By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO
NEW DELHI: Ironically, of the roughly 17 times that Mahatma Gandhi is known to have fasted throughout his career, none was regarding his stand against corruption. Yet, there is no doubt that the impression held then by the Father of Indian nation, Mohandas K. Gandhi holds true even today. In his opinion, â€œCorruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today.â€ Paradoxically, the manner in which noise has been raised against corruption in todayâ€™s age is barely reflective of Gandhian style in taking a strong stand on issues affecting the common people. In fact, the most important fasts undertaken by Gandhi in September, 1947 and January, 1948 were in favor of peace among the different religious communities living in India. Multi-religious secularism was one of the most important goals promoted by fasts undertaken by Gandhi. His first fast in March, 1918 was to display his support for mill workers of Ahmadabad, who were suffering because of cut in their livelihood driving them to the point of starvation. Besides, the dress adopted by him, the Indian-dhoti (loin cloth) wrapped around him, was his style of identifying himself with the Indian poor. It was this dress that led British statesman Winston Churchill to label Gandhi as the â€œhalf-naked fakir.â€
Against this backdrop, one is naturally tempted to analyze the Gandhian-hype raised by the fast recently undertaken in India by Anna Hazare. Earlier this month, he went on a fast against corruption. He ended his fast after 98 hours, when the central government conceded to his demand and issued a gazette notification setting up a joint committee of ministers and civil society activists to re-draft the Lokpal Bill. Breaking his five-day fast on April 10, he said: â€œFasting is the most democratic way of protest. Anti-corruption bodies like the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) and Vigilance Commissions have failed, since they are all under the government. Such a law (Lokpal) is urgently needed to ensure independent investigations on corruption charges.â€
Welcoming Hazareâ€™s decision to end fast, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated: â€œI am happy that the government and representatives of civil society have reached an agreement in our mutual resolve to combat corruption. This is a scourge that confronts all of us. The government intends to introduce the Lokpal Bill in Parliament during the monsoon session.â€
Chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the joint drafting committee on Lokpal Bill held its first meeting on April 16. The meeting co-chaired by senior advocate Shanti Bhushan lasted for around 90 minutes. The 10-member committee for redrafting the Bill includes Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed. Besides Hazare himself, his nominees are Justice N. Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan, advocate Prashant Bhushan and activist Arvind Kejriwal. The committeeâ€™s second meeting is scheduled for May 2.
While Hazareâ€™s fast lasted, the media and political hype created the impression as if the entire country was participating in a major revolution, and they will not rest till their mission was accomplished. With the fast over and the government playing its part in paying due attention to Hazareâ€™s demand, questions are being raised over the credibility of the entire show. In fact, with each passing day, more questions are being raised on whether the whole affair was worth the attention it secured and money spent over it. Also, Hazare and a few of his nominees in the drafting committee are facing trouble over their individual credentials. Hazare has been strongly criticized for having praised Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the stateâ€™s development. This has naturally provoked activists and secular Indians to raise questions on whether Hazare has paid any attention to sufferings faced by victims of the Gujarat-carnage that targeted Muslims. People in general are also puzzled at Hazare having included both Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant in the committee. Besides, â€œnewsâ€ on a CD containing an alleged conversation between Shanti and a few politicians over â€œinfluencingâ€ a judge, has raised questions over the â€œclean and corruption-freeâ€ image of Hazareâ€™s associates.
Strongly condemning his praise of Modi, a statement, signed by activists, read: â€œFor the veteran anti-corruption social activist, Hazare to endorse a politician against whom a Supreme Court led investigation into conspiracy to commit mass murder and rape, subversion of evidence and pressure and intimidation of key witnesses is still under way, reveals a narrow and mercenary understanding of the meaning of corruption.â€
Drawing attention to there being a linkage between the people close to Hazare and saffron-brigade groups, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress leader Digvijay Singh said: â€œI canâ€™t call him to be supporting the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or the BJP cause. But he should be careful with some associates he chose. The banner which was used as the backdrop (at the protest site) Bharatmata resembled that of the RSS. People who are close to the Gandhian (Hazare) were somehow close to the BJP also.â€ Singh suggested that Hazare was being â€œexploitedâ€ by certain people for their own political motives.
Interestingly, while Hazareâ€™s â€œmovementâ€ appeared to be at its peak, there was no dearth of celebrities, including film actors displaying their support for his anti-corruption drive. Questions are being raised on whether the celebritiesâ€™ support for Hazareâ€™s stand was genuine or was simply a â€œlip-serviceâ€ for mediaâ€™s sake. Now, those who didnâ€™t support him are justifying their stand. Actor Sharmila Tagore has strongly criticized Hazareâ€™s hunger-strike. Tagore, who has earlier served as chairperson of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), said: â€œIn a functioning democracy hunger strike tantamounts to blackmail and the government also gave in to it.â€ In her opinion, â€œcorruption is a very important issue and it needs to be tackled, but not in the way it was done.â€ Tagore pointed out: â€œThere was no debate or discussion in the media too. Besides people like Baba Ramdev joining in and Annaâ€™s subsequent praising of Narendra Modi and Raj Thackeray was disturbing.â€
While different people may have their own reasons for describing Hazareâ€™s â€œfightâ€ against corruption as Gandhian or not, clearly, prospects of it succeeding in totally rooting out corruption at all levels from the Indian system remain dim!