Tag Archive for 'Anna Hazare'

Now, Team Anna wants to party

Mukul Kesavan in The Times of India:

The calling card of India Against Corruption (IAC) has been indignant virtue. Its virtue derives from its leadership’s record of public service, its indignation is directed at the corruption in India’s public life. The appeal and drawing power of virtuous indignation lies in the brazen dishonesty of the political establishment and the middle class’s gift for seeing itself as the blameless victim of a parasitic state.

Arvind Kejriwal, the strategist of the Anna Hazare movement, displayed an early appreciation of television as a means of magnifying virtue. In the early days, before the first Jantar Mantar fast made Anna a household name, he drew Baba Ramdev into the movement because of the drawing power of Ramdev’s television persona. At the time he was uncertain whether Anna’s charisma as a provincial activist would scale up to fill a national stage.

After the landmark Ramlila Ground fast which delivered the remarkable spectacle of India’s imperious political class waiting upon a fasting septuagenarian’s every move, Anna’s success in creating a civil society juggernaut seemed complete. Parliament promised a Lokpal law based on the Jan Lokpal Bill and Anna’s moral authority as a Gandhian fasting his way to martyrdom or political victory briefly eclipsed Parliament’s standing as the republic’s elected legislature. More:

A for Anna, B for Baba, C for Camera

Bishwanath Ghosh in The Hindu:

Do we even realise how little we work our minds these days when it comes to analysing events around us? We feed on the frenzy whipped up by news channels; and, when caught in a verbal duel between distinguished panellists with colliding views, we are so confused that we end up adopting the voice and the demeanour of the excited news anchor. Since TV news is 24/7, you are never ever given a chance to let your own thoughts precipitate: the animated anchor is always breathing down your neck, telling you what to think.

Amid such cacophony, listening to a yoga guru can be a pleasant distraction. I gave up watching TV news long ago, ever since the channels discovered the art of breaking news, but I always loved watching the telecast of Baba Ramdev’s yoga camps, even though he would keep demonstrating the same set of postures and breathing exercises day after day, month after month.

Here was a man — a hitherto unheard-of swami in a country that boasts of larger-than-life gurus — who got the entire country practising pranayama. Even on trains and in public parks you could see people sitting upright and either exhaling forcefully or breathing through alternate nostrils. The talkative swami had brought about a yoga revolution, something that serious, larger-than-life gurus could not succeed in doing in their own country even though they are worshipped in the West. All this thanks to TV. More:

Indian revolution born in farce ends in one

Manu Joseph in NYT:

Last week in Mumbai, an old man accepted defeat. Anna Hazare sat cross-legged on a stage, enduring yet another fast and staring bleakly at a massive public ground that can fit 100,000 people but was not filling up with supporters as he had expected. Just a few thousand had turned out to watch, a small fraction of the numbers the 74-year-old man had attracted during his earlier fasts in New Delhi to demand the creation of a powerful anti-corruption body called the Lokpal that would primarily roast politicians and bureaucrats. The news media, too, had grown tired of his fasts. All this and poor health forced Mr. Hazare to end his demonstration just a day after he had begun his three-day fast.

As his nine-month-old revolution floundered, the government presented its Lokpal bill in the upper house of the Parliament, where it was defeated by members citing its various provisions and technicalities.

For more than four decades, Parliament members have been trying to create a Lokpal, and they have, not surprisingly, failed, because it would be suicidal for them to succeed. Mr. Hazare has promised to return and fight another day on the streets, which he certainly will do, but with diminished halo and media support. The self-styled revolution of the urban middle class against the corrupt political class elected by the masses appears to be over. More:

A PM in peril

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

When he assumed office in 2004, Manmohan Singh was by some distance India’s best educated prime minister. He was the most widely travelled since Jawaharlal Nehru. He was the most honest since Lal Bahadur Shastri. He had a wide range of experience in government, having served as, among other things, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and finance minister.

There were great expectations of Singh as prime minister; few of which have been fulfilled. Those who thought that the co-author (with P.V. Narasimha Rao) of the first generation of economic reforms would further free entrepreneurs from State control have been disappointed. So have those who hoped the experienced administrator would modernize the civil service by encouraging the lateral entry of professionals, those who believed that the former secretary general of the South Commission would adopt a foreign policy independent of Western (more specifically, American) pressures; and most of all, those who imagined that a person of rectitude and personal honesty would promote probity in politics and administration.

This last failure explains, among other things, the appeal of Anna Hazare, a man whose intellectual vision is as confined as Singh’s is large. In the early part of 2011, as the evidence of cabinet collusion in the Commonwealth Games and 2G scams accumulated, the prime minister continued to shield his corrupt ministers. After Anna Hazare’s fasts, a popular, countrywide movement against corruption began to take shape. Singh still would not act. In the popular imagination, the prime minister was now seen as indecisive and self-serving, his fellow septuagenarian, Anna Hazare, as courageous and self-sacrificing. It is a mark of how disappointing Manmohan Singh’s second term has been that it has allowed an authoritarian village reformer — with little understanding of what Mohandas K. Gandhi said, did, or meant — to claim the mantle of the Mahatma. More:

A pocket guide to the Lokpal Bill

From India Ink at NYT:

Late Thursday afternoon, the Indian government introduced the Lokpal Bill in the lower house of Parliament, which would create an all-powerful nine-member anti-corruption ombudsman agency. The law will be debated next week.

The bill says:

The Lokpal (or agency) will provide a uniform vigilance and anti-corruption road map for the nation.

The Lokpal can investigate the Prime Minister, although with certain caveats, like the omission of matters of national security.

All public servants could be subject to the Lokpal.

The ombudsman can make an inquiry into any entity which receives donations from foreign sources above 1 million rupees (or about $20,000).

The ombudsman group will be selected by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition in lower house, the chief justice of India, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament and an eminent jurist.

Punishment for officials found guilty of corruption will range from two years to ten years. More:

Occupy in India

Bill Keller in NYT:

Since I was passing through India on a reporting project, I decided to drop in on Anna Hazare, the anticorruption campaigner whose admirers speak of him as the reincarnation of Gandhi. Kisan Baburao Hazare (“Anna” is a Marathi honorific meaning “older brother”) has been a figure in provincial Indian affairs for decades, but he galvanized attention this year when his threat to fast to the death shamed the government into endorsing reforms. I wondered what Hazare, as an exemplar of a venerable style of civil pressure, made of Occupy Wall Street.

Back home, the Occupiers have been pandered to (“Love your energy!”); patronized (“Here, I’ve drafted you a list of demands …”); co-opted by unions, celebrities and activists for various causes; demonized by the right; arrested and tear-gassed in some cities; and taken lightly by the likes of me. They have been a combination national mood ring and political Rorschach test. Perhaps by consulting someone who is a serious candidate for the pantheon of protest, I thought, I could sharpen my own understanding of what the Occupy project means.

About the time I put in my request for an interview, Hazare, exhausted by his latest hunger strike and weary of the media melodramas that have bedeviled his team, announced that he had taken an indefinite “vow of silence.” This raised questions in my mind — Was he planning to continue his protest as a mime? — but of course I had little hope of getting answers from him because … well, you see the problem. More:

Anna Hazare is the icon of banal Hindutva

Jyotirmaya Sharma in India Today:

Does Anna Hazare have an ideology? Despite the surfeit of emotion that Hazare generates, this is a legitimate question that ought to be asked, understood and answered. That he is no democrat in the sense the word ‘democracy’is normally understood is a foregone conclusion, something that even his most vocal admirers would admit. He brings to debate and discussion the rigour and predictability of a military drill. His model of rule, governance and statecraft is that of undiluted paternalism, something even his secret admirers would admit.

That he is medieval in his outlook, one who would like people who he doesn’t like to be flogged in public, hanged in public and humiliated in public, is no great secret waiting to reveal itself. His world is a simple world that divides people into friends and foes and proceeds to pass moral strictures against his foes.

Neither is he too bright: calling actions evil can be polarising, but he calls people evil which is polemical and arrogant. He does not have the mental facility to focus on actions rather than the agents of such action. He feels he has neither the capacity for error nor the capacity for self-deception. For him, rhetoric is a substitute for explanation and not a demand for explanation. More:

Ab bus karo, please!

Yatras, fasts, bandhs, gheraos are old political tricks inherited by an independent India; last century’s tactics to deal with this century’s problems. And, yet, India has moved on. Why then have our politicians failed to come up with new ideas, writes Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times.

Uh-oh, there he goes again.

Like an Annual Day school theme, every edition of L.K. Advani’s rath yatra comes with its own slogan. This one’s against corruption. And black money. Heck, it even has its own rock anthem: Ab bus. (Bus? What happened to the rath?)

If you’re looking for novelty, look elsewhere. In the past one month, six different politicians will be rolling out their own yatras. There’s a sewa yatra by Nitish Kumar and a kranti yatra by Akhilesh Yadav. Even yoga teacher-turned anti-corruption crusader Baba Ramdev has a yatra – no word yet on whether comely girls in eye-catching leotard will perform roadshow asanas.

There’s a sense of déjà vu: been there, seen that. Advani is a veteran; this is his sixth roadshow since 1990’s Somnath to Ayodhya tour. The story goes that Advani was planning a padyatra, or walking tour, to drum up support for the Ram mandir when Pramod Mahajan came up with the idea of converting a truck into a ‘rath’ because a walk would take too long. The plan worked; newspapers reported how people were flocking to the rath, smearing dust from its tyres on their foreheads. The BJP won the next election, even though it was A.B. Vajpayee not Advani who became prime minister.  Continue reading ‘Ab bus karo, please!’

The fault lines appear

Vir Sanghvi looks at the inherent contradictions within Team Anna and warns that history shows how no single-issue movement has managed to contain its inherent contradictions.

Prashant Bhushan (with glasses) and Arvind Kejriwal

The attack on Prashant Bhushan, apparently because of his support for a plebiscite in Kashmir, shows up some of the fault-lines within the Anna Hazare movement. Ironically, the attack occurred on a day when the Congress’ Digvijaya Singh was producing letters which he said revealed a link between the RSS and the Anna movement. But the people who attacked Bhushan held views that most people would regard as right wing and indeed, at least one of the attackers was shown to have a Sangh Parivar background.

 Almost from the time the Anna Hazare movement took off, there has been an inherent contradiction within its leadership. Kiran Bedi is the Sangh Parivar’s ideal woman. She herself is open in her admiration of L.K. Advani. Arvind Kejriwal says he is apolitical but is certainly not left wing or overly hostile to the BJP. Prashant Bhushan, on the other hand, is a self-confessed socialist of sorts. He has supported Arundhati Roy, defends Maoists and Naxalites, is deeply suspicious of business and capitalism and is seen as a sympathiser by many Kashmiri separatists including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. more

Conversation with Anna Hazare

In The New York Times:

Q. Some people compare you to Gandhi. How do you feel about that comparison?

A. That is not fair. I am not able to even sit at Gandhi’s feet. But I try to follow his philosophy.

Q. Your fasts have been called political blackmail. Is that fair?

A. What do you mean, blackmail? Am I asking for money? They have forgotten the constitution. In 1950, the people became owners of this country. Because all the people cannot go to Parliament, we have elected [politicians] to make good laws and to take care of the treasury. If they are not making good laws and not keeping the treasury clean, if I protest against that, it is not blackmail.

Q. How do you spend your day?

A. I get up at 5. I do one-and-half hours of yoga, pranayama, than meditation. At 8:30, people start coming. This continues till evening. In between I find time to write letters. I sleep at 10. More:

Whose politics is it anyway?

Sunil Khilnani in the Times of India argues that recent movements exemplified by Anna Hazare, the battles over mining and land use and the opposition to nuclear installations challenge our definitions of political action.

The Anna Hazare meteor, as well as many other recent agitations and mobilisations roiling across the landscape – whether battles over mining, land or the siting of nuclear installations, whether about khap panchayats or over gujjar status – are not simply disaffected challenges to the particular party that happens to be in office. They go deeper than the issue of the Indian state’s ability to govern adequately. In fact, they display all the signs of a more fundamental disturbance that, periodically, unsettles our sense of the political domain.

Set aside for a moment the disparate individual figures and collective aspirations involved in recent protests, or even their actual substantive demands. The fact is that by resolutely refusing the existing party political channels in favour of direct action, they pose at once a practical challenge to our political routines as well as to our very ideas of what politics actually is. That is, they challenge the accepted definitions of political action and argument, and question the repertoire of acceptable political protest.  more

The other hunger strike

In New York Times, Lydia Polgreen meets Irom Chanu Sharmila who has been on a hunger strike for the past 11 years and is force-fed through a tube

She arrived in an ambulance, thin and ghostly pale, a tube dangling from her nostril. Flanked by police officers, she was ushered into the judge’s chambers for a fortnightly ritual she has repeated hundreds of times. Was she ready to end her fast?

Irom Chanu Sharmila, a 39-year-old poet and activist, gave her usual reply: no. With that, she was taken back to the hospital room where she spends her days in isolation, force-fed a sludgy mix of nutrients though the tube in her nose. This routine has gone on, remarkably, for 11 years.

A recent 12-day fast by the social activist Anna Hazareparalyzed India’s political system, captured the nonstop attention of its hyperkinetic 24-hour cable news media and inspired hundreds of thousands of people across the country to rally in his crusade against corruption. more

Spare us the Gandhian halo

In their zest for Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, people forgot to find out what he really stands for. Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

On a Headlines Today programme, the channel head, an enthusiastic Rahul Kanwal, is talking to Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal (a former IRS officer who is now a prominent civil society activist). As he begins discussing ‘Ab iske aage kya’ (What now after this?), he turns to Anna Hazare, and asks in Hindi, “You say that those who are corrupt should be hanged, is that not against Gandhian principles?” Anna answers, again in Hindi, “That is why I have said that, today, in many things, along with Gandhi we have to look towards Shivaji. [Unclear] Patel committed a mistake, and Shivaji had the man’s hands cut off. This policy of Chhatrapati, in many ways, we have to think about. Hundred per cent non-violence is not possible. Sometimes, even this has to be done, and that is why I have been saying that these people should be hanged…” Kiran Bedi interjects, “Anna is not taking away due process… he is going by the due process, the point is [that] economic offences today in our country are bailable, [are punished] by fines, minimum imprisonment; [there’s] no recovery of property, it is a joke.”

This is a perfect example of how the Anna Hazare movement has been operating for a while. There is little confusion about what Anna Hazare means: when he says “hang them”, he means “hang them”; when he says “cut their hands off”, he means “cut their hands off”. Kiran Bedi did interject to put a palatable spin on these words, but what she said was clearly not what Anna meant. The accompanying profile in this issue clearly shows these words are in keeping with his past. As a result of Anna’s reformist zeal, the people of his native village Ralegan Siddhi have witnessed the public flogging of those who dare to drink, a ban on all intoxicants, and restrictions on cable TV. It does not take much to see how closely this resembles the ideals of the Taliban, especially if you factor in the idea of a few hands being chopped off. Which is why it is no surprise that the sympathy he has long displayed for the Hindu Right has culminated in his endorsement of Narendra Modi. More:

Democracy’s saintly challenger

Shashi Tharoor in Project Syndicate:

It can be argued that a society makes laws to regulate itself, and that civil society, therefore, is a source of law. Indian democracy accords specific rights to citizens to enable them exercise their political freedoms: freedom of speech and association permit members of civil society to rally, argue and discuss, debate and criticize, protest and strike, and even go on hunger strikes, in order to support or challenge their governments. This is an essential part of promoting governmental accountability between elections.

No Indian seriously argues that a citizen’s democratic rights begin and end with the right to vote. But civil society’s impact on lawmaking is confined to the influence it brings to bear on elected legislators.

Of course, extra-parliamentary pressures cannot simply be ignored. In 1952, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s government reversed its position and constituted a States Reorganization Commission in response to a hunger strike by the Gandhian leader Potti Sriramulu, who demanded the creation of linguistic states (and died in the process). The Commission’s report led to the redrawing of India’s administrative and federal map in 1956.

But the rule remains that lawmaking in India is responsive to civil society through the process of consultation and debate by people’s representatives chosen through democratic elections. This constitutional mechanism has been strained by recent events. Thanks to Hazare, the idea has gained ground that laws can be dictated from the street.

In a parliamentary democracy, only elected MPs can make laws. Their claim to represent the people, whose votes they have sought and won, cannot be lightly disregarded in favor of those who have not earned the right to represent the people through a democratic election. More:

A family affair

With the exception of the communist parties, no political party in India has a schedule of internal voting, writes Sumit Mitra in the Hindustan Times. There can be no political reform in the absence of internal democracy which has turned political parties into family fiefdoms.

From the bulldozing style of public affairs activist Anna Hazare, nobody will say that his methods are democratic to a T. Some called him a hick town dictator.   ‘I, the people,’ reads the headline of a report in The Economist critical of his fast. Yet he has been successful so far because the government never took the corruption issue seriously, nor did it ever show any earnestness to liberate the anti-corruption mechanism from politicians’ stranglehold. Instead, it got, as Central Vigilance Commissioner,  the official who orders corruption inquiries, a man who was himself facing trial for corruption.

It is in this context of the government’s endemic failure to initiate corrective actions on its own that one needs to examine Anna’s new challenge, which is to cleanse the electoral system. The system’s deficiency lies not in the way it gets people to vote — like the British or the European — but in the very nature of our political parties, which are arbitrary, autocratic and unaccountable. Our Constitution and that of erstwhile West Germany were written around the same time. While ours hardly uses the word ‘party’, the Germans never ignored the elephant in the living room. Their Constitution read, “The parties shall help form the political will of the people… Their internal organisation shall conform to democratic principles.” more

The heart of the problem

Everybody’s talking about corruption, but how many have really understood it? Jagdish Bhagwati in The Times of India:

The ability of huge firms or cronies to bribe governments into creating monopolies that create rents which they capture and share with the obliging politicians and bureaucrats is no longer what it was when we had strict licensing and government-created monopolies in all kinds of activities were accepted as ‘normal’ and even desirable. The 2G spectrum scam is far less stereotypical today than it would have been in the pre-reforms era.

On the other hand, we have now a far more pervasive second type of corruption: the low-level corruption where one has to bribe clerks to get them to do what they are supposed to do. The middle class, in both urban and rural areas, has long been fed up with having to grease every palm that handles documents such as birth certificates and driving licences. The huge response to the Anna-centred agitation is the surface manifestation of this deeply felt sense of malaise that has been growing on the Indian scene with recurrent encounters with bribe-taking petty bureaucrats and officials.

Ironically, however, the focus of the Anna-led campaign is to be understood as turning essentially to tackling high-level corruption instead at central and state levels. Now, high-level corruption implies “political market failure”, to use the language of economics where we talk about “market failure” in the economy. But then we also know that unsophisticated attempts at fixing economic market failure can make matters worse.

Thus, we have come to look at the judiciary to offset political market failure. But if the competence of the judges is deplorable as in the judgment i cited above, that will indeed make matters worse. So, we need to train judges better. We also need to open them to vigorous criticism when they err. My brother P N Bhagwati, the former chief justice of India, tells me that he has never issued a contempt of court order against any critic during his judicial career. That should be the policy of our judiciary: judges cannot be beyond criticism but must earn their respect like the politicians.  More:

India needs a tea party

India’s middle class, newly awakened by Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, needs to participate in Indian democratic practices writes Sadanand Dhume in the Wall Street Journal

Is the Anna Hazare movement a triumph of Indian democracy? To judge by the self-congratulatory air on Indian television, in the press and on social media, the answer would have to be yes. Where else would tens of thousands of peaceful protestors, led by the moral suasion of a 74-year-old hunger striker, force an arrogant government to promise to act on their demand for a tough new anticorruption body?

But step back from this dominant narrative and the Hazare movement looks less like an example of what’s right with Indian democracy. In a smoothly functioning polity, the movement’s leaders—mostly educated middle class professionals—would participate in conventional politics, or else back politicians who share their convictions. But those comprising “Team Anna,” as the leaders are called, actually rail against political parties and elections. more

The grand illusion

Amitav Ghosh in The Hindustan Times:

In the great torrent of words inspired by the anti-corruption movement, what is not being discussed has proved to be almost as significant as what is being said. As a writer I have always been fascinated by the silences that suddenly congeal within the ceaseless argumentation of our collective life. In this instance some of these silences are so striking as to make one wonder why nobody ever mentions the herd of elephants in the room.

Here is one relatively minor instance: on innumerable occasions over the last couple of weeks commentators have excoriated the Congress for its ‘lack of leadership’. Yet, not once have I heard anyone remarking on the fact that this is not just a figure of speech – it is literally true. Sonia Gandhi, the actual leader of the party and the fount of its power, is indeed absent, and is known to be incommunicado because she is recuperating from an operation. It is as if some kind of taboo had arisen around this subject.

But here is a much more significant example: several members of the Congress have spoken with great eloquence about the importance of respecting the sovereignty of Parliament and about the dangers of creating an extra-parliamentary source of legislation. Thus for example P Chidambaram: “Do not diminish the sovereign right of Parliament to make laws. The day this right is diminished even by one millimeter, that will be the saddest day for our democracy.” More:

The nation’s problems cannot be solved by a supercop

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

About 20 years ago, I found myself in the same room as Anna Hazare, at a meeting organized by the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi. Mr Hazare was becoming known in environmental circles for the work he had done in his native village, Ralegan Siddhi. His successful programmes of watershed conservation and afforestation stood in stark contrast to the efforts of the state forest department, which had handed over vast tracts of virgin forests to industry. Moreover, whereas the forest department was hostile to community participation, identifying villagers as ‘enemies of the forest’, Hazare had energized peasants to care for and renew their natural environment.

When Anna Hazare came into that Delhi meeting room of the early 1990s he wore the same dress as he does now. He exuded the same simplicity. But, as I recall, he spoke softly, even with some diffidence. He was not entirely at home in a hall filled with urban folks whose cultural, albeit not moral, capital, was far greater than his.

It is said that power and wealth make men younger. So, apparently, does the attention of television. As we become older, the rest of us grow less alert, less energetic, less combative. This law of biology Hazare seems now to have defied. For the man I now see on my screen is not the man I once saw in a seminar room in New Delhi. He challenges and taunts the government and its ministers, wagging his finger at the cameras. Once, Hazare was the voice and conscience of the village of Ralegan Siddhi; now he demands that he be seen as the saviour of the nation itself. More:

Triumph for Anna as Parliament backs key demands

In The Hindu:

In a historic gesture, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha unanimously resolved to endorse three key ideas that social activist Anna Hazare had insisted be included in the draft Lokpal Bill, now being considered by Parliament.

The ‘sense of the House’ resolution adopted on Saturday night represented a stunning triumph for the fasting anti-corruption crusader who, just 12 days ago, had been arrested and jailed by a government fearful of the protest he was about to embark upon.

As news from Parliament reached Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, where thousands of protesters have kept vigil since August 18, Mr. Hazare was gracious in acknowledging this as a people’s victory. Around half past nine, when a letter from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describing the resolutions was handed over to him by Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, he announced that he would call off his 12-day-old fast at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

The relatively tame denouement followed hours of suspense, drama and some hard bargaining by Mr. Hazare’s chief negotiators — Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal — who proved equal to their counterparts in the government. More:

Don’t mess with the middle class

Swapan Dasgupta in The Times of India:

Intellectuals are easily distinguishable from ‘normal’ people on two counts: first, by their rigid certitudes, their monopoly of the truth and, second, by their susceptibility to allergies—of the aesthetic, not medical variety. “When I hear the word culture”, the corpulent Nazi leader Hermann Goering is (wrongly) reported to have said, “I reach for my gun.” In a similar vein, today’s intellectuals, particularly the Left-liberal variety that dominate India’s cerebral landscape, are inclined to curl their lips, raise their eyebrows and sneer at the mention of two dreaded words: middle class.

The disdain for the middle class may seem an exercise in self-flagellation. However, ever since the iconic Italian communist Antonio Gramsci conferred social autonomy on them, intellectuals have conveniently ceased to regard themselves as middle class. They may be from the class—or a community—but see themselves as being above it. More:


Angry Birds meets Team Anna


Tired of corruption? Angry at corrupt leaders? Well, now there’s a new way to take it out on them.

A new game modeled on the hugely-popular Angry Birds, allows players to sling anti-corruption activists against corrupt politicians who have been “stealing our beloved nation’s money.” (The premise of Angry Birds is a little different: there, the birds are upset with a bunch of pigs who stole their eggs.)

This version of the game, “Angry Anna,” is named after the 73-year-old social activist Anna Hazare, who has been fasting for 11 days to press the government to pass his version of an anti-corruption bill.

The game, designed by the Noida-based company Geek Mentors Studio, encourages visitors to “Play to support Anna Hazare” in his battle against corruption in India.

“Anna’s rallies and protests are going on nationwide, but many who support the cause can’t go out on the streets to participate. So the idea was that people play the game as a support to the noble movement of Mr. Hazare,” said Mohammed Shah Nawaz, one of the game’s developers. More:

Why Anna Hazare is not India’s Arab Spring

Paul Beckett in WSJ:

The great surprise about the Arab uprising was its very existence — a wellspring of popular fury that challenged a well-entrenched, authoritarian political system that had existed, in various guises in various countries, for decades. They were challenging the very bedrock of how they are governed and taking to the streets was viewed as a significant act of defiance in and of itself. And what they were calling for was greater representation in government with a switch to a democratic system.

No one, in contrast, is surprised by crowds taking to the streets in India to vent their frustration. It is almost as much a part of India’s stable and vibrant democracy as voting itself. And that democracy has been about the only constant in the history of independent India — Indira Gandhi’s ill-fated state of emergency aside — as the disparate nation has undergone sharp changes in economic direction and dealt with wars, political assassinations and insurgencies.

While those in the Arab Spring for the most part are pushing for a complete overhaul — a revolution — in how they are governed, those taking to the streets in Delhi are not. Indeed, their demands by the standards of international protests are almost embarrassingly modest and narrow. More:

A comment on the article at WSJ website: “Of course it is not Arab Spring. It is an Indian Monsoon, resplendant with bountiful possibilities.”

JP and Anna; Indira Gandhi and Manmohan Singh

Ramachandra Guha in Hindustan Times:

The materials of history thus suggest that the parallels between JP and Anna are less comforting than we might suppose. Front organisations of the Jana Sangh’s successor, the BJP, are now playing an increasingly active role in ‘India against corruption’. While Anna cannot be blamed for the infiltration of his movement by partisan interests, he certainly stands guilty, as did JP, of suggesting that the street — or the maidan — should have a greater say in political decision-making than a freely elected Parliament.

Such are the parallels in the realm of civil society. What then, of the other side? The main difference here is that while the prime minister of JP’s day, Indira Gandhi, was excessively arrogant, the present prime minister is excessively timid. Despite his personal honesty, Manmohan Singh is complicit in the colossal corruption promoted by the ministers in his government. Further, he is guilty of a lack of faith in the procedures of constitutional democracy. His decision not to stand for a Lok Sabha seat does not violate the Constitution in law, but does so in spirit. Because of his unwillingness to face the electorate, his claim to defend the primacy of Parliament lacks conviction.

An arrogant politician can be chastened by defeat — as happened with Indira Gandhi in 1977. But it is hard to believe, based on his recent record, that Singh can act boldly now to recover the reputation of his government. By not sacking Suresh Kalmadi after the media revelations of his misdeeds, by not sacking

A Raja as soon as the information on the spectrum scandal was sent to his office, by sanctioning an election alliance in Tamil Nadu with the heavily tainted DMK, by refusing to rein in loose-tongued Congress ministers — in these and other ways, the prime minister has contributed to a widespread public revulsion against his regime. It is time that Singh made way for a younger man or woman, for someone who has greater political courage, and who is a member of the Lok Sabha rather than the Rajya Sabha. As things stand, with every passing day in office his reputation declines further. So, more worryingly, does the credibility of constitutional democracy itself. More:

Prime Minister’s letter to Anna Hazare

The Prime Minister has written to Anna Hazare on the Lokpal issue. Below, the text of the letter:

“Over the last few days, I have watched with increasing concern the state of your health. Despite the differences between the Government and your team, I do not think that anybody is or should be in any doubt about the deep and abiding concern which I and our Government share about your health, arising from your continuing fast. I have no hesitation in saying that we need your views and actions in the service of the nation, from a robust physical condition and not in the context of frail or failing health.

I have maintained that your and our object is identical viz. to reduce significantly, if not eliminate, the scourge of corruption from this country. At worst, our paths and methodologies may differ, though I do believe that even those differences have been exaggerated. The Government is committed to passing a constitutionally valid and the best possible Lok Pal legislation with inputs from Civil Society with the broadest possible consensus. We are ready to talk to anybody. However, we will have to keep in mind Parliamentary supremacy and constitutional obligations in matters of legislation. As a Government we respect and are responsible to the Will of the Indian People as represented by Parliament.

As you are aware, the Lok Pal bill is now before a Standing Committee of Parliament. I have made it clear earlier and would like to restate that all options are open before the Standing Committee. Undoubtedly, they would be entitled to consider, in detail and clause by clause, subject to their discretion, not only the Bill introduced by us but the Jan Lokpal Bill and other versions like those prepared by Ms. Aruna Roy. Equally, I do maintain that they are fully entitled to make any changes to the Bill introduced by the Govt. and referred to them. In that view of the matter, the formal non introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill version by the government is irrelevant and would largely boil down to a semantic debate.

Nevertheless, in view of the concern repeatedly expressed by your team that the Jan Lokpal Bill version should be before Parliament, but more particularly and more importantly, in view of my deep and abiding concern for your health, our government is prepared to request the Speaker, Lok Sabha to formally refer the Jan Lokpal Bill also to the Standing Committee for their holistic consideration alongwith everything else. Furthermore, if you have any anxieties about time and speed, the Government can formally request the Standing Committee to try, subject to its discretion and the necessity to reflect deeply and spend adequate time on an important Bill, and fast track their deliberations to the extent reasonably feasible.

I would like to say that this letter and each suggestion herein is actuated solely by the twin considerations of deep and genuine concern about your health and the emergence of a strong and effective Lok Pal Act in accordance with established constitutional precept and practice.

I do hope that you will consider my suggestions and end your fast to regain full health and vitality.”

Anna Hazare vs government: key differences

The key points of disagreement between the government and the civil society on the bill. From DNA

Prime minister: The civil society wants the prime minister to be under the Lokpal’s ambit. The government has kept the prime minister out of the Lokpal’s purview, but he/she can be probed after demitting office. Opposition parties too are opposed to keeping the prime minister out of the Lokpal’s ambit.

Higher judiciary: The civil society wants the Lokpal to have powers to probe the higher judiciary, including judges of the Supreme Court. The government has kept the higher judiciary out.

MPs: The government has excluded the acts of MPs inside parliament and in parliamentary committees outside the Lokpal’s purview, which the civil society has opposed.

Lower bureaucracy: According to the government draft, only officers of joint secretary level and above are covered under the Lokpal. The civil society wants the entire bureaucracy to come within the Lokpal’s purview.

CBI and CVC: The government has struck down civil society’s proposal to merge the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) with the Lokpal.

Punishment: The civil society has proposed minimum one year rigorous imprisonment and maximum of life imprisonment for the corrupt. The government has capped the maximum punishment at 10 years.

Lok Ayukta: The civil society wants the appointment of Lok Ayuktas, the ombudsmen in states, to be overseen by the Lokpal, which the government has struck down.

The architect of the Anna Hazare campaign

Mehboob Jeelani profiles Arvind Kejriwal in the Caravan:

Arvind Kejriwal

Shortly after Anna Hazare broke his fast-unto-death on 9 April, a group of young people encircled a small man with a black moustache at Jantar Mantar and began shouting the famous pre-independence slogan: Inquilab Zindabad! (Long Live Revolution!). He continued walking toward a group of cars when a young man wearing a red bandanna pushed through the crowd, blocking his way and screaming out, “Sir, don’t call off the fast. Repeat the revolution.” The man returned the smile, and slid into the car.

This man was Arvind Kejriwal, a 43-year-old social activist from East Delhi. Though Hazare is the recognised face of an anti-corruption campaign that began with his fast on 5 April, Kejriwal is the architect of the movement—the man journalists swarm to, seeking an interview. At press briefings, he often sits next to Hazare and helps the self-styled Gandhian handle tough questions: Kejriwal whispers into Hazare’s ear or scribbles key points on a piece of paper lying between them. When questions are posed to Kejriwal, he responds like an impassioned professor explaining a complicated problem—piling detail upon detail with the supreme confidence that his answer is the correct one. His essential message never changes: only a powerful independent anti-corruption agency, with wide-ranging authority and minimal government interference, can cure the plague of graft—and anything less will fail.

The ideas that would eventually lead to the Jan Lokpal Bill—and plans for a mass mobilisation to support it—had been on Kejriwal’s mind at least since September 2010, when public frustration with the inept preparations for the Commonwealth Games erupted into fury over evidence of widespread corruption. India’s middle classes, who already saw the event as a tremendous waste of money, were further enraged when the Games delivered nothing but international embarrassment and a multi-million rupee scam. Kejriwal, however, saw an opportunity to mobilise public opinion against corruption, and began to plot the course that would lead “Team Anna” into a high-profile showdown with the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition. He spent his days consulting with experts and prospective allies, from lawyers to bankers to former bureaucrats and religious leaders, as well as his colleagues in the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI). He devoted his nights to drafting and revising a bill to create a new Lokpal: an independent body vested with the extraordinary powers—to investigate, prosecute and sometimes even judge—that Kejriwal thought necessary to prevent any politician or bureaucrat from obstructing the agency’s work. More:

The Vigilante Mahatma

Patrick French on Anna Hazare:

As so often, history is today being repeated as farce. Anna Hazare, the Gandhian crusader, is not so much an imitation of Gandhi – the ‘mahatma’ or ‘great soul’ – as an imitation of his later imitators. In the decades after independence in 1947, India has seen a procession of latter-day saints who claim to be completing the great man’s work. Vinoba Bhave walked around the country for years, dressed in the Gandhian outfit of a white dhoti and shawl, persuading landlords to give their spare fields to the poor.

Jayaprakash Narayan’s prolonged popular agitation in the early 1970s provoked the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, into declaring a state of national emergency. Now Anna Hazare, following his release from prison on Friday, says: “The fight for freedom has started. India is still not independent.” His followers, who consist largely of the more vocal members of India’s assertive new middle-class, are delighted.

A few months ago, Hazare was an obscure activist known for imposing military-style discipline in some villages in Maharashtra in the west of the country. Then he went on a public fast-unto-death, demanding the government bring in rigorous anti-corruption legislation. Amazingly they agreed, and allowed his nominees from Delhi’s self-appointed “civil society” to take part in the drafting of a new law. When Hazare failed to get his way, he backed out and announced he was going on another fast. The authorities threw him in jail, but released him when large crowds gathered to complain. Cannily, Hazare stayed put and refused to leave the prison until he was given assurances he could protest in Ramlila Ground, a large park commonly used for political rallies. He was given permission to hold a 15-day demonstration, and agreed to have a bite to eat if at any stage his fast became life-threatening. It was an extraordinary concession, not unlike the London authorities giving up Hyde Park.

More in The India Site

Anna for his thoughts

Mumbai-based social commentator Usha Subramanian in Hindustan Times:

How many of us rooting for this movement are thinking beyond our own experiences with corruption? How many acknowledge that many among us do not even feebly resist corruption but see it as the easy, even the smart, way out?

We pose as victims; very often we are willing collaborators. Doubtless the people with power need to exercise it honestly. But if we, the people, have the power, as is claimed today, why did we wait so long before putting our individual houses in order, if we have at all?

Even now, how many of us will not hand out currency notes along with our driving licences when caught by the cops? How many parents will refuse to indulge their 16-year-olds’ desire to drive a car?

How many will refuse to pay sub-rosa to get admission into colleges? If even 25% of the Anna aficionados remain steadfast in refusing to bribe, the movement would be worth it.

Participatory democracy in the sense advocated by Team Anna is not the cure. It has worked in Switzerland but has pushed California from being one of the richest states to the bottom.

This present juggernaut could well become obstructive and threaten the very fabric of our country’s democracy. A reality check is due before the honeymoon is over.

Read full article here

A movement with no place for politics

Jaya Jaitly, former Samata Party President, writes to Anna Hazare in The Indian Express:

As the government needs to listen to the message of the public, you too need to listen to a crucial aspect of the message: they are not fighting in support of your specific Jan Lokpal Bill, they are supporting your fight against corruption. One does not automatically translate into the other. May I humbly suggest that to make the government more flexible, your team show some flexibility too?

Your spokespersons need to explain why they cannot pressure individual MPs further, as well as political parties and the parliamentary standing committee, to persuade them to adopt your propositions and place amendments accordingly. It is wrong to arrogate to yourselves the power of presuming your bill is the best solution and your methodology the only one leading to a satisfactory result. You need to explain whether a fast to gather crowds is more important than continuing meetings with those who represent the political system across the board to pave the way forward. If your group sets itself up as superior to any politician or party, you may go down the wrong road. More

Nandan Nilekani: This with-us-or-against-us is the kind of line used in the Iraq war

Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority, tells The Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta what he would say to Anna Hazare if sent as mediator — that one law and a tough inspector alone cannot weed out corruption. Excerpts from the interview in The Indian Express:

So how do you look at this widespread protest now, which is more about locking people up in jail? Is it going to work?

No, I am not a great believer that if you pass a law, corruption will miraculously vanish. Nor do I think that creating a huge army of policemen is going to reduce corruption. You have to go back and look at the systems. I have spent 30-35 years working on how to make systems work and you have to fundamentally analyse and improve the systems themselves and make them much more streamlined, reduce interfaces, reduce discretion, make more technology interfaces. There are ways to do these things. This is just one of the many things that we need and I don’t agree that this is the only way we should be doing it.

Why do you think this will not work — just one tough law and having one tough uncle at the top who will watch everybody and punish people?

There are multiple challenges with it. First of course is the idea of concentrating so much power in one individual, but more importantly you are creating a huge army of people who are all going to do inspection. You can’t fix problems by creating more layers of inspection. You fix problems by actually looking at the root cause of why it was. I’ll go back to the PDS. One of the big problems is that the price at which goods move is much less than the market price. So everybody in the system has an economic incentive to divert it.

Read full interview here

Why I’d rather not be Anna

While his means might be Gandhian, Anna Hazare’s demands are most certainly not, writes Arundhati Roy in The Hindu

If what we’re watching on TV is indeed a revolution, then it has to be one of the more embarrassing and unintelligible ones of recent times. For now, whatever questions you may have about the Jan Lokpal Bill, here are the answers you’re likely to get: tick the box — (a) Vande Mataram (b) Bharat Mata ki Jai (c) India is Anna, Anna is India (d) Jai Hind.

For completely different reasons, and in completely different ways, you could say that the Maoists and the Jan Lokpal Bill have one thing in common — they both seek the overthrow of the Indian State. One working from the bottom up, by means of an armed struggle, waged by a largely adivasi army, made up of the poorest of the poor. The other, from the top down, by means of a bloodless Gandhian coup, led by a freshly minted saint, and an army of largely urban, and certainly better off people. (In this one, the Government collaborates by doing everything it possibly can to overthrow itself.) more