Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds

Friday, August 3, 2012

Revolution without Ideas

(This article was published in the Times of India, 1st August, 2012 as the main editorial page article, with minor editing to reduce the word count. However, the article's title was changed by them to 'Revolution without Ideas' from the original 'The Hunger of Anna Hazare'.)

Anna or some of his team members are expected to again sit on a hunger strike in Delhi to press for enactment of an effective Lokpal Bill to curb corruption among the top echelons of the Indian Establishment. In a country where millions of people go hungry every day out of compulsion without attracting any special notice, remaining hungry voluntarily for days and weeks at a public place to press a public cause has always attracted great public attention and adulation.  But fasting with such frequency and with such vehemence to press the noblest of all causes today – prevention of corruption – has seldom been witnessed in Independent India before.  No surprisingly, it has attracted unprecedented attention and well-deserved public adulation. 
However, while undertaking repeated fasts for enactment of an effective Lokpal Bill underlines the unwavering commitment and courage of team Anna, it at the same time highlights certain other facts. It shows that they are not trying to  build a parallel mass base on the strength of a constructive program that would catch the fancy of the nation and its people, as was done by Gandhi. The weapon of fasting is the last weapon in the armoury of a non-violent movement, and its too frequent use tends to blunt the edge of the weapon. While Gandhi, the creator of this weapon, used this weapon on many occasions, he had many other weapons in his armoury, especially his constructive programme. The Anna team does not seem to have in their armoury any other weapons of mass mobilization or social reconstruction. Resorting to frequent fasts highlights this fact. Fasts, undertaken by whosoever - and this does not exclude Gandhi - have an element of drama and suspense in it, and therefore they do attract a lot of public attention. But getting the nation's attention frequently in this manner alone poses a danger for team Anna: the team might ultimately be reduced in public image to the status of a brave drama troupe of a very high order, and they might finally look, in nature if not in magnitude of impact, like a street-play group that has very good intentions of inducing social change and creating social awareness. While all such groups are highly laudable, all of them need to go beyond street-plays, if they are really serious about social change and about national reconstruction.
On the JP movement of the seventies, Naipaul wrote in ‘India: A Wounded Civilization’: “The revolution was an expression of rage and rejection; but it was a revolution without ideas. It was an emotional outburst, a wallow; it would not have taken India forward...” Though harsh in tone and tenor, the comment conveys a certain point. The JP movement, which was without doubt the most powerful protest movement that took place in Independent India, left important lessons for the posterity of revolutionaries and reformers that wanted to bring a macro-level change in the country. JP once himself wrote that for a revolution to succeed it required a revolutionary leadership as well as a revolutionary organisation. JP forgot to mention that it also required a revolutionary program of action.  In the case of the JP movement, only one component was present: a revolutionary leadership. There had been no attempt to build a revolutionary organisation to assist the leadership and no revolutionary program of action put together in a neat accessible document which could possibly have taken the form of a manifesto or a book on Total Revolution detailing a broad roadmap for change. It was not therefore surprising that the movement failed. 
After JP’s, Anna’s is the second powerful movement of a Pan-Indian nature that seeks to bring about a macro-level change in the country in a non-violent manner in the post-Independence India. However, it needs to learn a good deal from both the Gandhi-led movement before Independence, and the JP-led movement of the seventies. While being entirely laudable for its persistence, commitment and courage, Anna’s movement suffers from many pitfalls which it must seek to address. If Anna’s group had projected itself just a pressure group for fighting corruption, these pitfalls would not be evident. However, Anna’s hunger seems to be wider. After breaking the August, ’11 fast Anna said he was hungry for nothing less than a total revolution, which put his group in a different perspective, whetting the nation’s appetite for more and more.
There is one point that is better not forgotten. Mahatma Gandhi once said that fasting might not succeed against ‘tyrants’. Team Anna will do well to understand that they are up against people who are no less than ‘tyrants’, who perpetuate the tyranny of compelling millions and millions of Indians to languish in abject poverty year after year and decade after decade by siphoning of tons of public money day in and day out, thus making a farce of governance and development. This is not to say that the tyranny of the powers-that-be does not have to be dealt with resolutely, and no fasts have to be undertaken. But the strategy to deal with these tyrants, who are bent upon postponing the creation of an effective anti-corruption watch-dog body, has to be redesigned. This redesigning would be impossible unless certain fundamentals were understood clearly. These fundamentals are that the movement has to be made more holistic, there has to be a larger vision and road map for the country set forth and made public to give it a sound theoretical foundation and respectability, a concrete country-wide and on-going constructive programme has to be undertaken, and a revolutionary organisation has to be created that is trained in non-violence not as a policy but as a creed. In addition, the onslaught has to be not against one party or individuals aligned to one party but against all parties that are besmirched in corruption. Selective onslaught has made the Anna movement appear to many like a partisan and political movement designed to damage the political prospects of one party, and to benefit another almost equally corrupt party, which has some of the world’s most corrupt governments today in certain Indian states. This perception, if it grows further, is bound to take away much of the moral quality of the Anna movement which initially made it the darling of the masses and the youth, when Anna undertook his historic 12-day fast in Ramlila Maidan in Delhi in August, 2011. In addition, the organisation that carries out the movement does not have to acquire the perception of being led by a coterie: it has to be broadened with fresh inductions on the basis of merit and a transparent system, and organisational elections based on democratic principles. The closest example is the Indian National Congress of the olden times, which was founded and controlled by a British civil servant – A.O. Hume – in the beginning, but which was gradually allowed to evolve into a vehicle of revolution and mass participation, allowing different capable people to take up leadership at different times based on democratically conducted organisational elections. The sooner this is understood the better for team Anna and, perhaps, the country.