing the awareness about Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violence, elsewhere in the world. 

 It took an Anna Hazare to change all that overnight.  The sequel to original Gandhi, named Second Gandhi or The Gandhian, Anna Hazare suddenly became a hero for the same educated middle class, not only in India but also in the Western world, for those who have already managed to get out of the ‘bloody country’, looking for green cards and greener pastures.  The Gandhi cap (though Gandhi had never worn one) has become suddenly a fashion symbol even in pageants!

While Gandhi’s role, in giving direction and leadership to India’s independence cannot be overemphasised, the role of his political ideology in post independence India was always suspect. Dr Ambedkar’s famous ‘Grammar of Anarchy’ speech clearly dealt with this issue in the following words, “The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us”.

In the words of the father of Indian Constitution, “we must hold fast to constitutional methods” rather than ‘holding fasts as a means of black mail’.  I salute that visionary in foreseeing so far into the future when Second Gandhi was to undertake fast unto death as a means of legislation!

Be that as it may, let us consider the defining ideological moorings of the Second Gandhi. From various reported speeches and write-ups on his life, we can deduce the following.  Let me start with the positives first.

Anna has done tremendous work in the field of development of Indian villages.  His projects of rain harvesting, at a very minimal costs changed the life of people in those villages.  These developments can be interpreted as his commitment to Gandhian philosophy which speaks of growth and self sufficiency of the villages.

Secondly, his life is almost like that of Gandhi.  Very simple and frugal, he lives in a small room of a Temple that he built in his village (whether one can use the property of a temple for his/her own personal use is a question that I will not go into).  According to him his worldly possessions are only a plate to eat and a room to sleep in.

Unlike the first Gandhi, this Second Gandhi is not a strict follower of Non-violence.  In his words, “Rural India is a harsh society; if you want change, it's sometimes necessary to be tough."  Not just mere words, as he had in fact tied drunken people to temple pillars and personally flogged them with his Army belt!  I am quite curious as to how many of his new supporters would find that ‘cool’!

Anna is very much in favour of death penalty for corrupt.  He publicly demanded punishments like chopping of hands etc, to tackle corruption and his Team finds it tough many a time to give a positive spin to his words, to make them more palatable to common people. 

Anna never had to think twice before warning the Government that if they did not understand the language of Mahatma Gandhi, he would not hesitate to use the language of Chhatrapati Shivaji.  No need to explain that the language of the great warrior Shivaji is of violence and not anything close to Ahimsa, the language of the original Gandhi!

For the Original Gandhi, the Satyagraha was a tool of self purification.  By undertaking the fast, he used to appeal to the moral sense of the opponents. He never used foul language against his opponents.  All the while he was involved in the freedom struggle, he kept his dialogue and relationships with the British people intact. 

Compare it with the Second Gandhi. He starts by holding his ‘opponents’ as thieves and rascals.  For him his opponents are way below him.  He has no problem in using foul language and generalised false accusations against his perceived opponents; in the present instance the political class.  He is Anna- the big brother and it is ‘My way or Highway” for others!

Anna does not believe in democracy or elections.  It is no wonder that he and his Team have ridiculed the suggestions of fighting election, winning them and then changing the systems/ laws.  He says the need of the hour is to ‘select and not elect’ people (at least for the Village Panchayats).  When Kejriwal says that they are now masters and they do not want to become servants by winning elections, he is in agreement with philosophy of Anna but in complete disagreement with the system based on representational democracy. Being servants is left to the lowly politicians!  This Team is drunk on the power of popular acceptance that is without any accountability!

The authoritarian streak is quite evident in this Gandhian.  While he has achieved economic success for his village, the villagers had to pay a price for that- he became their Anna.  He and his followers, according to reports, established a system in his village completely on authoritarian lines - prohibiting alcohol; tobacco; film music and contesting elections on a party platform.  Can’t you perceive traces of enforcing a Taliban like code of conduct here?!

Anna, unlike Gandhi, considers himself above questioning and reasoning.  What he says and what he thinks is only correct; it does not matter what others think or say.  This attitude which he successfully established in his village is sought to be now enforced over the entire country.  This applies even to allegations against himself.  Consider what original Gandhi would have done if an allegation was raised against him (or even against his followers).  Nothing of that sort for the Second Gandhi! Anna dismissed all the allegations of wrong doings against the Trusts under his control and his followers, with contempt. 

Finally unlike the original Gandhi, this Second Gandhi does not believe in introspecting and self correction.  He externalises the entire blame for corruption on to an outsider- the Government.  Probably is this the single most important trait that endears him to his constituency?

Even the participants of his fight against corruption are not willing to consider their own faults in the aspects of corruption. They readily justify their right to bribe and indulge in corrupt practices to the ‘compulsion’.  Even little difficulties like having to part with taxes, having to stop at a red signal, having to travel in an unreserved compartment of train, having to study in a college other than that of their first choice- these are all compulsions for these so called fighters against corruption.

During the build up to current agitation, Anna has not even once called upon his followers to stop bribing.  Never once he told them to stop indulging in corrupt practices. As someone tweeted, the fact that there is a banner at Ramlila Maidan , which says, ‘Chartered Accountants Against Corruption” is evident to the fact that for Anna and followers corruption is only something that is limited to an external agency called Government.  Otherwise, if all Chartered Accountants decide not to cover up any acts of corruption but to promptly report them in their audit reports, wouldn’t corruption be reduced to a great extent, in the corporate world at least? Instead, they will pass the buck to the Government!

Despite all its trappings, this Second Gandhi’s philosophy is closer to Fascism than Gandhism.  Gandhi and the cap in his name, just like the use of Bharat Mata pictures and Vande Mataram call, are only convenient accessories in the hands of Anna and his team.  Going by their acts and words, Anna or his Team are not people who believe or follow Gandhi or democracy.  Have Indian people forgotten, so soon, in whose company many of these worthies used to be till recently; until they found a better symbol and tool to weaken Indian democracy?!

Corruption needs to curbed.  It is the need of people like us who stayed back in India and tied our destiny to that of this country than the need of those people who are sitting on protest in Washington or London. Merely because some people do not support Anna that does not mean they are corrupt, anti-nationals or agents of ruling party. 

Unlike Anna and his Team, many people do realise that corruption is not a political but a social problem and that it cannot be removed without a change in the social mindset and sustained systemic reforms.  Anna who is against the liberalisation of the economy or his all powerful Lokpal are not the ones who will achieve that but only sustained reforms of administrative processes and removal of discretionary powers of the government functionaries.

Let me clarify that I am not against right to protest.  But I am against capitulation of democratic systems before any kind of blackmail (as Anna himself described his agitation).  We cannot accept laws that are not passed by the free will of our representatives but under some duress.

To conclude, let me quote Dr Ambedkar again, “Observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, “not to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions.”  This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country….. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship”. 


  1. Interesting; wonder if Hazare sees himself as Gandhi? Or whether all of his followers are really that simplistic?

    It is good to fear dictatorship, but perhaps not to the level that we start hearing jackboots every time people gather under banners.

    As for the "bhakti", that is certainly been a major problem in this "democracy", where even the smallest political functionary gets more respect than a regular citizen.

    I hope that part of your message reverberates!

  2. As always an interesting post..
    It was an eye opener of sorts..I consider Anna Hazare a very simple person with no political ambition and that may be sole reason of him garnering nationwide support..The protest led by him so far has been quite peaceful..Hope it remains so..which again I doubt..just cant predict the public out there..

    The fact that people are not realizing is that it is the sole privilege of Parliament to enact laws and Anna Hazare or the civil society cannot claim this right. But then Anna Hazare & Co say that they are only demanding their version of the Jan Lok Pal Bill be presented in the Parliament which again I find is Unconstitutional. I also agree that by threatening to fast unto death for this purpose is unacceptable. Team Anna has taught only three lines – “We want Jan Lokpal, we do not want sarkari lokpal and we are fighting against corruption” Hazare is a victim of immature people around him. Gandhiji was patient, tolerant and dignified in his speech..which unfortunately Team Anna lacks..

    Simply put, it is corruption we are “Fighting” for, rather against. Which means all Anna supporters believe corruption is something they never were a part of..but sure they were once upon a time unknowingly, but now want to eradicate it, from the system..Is everyone who are rallying around Annaji free of corruption..I doubt..They have for sure bribed their way out for regular little jobs they wanted to get done..and even if they did not bribe..did they necessarily raise their voice at that time ?

    In short ..We are very much a part of it knowingly or unknowingly..instead of rushing with a candle to participate in a march or rally to shout slogans and chanting anti corruption mantras, how about introspecting and reasoning with self as to WHY.. behind this blind following ?

    There are many out there (like Me, who is a part of a Government Institution and where corruption is quite rampant) who don’t believe in going out in the rallies but are quietly fighting to stay non corrupt by doing their own job sincerely and genuinely..

    Many of Annaji’s supporters say, he is not doing it for himself or for money but for the betterment of the country. That’s fine. But, before blindly joining a rally or rubbishing the corruption prone environment ..let us admit ..we are somehow unfortunately a part of it..
    So.. let us all first look within.. Let us all look at our own behavior and all that we have done or not done in getting a deal through (any job, paperwork etc) be it even for saving Rs.10 Rs.100 or Rs.1 Crore. Perhaps a lot more.
    “If we follow the traffic lights without failing to jump them even if we are in a hurry, there wouldn’t be an opportunity for the traffic cop to stop us for a penalty, and hence bribing him with a rs.50 note instead of paying the Rs.500 fine wont be an option”

    As you said Corruption is Social Problem..the Mindset of people needs to change for this menace to be eradicated permanently from our Country..

  3. This is really insightful, it also helps reflect as to how most of us succumb to polpular opnions & perceptions without adequate knowledge of relevant facts or comprehensive understanding of various perspectives.

  4. Goodness what is better then this article. I like the very way you have brought out the loopholes of the whole process. hope India will prosper along with writer like you.

    Hatzz off...

  5. what happend to you mr. anna, first check the corrupt people in your own group and then look at others. A mere law cannot eradicate corruption. corrruption is in peoples mind and heart. which law can remove corruption from peoples minds.

  6. He and his followers, according to reports, established a system in his village completely on authoritarian lines - prohibiting alcohol; tobacco; film music and contesting elections on a party platform. Can’t you perceive traces of enforcing a Taliban like code of conduct here?!
    Can i ask why & how ???? asking people leave BAD HABITS is a good deed !
    And as far as listening to OTHERS is concerned .. dont u think we all have different views .. Anna will go mad ....
    The system of taxation are such in the system that to sustain is difficult !
    Every one stood up ... I dont want to pay a bribe .... but my work gets delayed .. if i Dont Pay !
    The laws were made by representatives of the ppl from our society .. which is not working ... so now ? we have to stand up against the system which didnt work ....
    let me add here ANNA IS OUR VOICE .... By finding loopholes wh are doing something better .....will not lead us anywhere .. Govt will make fun and will truly not do to improve !