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The Road Ahead 

CAN ANNA SUSTAIN MOMENTUM?

By Dr.S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

New Delhi, Aug 10 : Social activist’s Anna Hazare’s announcement disbanding his team and entering the political fray has led to a big debate across the country and got mixed reactions. While some wonder whether this change of strategy in fighting corruption which was the main aim of the Team, will succeed, not a few saw this as a consequence of the failure of Anna’s campaign against corruption, many expressed resentment of the social movement transforming in to a political party.

Pertinently, Anna and Company have made plain their intent to provide an “alternative” to the existing  political system in the country  so as to really empower the people at the grassroots level and bring about  a truly participatory democracy.  Needless, to say with only a few thousands convening at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar last fortnight in support, Anna’s team was  left with no alternative but to enter the political arena in the existing democratic climate.

Undeniably, governance today is facing crisis after crisis which is forcing some fundamental thinking on liberating the aam aadmi from these crises, ending the extreme polarization and dual world between the “haves” and “have-nots” in every sphere of life and activity.  The crisis has deepened and widened to such an extent that a search for “alternative” is inevitable to cleanse the system and save the people.

Interestingly, if one looks back in history one finds that Mahatma Gandhi wanted the obverse. Post Independence, he wanted to disband the Indian National Congress as a political organisation and convert it in to a social organization. His premise was simple: The ‘political’ Congress had served it object of attaining swaraj and the present task before the nation was to promote social welfare.

But, the Congress rejected his advice probably under a notion that if it was disbanded as a political organization, it could lead to chaos in the country. True, this was a genuine fear of the then-leaders, but at the same time, these apprehensions should not have prevented the Party from promoting value-based politics or reinvigorating a positive programme.

Recall too, that in the late 60s and early-70’s social activist Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly called JP also started a pressure group against corruption in public offices and resisted joining active politics.  However, he changed his mind when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in June 1975.

Two years later in 1977 he called for Lok Sangharsh to find an alternative to the Congress. In fact, his call for “total revolution” failed to take concrete shape, notwithstanding the formation of the Janata Dal and swearing-in of its Government. But this experiment failed after two years in the quagmire of Party politics.

Questionably, against the backdrop that both Gandhiji and JP refrained from joining active politics, the outcome of the transformation of Anna’s movement “India Against Corruption” as a political force and entry into active politics raises several doubts.  In the first place, the proposed move widens the hitherto focused attack on corruption to encompass the entire gamut of governance in the country.

Raising a moot point:  Why did Anna decide to enter politics when it had made plain that it was nothing but an apolitical movement? Perhaps, common sense dictated that a group acts and responds to situations wherein its ideas and strategies have to change according to current circumstances and needs. Given that consistency, by itself, is no virtue in any human endeavour.

Think. Anna & Company had waited long enough for the Government to enact a strong Lokpal, but as are netagan displayed no intent, urgency and earnestness to create a strong and independent mechanism to put an end to corruption, Anna was left with no option.

In fact, experience of many countries across the globe shows that social movements   and supporting political Parties might play separate roles but are complementary or parallel to each other.  Thus, by transforming itself in to a political Party, a social movement need not necessarily lose its momentum. On the contrary, it might gain strength to push forward its social agenda.

Significantly, there is no better indigenous model of this than Tamil Nadu’s regional Party DMK, which was born out of the Dravidian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Alas, the long innings in politics has caused not only degeneration of the movement but also the Party.

Also, there is a close relation between popular movements and formation of new political Parties.  In the US, social movements set the agenda and influence politics like the Civil Rights Movement. Whereby, movements are first created; then grow to achieve or fail in their object. Leading to either their dissolution, merger with another outfit or enter politics.

Notably, the success of social movements depends much on political opportunities present in the system or created by the movement within the system.  Consequently, to pass judgments on the course adopted by Team Anna or to forecast its future is premature. The movement has not yet revealed its plans and future course of action, except announcing the dissolution of Team Anna.

Therefore, Anna’s real challenge lies in reaching to India’s billion-plus people. Remember, it was unorganised grassroots volunteers who contributed substantially to Barrack Obama’s 2004 Presidential election in the US.

Even as Anna and his followers go ahead in forming a Party to change the nature of State power, it has to first take a call on the nature of the changes envisaged which must be delineated clearly.  Whereby, the movement must continue its momentum even after Party formation and entry in to Parliament.

Specially, as there are several inherent constraints in our political system and administrative arrangements that block political and social reforms.  Hence, the movement cannot be disbanded in return for a few or many Parliamentary seats.  Constant prodding will be required to make the Government act.

Besides, Anna’s political movement would face the uphill task of disproving the old adage: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Towards that end, it must evolve a transparent Party apparatus and mechanism to link itself to the aam janata.

In sum, the prevailing dissatisfaction with the existing political system and its functioning might justify the search for an “alternative”.  Ideas like referendum and recall, selection of candidates by the people, planning from the gramsabha to the Lok Sabha are being suggested, but feasibility studies need to be done first.

In a political milieu where vendetta politics, goondaism and group rivalries rule the roost, it raises doubts about the wisdom of entrusting ‘more power’ directly to the people.  Already, several instances of khap panchayats’ judgments reveal the hold of an outmoded value system over the common people in many parts of the country.

All in all, the India Against Corruption movement has been remarkably successful in rousing the consciousness of the people and compelling the Establishment to initiate some steps to end corruption.  This cannot be allowed to weaken and vanish. —– INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

The Road Ahead 

CAN ANNA SUSTAIN MOMENTUM?

By Dr.S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

Social activist’s Anna Hazare’s announcement disbanding his team and entering the political fray has led to a big debate across the country and got mixed reactions. While some wonder whether this change of strategy in fighting corruption which was the main aim of the Team, will succeed, not a few saw this as a consequence of the failure of Anna’s campaign against corruption, many expressed resentment of the social movement transforming in to a political party.

Pertinently, Anna and Company have made plain their intent to provide an “alternative” to the existing  political system in the country  so as to really empower the people at the grassroots level and bring about  a truly participatory democracy.  Needless, to say with only a few thousands convening at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar last fortnight in support, Anna’s team was  left with no alternative but to enter the political arena in the existing democratic climate.

Undeniably, governance today is facing crisis after crisis which is forcing some fundamental thinking on liberating the aam aadmi from these crises, ending the extreme polarization and dual world between the “haves” and “have-nots” in every sphere of life and activity.  The crisis has deepened and widened to such an extent that a search for “alternative” is inevitable to cleanse the system and save the people.

Interestingly, if one looks back in history one finds that Mahatma Gandhi wanted the obverse. Post Independence, he wanted to disband the Indian National Congress as a political organisation and convert it in to a social organization. His premise was simple: The ‘political’ Congress had served it object of attaining swaraj and the present task before the nation was to promote social welfare.

But, the Congress rejected his advice probably under a notion that if it was disbanded as a political organization, it could lead to chaos in the country. True, this was a genuine fear of the then-leaders, but at the same time, these apprehensions should not have prevented the Party from promoting value-based politics or reinvigorating a positive programme.

Recall too, that in the late 60s and early-70’s social activist Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly called JP also started a pressure group against corruption in public offices and resisted joining active politics.  However, he changed his mind when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in June 1975.

Two years later in 1977 he called for Lok Sangharsh to find an alternative to the Congress. In fact, his call for “total revolution” failed to take concrete shape, notwithstanding the formation of the Janata Dal and swearing-in of its Government. But this experiment failed after two years in the quagmire of Party politics. 

Questionably, against the backdrop that both Gandhiji and JP refrained from joining active politics, the outcome of the transformation of Anna’s movement “India Against Corruption” as a political force and entry into active politics raises several doubts.  In the first place, the proposed move widens the hitherto focused attack on corruption to encompass the entire gamut of governance in the country.

Raising a moot point:  Why did Anna decide to enter politics when it had made plain that it was nothing but an apolitical movement? Perhaps, common sense dictated that a group acts and responds to situations wherein its ideas and strategies have to change according to current circumstances and needs. Given that consistency, by itself, is no virtue in any human endeavour. 

Think. Anna & Company had waited long enough for the Government to enact a strong Lokpal, but as are netagan displayed no intent, urgency and earnestness to create a strong and independent mechanism to put an end to corruption, Anna was left with no option.  

In fact, experience of many countries across the globe shows that social movements   and supporting political Parties might play separate roles but are complementary or parallel to each other.  Thus, by transforming itself in to a political Party, a social movement need not necessarily lose its momentum. On the contrary, it might gain strength to push forward its social agenda. 

Significantly, there is no better indigenous model of this than Tamil Nadu’s regional Party DMK, which was born out of the Dravidian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Alas, the long innings in politics has caused not only degeneration of the movement but also the Party.

Also, there is a close relation between popular movements and formation of new political Parties.  In the US, social movements set the agenda and influence politics like the Civil Rights Movement. Whereby, movements are first created; then grow to achieve or fail in their object. Leading to either their dissolution, merger with another outfit or enter politics.

Notably, the success of social movements depends much on political opportunities present in the system or created by the movement within the system.  Consequently, to pass judgments on the course adopted by Team Anna or to forecast its future is premature. The movement has not yet revealed its plans and future course of action, except announcing the dissolution of Team Anna.

Therefore, Anna’s real challenge lies in reaching to India’s billion-plus people. Remember, it was unorganised grassroots volunteers who contributed substantially to Barrack Obama’s 2004 Presidential election in the US.

Even as Anna and his followers go ahead in forming a Party to change the nature of State power, it has to first take a call on the nature of the changes envisaged which must be delineated clearly.  Whereby, the movement must continue its momentum even after Party formation and entry in to Parliament.

Specially, as there are several inherent constraints in our political system and administrative arrangements that block political and social reforms.  Hence, the movement cannot be disbanded in return for a few or many Parliamentary seats.  Constant prodding will be required to make the Government act.

Besides, Anna’s political movement would face the uphill task of disproving the old adage: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Towards that end, it must evolve a transparent Party apparatus and mechanism to link itself to the aam janata.

In sum, the prevailing dissatisfaction with the existing political system and its functioning might justify the search for an “alternative”.  Ideas like referendum and recall, selection of candidates by the people, planning from the gramsabha to the Lok Sabha are being suggested, but feasibility studies need to be done first.

In a political milieu where vendetta politics, goondaism and group rivalries rule the roost, it raises doubts about the wisdom of entrusting ‘more power’ directly to the people.  Already, several instances of khap panchayats’ judgments reveal the hold of an outmoded value system over the common people in many parts of the country.

All in all, the India Against Corruption movement has been remarkably successful in rousing the consciousness of the people and compelling the Establishment to initiate some steps to end corruption.  This cannot be allowed to weaken and vanish. —– INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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