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Hazare is no saviour

The activist’s conduct in the past has not been blemish-free, writes Sujata Anandan.

india Updated: Apr 14, 2011 22:09 IST
Sujata Anandan

Now that the euphoria over the popcorn revolution in New Delhi has settled down, I am adding my own heretical thoughts to that of those who saw the hoopla for what it was: life imitating art in a re-enactment of Peepli Live at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

If this was a war or a revolution, then it was certainly won in the TV studios and through the cameras at Jantar Mantar that did not pick up the nuances and the absurdities of a situation where a few NGOs, godmen and actors thought they could decide the fate of millions of Indians through means that were the exact opposite of what they were advocating over the past week.

Much as we all hate corruption and would like to see the end of graft and venality in public life, I wonder if many of those instant ‘activists’ can say, with their hands on their hearts, that they did not bribe a cop or two some time or the other in their otherwise flawless existence.

Even Anna Hazare, that beacon of anti-corruption, can’t lay claim to a blemish-free conduct. I hate to burst the bubble that the people have been living in but Hazare has been indicted by the Justice PB Sawant Commission for unauthorisedly spending R2 lakh from his Hind Swaraj Trust to, of all things, celebrate his birthday in his village of Ralegan-Siddhi a few years ago. Now R2 lakh is a huge sum for a birthday party even in Bombay. In a village, the enormity of that expense does not even merit counting.

In Justice Sawant’s words, it was misappropriation. But as the judge pointed out, Hazare could be forgiven for he apologised while our dacoit-politicians, despite skimming off crores, do not.

I am sorry but I also think civil society is being mindless in supporting the setting up of an institution (lokpal) which is accountable to no one, has draconian powers and is installed by persons who have little or no idea about polity or governance. Moreover, there are no guarantees that the lokpal will not be corrupt or cannot be corrupted with or even without the enormous powers to be judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one with the authority to both investigate and prosecute anyone and everyone without the checks and balances that are required in such processes.

I am also suspicious of the timing and responses to the Hazare agitation. I know as a matter of fact that Hazare is very impressionable and the complexities of situations escape him at all times. Which is why he has endorsed the draconian terms of the Lokpal Bill as drafted by the social activists in toto. And also caused a good deal of embarrassment to himself by his unqualified praise of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

Activists working with Hazare have always known that he is a loose cannon. But for this new set of NGOs, whose movement was going nowhere without Hazare, that was a risk worth taking. However, far from putting the UPA on the mat, they have helped the government get an upper hand over the anti-corruption drive: the UPA has come out of this smelling of roses, appearing to be concerned but without quite giving anything away. Then, again, including a father and son duo on the committee cannot but compromise the Opposition charges of dynasty against the Congress in addition to getting the legal fraternity’s back up with statements like “the Bhushans alone are best placed to formulate such a law”. Whatever happened to legal luminaries like Soli Sorabjee and Harish Salve? I would rather put my money on them any day!

Not very long ago there was a man called K Chandrashekhar Rao who was on a fast-unto-death for a separate Telangana. Look at what the UPA did to him: he has no Telangana and the utility of the fast as a weapon is over.

Going by the spat between him and Union minister Kapil Sibal, I am afraid that is exactly what will now happen to Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill!