28 August 2011

Heroes and villains of Indian Nationalism: Anna Hazare OUT, Arundhati Roy IN

Anna Hazare is out of order.  So says, Arundhati Roy.  We better believe her, for she’s clearly the voice of India’s oppressed, marginalized, hoodwinked, humiliated, insulted and in other ways made to feel they are lesser human beings.  Roy knows all and is a saint in the making, apparently. 

Writing for ‘The Hindu’ (‘I’d rather not be Anna’), Roy blasts the 74 year old activist fasting to get legislation passed to counter rampant corruption in India, for seeking to overthrow the Indian State in ways and for purposes she finds unpalatable.  The main problem with ‘Annaji’ is that his is a ‘top-down movement’, made up of ‘an army of largely urban and certainly better off people’. 
Hazare’s mechanism to counter corruption, the ‘Jan Lokpal Bill’, according to Roy is draconian and would (horror of horrors!) ‘police everyone from the Prime Minister, the judiciary, members of Parliament right down to the lowest government official’ and would necessitate a massive bureaucracy with thousands of employees.  That would make for two Indian oligarchies instead of just one, Roy claims.  
The crux of Roy’s argument is that structural inequality has to be dealt with in the first instance and therefore Hazare’s proposition will not work.  She knows best, of course.
Now Anna Hazare’s this-time fast is not his first.  Neither is he the only ‘faster’ in India.  Roy objects to the spectacle that his fast has become and notes that other (better?) fasters (for more worthy causes with less media attention and ragged instead of frilled) have got marginalized as a result. 

The way I see it, for anything to be ‘ok’ for Roy, it has to be small-scale, and localized.  Like Irom Sharmila’s 10-year fast against impunity for soldiers in Manipur to kill on suspicion or the relay fast by villagers in Koodankulam protesting a nuclear power plant or those opposing police and mining mafias in Jagtsinghpur, Kalinganagar, Niyamgiri, Bastar or Jaiapur, or the objections of those displaced by dams in the Narmada valley or countless other protests, organizations and movements struggling for voice and decision but not exactly interested in bringing down the Indian State. 

Not that Anna wants to facilitate a break up of India, of course.  Roy doesn’t think he’s revolutionary and I am not sure Roy wants revolution either.  Her anxiety boils down to palpable horror at the possibility that Anna’s theatrics might give rise to large scale meltdown of the colonial construct called ‘India’ into its constituent parts or worse into the kind of lawlessness and anarchy that would do away with political stability.  The localized struggles she champions might get swept away and, who knows, she might not have anything to write about thereafter, dare we say? 

Anna is out of order because he has not partnered or endorsed or tagged along with Roy’s pet causes. There’s a simple lesson here: if you haven’t stood up for all oppressed peoples at all times, if you haven’t protested each and every injustice, then you have to shut up and stay at home; you can’t protest, you can’t fast, you can’t demand!  And, if you’ve ever supported some shady character (as Roy says Anna has), then you don’t have any moral right to talk about wrongdoing. ‘Protestology for saints’ is what Roy seems to be proposing, even though Roy has not been averse to playing sucker to the propaganda of terrorists and their sympathizers.  Anna, on the other hand, has had bad friends and taken up ‘wrong’ positions.  He’s rubbed Roy the wrong way and he must pay by suffering withering attacks by the Mother of Righteousness, right? 

Now let’s assume that Anna’s Jan Lok Pal Bill is a piece of rubbish.  Has Roy come up with an alternative (apart from screaming for structural change)?   She complains that Anna’s blueprint leaves out corporations, the media and NGOs.  Well, would she say ‘hurray’ and join a possible fast-relay if Anna faints if these entities are included?   It’s easy to say ‘Structural Changes’ before anything and then dabble in localized protests and be self-righteous about it. The issue is not about Anna getting things right, but that his fast is fast-tracking people in power to recognizing that things are in pretty bad shape. 

The problem is not that people are saying ‘Anna is India; India is Anna’. Roy finds this insufferable and for good reason, i.e. iconizing tends to prop demagoguery and robbing agency from the people.  There could be a bad reason to object too: no one is saying ‘Arundhati is India, India is Arundhati’.  I hope that’s not the primary reason for her rant. 

Anna is no Gandhi (and Gandhi certainly was not the saint the West and the Indian Right made him out to be) but that’s not important.  Anna’s threat is to the idea of India and not about the number of oligarchies that makes up that fiction.  What’s one more oligarchy, anyway? 

I think, deep down, Arundhati Roy is a strong and uncompromising Indian Nationalist.  If she’s so into the subaltern, the downtrodden and the like, then I think she ought to suggest anarchy for a while. 

By her own admission, India is no democracy but a hodge-podge system made for criminals and millionaire politicians.  India is being carved up for suzerainty, she wails.  That’s good, I would think.  The localized protests won’t have to contend with an overarching state, but do the one-on-one with a localized suzerainty.  If not for anything else, for more manageable struggles with improved chances of success, surely?  Or is the lady feeling ‘left out’?  Indeed, is it that the Indian Left has finally had to face the reality that it’s been left behind, along with its pin up boys and girls in the rent-a-pen-for-cause business? 

Yes, Anna Hazare is out of order. Arundathi Roy should know.  She’s not out of order, though.  She is ‘In Order’ and proving to be a loyal foot soldier of ‘The Order’ too, in the battles that count.  An Indian Nationalist.  An exemplary one!  Hurray!



Rahul said...

This is a great first step for India!

congress had no choice but to listen to the people of India! Aam aadmi's time is coming and soon everybody will get the same respect in this country!

Tintu said...

Those who argue that Gandhi has no relevance in today’s India need to focus not on the principles he espoused, but the methods he invented. The moral authority of the fast in the Indian context goes back to Gandhi, but this is not true of anyone who fasts. Hazare’s pretence to Gandhian values is a large part of his appeal. But Gandhi’s opposition to communal divides and violence are central to any Gandhian position. Hazare is no Gandhian, and if you forget appearances and concentrate on substance, adding enforced vasectomy to the list of requirements necessary for residence in his native village, Sanjay Gandhi is the only Gandhi who comes to mind in this context. The varied set of people who have come under his banner should have known this, but people have invested little or no time in studying Hazare’s past. So many are so caught up in the illusion of change, that they have been willing to forgo the truth about the man.