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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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24 hours in a Democracy: A Comedy of Errors

A Ten Act Play Spanning ~24 hours

Prologue

Anna Hazare announces an indefinite fast to begin on August 16, 2011 in order to convince the Government to strengthen their weak Lokpal bill and really fight rampant corruption in this country.

Act I

August 16, 7:30 am – The Government of India, in the guise of Delhi Police, swoop in and arrest Anna before he ventures out for the fast. Anna’s message to the people: Jail is not going to stop this movement. You should protest, but do it peacefully, always.

Act II

August 16, mid-morning – Word spreads like wildfire about Anna’s arrest. 24×7 news channels, facebook, twitter are all super-active. People are enraged. People are engaged.

Act III

Early Afternoon: Meanwhile, Anna is moved from one secure location to another in the capital city of New Delhi. The impotent PM denies any involvement in what has transpired. Government leaders meet and strategize. They come up with a brilliant plan: Send Anna to Tihar Jail (where the most corrupt of corrupt politicians currently are held). Stupidity appears to prevail.

Act IV

India erupts!

Act V

7 p.m.:  The queen is currently ill and out of the country. But she has left the Prince in charge. The Prince meets with the PM and other Congress leaders. Virtuoso that he is, he says to them: This was a strategic mistake. Look at the support for Anna. Let’s release him from jail. (small print: with some conditions).

Act VI

Later that night: The benevolent government (in the guise of Delhi Police again) tells Anna in Tihar Jail that he is free to go (small print: with conditions on what, where and how he fasts).

Act VII

Anna listens patiently.  Then, he says: No, I am not leaving jail until I can leave unconditionally. When I leave jail, I am going straight to JP Park to continue my fast (which he started in jail).  Checkmate.

Act VIII

11 pm: Meanwhile, not just the country, but Indians around the world are chanting “Anna Hazare Zindabad”. The news channels are flashing headlines that say “Victory for Anna” and “Poeple for Anna”.  There are interviews upon interviews with “experts” representing various opinions. They include the ruling party; these people, caught with their pants down, sound like bumbling, clueless idiots. One expert gives some good advice: I think you people in Congress should stay out of public view until you have figured out what your message is.

Act IX

24 hours after Anna was arrested, he continues to be in jail, refusing to move or budge until he is freed unconditionally. Meanwhile, crowds outside Tihar Jail, across Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and even the smaller towns, in New York, New Jersey, London, Dubai…everywhere that Indians live, their voices are getting louder against the government and against corruption.

Act X

August 17, 12 noon: The Prime Minister of India announces the facts and justification of why arresting Anna was the right thing to do for the nation. Match this with the high emotion of people on the streets. Idiocy continues to prevail…

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The End  To Be Continued

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