This is Jeyamohan’s reply to a question on his blog.
I seem to get a lot of such letters these days. What I find common in them is that, the people who cast doubts on Anna Hazare’s movement at its peak are the same ones that proclaim that they have lost their faith in him.
I had speculated – and written – earlier that the press and the government would gradually start a campaign of slander and character assassination on Team Anna Hazare. That has been our history: Anna would be forced to drink the same “medicine” that Vinobha [Bhave], Ram Manohar Lohia and Jaiprakash Narayan were force-fed.
It’s impossible to implicate a person like Anna in acts of corruption or misconduct. However, it IS possible to keep flinging accusations on him. The accusations that are continuously brought out in the media will try to tarnish his image. The media carried out such attacks even on a person like Jaiprakash Narayan who lived and died in such penury that he couldn’t meet his daily expenses.
Ridicule is an even more powerful weapon. These people – from Jaiprakash Narayan to Anna Hazare – are not statesmen who measure their words. Nor are they politicians who speak but cliches. It’s hard to get the better of such people [statesmen and politicians].
True social activists are likely to be those who have risen from the public. They talk in a language that the public understands and reflect its feelings. Their speech is mostly spontaneous, thus making it easy for the media to quote them out of context; to make them contradict themselves; to make them sound like prattle.
In times past, there have been many who have fallen victims to such tactics, chief among them being Jaiprakash Narayan. If you were to look up the English media of the seventies, you would see how his concept of a total revolution was ridiculed to such an extent that it came to be seen as some kind of madness. It would even make your blood boil.
I’ve been reading about the times of Lohia and JB Kripalani who were able to foresee the massive failure of Nehru’s economic model as early as the fifties! They realised that the triad of five-year plans, green revolution and urbanisation would ultimately end up destroying rural economy.
Jaiprakash Narayan has spoken about farmer suicides on many an occasion in the sixties. Lohia argued that the entire economic planning had to be redone with rural development factored in. Jaiprakash Narayan concurred, calling it the “total revolution”, and successfully made it a public movement. At first, the media supported it, [though] superficially, because the public looked at it favourably.
Jaiprakash Narayan’s movement was fundamentally against capitalism in India. Gradually, they began to make it an object of ridicule. Every speech of his was distorted. They painted him as an old man who contradicted himself. His statements were taken out of context and were used to construct a totally contrary image [of him]. What was astonishing was how, within a span of five years, Jaiprakash Narayan went from a man who had the whole of North India in a state of commotion with his cry for total revolution to a joker! The picture is not very different today.
Jaiprakash Narayan was an emotional man. He spoke from his heart on stage. “Beat them back” and “smash them” were phrases that he used in the colloquial Hindi that he addressed the people in. The media made news of these repeatedly and showed the Gandhian as a man who supported violence; as someone who wanted to threaten the whole structure of India; as someone who encouraged anarchy; and finally, as someone who incited youth to violence. By sowing seeds of disbelief in the Indian middle class, the media completely defeated his tremendous effort to turn the Indian government’s vision towards rural economy.
Many things can be found in common between JP Narayan’s movement and Anna Hazare’s. Anna’s movement too is fundamentally against the triad of Capitalism-Urbanisation-Corruption. It was founded on the reality of the abandonment and the decimation of farmers. Just like JP Narayan, Anna Hazare is not a politician either; he’s a public servant who has come from amongst the public. His language, therefore, is not that of a politician or a statesman. His voice naturally reflects the spirit / emotions of the people, which is what makes it easy for the media to ridicule it.
If the people who complain that “Anna Hazare doesn’t go the Gandhi way fully” acknowledge either that Gandhi’s way was right, or that Anna was going in the right direction until now when he has strayed away, that would be positive criticism. But they are bringing these arguments on only in order to destroy the enemy who is clearly visible to them. They have no intellectual honesty whatsoever in their argument.
Like they [the media] did to JP Narayan, the discrete words spoken by Anna or his team are being pieced together to form statements, which are then taken up by the corrupt section of our middle-class for ridicule and derogatory commentary. They engage in moot debates of why Anna Hazare said this and that, and whether his words are in accordance with Gandhian ideology.
Do you know why Gandhi was not awarded the Nobel prize? He said that if the Pakistan military did not help in providing safe passage to those who wanted to move to India, then there was the possibility of war between the two countries. The British press spun this as Gandhi’s threats to Pakistan; that he was opposed to world peace. The Nobel committee believed it. This campaign of slander against Gandhi continued for more than five years. When asked about this, Gandhi did not attempt to explain it, saying he had no interest in it.
Gandhi was not uneducated like Anna Hazare. Nor was he from a simple background who worked among the public. He was a barrister, a great statesman who had a tremendous control over his speech. Even he was brought down to this state. His words were misquoted and misinterpreted many times. He has been characterised many times as a racist, violent activist, religious fanatic and so on by the English press. There is, then, no surprise that Anna Hazare is being subject to a similar treatment.
There’s just one thing that we have to do: there is one huge difference between Anna Hazare and those that malign him. Anna is not a talker; nor is he a journalist; he hasn’t projected himself as a speaker of sharp words or a thinker of rare thoughts. He’s a public servant. He has proved his dedication, honesty and ability in that arena before coming to public life. Having been presented with an historic moment to be the people’s spokesman, he naturally speaks their language.
Why do we, the educated middle-class, not believe his past, his achievements, and instead trust completely the half-baked editors of the English press? Have we become so brainwashed? This is what we have to think about!
In every discussion about Anna Hazare, an important argument makes its appearance, particularly in English press articles written by the so-called star writers. (Most of these writers are are power brokers for capitalists – like Burkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai). They repeatedly point out in all their articles that Anna Hazare is uneducated, incapable of speaking English, and a layman.
The reason for the deterioration in our ability to think, and the ruin of our society is the very same English, the half-baked doctrines and the translated philosophies that these educated geniuses were taught in educational institutions. They are unable to understand the crores of our masses. Instead, these “educated” elite act as the mouthpiece of the gentry who believe in the right to exploit these people.
Anna Hazare came from the lowest rungs of society; he’s one of them. He may be called a product of the reaction of the people of India to Gandhi. He did not learn Gandhian ideology and then decide to act on it. Rather, he started working against the degradation that he saw around him using Gandhian ideology. He found Gandhi through his development plans.
Anna Hazare’s views can be understood only when seen from this perspective. When he went to Ralegaon Siddhi, it was a village notorious for its production of country liquor. Using only his righteousness, he attempted to create a change. He brought back the Panchayat system that had been around for hundreds of years, removing from it the caste-based elitism. He made sure that people of every caste were equally represented and could participate equally. He made those people realise that no development plan would be possible without such participation, and achieved progress. I’ve seen this myself in Ralegaon Siddhi. It’s probably the only village in Northern India that gives the power of village governance to Dalits.
Anna Hazare claims only that they opposed the dominance of alcohol using the Panchayat system. He did not formally learn the Gandhian way and go there attempting to implement it. He went there as one among the people, and worked as one among them. It is natural that he shares some of their beliefs. Any man in his right senses would agree that alcoholism destroys the rural economy. Anna might have attempted to establish a form of ostracism or some such punishment against this social evil.
The media, however, carefully paints a different picture. Anna Hazare is not the dictator of Ralegaon Siddhi, and is quite unlike the omnipotent zamindar of Tamil movies. He’s merely the public servant who lives in the town’s temple. His simplicity is what powers his righteous authority. He speaks not about his authority, but about the authority of the village Panchayat.
There are local reasons for Anna Hazare’s views that political elections were unnecessary there. He felt that if people lost their unity because of party politics, it could disrupt the big developmental plans for the village. Moreover, the decision to prevent party politics was not made by his individual authority: it was a Panchayat decision. The traditional method of making decisions by public discussion was what was followed there. Whether that decision was right can be judged only by factoring in that particular environment. It [that decision] has produced fantastic results there. In contrast, Panchayats formed by party politics have led to corruption and ruin. The reality is that [in such places] politics divides people to the extent that no one can effectively challenge the authority of the Panchayat.
The picture portrayed by the media is one in which Anna has banned politics for his personal gain. His achievements and his dedication that led to them have been conveniently ignored; the image of a village landlord with a belt in his hand and a villainous laugh is what is being depicted.
Anna Hazare was involved in these activities in the eighties. He did not look beyond that village, nor did he have any dreams beyond it. He was “discovered” only after the Indian Gandhian movement and environmental groups publicised his achievements. When I went to Ralegaon Siddhi, it was 1987. Even then, it struck me that he had no goal outside of Ralegaon Siddhi. He met with corruption and governmental repression as an honest social activist. That’s how he became involved in Maharashtrian and national politics.
I don’t think anybody has ever described Anna Hazare a man without faults. He’s just a man who moved towards Gandhian ideology through practical actions. Just that. Gandhian ideology is unlike religious ideology which has completeness and purity as its attributes – it’s more a vision and a set of practical guidelines for achieving that vision. Each Gandhian moves towards that vision with the help of those practical guidelines to the best of his / her ability.
How can one be completely faithful to Gandhian ideology? By doing nothing other than talking about it! A person who steps into the field serving others and facing consequences will have to explain it in many ways, moving away from it on occasion, and on other (rare) occasions, moving against it. We call Anna Hazare a Gandhian only because both his village economic reforms and his national war against corruption have been achieved in keeping completely with Gandhian ideology.
It’s heartening to note that our educated middle-class geniuses have no doubt whatsoever about what Ahimsa is, what righteousness [Dharma] is. The Gita calls them “Sthithaprajna”s. Even Arjuna, having heard the Gita directly, did not reach that state. Nor did Gandhi. Gandhi had his doubts about what Ahimsa was right till the very end of his life. He called for soldiers to fight for the British in the First World War. He thought that the British were righteous forces at the world level and therefore that they shouldn’t lose. He thought that the British would give India democratic rights, and that India would do well to learn what it is to exercise the rights of a democratic society.
There were many among Gandhi’s own students / disciples who thought that that went against the principles that Gandhi talked about. He could not convince them by rhetoric. He then stopped with, “I act on the promptings of my conscience.” When Gandhi went to villages campaigning for enlistment, the public was both shocked and confused. He pleaded with them to believe him. It was only their trust in his honesty and integrity that led them to follow him, not the power of his clear ideology.
He [Gandhi] was not very clear in his mind about this till the end. That was why he read and re-read the Gita. Where the poor were being killed in religious riots, he asked the military to take severe steps and bring law and order. He didn’t think that it was against Ahimsa. However, he did speak against victims of violence retaliating against the aggressors; he advised forgiveness instead. He explained that it was the way of ahimsa. Then and now, his Ahimsa allowed for both idealism and practicality at the same time. Our geniuses do not understand this.
Gandhian ideology is not a perfected one. Laurie Baker, the man who insisted on a bar in his Gandhian village was a Gandhian too. Even Lech Wałęsa who was a drunkard was hailed as Poland’s Gandhi by his followers!
Gandhian ideology can be understood at many different levels:
1. Social outlook. It can be defined in terms of its facets like distribution of power, denial of a centre, moving towards completeness in small steps, and denial of consumerism.
2. Gandhian politics. Seeking unity instead of divisiveness. Seeking progress through compromises. Fighting for rights using Ahimsa.
3. Personal morality / virtue. Based on individual honesty, simplicity, and moderation / continence.
Among the people who can be called Gandhians today, most have tried to follow, and have succeeded in following, at least one of these. EF Schumacher was a Gandhian, but he followed just the first principle. Martin Luther King was a Gandhian, but he followed just the second path. Vinobha followed just the third aspect.
Hence, to reject Martin Luther King on the basis of his character would be absurd. Even Gandhi attained the fulfilment of his ideology only towards the end. Gandhi has supported wars in the beginning. To expect someone to start at the peak of Gandhi’s achievement and then move forward from there is just being silly, nothing else!
Anna Hazare believed in Gandhian economics within the limits of his character and he has achievements to show for it. As a believer in Gandhi’s code of personal morality, he has remained faultless in his private life. He has also taken up politics the Gandhian way.
To be a Gandhian, one does not have to accept every one of Gandhi’s lines and live exactly like him. Anna may differ from Gandhi in certain respects and may even believe that violence may be necessary in certain situations. He may have picked that up from the practicalities of life. Gandhi was a practical man too.
From the perspective of Gandhian ideology, we may be able to argue that Anna Hazare’s belief is wrong. We may reject that aspect of his personality. But to label him a Fascist, comedian or fool, and to make him look as someone against Gandhi himself is just abject slander. The English media in India has always been guilty of character assassinations; that’s the poison that they dished out to Gandhi too.
I’ve written in detail about village self-governance that was originally put forward by Gandhi. I have deep reservations about it. I’ve blogged about those reservations too. I feel it’s impossible to establish a system of self-governance in a village or a province that goes against the global economic trend. It just wouldn’t last long. It may, at most, last a generation – that’s all. That village will have to keep fighting against the whole world, it will have to close all its doors. It will be able to survive only by penalties like village controls and ostracism. It’s a short-lived dream at best. In the article that I’d written in Malayalam after my visit to Ralegaon Siddhi, this is what I had mentioned.
Gandhi’s village Panchayat system and self-governance need to be expanded upon and adapted to our modern times. I consider the approach of people like JC Kumarappa and EF Schumacher to be the best.
There are only two types of people among us. There are those who fear Anna Hazare – they require just one reason to reject him. They immediately start heaping criticism and slander on him on the one hand while rationalising with words the mountain of mistakes and dishonest acts of their leaders.
Then there are the believers. These require a messiah, a man who is infallible. They are always searching for faults, for failures. They feel relieved when they find one. “Ha, he’s a mere mortal too”, they chuckle! Even if Gandhi were to appear before them today, they would seek out his flaws first! Really, are things being / going to be said of Anna that have not been said about Gandhi?
The one among us today is a man of action who, in his boundaries, his possibilities, his practicality, tries to implement the Gandhian ideology. Hence, he’s a Gandhian. He’s not a bigger Gandhi than Gandhi, nor is he a messiah. That his honesty has survived, intact, the slander of all these critics is what surprises me. It’s enough to examine those that slander him for just half an hour, or follow their activities for a week to realise the rot in their own private lives.
A man has arrived today who not only speaks for them but is also from them. His is a massive contribution – he insists on rectitude in public life. He appeals for the common virtues that we have compromised. No political party has the integrity to ask for these since they have all compromised it in one way or the other. Without doing so, it wouldn’t be possible to handle the election-politics. Only a person like Anna who stands apart from it can do so.
Capitalism permeates every corrupt practice of our election-politics. Capitalism runs our media. Most of these media persons are merely power brokers. They see Anna Hazare as someone opposed to them, which is why they’re out to destroy him. They use every trick in the media trade to achieve that goal.
When I was in a political movement at its peak, I learnt a fact that shocked me. In Tamil Nadu, many industrialists extend financial support to Naxalites and encourage them because their prime enemies are the left / right communist unions. These extreme right-wingers help weaken the unions by criticism and slander. Because these extremists never grow to any significant strength, there’s no danger caused by them.
This is what Indian capitalism does. The real danger is fighters like Anna Hazare who have the support of the masses. They can be destroyed by the “extremists” – who can never garner enough public support – by slander and allegations. These paper tigers can never get much support from the public. It’s the voice of these “extremists” that we hear now.
On the other hand, there are those that speak a thousand truths while concealing excessively religious fanatic and terrorist tendencies. The media makes use of them too.
Anna Hazare is a great opportunity for India. An historic moment awaits us. Whether we seize the moment and be successful, or lose it and embrace failure in the same way that we lost JP Narayan, is a question that will determine our future. That question can only be answered if we are able to conduct a private conversation with our conscience.