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 Principles of Politics
 
The Hazare movement: Floating mass sans ballast
India Monday, May 02, 2011

Ravi Shanker Kapoor
Hazare and his followers do not spell out a political philosophy; it is a movement guided only by good intentions. The only thing one comes across are unexceptional statements like corruption should come to an end. Typically, Hazare and his ilk avoid getting into the nitty-gritty: how to stop or check graft? Should the role of state be minimized, as libertarians assert? Or should state agencies be given even more draconian powers to curb corruption? Should the recovered black money be used to retire public debt, as fiscal prudence demands? Or should it be used to remove poverty, as populism screams? Ravi Shanker Kapoor asks some fundamental questions.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. From Mahatma Gandhi to Jayaprakash Narayan to Anna Hazare, the hallmarks of mass movements have been millenarianism fashioned by outsider saints and ideological vacuity. Hazare may or may not end up shaping the history of India, but the similarities between him and Gandhi and JP can scarcely be overemphasized.

Both the political class and the people saw a deliverer in these saints or saintly politicians. In a way, they were all outsiders. Gandhi came to India in 1915, at a time when a galaxy of nationalist leaders had already made their presence felt in the political arena. JP practically reentered politics in the 1970s after loitering in the deserts of ‘Lokniti’ and bhoodan. And Hazare, till a few days ago, was a social activist without any major impact on national politics. And they remained outsiders as far as power politics is concerned: Gandhi and JP never held any office; this is the reason that Indians continue to see them with a halo. Hazare has also not exhibited any desire to hold high office—as yet.

Millenarianism is common in the worldviews of the three men. Gandhian swaraj was a nationalist utopia, but it did inspire generations of people and molded their views and lives. They believed in this quixotic ideology, despite it being inconsistent with the existing realities and the modernist imperative. Gandhi was a great man and a principled politician but he was not a distinguished thinker. But it was because of, and not in spite of, his limited intellect and vacuous ideology that he found so many followers.

JP was as eclectic and naïve in his views as he was catholic in relationships, thus finding friends and followers across the political spectrum. Unsurprisingly, his 1977 experiment found support from the Left as well as the Right, apart from the Centrists like Morarjee Desai. A millenarian feeling—that the end of Indira Gandhi’s dictatorship—would automatically result into a democratic, egalitarian paradise compensated for the lack of ideology. This feeling was not much different from the one that prevailed at the time of Independence: that self-rule would set everything right.

Hazare and his followers, while claiming to be in the middle of the ‘second freedom struggle,’ also do not spell out a political philosophy; it is a movement guided only by good intentions. The only thing one comes across are platitudes and unexceptional statements like corruption should come to an end and black money should come back to the country. Typically, Hazare and his ilk avoid getting into the nitty-gritty: how to stop or check graft? Should the role of state be minimized, as libertarians assert? And what should be done with the black money stashed in foreign banks once it is back in the country? Should it be used to retire public debt, as fiscal prudence demands? Or should it be used to remove poverty, as populism screams?

Perhaps, Hazare is deliberately vague; this may be a strategy to keep the rainbow coalition undivided. His iconography gives no idea about his ideological predilections: there is Left-leaning Bhagat Singh as also Bharat Mata of Hindu nationalists, along with Swami Vivekananda and, of course, Mahatma Gandhi. Interestingly, the people at large are not bothered; they are not asking him to pronounce his views on important political and economic matters; many of them don’t even know about the differences between the two drafts of the Lokpal legislation; they are just happy that ‘something’ is being done about corruption and there is somebody (a hero) who can take on the unscrupulous and rapacious politicians. Generally, Indians believe that ideas and ideologies don’t matter; the individual or rather the hero does. As Moses rescued the Hebrews from the clutches of a cruel Pharaoh, a heroic leader can get rid of corruption, graft, etc.—so goes the folklore.

The Hazare movement is mostly about sentimentalism, devoid of any political philosophy. And when there is little thought involved in any movement, it can become a floating mass without the ballast. Sentiments, being subjective and often bordering on the irrational, cannot be the ballast. The recent Ramdev-Bhushans row is a case in point.

This is not to say that the Hazare phenomenon would be inconsequential. Gandhi was not unimportant; JP played a key role in the history of Independent India. But it would be unfounded optimism to expect any meaningful change in the foreseeable future from Hazare’s movement. For political action without the underpinnings of modern, relevant thinking is no cure for the ills afflicting body politic. Millenarianism is not the answer and ideological vacuity leads us nowhere. Meaningful change presupposes the existence of informed public discourse, not song and dance at Jantar Mantar.

Author : Mr Kapoor is a commentator on current affairs, based in Delhi.
Tags- Find more articles on - civil society | corruption | indian democracy | Indian middle class | second freedom struggle

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