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The Naysayers of Anna Hazare – Are they right?

As the protests grow and massive momentum builds among people of India, whether they live in large or small cities here, or whether they live in cities around the world, criticism for Anna Hazare also mounts (though not quite at the same pace or scope).

Here the common themes of the naysayers –

1.Anna is subverting the democratic process by insisting on his version of the Lokpal be passed.

2.Anna’s version of the Lokpal is seriously flawed. It is too complex. It will create a parallel bureaucracy.

3.Every time a citizen has a complaint, he can’t just fast and hold the government hostage.  This is blackmail.

4.The people who are supporters of Anna Hazare really don’t understand or know the details of Jan Lokpal. This is blind trust.

5.Team Anna is being stubborn and are not willing to compromise. It’s their way or the highway.

Let me try to address these points based on what Team Anna has been saying, combined with some of my own reading (& opinion!) on the topic.

1.Anna is subverting the democratic process by insisting on his version of the Lokpal be passed.

This comment has come from several quarters – many bureaucrats, babus and politicians especially. In April, when Anna held his first fast, he wanted to work with the government to create a strong Lokpal bill. After first refusing to consider this, the government capitulated to create a Joint Committee to work on such a bill. This was only after they saw the massive citizen support that Anna received. Anna stopped his fast, deceived into believing in the sincerity of Government.

Unfortunately, what happened in the joint committee was a sham and what came out is nothing short of a joke.  Anna is not about to be taken for a fool a second time around. This time, merely the government “giving their word” that they will listen and take serious action is just not going to be enough. Team Anna will be insistent on strong and unbreakable assurances. The government created this situation of distrust. Team Anna truly were left feeling tricked and used. Can anyone blame Anna?

2.Anna’s version of the Lokpal is seriously flawed. It is too complex. It will create a parallel bureaucracy.

According to Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, the Jan Lokpal bill has been created and evolved over several months. The process has been transparent and over 3000 suggestions received on their website have been reviewed and incorporated. Everything is relative so at this time, just compare Jan Lokpal to the government’s Lokpal bill.  Even if it is flawed, it incorporates policies and procedures that will make it hugely more effective than the joke that the other side has put forth. Likely, it does have flaws, but nothing says that these cannot be debated and worked out over time. The trick is getting an honest platform to do so.

3.Every time a citizen has a complaint, he can’t just fast and hold the government hostage.  This is blackmail.

Actually, every citizen of a democracy (not just India but any democracy) has a right to express his or her opinion, and has a right to fast, if that is the way he chooses to protest.  In fasting, he is not harming any body else. India has had a history of people fasting for various reasons (including religious ones). Gandhi engaged in several famous hunger strikes to protest British rule of India. Fasting was a non-violent way of communicating the message and sometimes dramatically achieve the reason for the protest. This was keeping with the rules of Satyagraha.

Here is what has the government running scared. It is not that Anna Hazare is fasting. It is the sheer scale of support that he has received across the board – from people of all ages, all religions, all political parties and all walks of life. This support is what is holding the government hostage.

4.The people who are supporters of Anna Hazare really don’t understand or know the details of Jan Lokpal. This is blind trust.

This begs the question of whether everyone who lived through India’s independence movement really knew all the strategies and tactics used by the leaders – Gandhi and others around the country. Absolutely not.  But they believed and they followed. What was it that they believed and followed?  It was the leaders themselves who had selflessly demonstrated their conviction for right. They had not done this overnight; in fact, their credibility was built over many years of service and results.

Today, people have heard a clarion call to end corruption. It touches every one in some way or the other. Many are not just “blindly” following these new leaders. On the other hand, Anna Hazare and his lieutenants, all of them being luminaries who have demonstrated in various ways – through thought, word and action their honesty, fervor and service to people of India – have thus gained their inherent trust.

5.Team Anna is being stubborn and are not willing to compromise. It’s their way or the highway.

This is in many ways related to the first point above. By actions that the government took since April, they have instilled great mistrust within Team Anna. Therefore, there is wariness about trusting anything they say now. Any assurances given by them now have to deep, sincere and truly believable.

Until then, it is unlikely that Anna Hazare will budge. Now, he has the strength of the masses behind him as well. So, why should he compromise? Especially when he feels so strongly that this country needs an effective and actionable Lokpal bill to truly end the scourge of corruption in India.

TRUST – The Missing Piece of the Puzzle?

It’s really not clear what actions the Government will take to end this impasse. Now, rallies are being organized around the world. Today, I saw videos of people gathering in support of this movement by Indians in Canada, U.S., U.K, Australia and Germany. The movement only seems to be expanding further afield than even Anna imagined. Meanwhile, the Government is undoubtedly wishing that it would wane.

What is needed now, before anything else can be accomplished, is the establishment of trust between the two parties, possibly through a strong mediator who Anna (i.e. the people) have the utmost confidence and faith in. Once the impasse is broken, only then will it be possible for any remaining issues in Jan Lokpal to be worked and appropriate laws be passed.

Until that time, I’m afraid, the Government will look by turns, arrogant and weak, while the Anna Hazare team has a fast growing people’s movement and momentum behind it that is becoming more robust and intense by the hour. In one word, formidable.

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P.S. I just realized something. The title of the post is “The Naysayers of Anna Hazare – Are they right?“.  Although I pontificated above, I see that I have not directly answered this (non-rhetorical) question that I posed.  So, here is my answer.  The simple answer is no.  And it’s really almost more important to understand what is behind these critical statements to get to the crux of the matter. 

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Cartoons; Source: India Against Corruption Facebook Page

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Karnataka: The Unprecedented Descent

India Map Highlighting Southern State of Karnataka

What happened to Karnataka?

I have ties that go way back in Bangalore and Karnataka.  Way back, when visitors would delight in the beauty of this Southern capital city, its perfect moderate climate, expansive greens and gardens, the well laid out infrastructure and the peace and quiet.

So.  What happened?

Aerial View of Bangalore

Bangalore is being described as a dystopia. That means exactly what it sounds like, an “anti-utopia” or as far removed from utopia as you can get.  And the state of Karnataka is characterized as one of, if not, the most corrupt state in the nation. Unbelievable! How could it go from that extreme to this one?  What happened to being the rising star of India? The Silicon Valley, home of Infosys and a whole range of multi-national technology brands?

Typical Rush Hour in Today's Overcrowded Bangalore City

Explosion and Corruption

It exploded. It went out of control. And it became utterly corrupt. So sad to see!  And so sad for the people who live there to have to live through this devolution. Yes, like dystopia, this is the opposite of evolution.  One meaning of this word is “descent or degeneration to a lower or worse state”. What an appropriate meaning yet sad state of affairs for Karnataka.

How could a city and state that showed such promise and potential descend into these depths? That is the shame of the state, and if this happened to a one-time rising star of the country, the shame is shared by the entire nation. We want and need to see transformations that go in the opposite direction! [See why Bihar is worth celebrating in this respect. Yes, I said Bihar.]

1868 photograph of Bellary Fort

As I read the newspapers sitting here in Mumbai, the headlines this week are all about Karnataka and the current chief minister, commonly referred to as Yeddy. He has been asked to step down and leave by the party for illegal activities and corruption. So by the time this post is published, he should have departed.  But not until after robbing the state bare – it’s treasury and the environment.

Bellary is the location in the state which has been ravaged for it’s iron ore in the mining scandal, leaving the earth and environment massively damaged. Indicted in the special report are the Reddy brothers who I first read about in the NY Times, of all places. Three brothers who have helped loot the state and the environment, not to mention becoming political power brokers (and giving all Reddys a bad name, to boot!) with two of the three continuing on as Ministers of the state!

And then, here’s the ‘funny’ part, there’s no shame or remorse exhibited by the people who have committed these transgressions. The independent investigation that was conducted alleges that $4 billion was looted from the state over a few years. None of the politicians are denying it.  Instead they are pointing to the previous government and saying, “they did it, why shouldn’t we?”.  Sick.

What is Politics After All?

Politics is simply a business in India today. Except it’s even better than successful private industry. It is a business where you can thrive and prosper in power, and where your return on investment is sky high. And one where the moral guide of the typical Indian politician is at an all time low.  I hate to contemplate that it can perhaps sink to even lower depths.

And that’s the sad other side of the story of India Rising.

And Now for The Light At The End of The Tunnel  

As we look at this situation in dismay, thankfully it’s not all darkness. The fact that there was an independent and thorough investigation conducted – against all odds – by Santhosh Hegde, heading up Karnataka’s Lokayukta, an anti-corruption ombudsman in the states. The fact that such a body even exists!  These are things to cheer about. The fact that his report actually brought down the Chief Minister is indeed a victory for all citizens of India.

If Karnataka, no if India, is to turn itself around, then this kind of close oversight (with the right leadership!) is indeed what is critically needed for the country to really shine and move forward (Lokpal anyone?).

Across the nation, from the capital down to the states and cities and smaller government bodies, corruption needs to be viewed by citizens as simply unacceptable.  I know.; we have a long way to go. Imagine if politicians served the citizens as they were elected to do, and we elected only those whose mission was to serve. It’s easier said than done. And it will undoubtedly be a slow, lengthy and complicated process spanning many years, but hasn’t everyone had enough already of the alternative? When is enough really enough?

Until that time, India Rising and India Shining are but hollow fairy tales we can keep telling ourselves and others. They may fool us all for awhile, but alas, not for very long.

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India Map with Karnataka: CC-by-sa PlaneMad/Wikipedia

Aerial view Photo By Amol.Gaitonde 

Rush Hour Photo By Bhonsley

Tunnel: By Stephen Sweeney 

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