Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 19 September 2011
Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar. All Rights Reserved.
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In a previous article (http://www.leftbrainwave.com/2011/08/why-so-many-people-are-against-anna.html), I had examined the question of why there are so many people opposed to the Anna Hazare anti-corruption agitation. Recently, while answering some questions in response to my earlier articles, some of the reasons became a bit clearer, though I cannot claim to have fully understood the anti-Anna phenomenon among the intelligentsia.
Firstly, I want to clarify one consistent allegation that all the opponents of Anna keep raising – one that is completely wrong, but is being propagated in the faith that repeating a lie a million times will make it the truth. That allegation is that the Anna Hazare anti-corruption fast was unconstitutional. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me explain.
I have searched through the Indian Constitution, and am unable to find a single article of the Constitution they have been in violation of. Someone starts a canard like this and everyone else brainlessly parrots it without checking the facts.
The Constitutionality of Anna’s Protest
What have Anna and his followers done? They have gone on a peaceful, nonviolent protest, which is completely constitutional. There is nothing in the Constitution that says that one cannot go on a hunger fast to demand certain things. THIS IS NOT UNCONSTITUTIONAL. In fact, the Constitution says that:
Article 19(1)(a): All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression
A fast is an expression of Anna's feelings, and he has the right to do so.
Article 19(1)(b): All citizens shall have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms.
What did you see on the streets of India? People marching with lighted candles in their hands, and shouting "Bhrashtachar mitana hai! Jan Lokpal lana hai!" (“Corruption must be eliminated! Jan Lokpal must be implemented!”) What’s unconstitutional about that? They were not carrying knives and sticks in their hands, only candles. Their right to peaceably march in this way is guaranteed by article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b).
Furthermore, the constitution also requires all Indians to follow certain guidelines. In particular, article 51A(i) states that
It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to safeguard public property and to abjure violence.
Again, Anna and his followers have been remarkably disciplined in following this instruction.
Who is being Unconstitutional?
In fact, by opposing and arguing against a democratic and peaceful movement that is operating in a completely constitutional way, it is the anti-Anna chorus who are behaving unconstitutionally by trying to suppress freedom of speech and expression.
Furthermore, their protestations of love for our Constitution are not credible, for when movement after movement comes in India that seeks to enforce regulation based on violence and force, they do not utter a word, but when Anna Hazare goes to demand the end of corruption through a Jan Lokpal bill, they suddenly become the new, self-styled defenders of the Constitution.
There are so many Johnny-come-latelys who start professing to save the Indian Constitution - there is even a group on facebook (started during the Anna fast) with the pompous name, "Save our Constitution." No, thank you, the Indian constitution does not need you to defend it. If anything, it will need to be defended FROM people like you, who seek to suppress people's basic rights.
Where Were You Then?
Let me ask these great defenders of the Constitution - when there were agitations in Hyderabad in Nov-Dec 2009, where were you?
Where were you when mobs defaced buildings, torched government property, enforced bandhs, causing huge losses to the state, pelted stones at government officers and property, staged rail rokos, caused disruption in road and rail traffic, burned buses, destroyed statues celebrating Telugu culture, and garlanded statues of Mahatma Gandhi with chappals, all for the cause of a separate Telangana state? (See http://www.hindu.com/2009/12/07/stories/2009120756460300.htm for just ONE such report.)
Where was your now-professed love for the Constitution, which clearly says under article 51A (i) that Indians must safeguard public property and abjure violence?
In fact, Telangana 2009 is only one of innumerable such incidents that happen in India routinely. I have cited several incidents in a previous article (http://www.leftbrainwave.com/2011/08/critical-look-at-misinformation-in.html). There are many more, and they occur on a frequent basis. Yet I have not heard this screaming banshee about the violation of the Constitution with regard to any of those previous incidents the way I am hearing it now.
In Bernardo Bertolucci's epic movie, "The Last Emperor," there is a dialogue between the English tutor of the last emperor of China, played, with his usual excellence, by Peter O'Toole, and the young boy emperor. This dialogue is as much about the need for precision in speech as it is about integrity. The tutor tells the emperor, "Your majesty, a gentleman should always say what he means." The emperor asks him, "Why is that?" and the tutor answers, "Because, your majesty, if a person cannot say what he means, he cannot possibly mean what he says, and a gentleman must always mean what he says."
So all you self-styled defenders of the Indian Constitution have never said what you profess to mean (love for the Constitution) all this time when people were freely violating it; so you cannot possibly mean what you are saying now about your love for the Indian Constitution.
The Incomprehensible “Intelligentsia”
So, what gives?
Since there is no unconstitutionality in Anna’s actions, as shown above, we need to think further why, especially among highly educated people (whom you might refer to as the “intelligentsia,”) there is so much opposition to Anna Hazare. I must say I am not quite clear on this, but I have thought about it. I am amazed that the people I would have expected the most support from – highly intelligent people, who I’d expect would value dearly fundamental values such as freedom of speech, etc., are actually the people who are opposing Anna tooth and nail.
So far the only reasonably good explanation I have seen has come from Swapan Dasgupta: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/right-and-wrong/entry/don-t-mess-with-the-middle-class
This article explains things somewhat by saying that the so-called "intellectuals" have always been mercenary and ready to sell themselves to those in power.
As a case in point, remember how much support Indira Gandhi had from the "intelligentsia" of this country during the undemocratic emergency she illegally imposed - in fact, only two days ago, PN Bhagwati, who was a junior supreme court justice at the time, actually admitted he was wrong in supporting Indira Gandhi (http://www.indianexpress.com/news/35-yrs-later-a-former-chief-justice-of-india-pleads-guilty/847392/ ).
But the question is, WHY?
Trying to Unravel the Puzzle
I speculate on this below. These are only speculations, but I am sure they do apply to a fair number of those who oppose the whole Anna thing, if not all.
First, a lot of the people who do oppose Anna are people who have become successful; and in doing so, they have learned all the tricks to success in our current failed democracy. They know who to bribe, they have the influence network so they can pick up the phone and say, "Arre Sharmaji, zara mera kaam karva dijiye na?" (“Dear Sharmaji, Would you please get this job done for me?”) and they do not want to upset the apple cart now. Why mess with the system when you know how to work it? Anna's movement is scary because it portends an uncertain future. What if I need to get my son admitted in an engineering college and he doesn't have the marks? Does this bill mean I cannot use money and influence any longer to get him through?
Second, some of the people who oppose this are actually people who will be affected; that is, people in government office bureaucracies. Nobody wants someone checking up on their misdeeds.
Third, the attitude of many people who have had to "pay their dues," so to say, to get their success, could well be, "hey, we went through all this and did not complain; who the hell are you to say you cannot take it any longer? For 64 years we all put up with it, why can you not put up with it now? What makes you so special?"
Fourth, many people are attracted to power. The state is powerful and has natural adherents as a result. If a Raj Thackeray causes riots all over Mumbai by inflaming people and trying to change things through unconstitutional means, people will not speak out – because he has money power and muscle. What power does Anna have? He has actually been exhorting people not to use violence on any account. He doesn’t have money either. So this is not a group worth sticking to. No power, no muscle, just a bunch of activists. Post-independence Indian history has shown that only power and muscle win. The idea that a group of people can have power on the strength of their ideas, as happened in the freedom struggle, is so old and dusty through disuse that it has been forgotten.
Fifth, and finally, many people are still caught up in a feudal form of thinking. Who are these ordinary people to go and protest against the government? Aam janata (Common folk) has no business challenging Rajas (kings), be they hereditary or elected (of course, with the Congress govt. the two worlds meet, but that's a topic for another discussion.) Common people should stick to common people topics, such as crying about how high prices are in the world, and doing nothing about it. Rajas should only be challenged by other Rajas or contenders for the throne...so it is okay for BJP leaders to attack the government, but not for common folk.
Why? Don't know, somehow it seems wrong to them. Sort of like the old "varna system" of Indian society...each segment should only do their thing. A relative of mine apparently responded to my writing articles by saying that you should either go into politics to do all these article-writing or not do it at all. How typical. The idea that people can lay claim to their own destiny is something that is too radical for these people. Work in gentle ways, they tell you. Circulate petitions, call up leaders, but don't go on the streets - don't do something so radical.
But you know what? The people of India are tired of being treated like dirt, and so the "old rules" about who can do what have also changed. I am not talking about laws here when I speak of rules, I am speaking of the "social rules" that many people hold as correct. Just as it is legal for a dalit today to become the PM, even if that may have been unacceptable in the past, our so-called "intellectuals" need to mentally accept that this is a participatory democracy and that people are free to protest on the streets to ask for their rights.
The Rubicon has been crossed.