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‘The notion of impartiality has to be brought back’

On mass movements and their logical conclusions. Antara Das reports.

books Updated: Jan 21, 2012 18:19 IST
Antara Das,

Much of the discourse over the past year has centered around what constitutes a Gandhian process, whether the masses congregating around the figure of a septuagenarian from Maharashtra were marking their moment in history or simply being misled. On the second day of the Jaipur Literature festival, that movement faced its intellectual test in a session titled ‘Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Crossroads at Jantar Mantar’, tracing any possible legacy that it might have been drawing on.

If people were turning to a non-elected agency, it was a desire for impartiality that was leading them on, said writer-historian Sunil Khilnani, while elaborating on the Anna Hazare movement. The lokpal gained in legitimacy as it stood outside the existing elected system. “That [notion of impartiality] has to be brought back. It cannot be the scaffolding around our democracy; it has to be the core, the inner strength,” he said.

Corruption might be a subject that evokes the maximum amount of chatter — whether in a street-side stall or an elite gathering. But as a movement, the Hazare-led phenomenon lacked “ideological tethering”, said activist Aruna Roy. Dalits mostly felt ostracised from the cause, she pointed out. The Indian State’s — more importantly, the Indian people’s — negligence towards the fast undertaken by Manipur’s Irom Sharmila showed that not all fasts captured public imagination or popular support. “Indians care for boundaries,” Roy said.

In the end, those organising mass protests must “know where to stop”, said journalist MJ Akbar. Mahatma Gandhi knew this, as did BR Ambedkar. Without knowing that, “the unintended consequences might become self-defeating”, he added.

First Published: Jan 21, 2012 18:19 IST