‘Who gave these five people the mandate?’

Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
 
Ashok Choudhary is a humble but key ideologue and senior activist of the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW), which has waged innumerable struggles, often successfully, for the rights of indigenous people on the margins of India. The protracted and hard struggles have faced State repression and brutal attacks, imprisonment of people, and deprivations. And yet, they have often found victories around the poorest people’s fundamental rights to their resources, habitat, forests, livelihood, land and basic freedoms. ‘Ashokda’, as he is fondly called, has worked for several decades in the forests, towns and villages of India, among the poorest, especially around the Rajaji National Park with Gujjar weavers’ cooperatives, among other creative and radical political campaigns. He is widely respected and immensely popular across the trade union and people’s movements in India. Excerpts from an interview with Hardnews:
 
How do you see this campaign against corruption by the Anna Hazare group?
I personally don’t give it much importance. Corruption is an expression of the crisis capitalism is facing in this country. So they are talking of eradicating corruption and making corrections in the present system. For the middle class, corruption is an issue. There are sections within this class who are also partners in corruption. Also, there are apprehensions that this might lead to destabilisation and anarchism. Anna’s campaign, rather, I should say, Arvind Kejriwal’s campaign, is about correcting the system for this small constituency. For the vast masses of landless poor, the tribals, this Lokpal won’t be able to end corruption. These so called reforms won’t affect 80 per cent people of this country. 
 
The Indian State has put aside the constitutional responsibility of a Welfare State. The basic problem in this country is the conflict between the State and the people, and not what television channels show. Anna’s campaign is a design to undermine the main questions. These people want to separate the middle class from the common masses. Earlier, the middle class used to come out and speak on issues concerning common people like communalism etc. They used to be anti-communal. Now they even come out in praise of people like Narendra Modi. I think, this is a way to lend credibility to the system. 
 
What about the civil society the Anna group claims to represent...
I don’t understand how they are using this terminology. Who gave these five people the mandate? Actually, most of them are civil servants or similarly involved. Kejriwal is a former revenue service officer, Kiran Bedi is from the police service, Shanti Bhushan is a former law minister. And Swami Agnivesh, I don’t know what he is actually. He had even come out and issued a statement praising the nuclear tests by the BJP government earlier. Only Prashant Bhushan is someone who has been close to the movements, and that too in his capacity as a lawyer. Their constituency is different, our constituency is different. 
 
And the way the media splashed it...
Those days there were no other stories. The monsoon session had just ended, so the media gave it prominence. Then, the people predicted that it would end a day before the IPL commences. And that is what actually happened. 
 
What do you say of Anna Hazare’s absence from other movements?
I want to know if these people have the guts to take on the State and get into bigger struggles like the ones against land acquisition. Moreover, even on other issues his stand is not clear. First, he praised Narendra Modi and then, when Mallika Sarabhai raised objections, he went back on his statement. He did not criticise the riots and other atrocities in his home state Maharashtra. Rather, he went on and praised Rightwingers like Raj Thackeray when they were spewing venom against the 
migrant population. 
 
In the manner people from other movements supported Anna’s campaign initially, do you see it as a sort of crisis? 
The national movement is in a crisis. Now, there is a hunger for publicity. Also, there is insecurity. That is why they are with it, but criticising it as well. Lately, the role of leaders has decreased. Everywhere, the people have taken the fight in their own hands. Be it Singur or Nandigram. That is why the leaders are seeing political space in Anna’s campaign, not in their own constituency. Some are even correcting their stance, like the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM).

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2011

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