Monday, April 11, 2011

Talking about Anna Hazare, corruption, spirituality, religion, civil society, livelihoods, and democracy; Just how much snark is good for you?

Source: The Hindustan Times

Now that a 72 year old man is not fasting unto death, skeptics feel emboldened to snark at the spiritually slanted and RSS tinged anti-corruption protests initiated by those obnoxiously self righteous civil society types and embraced by those jingoistic roly-poly urban middle class couch potato types.  Other reports point out, through first person interviews, that for the poor, livelihood is a bigger fight than corruption

To the first view, I say, corruption is a bigger common fight than religious or spiritual grounding in this multi-cultural secular nation of ours.  At this point, this particular people's movement does not merit squabbles over tone and the type of public figures lending their support to the cause. 

To take on a duly elected government over a watchdog issue like this, one has to build genuine mass momentum through any and all means possible.  Do you know how difficult it is to create the ideal set of conditions to allow the maximum number of people to join a cause they already believe in?  If you believe in this cause, how can you object to timely endorsements from massively popular spiritual leaders?  Anna Hazare extended an open invitation to anyone and everyone who shared this value to join him in body and spirit at Jantar Mantar.  If we are serious about turning motivation and effort into results this time, how can we criticize the people who answered this call?  Don't forget, government only listens when it can hear you.

To the second view, I say, you've got the wrong goggles on.  How does one expect a 12 year old boy working at a juice shop a kilometre from Jantar Mantar to know anything more than his immediate world?  In India, the poor fight and lose the battle with corruption every day to eke out any sort of livelihood, whether they know it or not.  Everybody lives within the reality of the world with which we are presented.  What Anna Hazare is trying to do, is to change that reality for all of us.  Can't you just do me a favour, and let him do you this favour?

I submit, both of these views are too narrow to adequately capture more than a tentacle or two of the multi-headed multi-armed beast that sucks a billion bloodstreams.  There are many forces that divide us and very few that truly unite us.  If you've read my blog (or the last line of the previous paragraph), you know I love snark. And when it comes to civil society, I'm all for scrutiny and caution and even a certain amount of suspicion. But for the love of all that is constructive and hopeful, please, don't tear down a rare, delicate, national concurrence.  Not on corruption.  Not now.


Jaai said...

True, the existence of graver problems does not sanction corruption. If anything, it must make us feel ashamed. It's like saying, "This is nothing, look, there's more rubbish out there,"...but can you please clean up the mess you've created, while you can?

PunditCommentator said...

Exactly. Thanks for dropping by, Jaai. Feel free to wander around as long as you like.

Mohit Sharma said...

Hi PC,
read you article, it was good. But as you know we differ in our opinions. We have based our blog on the same article from Indian Express. But what you fail to see here is that timely endorsement by national spiritual leaders is not the fatal flaw of this thing. It just happens to be a thing that the writer (Mihir Sharma) abhors and see a devaluation of an already wrong cause. It's fatal flaw lies in the legitimacy of the means of fasting, and the absolutist nature of Jan Lokpal bill.

Mitostargazer :)

PunditCommentator said...

1) The same activists protested last year for the same issue at the same place. Nobody paid any attention. The only reason we all know about it this year is because (a) Anna Hazare fasted (b) Times Now took the lead in covering the protests non stop nation-wide.

2)The draft drawn up by the government is meaningless. The India Against Corruption activists never said their draft was the last word on the matter. Please see my post 'Anna Hazare skeptics miss the forest for the trees' for the full rebuttal of your statement.

Sumit Rai said...

I agree with you that any critique of this 'movement' can never be that there are more pressing problems. One problem does not taint support to another, more urgent or not.

I also agree with you that it must be commended that people actually got out of their usual slumber to protest against corruption. It was a heartening sight and gives India hope.

But beyond all this, your rejection of the critique is short-sighted. The most important and essential critique of this 'movement' is that its participants (probably except a handful) knew nothing about the consequence of the specific demand - an all powerful Jan Lokpal authority. It is one thing to say that we need to eradicate the deep rooted evil of corruption from all walks of life, but quite another to say that an extra-constitutional, all powerful, beyond reproach authority must be constituted for it.

It is one suggestion and full of many dangers. An argument that desperate measures are needed is not sufficient. To bell one cat, you can't let the other go crazy. I strongly suggest you read the latest two posts on to understand what really is at stake.

Forget the usual columnists and the political commentators - there is reason to doubt them and I support you on that. But if you read what I have suggested (which is written by a lawyer who has fought number of cases pro-bono for social good) you will see there are many very dangerous possibilities of a Lokpal in the manner it is being demanded. I trust you will understand that quick fixes, specially in a polity and that too as complex as ours, will never work.

The solution to corruption will have to be a painful, long, and sustained effort. Superhero prescriptions like the Lokpal would prove to be fatal.

PunditCommentator said...

Hi Sumit,

Thanks for dropping by. The point you raise was addressed in another article published here and at titled "Anna Hazare skeptics miss the forest for the trees; Deaf to the voice of the people" (April 8). Since that article was written, Anna Hazare has told the press his representatives on the committee will be "flexible" and are experienced in the courts on this issue. Again, it is not the India Against Corruption movement that does not want the committee proceedings to be televised.

I appreciate the concern you raise but I remain in support of the conceptual approach of the Janlokpal Bill (rather than the Lokpal Bill which puts in politicians in charge of hunting politicians as well as layers of decade wasting red tape). I have faith in the committee to hammer out a work-able version.

Lakshmi Rajan said...

Critics will continue to exists. Infact today I read a group of social activists condemning the composition of the bill panel and demanding representation for Dalits, minorities etc. Beat it! Who knows next corruption itself will be given shades of quota.

As per secularism in Indian political context. If you tend to have a Hindu leaning, you are communal else you are are secular.

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