Anna Hazare has done the most important thing: he has belled the cat. That is an accomplishment by itself when nobody has turned even a leaf to do that. The media reports all the fantastic loots of famous people. The political class keeps on doing what they have been doing all along, central ministers are giving each other good conduct certificates and the Prime Minister knows nothing about anything. And the intellectuals and activists air their views and comments and are satisfied with their two minute fame.
“Ordinary citizens” of the country are angry and upset but can hardly do anything. Our options are either watching TV or reading the newspapers with all the commentaries of intellectuals and activists, or joining the Maoists.
However narrow and confined and complicated it may be, Anna Hazare has created a space for the ordinary people to voice their disgust and dissent. There are serious problems with his campaign as Arundhati Roy has eloquently pointed out. We cannot afford to tie down the fate of this vast and complex country to the whims and fancies of one individual messiah as Prabhat Patnaik has convincingly argued. Gail Omvedt has rightly diagnosed the situation as people of India getting tired of democracy.
More importantly, Muslims and Dalits have expressed more serious concerns about the Anna campaign. As the Dalits do not want the Constitution, Parliament and bureaucracy to be shunned or weakened in any way, some Muslim leaders feel that they have not been consulted or included in the current campaign. All of the above are valid issues and concerns. And they need to be addressed openly, honestly and democratically.
Anna Hazare, the individual, who spearheads the campaign has been unacceptable for some. His experiment in his village Ralegana Sindi in Maharashtra has been labeled controversial by others. With all good reasons, it seems!
H. V. Seshadri, the then RSS general secretary, wrote a series of articles on Anna and his mission in the RSS mouthpiece *Organiser* in early 1987. In an article “The Village That Reminds Us of Ramarajya” (February 8, 1987), Seshadri described the various features of Ralegana Sindi and the different activities undertaken by the villages: total prohibition, abolition of untouchability, ban on smoking, conflict resolution by the village committee, and developmental activities such as setting up a school, digging community wells and so forth.
However, reconstruction of the village temple was the “very first project” as it was “the focal point of devotion for the entire village.”
In the next article “Ralegana Sindi: A Name for Social Metamorphosis” (February 15, 1987), Seshadri dwelt long on the importance of the village temple at the backdrop of the Ramjanmabhumi issue that was burning so powerfully at that time. Seshadri highlighted the need for a temple for a community’s identity, morality and organization. He recollected a story he had from Anna Hazare and it merits reproduction in full: “Some time back, an IAS officer who happened to visit the village questioned the propriety of spending such a large sum of Rs. 90,000 for the temple construction, instead of utilizing it for putting up more school buildings. Annasaheb did not reply, but took him to the fruit gardens laden with ripe fruits, adjoining the hostel. There was no fence, no locks, no guards and still not a single fruit was stolen. Annasaheb told the dumb-struck officer that mere schools cannot produce such moral uprightness. It was devotion to God and high values of life that could bring about that miracle.”
In a sequel dated March 1, 1987 with the title “A Karma Yogi in Action,” Seshadri pointed out that this village Ramarajya had two other important characteristics (that resembled the modern national project of the Hindutva forces). According to Seshadri, Anna Hazare told him: “There are Jains, Buddhists and other Hindus but no Muslims or Christians in our village.”
Similarly, the Ralegana Sindi had registered bodies for irrigation, educational development and other areas but “there are no elections for any of these bodies.” Even the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the village were “unanimously selected by the Grama Sabha.”
These testimonies do not help much to be excited about Anna Hazare, or his national Ramarajya project. Obviously, Ralegana Sindi model cannot and should not work at the all India level.
But the people of the country are facing a real problem: the deadly and vehement combination of corruption, communalism (and casteism), capitalism, and colonialism. The present ruling class supports and promotes all of these evils. And there is a dire need to foresee an alternative India here and now.
Anna’s stirring the hornet’s nest is good and a welcome effort. If we do not like one messiah, let us convene 100,000 messiahs and carry the task forward. Transparent, accountable and participatory leadership is crucial for this national reconstruction project. If we rightly shun messianic leadership, we should create a collective leadership.
The intellectuals and activists must go beyond getting their articles published in leading dailies and assume responsibilities in this revolution. And they together could thank Anna Hazare for belling the cat and take the operation from here.
Although Hazare calls himself a Gandhian and emphasizes the nonviolent nature of his campaign, he does refer to the ways of Satrapathi Shivaji and sends out a rather confused message to the people. Let the collective leadership take an unequivocal stand on nonviolence and lead the country towards a serious reformation.
Pushing us back into the hands of Parliamentarians like Manmohan Singh, Sharad Pawar, Raja, Suresh Kalmadi, Kanimozhi and their like will be a horrible and historic mistake.
S.P. Udayakumar, Ph.D.
S. P. Udayakumar is an anti-nuclear activist struggling against the Koodankulam nuclear power project.