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Messianism versus democracy

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ANNA HAZARE SUPPORTERS AT RAMLILA MAIDAN

PRABHAT PATNAIK in THE HINDU

The substitution of one man for the people, and the reduction of the people’s role merely to being supporters and cheerleaders for one man’s actions, is antithetical to democracy.

The Central government’s flip-flops on Anna Hazare are obvious: it went from abusing him (through the Congress spokesperson) for sheltering corruption, to extolling him for his idealism; from arresting him, without any justification, and getting him remanded to judicial custody for a week, to releasing him within a few hours. But the Anna group’s flip-flops are no less striking: it moves from “we-have-a-democratic-right-to-protest-and-place-our-views-in-public,” which is an unexceptionable proposition, to “Anna-will-keep-fasting-until-his-bill-is-adopted-or-amended-with-his-permission,” which amounts to holding a gun to the head of the Centre, and by implication of Parliament, and dictating that the bill it has produced must be passed, or else mayhem will follow. The government’s flip-flops are indicative of incompetence; the Anna group’s flip-flops arise because of the compulsions of a particular style of politics on which it is embarked, which can be called “messianism” and which is fundamentally anti-democratic. The fact that it is striking a chord among the people, if at all it is (one cannot entirely trust the media on this), should be a source of serious concern, for it underscores the pre-modernity of our society and the shallowness of the roots of our democracy.

Democracy essentially means a subject role for the people in shaping the affairs of society. They not only elect representatives periodically to the legislature, but intervene actively through protests, strikes, meetings, and demonstrations to convey their mood to the elected representatives. There being no single mood, freedom of expression ensures that different moods have a chance to be expressed, provided the manner of doing so takes the debate forward instead of foreclosing it. For all this to happen, people have to be properly informed. The role of public meetings where leaders explain issues, and of media reports, articles, and discussions, is to ensure that they are. The whole exercise is meant to promote the subject role of the people, and the leaders are facilitators. Even charismatic leaders do not substitute themselves for the people; they are charismatic because the people, in acquiring information to play their subject role, trust what they say.

Messianism substitutes the collective subject, the people, by an individual subject, the messiah. The people may participate in large numbers, and with great enthusiasm and support, in the activities undertaken by the messiah, as they are doing reportedly at Anna Hazare’s fast at the Ramlila grounds, but they do so as spectators. The action is of the messiah; the people are only enthusiastic and partisan supporters and cheerleaders. If at all they ever undertake any action on the side, this is entirely at the messiah’s bidding, its ethics, rationale and legitimacy never explained to them (no need is felt for doing so); whenever they march they march only in support of the messiah, not for specific demands that they have internalised and feel passionately about. When they gather at the Ramlila grounds, for instance, the occasion is not used to enlighten them, to bring home to them the nuances of the differences between the government’s Lokpal Bill and the Jan Lokpal Bill, so that they could act with discrimination and understanding. On the contrary, the idea is to whip up enthusiasm among them without enlightening them, through the use of meaningless hyperbole like “the government’s bill is meant not for theprevention but for the promotion of corruption”, and “Anna is India and India is Anna”. If the venue was one where discussions, debates, and informative speeches were taking place, the matter would be different, but those alas have no place in the political activity around messianism.

Informative speeches have been the traditional staple of political activity in India. Maulana Bhashani, a popular peasant leader in what is now Bangladesh, used to give marathon speeches that were interrupted when people went home for lunch or dinner, or even for a night’s rest, and resumed when they re-assembled afterwards; and the speeches contained much information about everything, not just politics but even crop-sowing practices and the best means of irrigation. A speech was virtually a set of classes; it had an educative role. I myself have heard election speeches in West Bengal by the inimitable Jyoti Basu, and also others. The speeches were based on solid homework, and conveyed information and argument to the audience. They also sought to rebut what was being said by the opponents, and hence carried forward a debate in public. Political activity of this kind assumed a subject role of the people and prepared them for it; it was quintessentially democratic. Messianic political activity does no such thing; it quintessentially creates a spectacle, not just for the audience but above all for the TV cameras upon whose presence it is crucially dependent.

I am not concerned here with whether the Jan Lokpal Bill is the best piece of legislation on the subject; nor am I concerned with the possible RSS links of the Anna campaign. These issues, though important, are not germane to my argument. My concern is with the “dumbing down” of the people that messianic political activity entails: “leave things to Anna but do come to cheer him.” Just as in a potboiler Hindi film the hero single-handedly does all the fighting required to rid the locale of villainous elements, messianic activity leaves all the fighting, that is, the subject role, to the messiah. The people stand around with sympathy, and cheer. When the Anna group announces that he will take up issues like land reforms, corporate land grab, and commercialisation of education, once his fight against corruption is over, one almost feels that Shekhar Kapoor‘s “Mr. India” has finally arrived on the scene! The problem, however, is that “Mr. India” is a negation of democracy; and relying upon “Mr. India”, like relying upon the arrival of an incarnation of Vishnu to cleanse the world of evil, is a throwback to our pre-modernity. It is not just an admission of a state of powerlessness of the people that may prevail at the moment; it reinforces that powerlessness.

Messianism is fundamentally anti-democratic because it is complicit in this objectification of the people, this self-fulfilling portrayal of them as dumb objects that need a messiah. When the Anna group uses the term “people” as a substitute for itself (referring to its own bill as “the people’s bill,” its own views as the “people’s views”), it is implicitly carrying out a conceptual coup d’etat, namely, that messianism is democracy! But quite apart from the fact that the messiah is not elected by the people, a point made by many, there is the basic point that nobody, whether elected or not, can substitute for the people in a democracy.

This presumption, however, explains the flip-flops made by the Anna group. If Anna is the people, then democracy, where the people are supreme, demands that his version of the bill must be accepted over any other version, including what the parliamentary Standing Committee may come to formulate. The people’s supremacy over Parliament entails ipso facto Anna’s supremacy over Parliament. Messianism necessarily implies an “Anna’s-bill-has-got-to-be-adopted” position. Members of Anna’s group, many of whom have been associated for long with people’s causes, may have occasional discomfort with this messianic position, and may retreat to a “we-are-only-exercising-our-democratic-rights” stance; but since they do not repudiate the messianic position, they perforce come back to the “Anna-is-the-people-and-hence-supreme” stance. To accept that Anna’s version of the bill is only one of many possible versions, which the final bill could draw upon, amounts to seeing Anna as one among equals, and not as the messiah, that is, to an abandonment of messianism; the Anna group is loath to do this. “Negotiations” with the government therefore come to mean negotiations to make it accept Anna’s version; “compromise” comes to mean a compromise that makes Anna’s version final.

It may be asked: if the people prefer “messianism” to “democracy,” then what is wrong with it? Those thronging the Ramlila grounds or marching in support of Anna in the metros are not necessarily “the people” of the country, and it is dangerous to take the two as identical. Besides, even if a majority of the people genuinely wish at a particular time to elevate a messiah over Parliament, this is no reason to alter the constitutional order, just as a majority wishing to abandon secularism at a particular time is no reason to do so. The Constitution is the social contract upon which the Indian state is founded, and it cannot be overturned by the wishes of a majority at a particular time. If perchance the government accepts messianism out of expediency, it would be violating the spirit of the Constitution and undermining democracy. Besides, any such licence will make multiple (quasi-religious) messiahs sprout, who would compete and collude, as oligopolists do in the markets for goods, to keep people in thralldom.

(Prabhat Patnaik recently retired from the Sukhamoy Chakravarty Chair at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2389694.ece

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Ramlila Maidan becomes a learning ground too

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ANNA HAZARE AT RAMLILA MAIDAN

The battleground of the crusade against corruption a learning ground too for discipline and collaboration.

Ramlila Maidan, where activist Anna Hazare continues his fast, is probably one of the rare places in the country today where people are willing to stand in queue and patiently wait their turn.

On Saturday, as Anna’s fast entered the fifth day, people turned up in droves, curbing their instincts to jostle and jump the serpentine queues. Standing in the blistering heat, they kept the morale up by raising slogans, but gave the police and the organisers little to complain about as they were ushered in and frisked.

Inside the ground, volunteers were busy cleaning the place, serving food and water, helping supporters find a place, answer queries on the Jan Lokpal Bill. On the peripheries of the “maidan,” doctors attended to the unwell.

“It is indeed a rare sight. Where do you see such regulation without a danda [stick] these days? People are willing to cooperate. Yes, there have been complaints of some mischievous elements creating a nuisance, but those have been too few and far in between,” said a volunteer of India Against Corruption.

Periodically requests were made on the public address system, urging the visitors not to litter the “karmbhoomi” (place where one works) and cooperate with the volunteers. Anna’s supporters are learning. “The one thing that we need to learn from Anna is discipline. Have you ever seen a place where people willingly stand in a queue? Look around today and you will see how everyone is trying to fall in line. Our society lacks discipline and if each one of us and our leaders become more disciplined, things will gradually fall into place,” said Rahul, an IT professional who came with this wife to show solidarity.

At the free kitchen, where the queues again were long and winding, there has not been a moment of rest; food is served without a pause. “We are not even keeping track of how many are eating. Till there is food, it will be served,” said a volunteer at the kitchen, who also runs a food service during the Amarnath Yatra.

From morning till late afternoon, five quintals of rice had been consumed. “People are donating whatever they can, we are providing what we can, it is an ongoing process and we don’t even want to keep count of what is being consumed,” he said.

Dr. Kamal from Jodhpur has been sitting under a canopy handing out medicines, checking people for ailments. “Since morning, 15 people have been sent off to hospital because their condition was serious, otherwise we are equipped to deal with dehydration and the minor cuts and bruises that are the common complaints,” he said. The medicines have again come from voluntary donations and arranged for by the doctors themselves.

There are, however, reasons to complain too. While some women have had to deal with unwanted attention from the anti-social elements, a large number of people are unhappy with the inadequate arrangements for sanitation. “There is a huge problem of clean toilets. For those of us who are staying here for longer periods, and for women and children in particular, it is definitely a put off. But when you see a 70 plus person sitting in the sun, hungry, you can complain only so much,” said Sanjay Dhiman, a mechanical engineer from Hardwar.

COURTESY: THE HINDU

Anna Hazare rides wrath yatra, ups ante on Jan Lokpal Bill

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ANNA HAZARE DEMANDING FOR JAN-LOKPAL BILL

Emboldened by the swelling crowds at Ramlila Maidan, Gandhian anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare upped the ante within hours of emerging from Tihar Jail on Friday. He set a three-week deadline for Parliament to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, pending which he wouldn’t budge from the ground. This was not only contrary to his group’s commitment to vacate the protest site by August 31, but was also seen to be brushing aside parliamentary processes as no such deadline is set for standing committees to study draft legislations in detail.

The ultimatum marks a hardening of stand which could queer the pitch for negotiations and a settlement to the dramatic face-off. While Team Anna has insisted on the Lokpal Bill being passed in the monsoon session ending September 8, it had refrained from setting a deadline for the passage of their version of the bill, maintaining that they respected Parliament and would abide by its decision.

Anna also gave a call for a jail-bharo campaign if the deadline was not met. Although his associate Prashant Bhushan said they were open to negotiations with the government, the ultimatum narrows the scope of a settlement. Taken by surprise by the groundswell of support for Anna, government leaders seemed inclined to wait out Anna’s protest, reckoning that it would be difficult for his team to sustain this level of popular support.

Addressing the media at Ramlila Maidan, the 74-year-old Anna said: “I have made the decision of my life. It is up to the government to pass the (Jan Lokpal) bill. If it is not passed in this session, I will continue my fast till my last breath.” The pledge drew huge applause from his growing band of supporters. His aide Arvind Kejriwal brazenly declared the group’s lack of faith in parliamentary democracy. “Parliament is not supreme, the public is,” he said. “It’s our right to raise our voice against corruption and the elected representatives must hear it.”

Asked if the three-week deadline was not impractical, Anna shot back that it was the government’s headache. “They have the majority in Parliament and it is up to them to see how they get the bill passed,” he said.

There is, however, a view that two private member’s bills – introduced by BJP’s Varun Feroze Gandhi in Lok Sabha and independent member Rajiv Chandrashekhar in Rajya Sabha — can offer a way out.

Varun plans to move the Jan Lokpal Bill as his bill, while Chandrashekhar’s bill has incorporated features of civil society’s version of the legislation.

Since the grouse of the civil society is that Parliament won’t get to debate the merits of their bill, the two private members’ bills can give the two Houses an opportunity to assess the merits of the two rival pieces of legislation, potentially clearing the way for a resolution.

However, procedures and conventions may come in the way. A private member’s bill can be introduced in the House only after a month’s notice. While Varun Gandhi hasn’t yet formally sought the Speaker’s permission to move the bill, Chandrashekhar submitted his bill in the first week of August. So, neither has a month’s time to be taken up for adoption in this session. Still, extraordinary situations often lead to “creative” solutions. Perhaps, with the House’s permission, the process may be fast-tracked.

Prashant Bhushan told the media: “We are not afraid of discussions. If somebody from the government wants to discuss, we have no problems. But we are not ready to compromise on corruption.”

Kejriwal added that nobody from the government has approached them so far for discussions.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Anna-Hazare-rides-wrath-yatra-ups-ante-on-Jan-Lokpal-Bill/articleshow/9666529.cms

Hazare expands ambit of his crusade

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Anna Hazare’s fast demanding a strong Lokpal to tackle corruption crossed 100 hours in New Delhi on Saturday, with the Gandhian expanding ambit of his fight to include electoral reforms and a farmer-friendly land acquisition law.

As his fast entered the fifth day, his team said they were ready to talk to the government but no such communication channels have been opened so far but insisted the August 30 deadline set by the Gandhian for passing of Jan Lokpal Bill should be met with.

With the government indicating that the deadline could not met with, the Team said it appeared to be an exercise which will waste the time of people and Parliamentarians and demanded that the Jan Lokpal Bill be introduced in Tuesday.

Mr. Hazare, who addressed the gathering at Ramlila Maidan twice in the day, said the funds in government treasuries were being threatened not by thieves but from those guard it and the country is being threatened by these traitors.

“Why should we fight? The funds in government treasuries are ours. The treasuries are not threatened by thieves but by those who guards it. The country is not betrayed by enemies but by these traitors,” the Gandhian said.

He told the gathering the fight will not end with the passage of Lokpal Bill but they have be ready for a longer struggle for electoral reforms as well as ensuring farmers’ right to their land.

“I want to tell the youth of this country that this fight should not be stopped with Lokpal alone. We have fight for removing the faults of the present electoral reforms. Because of the fault in electoral system, 150 criminals have reached Parliament,” Mr. Hazare said.

Mr. Hazare said the country actually did not get “actual freedom” even after 64 years of independence and the only change was that “the whites have been replaced by the blacks“.

“The same loot, same corruption, same rowdyism still exists,” he said.

Touching upon the contentious issue of land acquisition, he said there was a need to fight for a proper law regarding this.

“After the fight for Lokpal, we will also have to fight for farmers’ rights. Bring a law that ensures permission of gram sabhas before acquiring land of farmers,” Mr. Hazare said.

Noting that the chain of corruption should be broken, he said, “Government is giving land to the companies which employs labourers and suck their blood. They tell the labourers you ensure production or else you will lose job.

“Is this democracy? All have come together to make money. The chain of corruption has to be broken,” he said.

Earlier, Mr. Hazare came to the podium at around 10 a.m. as supporters started pouring in Ramlila Maidan where he launched his protest on Friday after coming out of Tihar Jail.

He said he has lost three-and-half kg in the last four days. “I feel a little weak. But there is nothing to worry about it. The fight will go on till we get a strong Lokpal,” Mr. Hazare said in his brief address to the gathering.

Activists Mr. Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia said the Team was ready to talk to the government on the issue of Lokpal Bill but no one has approached them.

“We are ready to talk to the government but there is no communication from their side. Where should we go to talk and whom should we talk to?” Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Sisodia said.

Mr. Hazare had on Friday raised the political stakes by giving a deadline to the government to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill by August 30 failing which he would continue his fast “till my last breath”.

On the deadline, former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan said the government can pass it within days if it has a “strong will” to do it. “It can happen. I have been a Union Law Minister and I know how things happen in government,” he said.

Mr. Shanti Bhushan indicated that they were open to minor changes in the Jan Lokpal Bill and said an assurance from the government to the Gandhian on his demand will be like showing respect for the public sentiment demanding action against corruption.

Asked whether the deadline was a little impractical, Mr. Kejriwal told reporters, “If the government desires, it can pass 15 Bills in five minutes. But for the anti-corruption Bill, they are taking more than 42 years. So we want to know how many more years will they take?”

The government version encourages corruption and saves the corrupt, Mr. Kejriwal alleged and demanded that the Lokpal Bill introduced in Parliament be “rejected completely” and the Jan Lokpal Bill be replaced by it.

Reacting to newspaper advertisements seeking suggestions from public on Lokpal Bill, Mr. Kejriwal said it appeared to be an exercise which will waste the time of people and Parliamentarians.

“We appeared before the Standing Committee earlier and told them that the present bill is actually for promotion of corruption and save the corrupt people. It ends up in targeting those who complain against corruption,” he said.

Mr. Kejriwal said they had urged the Standing Committee to reject the Bill and send it back to Parliament. “It is wasting precious time on a wrong and faulty Bill,” he said.

“This seeking of feedback is basically to divert attention,” he said.

Asked about some MPs, including the BJP’s Varun Gandhi, planning to introducing Jan Lokpal Bill as private Bills, he said private Bills do not achieve much.

COURTESY : THE HINDU

Anna Hazare leaves Tihar, vows ‘Our fight has just begun’

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Cheers rang out as Anna Hazare emerged from Tihar Jail a little before noon, 45 minutes later than promised by his team.  The steady drizzle all morning did not dampen the enthusiasm of the 2000 people who had gathered with flags to catch a glimpse of the anti-corruption activist who launches a 15-day mass protest today at Ramlila Maidan in Central Delhi.
It was near impossible to hear Anna’s short speech.  He referred to the campaign against corruption -as he has so often in the last few months- to “a second freedom struggle.”   Now on the fourth day of his fast, he seemed strong.  “Whether I am there or not, this fight will continue,” he said to a huge roar of applause. His close associate, Arvind Kejriwal, who has spent three nights in Tihar with Anna, stood behind him. After his address, Anna was seen waving the national flag.  Hundreds of smaller flags fluttered in response in the crowd that chanted “Anna zindabad (long live Anna).”

Anna will head in a truck to Ramlila Maidan. En route, he will stop at India Gate and visit Mahatma Gandhi‘s memorial at Rajghat.  The Delhi Police has asked commuters to avoid roads near Ramlila Maidan.  Anna’s close aide and former cop Kiran Bedi  has asked his supporters to let him travel alone to Rajghat and then onto Ramlila Maidan to avoid causing traffic jams.

Anna has been fasting since Tuesday, when he was arrested and taken to Tihar.  Doctors have been examining him regularly in prison. They will check on him thrice a day once he moves to Ramlila Maidan, the large grounds in Central Delhi that have been granted to Anna’s team as a base-camp.  About 1000 people have gathered there already, despite rain all morning.

Though Anna was told he could leave Tihar on Tuesday night, hours after he was arrested, he refused, launching a complex and extensive negotiation with the Delhi Police.  What Team Anna wanted- and won after 24 hours of talks – was permission to hold a huge demonstration that would not restrict either the length of Anna’s fast, or the number of people that could join the protest.  In a matter of huge relief for the government, Team Anna has said his fast is “not a fast unto death but an indefinite fast.” A set of conditions imposed upon the mass-protest mandate that Anna will allow doctors from both a private and government hospital to examine him.

Since Anna was arrested on Tuesday morning, the country has responded with huge marches and candlelight vigils.  The government has finally accepted that the 74-year-old Gandhian has been nominated by the country as the icon of the war against corruption.  So the government will work behind-the-scenes to persuade Anna to cut short his fast. It will also try and engage with Anna’s close aides, some of them from his home turf of Maharashtra, in new discussions.

What Anna has been pushing is his team’s version of a new anti-corruption law that Parliament plans to debate during its current session.  Team Anna says that the Lokpal Bill which provides for an independent investigating agency to handle charges of corruption – an ombudsman committee-   is weak.    Team Anna has developed a parallel version of the Lokpal Bill and wants the government to circulate this draft in Parliament too.

As a possible compromise, the government may request Anna to appear before a Parliamentary committee that’s studying the Lokpal Bill.

Link : http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/lokpal-bill-row-anna-hazare-leaves-tihar-heads-to-ramlila-maidan-127564

Hectic preparations at Ramlila Maidan

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People Supporting Anna Hazare's Fast

With social activist Anna Hazare all set to move to the Ramlila Maidan here on Friday, hectic preparations were under way on Thursday with members and volunteers associated with main organiser ‘India Against Corruption’, along with the Delhi Police and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), all pitching in to do their bit to get the show rolling.

The police had, however, cordoned off all entry points on Thursday to prevent protesters from moving into the ground while it was still being prepared. Apart from a huge shamiana to cover one-third of the ground, facilities such as fans, lights, loudspeakers and security arrangements were on the agenda of the organisers. Arrangements also include a two-level special stage. While Mr. Hazare would sit on the top level provided with a mattress, the stage below has been earmarked for singing and discourse. Other arrangements include mats to cover the floor and provide seating space and a separate enclosure for VIP guests including two VIP toilets.

The MCD is ensuring that the ground is completely cleaned, dried and levelled, given the slush following the recent heavy rain. The organisers are arranging for tents, food, water and toilet facilities, either by roping in contractor agencies or seeking help from volunteering organisations who have offered free assistance to Mr. Hazare’s supporters till the hunger protest ends.

Deputy Mayor Anil Sharma, who visited the ground to take stock of the arrangements and discuss preparations with Team Anna, said that over half of the ground had been cleaned and the civic body officials and employees would work overnight to complete as much work as possible. “It was only on Thursday morning that the MCD came to know about the approval given to Team Anna for holding the protest at Ramlila Maidan. On reaching the ground, the officials noticed [that] the heavy rain during the past few days had made the ground muddy, requiring co-ordination of different departments including engineering, horticulture, and sanitation to take up the cleaning, drying, and levelling process of the venue by putting additional malba and soft earth at the ground,” he said.

Hazare supporter-cum-volunteer Gulab Singh, 41, said: “After having participated in the Ramlila during Navratri at this very ground for the past 20 years, I consider it my good fortune to be getting a chance to serve my part in Anna Hazare’s protest that is being organised here. I have taken a week-long leave from office to come here and extend my support to the cause of ending corruption in India.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party would also be providing one lakh water pouches daily for the participants, according to the Delhi BJP president Vijender Gupta who was present at the ground.

Undertaking fumigation

According to the civic body, it is also undertaking fumigation at the ground premises and providing medical aid facilities including two ambulances and three mobile dispensary units. About 30 to 40 dustbins are also being provided by the MCD.

About 200 to 300 loudspeakers, 20 to 25 speaker boxes, and 15 mikes are being installed for the programme though television screens have been ruled out owing to the possibility of rain. In addition, eight to 10 mobile toilet facility units are also being sponsored free of cost by the Slum Department of the Delhi government.

Arvind Kejriwal, who was overseeing arrangements, expressed concern over the possibility of rain and its impact on the arrangements. Mr. Kejriwal said free food and water was being arranged through a voluntary organisation. “The bhandara people who provide food and water during the Amarnath Yatra have pledged to help us by providing free food and water till the duration of the protest at Ramlila Maidan.”