Thursday, April 28, 2011

Anna Hazare's anti-corruption crusade: Civil society voices strike diverse, dissonant notes

New Delhi: Political scientists, sociologists, English literature professors, public intellectuals are quite curious and excited by the Anna Hazare movement that forced the UPA government to form a commitee including civil society representatives to draft the Lokpal Bill to check the floodtide of corruption in the country.

Alok Rai, an English professor at Delhi Univresity and a native of Allahabad like Shanti Bhushan and his family, thinks that this is a happy development and that there should be “more democracy and not less.” He feels that controversies should be taken in the stride. About Shanti Bhushan and his family, he says, “The Bhushans are well-heeled and I am confident that Shanti Bhushan would not do anything illegal.”

Guruchuran Das, author – whose latest book is “The Difficulty of Being Good” -- and public intellectual, says that the Bhushan drama is a sideshow and part of the democratic show and one need not be distracted by it. He says, “Congressmen are demeaning themselves in trading charges against Shanti Bhushan and others. The country is in a rage over corruption. I am sure something good will come out of this despite the difficulties and the confusing the way it is being done.”

Zoya Hasan, a political scientist at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, sociologists Radhika Chopra of Delhi School of Economics and well-known author and sociologist Andre Beteille are quite opposed to the few individuals who have stepped forward and proclaimed themselves to be representatives of civil society and of the country. They say that civil society is not a monolith.

Hasan, Chopra and Beteille say that they have a problem with the term 'civil society' that is now doing the rounds on TV and in newspapers. “I have a problem with these individuals who say that they represent civil society. I do not know them. I do not know Mr Shanti Bhushan and I have no way of either believing his benevolence or in his bad faith. I know the member of parliament whom I have elected,” says Beteille. He also contends that he too is part of civil society and that it cannot be appropriated by a small group of people.

Chopra is of the view that the middle and upper middle class which is claiming to be civil society is problematic because there is somehting delusional about the whole movement. “These are the very people who pay bribes who get their houses registered by bending rules,” she says. She concedes that what has emerged at Jantar Mantar in the last few weeks is a fascinating phenomenon.

When Baba Ramdev tried to rake up the corruption issue, it did not click. It is only the second time when the movement centred round the individual personality of Anna Hazare, who is pure and simple, that the anti-corruption movement has caught the national imagination.

Hasan says that these civil society reprensetatives have been cunningly co-opted by the government and that threatens the distance that there ought to be between civil society and the political establishment.

Chandrabhan Singh, the outspoken Dalit intellectual, has no doubts in his mind that this is an upper caste supremacist movement who presume that they alone can fight corruption. 'This is the 21st century version of KKK (Ku Klux Klan), the American white supremacist organisation.”

Sociologist Dipankar Gupta thinks that if Hazare were to undertake a similar fast against corruption, it will not have the same impact that it had the first time. He says that Hazare's right-wing leanings are quite apparent and that he is too naive to understand the complexity of the problem.

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