COLUMN: Why my friends oppose Anna Hazare

Over the last five days, conversations in the national capital are increasingly about a 72-year-old son of a factory worker from Maharashtra, Kisan Baburao Hazare or Anna Hazare.

While the majority of the Indian middle-class and the rural residents seem to be in favor of his agitation (going by the polls), many, especially the urban well-to-do, are alarmed by his ascendancy.

Being a journalist, one is in the unique position of seeing both sides of the coin. On the one hand, due to one’s touch with one’s readers, the popular pro-Hazare sentiment is an unavoidable fact of of life.

On the other, being a journalist, one is surrounded by both the “privileged sections” as well as the “intellectual class.”

While the reasons why people support Anna Hazare’s campaign are pretty straightforward (disgust over corruption), the reasons for opposing Hazare’s movement are extremely varied.

The following is a compilation of the various reasons that I have collected from those opposed to the Anna Hazare phenomenon.

1) Anna Hazare is a proxy for someone else. The ‘someone else’ depends on who you speak to. Many Congress politicians initially blamed the RSS. Of late, however, some of the Congress leaders, especially some Muslim Congressmen, have blamed the US Government — in keeping with the trend of blaming the US for similar movements in the Arab world.

Some of the more imaginative members of the Right wing Hindutva groups have even suggested that Anna Hazare is an agent of the Congress party and the whole agitation is a drama etc..

This sentiment, however, is mostly expressed by the staunch opponents of the Hindu right wing, as they fear that any weakening of the Congress party will lead to power slipping back to the right-of-centre BJP. For them, supporting Anna Hazare is equivalent to opposing the Congress and opposing the Congress is equivalent to promoting communal forces.

2) This is the wrong method to create laws. This is probably the most widely held reason for opposing the movement, particularly among the rich urban class and academics. There are two sections within the group that holds this fear — the privileged, rich class and the so-called elitist intellectuals.

The former, justifiably, points out that the bribes and ‘chai pani’ (tea money) paid as a routine in government offices and services is not at all a bid deal, as the amount is very small. For someone who earns in hundreds of thousands (lakhs) of rupees every month, an occasional 500 rupee-note to get a security clearance for a passport renewal etc., is not even a nuisance.

The second group are the ‘elitist’ intellectuals who fear that their own role in the scheme of things — as knowledgeable experts who have access to secret wisdom and are therefore solely empowered to guide the nation — is under threat.

They are outraged that something as “complicated” as a law, which would otherwise have required their special “expertise”, is being suggested by the “unwashed masses.” The intellectuals often question whether Anna Hazare’s streetsmart followers understand the finer points of law-making.

They point out that a law suggested by the “emotional” masses may not be well thought out and is almost sure to have several faults, such as the possibility of misuse by a group of 11 “rogue” Lokpal panel members.

They also worry about whether such agitations will set a precedent that removes the role of the intellectual in the governing process and hands power over to the citizens. Many non-intellectuals, especially those who are conservative and suspicious of change, also share these sentiments.

3) Anna Hazare is not honest. Those who hold this view claim that Anna Hazare personally is not as clean as he claims to be. They hate “personality cults” and are put off by frequent comparisons between Hazare and Gandhiji. To add to their dicomfort, Hazare is seen by some as a non-sophisticated person who may be a good campaigner, but not a good leader or “intellectual.”

4) Creating rival power centres will make the government powerless. People who hold on to this theory believe that a ruler should be supreme, like in the Indian tradition of Maharajas and emperors. Such people do not buy the American argument of “checks and balances” and want a clear and powerful leader who is unquestioned and unquestionable.

Such people often express anger and indignation at frequent interventions by other independent authorities such as the Supreme Court, the media and the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG). If it was up to them, there would be one ‘supreme leader’ on whom no others have any right to question. They believe that any “confusion” about the “sovereignty” of the executive branch of the government weakens India as a whole.


Why the “intellectuals” are wrong on Anna Hazare: Mahesh Murthy