Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 18th October 2011

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Please visit http://www.leftbrainwave.com for other articles by Dr. Seshadri Kumar


When I was a child I was told Aesop's fable of the Man, the Boy, and the Donkey.

For those of you not familiar with the tale (http://www.aesops-fables.org.uk/aesop-fable-the-man-the-boy-and-the-donkey.htm), the gist of it is that a man goes with his son and their donkey to the market, and along the way different people counsel them on how to treat the donkey - some suggesting that the boy ride the donkey, some suggesting that the man ride the donkey, others that the man and boy carry the donkey. Eventually the donkey falls into a river and drowns. The moral of the story is that if you try to please everyone, you will end up pleasing no one.

It is exactly this story that Anna Hazare needs to re-learn in his old age. It is often said that old age is the mirror image of childhood, so perhaps there is nothing wrong in Anna re-learning this all-important fable at this advanced age, especially when he is not showing signs of having mastered it.

Since the "indefinite fast" that Anna famously carried out at Ramlila grounds, which ended with the momentous "sense of the house" resolution in both chambers of parliament, Team Anna, and especially its leader, Anna Hazare, has seemed somewhat uncertain of its actions. The sure-footedness that characterized team Anna during those 13 days is strangely missing now.

Dalits and Muslims

The uncertainty began even before the fast ended. During the fast, some people, such as Sharad Yadav, started complaining that Team Anna did not seem to be adequately concerned about Dalits, what with Babasaheb Ambedkar having been both a Dalit and the principal author of the Indian constitution. The specific charge was that in these days of Anna’s fast, he had not spoken about social inequality and about those voiceless people who have to fast every day for want of food.

The right way to respond to this ludicrous charge would have been to correctly point out that this was a protest against corruption, not about social justice, and hence there was really no reason to invoke Ambedkar. If anyone suffers the full brunt of corruption, it is the poor, who have to bribe government officers even for as small a thing as a ration card that provides them subsidized food and kerosene. The Dalits are largely very poor people, and so should really have no complaint against Anna's anti-corruption movement, because any reduction in corruption is a blessing for them.

Instead, Anna mentioned Ambedkar four times in his speech at the time of breaking his fast. He even broke his fast by drinking coconut water offered to him by two children - one a Dalit, the other a Muslim. The latter was apparently to counter the other charge that the benefit of Muslims was not being considered by Anna in his movement.

Again, is this relevant? Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, or any other community in India you wish to pick - all Indians have to pay the same bribes to the traffic cop or the government officer. If there is one thing in India that is completely casteless and secular, it is corruption. This kind of nonsensical argument about invoking Ambedkar or the plight of the Muslims should have just been cleanly ignored or answered in this disarming way. Instead, Anna chose to bend backwards to "prove" his secular/inclusive credentials to all his critics.

The Tale of Irom Sharmila

The bending did not stop there (indeed, it hasn't stopped yet.) One other criticism levelled at the time was why Anna got so much response for his 13-day fast when Irom Sharmila, fasting for the rights of Manipuris for the last 11 years, has not gotten much response from anyone for all these years as she is being force-fed to keep her alive.

Now, this certainly isn't Anna's fault - it isn't Irom Sharmila's, either - the wretched truth is simply that most of India doesn't care a hoot what happens in the Northeast. Irom Sharmila's cause is certainly worth thinking about. The AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) is a draconian act that I would certainly not want to see in my neighbourhood. But I digress. This article is not about the merits or demerits of Irom Sharmila's fast. Lack of response to Irom Sharmila is a product of several factors - the low visibility of the north east, the fact that action is happening not in central New Delhi but in far-away Imphal, the general prominence of all the main actors in the Anna fight, and the lack of electoral consequences from ignoring the Irom Sharmila protest, none of these having anything remotely to do with Anna.

Instead of simply either stating these facts or just ignoring the criticism, Anna made a statement that he is fully sympathetic to Sharmila's cause, and does hope to come to Manipur to meet her and express his solidarity. Nothing wrong with expressing support for Sharmila per se - the only problem is that it was A RESPONSE to a criticism, and hence forced. Again, rather than dismissing the criticism as irrelevant and motivated, Anna felt obliged to say something to validate his pro-Human Rights credentials.

Diggy and the whole “Are you part of the RSS?” Debate

This kind of drama continued, and some people knew exactly how to take advantage of this weakness in the Anna camp. Enter the main hothead and haranguer of 10 Janpath, the honourable Digvijay Singh. After a brief and thankful respite, he started to make noises again about how he believes Anna Hazare is sponsored by the RSS. He even alleged that the tents and other arrangements at Ramlila maidan had been made by the RSS, thus proving, in his eyes, that Anna was an agent of the RSS.

The smart response to this kind of attack would have simply been to say, "The dogs bark, the camels pass." Of course Digvijay Singh is going to bait you. That's his job! If you have some political smarts, the thing to do is state your position and move along. You can't bother to respond to every half-assed comment made your way, because the charge itself is silly. The fact is that even if RSS cadres did help Anna, that is not tantamount to saying that Anna is an RSS man.

Anna needed to remind people of the cause he was fighting for, or rather of the evil he was fighting against - corruption. Anyone fighting alongside him against corruption should be welcomed. For example, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar and his followers actively helped Anna - should Anna therefore be branded a spokesman for the Art of Living? Of course not. To the extent that Sri Sri is opposed to the corruption in the country, his help should have been and was welcomed by Team Anna. And the same is true for the RSS, Syed Shahabuddin, the Akali Dal, and anyone else for that matter, if they wanted to combat this scourge in India. Agreeing with someone on one issue does not mean agreeing with them on every issue. It does not imply a quid pro quo, and Anna should simply have stated that.

But what did he do instead? He wrote a 9-page letter to Digvijay Singh in which he gave a detailed explanation of how he had no contact with RSS workers, etc., etc. Why should Anna seek to justify himself to Digvijay Singh? Who is advising Anna, really? Anna doesn't seem to have understood the really high esteem he is being held in by most Indians, and it does not behoove him to stoop down to the level of a Digvijay Singh. He should stop responding to such silly attacks; and instead, think and talk of the big picture, the grand strategy, and the large vision of the movement. He has able generals like Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal to carry out the nuts and bolts of the vision.

Anna now has a certain dignity about him and he shouldn't let it be lowered, by others or even by himself. Digvijay Singh, no mean politician, realized that Anna had fallen for the bait, and immediately said he wasn't convinced. I'd do the same thing if I were him. You've got your opponent on the mud, grappling with you; so now get his clothes even more muddied, drag him through the mire. Anna's attitude should have been, to quote the former American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who spoke about not wanting to get into a frontal confrontation with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, "I won't get into a pissing contest with that skunk."

Anna's responses also had the RSS crying foul, saying that they were disappointed that Anna did not seem to appreciate the support they were giving him. Is it really wise to antagonize friends who admire and support you to please a rabble-rouser who wants you to fail?

The Prashant Bhushan – Kashmir Plebiscite Ruckus

The latest in this series of faux pas by Anna was when Prashant Bhushan said in an interview that he was in favour of a plebiscite in Kashmir, and if the residents of Kashmir wanted to secede, they should be allowed to go.

Now, rather than defuse the situation by simply saying that his movement is about removing corruption, and that Bhushan's remarks on Kashmir are not related to this at all, what does Anna do? He gives a typical knee-jerk reaction, saying that he doesn't agree with Bhushan's statement, that he is even thinking of reconsidering Bhushan's presence in the core team of his organization. Two days later other Team Anna folks, like Kiran Bedi, panicked by Anna’s suggestion, hurriedly try to retract Anna's remarks.

What kind of thin-skinned, knee-jerk reactions by Anna are these? If you want to be in politics, you need to develop a thicker skin. Every rabble-rouser in the Congress, be it Manish Tiwari or Digvijay Singh, is going to gun for you. The right attitude to take is not to lose the focus on the war against corruption, but take the high road. Anna needs to remember that because people have a very exalted image of him, they are not likely to be taken in by all the rhetoric from people like Digvijay Singh. It is Anna responding to all the flak that makes these charges look more credible than they are.

So, my dear Annaji, please read up on the famous Aesop's fable, and realize you do not have to try to please everyone - the RSS, the Dalits, the Muslims, Irom Sharmila, Digvijay Singh, Manish Tiwari, the supporters of "akhand Bharat" (pre-partition India), and any others who would like to get famous by uttering your name – else you will end up losing your core constituency, and end up drowning the donkey. Please focus your energies on removing corruption in India. We need your focus and intensity in THAT battle, not in all the sideshows that you are spending your time on.


  1. I have not been a big supporter of the Anna movement, because I do not fully agree with the demands nor the methods, but I do agree with all of the above points. Annaji would do well to stay focused on his battle against corruption.

  2. Hi Dhananjay,

    I'm glad you agree with the points in the above post, and thanks for letting me know.

    I see from your comment that you have some reservations about the "demands" and the "methods" of Anna's movement.

    To this I would like to respond that while I appreciate that not everyone thinks the Jan Lokpal bill is the best way to combat corruption, and I respect that, I do not think there is anything wrong with Anna's "methods."

    His methods are those of peaceful, nonviolent protest, which is guaranteed by the constitution under 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b). They are completely democratic, CONSTITUTIONAL, and respectful of parliament. There is nothing wrong in carrying candles and marching on the streets to present one's opinions.

    To the other charge that so many critics made in August, viz., that Anna is blackmailing the government, I would like to know where all these critics have been for the past one month, when the pro-Telangana agitators have been carrying out a violent protest to blackmail the government to accede to their demands. They have staged rail and rasta rokos, destroyed public property, beaten up people who defied their "bandh" diktats, halted mining of coal in one of the most important collieries in India, to the extent that we in Pune are facing power shortages (and this is a major reason), have caused huge agricultural and industrial damage, prevented children from going to school, and yet NOT ONE of the masses of "defenders of democracy" who was out with knives against Team Anna for some imaginary "unconstitutionality" in their protest SAID A SINGLE WORD against this unconstitutional, undemocratic, protest by the TRS and other folks. Are you aware that destruction of public property is unconstitutional? As is rioting?

    Why is it that people are jumping all over Anna for a nonviolent protest (I participated in one rally - we did not even block traffic!) and are completely mum when someone is actually violating the constitution? Can you explain this? Isn't this hypocritical? Aren't the Telangana protesters blackmailing the govt? Where are the critics now?

    All this makes me doubt the honesty of those critics.

  3. 10 out of 10, as usual, Seshadri Kumar :-).

    At first, I thought the title was a reference to Modi, Rahul and someone else!

    1. Thanks, Ganesh!

      At the time I wrote this article (late 2011), Modi wasn't even in the picture, else I love the interpretation you put on the title! Very interesting ... Modi=the man, Pappu=the boy; who to pick for the donkey? :-)


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.