During the anti-British Satyagraha called by M.K. Gandhi in the early 1920s, a non-violent protest on the 4th of February 1922 in a small town near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh called Chauri Chaura, inadvertently turned violent. Not only were several protestors killed in police firing, the retaliation by an enraged mob led to the death of 23 policemen, all entrapped inside the police station set ablaze by the mob.
Gandhi owned up moral responsibility for the carnage, went on a fast for penance and called off the Non-Cooperation movement. He believed that the people weren’t yet ready to walk the path of non-violence, the path he sought to take to freedom. To this day, many criticize him for calling off the movement, blaming him that his decision perhaps set back the freedom movement by as much as a decade.
To me, this was one of the finest examples of a principled stand a leader could take, refusing to be swayed by popular sentiment or political considerations. It requires extraordinary conviction, vision and integrity to take such decisions and stand by them refusing to be swayed by any other considerations.
Gandhi was absolutely clear on which path the non-cooperation movement was not to take in the struggle for freedom. To Gandhi, the means was as important as the end sought to be achieved.
I am compelled to recall this in context of another septuagenarian Gandhian, Anna Hazare, resorting to Satyagraha as a clarion call to fight all pervasive corruption eating into the soul of the nation and the widespread support that seems to be pouring out and growing by the hour in response to his call.
There is absolutely no doubt about the need to fight corruption, about the need to have effective mechanism to do so. But how has Anna Hazare sought to do that ?
By the Jan Lokpal Bill.
I wouldn’t dwell here at length on the serious flaws in the bill as those have been highlighted and extensively commented upon by many informed observers (they may not be eminent though, by the standards of those who have drafted the bill). The way the bill sought to constitute a “Selection Committee” (6.5) for the appointment of the Lokpal, the appropriation of police powers (12 – “Lokpal be deemed a police officer”), the appropriation of the entire anti-corruption wing of the Delhi Police (25) as the investigative wing are just some of the provisions of the bill which would worry any dispassionate observer.
That the bill is a draconian piece of legislation which was sought to be rammed down the nation’s throat by subterfuge or blackmail is evident from Anna Hazare’s action and his letter to the Prime Minister on April 6.
“I and many other friends from India Against Corruption movement wrote several letters to you after 1st December. I also sent you a copy of Jan Lokpal Bill on 1st December. We did not get any response. It is only when I wrote to you that I will sit on an indefinite fast, we were promptly invited for discussions on 7th March. I wonder whether the government responds only to threats of indefinite fast. Before that, representatives of India Against Corruption had been meeting various Ministers seeking their support for the Jan Lokpal Bill. They met Mr Moily also and personally handed over copy of Jan Lokpal to him.”
There is no ambiguity that Anna Hazare and all who were in India Against Corruption supported the Jan Lokpal Bill (of course, they drafted it).
How did it then escape the notice of ‘their eminences’ that this bill, if passed, would end up further subverting whatever little of the Constitutional processes we still have functioning?
Did it not appear repugnant to any of them that the ‘selection’ committee should have “All Nobel Laureates of Indian Origin” or “Last two Magsaysay Award winners of Indian origin”?
Was this to be the shinning example of civil society’s initiative to broaden democracy, or even making the corrupt accountable?
Was Anna Hazare entirely so naïve not to have understood the implications?
I find that hard to believe.
Towards the end of the letter, Anna Hazare does say this:
“What are we asking for? We are not saying that you should accept the Bill drafted by us. But kindly create a credible platform for discussions, a joint committee with at least half members from civil society suggested by us.”
If this wasn’t the bill they were insisting, neigh pressurizing the government to accept, why were they lobbying for it in the first place?
I have a healthy suspicion that the climb down to the position I have just quoted above had to be resorted to because a sizeable section of the civil society, who could not immediately be tarred as corrupt, refused to be swayed and voiced its healthy skepticism not only of the bill but also of the tactics Anna Hazare had resorted to.
Because Anna Hazare had the moral authority to galvanize the nation to action against corruption but sought to do it this way, by blackmailing the government to adopt a piece of legislation drafted with dubious motive and even worse, with draconian measures, I reserve my most scathing criticism for him.
He abandoned the most fundamental Gandhian value, that, no matter how lofty your goal, the means you adopt to achieve it have to be equally principled.
Having said what I had to of the bill and Anna Hazare, I must not overlook all those who have been on a euphoric high in their fight against corruption with a mad rush to Jantar Mantar, holding candle light vigils or burning up their facebook status and twitter TL.
Where do you all disappear when a corrupt or a criminal files nomination from your constituency to be elected to the panchayat, municipal board, the state assembly or the Lok Sabha (call me daft but I can’t still figure out how the corrupt gets elected if you are so opposed to corruption)? How many of you refuse to give or take bribes in its myriad forms? How many of you have actually tried taking recourse to the existing laws against corruption, mal practices before profoundly making sweeping statements that the Constitution has failed?
If you haven’t tried and exhausted all of those, your fight against corruption riding piggyback on Anna Hazare and wishing a Lokpal constituted under the Jan Lokpal will bring you deliverance, amounts to abdicating your Constitutional responsibilities to some dubious authority with extraordinary powers, so that you can gleefully go back to your self-centered middle class cocoon with the pretense of having done your duty to the nation.
Go on a hunger strike every time a corrupt candidate seeks election from your constituency. Shame him to withdrawal with candle light vigils. Refuse to give or take bribes. And when you see officials and public servants indulging in corruption, have the guts to take action. There are enough existing laws to do that.
Those who think its too much trouble doesn’t have the moral authority to even light a candle against corruption.