As Dirty as Purity

Despite the vicious attack on him, Anna Hazare has disowned Prashant Bhushan on Kashmir, even while RSS and BJP have owned the Ramlila Ground show. Team Anna's partisan Hissar campaign against Congress directly helped BJP's Kuldeep Bishnoi and Ajay Chauthala, two multi-crorepati politicians charged with allegations of corruption and unethical politics. So why is the Anna team  reluctant to clearly and openly state its ideology and politics, instead of using tactical stances? What is their position on communal fascism and corporate fundamentalism?

Panini Anand Delhi

Hope does not float. Hope sells. Hope moves in a fragmented collective, as angst and aspiration, and as unrequited longing, in the infinite absence of hope, in the abstract idea of hope. In a country with most people poor, frustrated and demoralised, can abstract hope bring them together?

People's hope from ideology, dogma, sectarianism, greed for power, help run political institutions; others celebrate the miracle of rituals and religious practices and flock to temples, mosques and churches. Advertisements trigger subliminal longings, especially among those with excessive purchasing power; suddenly, multinational brands of shoes for foot care, Medanta-like 7 star hospitals for heart care (and Ramlila Ground's 'fast care'), and affluent skin clinics (to lose weight or grow hair) also become material symbols of aspirations and wish-fulfillments. In a consumer vacuum of insatiable greed and unfulfillment, consumption becomes a high.

At another realm, in the entrenched, hopeless structures of superstitions, illiteracy and bad faith, the crisis of enlightenment and the pain of physical ailments turn miscellaneous yoga gurus, sundry sadhus and glib-talking remedy sellers (from Ramdev to Khandaani Dawakhanas) into big business establishments. They run their empire of millions and rule the hearts of the millions. The number of devi jagrans, mata ki chaukis and satsangs has grown rapidly in jarring symphony with the mushrooming enterprises of healing, restlessness, and complications of being the fittest to survive.

In the case of Anna Hazare, having lost our sense of being in a rapidly failing democratic system, we pitched all our hopes on the mercy, goodwill and miracles of a media-manufactured demigod. If a holy bath during Kumbha Mela can bring more than 20 million Indians together to clean themselves in polluted and unhealthy waters, there is no reason to be surprised with a few thousands coming out in support of Hazare.

When a society starts believing that one man's miraculous powers or alleged sacrifice is going to repeat Jesus Christ's fish basket story, then there is something uncanny happening in the social and political unconscious. That is why, the quantity of support and airtime of media coverage can't always guarantee that it is indeed a 'real' or 'authentic' mass movement, with great understanding, clarity and commitment towards people's aspirations and the complexities of democracy.

Witness the mass support to the anti-Mandal movement, including the casteist, almost racist Youth for Equality's anti-reservation campaign, and to the Ram Mandir movement. They moved in their own vicious circles, captured compromised media spaces, peaked momentarily, and yet, only created negative currents. Besides, they did not capture radical, mass consciousness across all spectrums of the socially engineered divide, nor did they initiate socially transformative shifts in politics or social values.

Indeed, in terms of political clarity, movements outside the meto-centric or television gaze have more inner resilience, stoic silences, clarity, vision and staying power. From the anti-nuke struggles at Kudankulam to Jaitapur, to the relentless struggles against land acquisition, against POSCO and Vedanta, as earlier in Nandigram and Singur, or now in Uttar Pradesh, these are more relevant micro-illustrations of the struggle for freedom in the margins.

So how does this whole business around 'hope hypnotism' work in a premature capitalist set-up, still surrounded by huge, broken patches of the absence of hope?

Contemporary India floating on corruption of the super-rich, mass hunger and organised disparity – this is the kind of chaotic, anchorless scenario that provides market forces the most fertile condition to push an agenda and achieve their sinister goals. It is deceptive, but much of it is layered and unseen: business and ad campaigns, social welfare and corporate responsibility initiatives, cricket matches, sponsorships to college concerts, local fashion shows, Durga puja pandaals, music shows, spiritual dos of high-profile pupils of prosperous babas, non-stop discourse on religious channels, all kinds of dubious gurus claiming divinity and magical powers, even langars outside the caves of some magical mountain. They work on our collective crisis relentlessly, feeding us with seductive images, pumping our adrenalin, manipulating our ideas, thoughts and inner spaces.

For instance, from day one, several babas, soul fathers and maulanas have been part of the India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign. No one has ever asked how they make their millions, acquire vast real estate, and build huge empires of spirituality and miscellaneous healing products? So, even if politicians are corrupt or criminalised, how can millionaire 'spiritual' mafias replace grassroots political activists rooted with the rootedness of everyday sufferings and struggles?

Team Anna announced that they are apolitical, that they are not with any political party. They refused to share the space with any political front, including overground Naxalites. They claimed they didn't pay people to come and support. They didn't arrange buses or trucks to bring in the crowd (that was what the VHP was doing). Even if we accept this, it's impossible to believe that people coming in support were sanitised and apolitical. People have their politics; they are voters, participants, opinion-makers. They make their own minds – for or against the political options existing today. They have alliances, links, collectivities, sympathies, loyalties. Yes, they also have spontaneities, individual choices, freedom to be on their own.

In such cases, symbols are important in building opinion. When, from the 24/7 stage of IAC, you blow slogans like Bharat mata ki jai and Vande Mataram, across TV screens, it is difficult not to relate the political similarity between these and established Hindutva slogans; this is because these are the very slogans that have been used by BJP and RSS aggressively and frequently over the years. Also, because the RSS and its fronts, including the ABVP, had penetrated Hazare's and Ramdev's movement decisively, as VHP leader Ashok Singhal claimed. Remember the VHP slogan, Bharat mein yadi rehna hai, to vande mataram kehna hoga (To live in India, you must say Vande Mataram ) – clearly targeted at the Sangh Parivar's eternal Internal Enemy Number One – Indian Muslims.

Indeed, now that the second part of this campaign is over, my biggest concern is related to the lessons other mass movements in this country have learnt from this campaign. The clear message is to focus on how to co-opt and get co-opted by the monster of a TV media, and social networking sites and mobile companies, while lobbying with corporate-run media houses, event managers, media personalities, PR guys. This would compensate for the hard, protracted struggles to connect with the masses, grassroots resistance or real victims. Bring some celebrities on stage, even third-rate TV stars, elevate symbols like Gandhi and the tricolour, use mobile companies for mass sms and missed calls, fix the tactical show, plus prime-time shouting brigade shows, let the crews crawl in, set up the cranes and cameras, use wide angles, create big crowds when they are small, create bigger crowds when they are big, put six on-the-spot images from various cities on one screen, juxtapose and enlarge, turn five into five hundred, set up a high profile media centre and keep twitting updates for the TV tickers and social networking sites. It's a win-win shalalala... scenario.

Despite differences and contradictions, and the RSS-VHP-ABVP hold on the movement and inside the IAC, many activists and leaders went in support of this campaign to find their faces on TV screens and to fit in the footage of this 15-minutes of fame coverage. Many were denied entry to the stage, others were forcibly pushed out, individually humiliated and publicly degraded. In justification, many of them said that if "we leave the stage free for the fascists, they will hijack the entire show".

This too was a stage for the blurring of all contradictions and the end of ideology.

There is strong possibility of a new, novel trend – Anna's umbrella for all kinds of seasons. The presence of Team Anna will be taken as confirmation of big media coverage – this again can force genuine grassroots (and invisible) campaigns to focus more on media propaganda than the steadfast support and involvement of people on the ground, in the face of relentless police repression. And look at the way the government responded and surrendered in front of this campaign. Compare this with the repressive state apparatus dealing with all kinds of protracted non-violent and other movements in this country.

This IAC movement shows that the government will respond only to those who have that much publicity. In that case, other people's movements might be pushed into a situation where they will have no option other than bowing their heads in front of some Hazare or Kejriwal or Kiran Bedi, who are now experts in media management and TV grandstanding. This is Team Anna's symbolic message to other campaigns – only we can do it and you can't do this without us. Besides, Hazare and most of his team have been abjectly silent on all people's movements in the last two decades plus, from Plachimada to Kalinganagar to Jaitapur. Why? What is Hazare's politics?

This subversion will directly impact those who are fighting on the ground. This might have disastrous consequences, especially if vested interests – big lobbies including the media, corporates or the RSS – want to break, diffuse, co-opt or ravage a movement. All governments, then, will be happy. Three cheers for the second freedom struggle of neoliberal economic reforms!

So why is IAC reluctant to clearly state its ideology and politics, instead of using neutral and abstract issues? Why don't they make it clear as to what they believe in, their positions on multiple issues, including communal fascism and corporate fundamentalism? What are the ideologies they don't agree with and oppose? Is this not tactical opportunism? They are out to confuse the people. It does not matter what the nature of support is, as long as it booms on big wide angle television.

A movement with confused politics, values and ideology can't control the dangerous outcome of this free-for-all mela. Team Anna has no political responsibility, no defined ideology or political frame, no accountability, no sense of history; they threaten everybody, but don't do an iota of self-criticism. They pump their chests, but have little humility to accept the nature of their own movement. And on what ground can they claim absolute purity for themselves?

Besides, what's the big deal about absolute purity?

In conclusion, let me quote the website of Ford Foundation which has been funding Kejriwal's associated NGO over the years. (Ford Foundation is an American agency allegedly backed by the CIA to fund organisations worldwide, reportedly for executing the US agenda.) According to the website, Kabir, a key NGO behind the campaign led by Kejriwal and his associates, was given US$200,000 (this, only for year 2011) for the initiative, "promoting transparent, effective and accountable government". The required primary approach is "Network Building and Convening".

Indeed, if the US is funding efforts to make the Indian government transparent and accountable (with middle/upper class and corporate backing), I, like any thinking, responsible, progressive citizen, will be totally against this 'second struggle for Independence'. Indeed, if nothing, this smacks of another kind of World Bank/IMF colonialism. 

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