‘Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata are not merely innocent patriotic symbolisms, they are deeply identified with the RSS,’ says Anand Teltumbde. An eminent academic, writer, political analyst and civil rights activist, Teltumbde is a management practitioner based in Mumbai. He has authored many analytical books on Left and Dalit movements, including the acclaimed Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop. In this incisive interview, he critically dissects and analyses the Anna Hazare phenomena. In conversation with Hardnews
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
- What is your assessment of the structure, leadership, tone, tenor and ideology of this particular Jan Lokpal movement led by Anna Hazare?
As it appears ‘India against Corruption’, which calls itself a peoples’ movement and which is generously supported by many corporates, is behind this Jan Lokpal movement. As such, it appears quite amorphous and even spontaneous peoples’ movement. But it may not be truly so. The thousands of people that are seen collected at Azad Maidan in Mumbai and such other places in other cities and towns inIndia, and of course, many more in Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, are surely not individuals who all came there on their own. Many have been a part of certain organisations. At least in Mumbai, I have found people who are well known as associates of the Sangh Parivar being involved in the mobilisation of people. This hypothesis gets strengthened by the overall complexion of the movement and the manner in which it is being run. Its slogans, its demeanor, its attitude, its tone and tenor unmistakably reflect the imprint of the Sangh Parivar. Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata are not merely innocent patriotic symbolisms, they are deeply identified with the RSS. Ideologically, the movement reflects a streak of fascism, which, again, is associated with the RSS. There is no doubt that RSS’s pedigree is fascist; their praise for Hitler and Mussolini is too well-known to be forgotten.
Anna Hazare is not the RSS person, as he calls himself a Gandhian. But he also instinctively conducts himself in a dictatorial fashion albeit for the cause that he believes to be virtuous. But then, Hitler and Mussolini also believed in the virtuosity of their ideologies and the cause they espoused. People, who are not carried away by the rhetoric of this movement, are embarrassed by the undemocratic language he so casually uses. ‘Lao, nahi to jao’ is his recent slogan, which means the government has to bring the Jan Lokpal, and that too by the specified date as per his draft or else collapse.
- What is your assessment of the Anna Hazare phenomenon first in Maharashtra and now in Delhi?
Anna Hazare came to limelight in Maharashtra by transforming his village, Ralegaon Siddhi, into an ‘ideal’ village as acknowledged by the State. He had launched the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan (BVJA) (People’s Movement against Corruption), a popular movement to fight against corruption in Ralegaon Siddhi in 1991, which led to the transfer and suspension of 40 forest officials. He carried on his struggles against corruption thereafter against ministers and went to jail a couple of times in connection therewith.
He was generally accused of taking on powerful people in Maharashtra so as to seek publicity. People in general did not take him seriously until recently and beyond western Maharashtra he was barely known. It is significant that most of the time BJP and Shiv Sena came in his support. In 2003, he went on an indefinite fast against NCP ministers and compelled the government to appoint a one man commission headed by retired justice PB Sawant to probe the charges. Sawant Commission report indicted many powerful ministers but also observed irregularities in the working of three trusts headed by Anna. One of the charges was spending huge money for his birthday celebration. Abhay Firodia, an industrialist, subsequently donated Rs 2,48,000. Thus, he has been doing good work as a social activist in the state but did not reach the stature even in the state; he has been suddenly catapulted by the Jan Lokpal movement.
What clicks with Anna Hazare is his apparent simplicity, rootedness in the familiar Hindu tradition and the penchant for nationalist rhetoric. The manner in which he has taken up the issue of corruption sans its complexity gels well with the large population of urban upper-caste middle class, which, variously, grudge the government not being conducive enough to their progress. They generally attribute it to the present political system and political class, which is seen appeasing the underclass to get their votes. Neither do they want to see that it is the private corporate sector that feeds them money, nor do they see that the seeds of even political corruption lie within the peculiar electoral system that we have. It has failed to represent the people, who are accused of being pampered. It rather represents the moneybags that sustain the system.
Anna Hazare’s simplistic rhetoric psychologically satisfies these classes and does not demand harsher analyses or actions on their part. Of course, it is not to be taken barely in such causal sense. The political establishment also has been tacitly supporting the phenomenon as it helped it distract public attention from the concrete cases of corruption that were getting exposed on its eve, to the bill-making parley as panacea.The government against which it appears to be arraigned, appears to have a big game plan in its apparent series of foolish actions. It needs deeper disdain among people for the political class so as to drive its neoliberal reforms more intensely. BJP, through its Sangh Parivar, is actively helping it with the hope of destabilising the government.
- Why is the corporate media supporting this movement 24x7 even while it compulsively ignores many peoples' movements of the poorest on the ground?
Actually, apart from being an important vehicle for the agenda of global capital, the business model of the media seeks TRPs. It is always on the look out for what clicks with its target audience, which is the expanding middle class which typically comprises English educated, upper-caste, upwardly mobile people, and within that the fastest growing younger segment. I call this class as a neoliberal class as they do share free market ideology of neoliberals and take pride inIndia’s emergence as an economic powerhouse. For too long they were ashamed because of the persisting backwardness ofIndiawith its humiliating ‘Hindu rate of growth’. They saw everything Indian, including India’s customs and traditions, culture, apologetically. But the economic boom of recent years, duly supported by the emergence of a professional class of Indian Americans, particularly in the field of IT, has restored this confidence with some vengeance. This class imagines India to be a superpower and views corruption along with a few other issues (such as reservations/ lack of meritocracy, appeasement of minorities, subsidies in favour of the poor) as the biggest hurdle in the realisation of this dream.
All these evils are moreover associated with the government, its main prop, politicians, who, for the sake of winning elections, keep on doling out largesse to the ‘undeserving’ underclass. One has to smell their disdain for the lower strata of the society, which, constituting numbers, vote for politicians to power. This is the class, the media is after. It chooses their issues, upholds them, and attracts them. It sets in a virtuous cycle the Hazare episode started. All news channels have been full time projecting this agitation with all superlatives at their command. In one way, it is an excellent example of how the modern media can make or unmake movements. There have been thousands of movements, far more important than perhaps this one, which go unnoticed because the media simply ignores them.
In contrast, one may cite the example of Irom Sharmila, the Manipur lady who has been on fast for more than 10 years demanding the repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). But it is barely known to people because of media ignorance of it. That the media is nakedly class-biased is an axiom today. It projects itself as supporting the anti-corruption struggle, but is itself a conduit of corruption. The corporate sector, media, which is essentially a part of it, and NGOs, which are the special vehicles of neoliberalism, are the veritable sources of the current phenomenon of corruption, but skillfully escape the attention of people.
- Do you think this anti-corruption movement has struck any chord with the margins, especially, Dalits, Bahujans and the poorest? If not, why?
I guess the margins are untouched by it. Even after huge publicity, you will scarcely find poor peoples’ representation in those crowds. Rather, Dalits have taken this movement as anti-constitutional. On all the e-mail groups of Dalits, there is strong criticism of this movement -- that it wants to undermine parliamentary democracy and the Constitution given by Babasaheb Ambedkar. As the Hindutva influence on it and the antecedents of the key people started surfacing, they are convinced that the movement is anti-Dalit. Arvind Kejriwal, for instance, was said to be the leading figure of the Youth for Equality, the upper caste anti-reservation movement. Hazare, as the feudal chieftain of Ralegaon Siddhi, who is propelled by the traditional Hindu ethos, wanted Dalits of his village as mere service providers.
Dalits, therefore, see it as an anti-Dalit movement. They have even organised a procession against it in Delhi on August 24 at India Gate (4pm).This is a significant development. Because, Dalits are the only class that has the capacity to effectively prevent the neoliberal march of the upper caste inIndia.
So is the case with Adivasis, majority of which anyway are caught between the life and death battle between the Maoists and the security forces, unleashed by the government. They do not see the legalistic solutions to their problems any more. Even Muslims have kept aloof from the movement, not because of the call of the likes of Imam Bukhari, but because they see through the true character of the movement as irrelevant to their woes.
- Do you think the Jan Lokpal is any solution to the structural inequalities, injustices and tragedies of our country? Will the system change in any manner? Is it at all socially transformative?
This movement claims to be against corruption, but, surprisingly, it does not reflect remotely the understanding of what corruption is; neither does it care to know its source, to curb it. Corruption, basically, is the byproduct of power asymmetry in society and, in that sense, Indian society becomes an ideal prototype for it because of its unique institution of caste. It is therefore that India figures among the most corrupt countries.
I guess it is still an understatement because the African countries that appear more corrupt are actually driven into corruption by the Indians there. This structural feature of the Indian society is at the root of corruption. Anna’s movement is blissfully oblivious of it, or rather deliberately overlooks it. Even if corruption is taken in a legalistic sense, as financial irregularity or bribe, that also needs to be identified with the neoliberal economic structure, that is, accelerating enrichment of the rich and impoverishment of the poor. Anna’s movement does not speak about it.
The scam-a-day type incidence of corruption that is behind the Anna Hazare’s movement is a gift of neoliberalism. It is a undisputed fact that corruption has increased during the era of globalisation. A study by Global Financial Integrity, titled ‘Drivers and Dynamics of Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) from India: 1948-2008’ by economist Dev Kar, estimated the illicit financial flows fromIndiaduring the 61 year period at $462 billion. As much as 68 per cent of this aggregate IFF is attributed to the post-reform period of just 18 years. The post-reform size of the underground economy has increased on an average to 42.8 per cent of the GDP as against 27.4 per cent in the pre-reform period and the compound annual rate of growth of illicit flows which stood at 9.1 per cent during the pre-reform period shot up to 16.4 per cent during the post-reform years. But, there is not even a feeble mention of this structure that begets galloping corruption. On the contrary, the entire movement could be seen as helping the neoliberal agenda by spreading contempt for the democratic governance system, howsoever faulty it may have been.
I would add one more thing: this movement for locating a Lokpal needs to be conceptually located within the ‘regulator’ framework of the IMF/ World Bank to take care of market delinquencies.Thus, it just does not relate even remotely with the structural or systemic aspects of corruption.
I do not see it addressing even the superficial aspects of corruption. Because it is intrinsically impracticable. How can an eleven-member team be imagined to be doing surveillance, investigation, conviction of the gigantic bureaucracy and equally pervasive political class? More dangerously, it would create a parallel oligarchy which is not accountable to anyone. It is almost sure that some such Lokpal will be installed soon in the country, but it will be just another institution, which will not scratch anything but perhaps add to the harassment of poor people, whom it purports to protect.
- You had earlier told Hardnews that Anna Hazare operates like a feudal lord? Can you please elaborate?
I am sorry if I used that epithet but lord may be a wrong word. I would call him a feudal chief, like what exists in African society where such a figure maintains tribal customs and traditions with a self-righteous attitude -- at times enforcing with force. The chief’s writ is not violated by tribesmen. The vision, with which Anna Hazare brought about the transformation of his village Ralegaon Siddhi, actually fits into the traditional Hindu mould, with a military command structure, with him at the helm. Obedience of the followers is the key word. The village had a significant number of people with army background, which came handy for him to operate that way. (Anna was a truck driver in the army.) Not only did it not have any democratic content, there was public contempt for the institution of party politics. There has not been any election in Ralegaon Siddhi for the last 24 years.
Many strange things took place in the village, like banning of sale of bidis in the shop and playing music other than bhakti songs, punishment for drinking alcohol -- and all such things have taken place with the acquiescence of people. However, the language of acquiescence can be highly brahminical and hegemonic. Everything is inspired by traditional brahminical values. His explanation of the virtues of vegetarianism, and why Dalits are treated as untouchables, smacks of the typical Hindu philosophy.
Dalits are generally accommodated in village, but the village ethos, ordained by Hinduism, expects them to meekly provide service to the village. Their condition has not much changed. Notion of Dalits being ‘dirty’ still prevails and the broader values and codes assigned by the Hindu traditions are never challenged. In sum, all that is flaunted as development in Ralegaon Siddhi village is basically in the mould of Hindu idealism which did not leave much scope for people, particularly of the lower castes, to actually participate.