The farmer in question, you must have guessed, is none other than Anna Hazare.
This is one guy about who I had wanted to write for a long time. However, for some very good reasons, it kept on getting out of my mind. His latest fast-unto-death episode just served to remind me. … Not that I have a lot to write about him—his persona just doesn’t permit one. But still, here we go.
First of all, let’s recognize that you cannot escape considerations of moral and political philosophy in this issue. A fast-unto-death is a means of putting a moral pressure, which, in this case, is for achieving not just social objectives but also certain specifically political ones. Further, since it’s a fast-unto-death, the issue demands that we must bring to the issue as much ruthless kind of honesty as we can. That is the only way we can assure ourselves a clean conscience. In particular, a wooly sort of hope, a blind kind of optimism, simply won’t do. And, finally, since it is Hazare’s fast-unto-death, we must also look at his person, as an individual—including at least a sketchy kind of moral evaluation of him, against an objectively validated code of ethics. For convenience, let’s begin with the man, his background, work and convictions, and then to the objectives he explicitly seeks to accomplish through his current fast.
So, who is Anna Hazare? Since I come from the same region that he does (had early schooling in, and have relatives in, the rural parts of both Ahmednagar and Pune districts of Maharashtra state), and since he has been profiled so profusely in the media, one didn’t really have to dig up anything. Still, out of interest, I read up his biography at his (presumably official) Web site: [^]. This biography notably lacks any mention of his education—formal, or informal (as gained via reading of books in an extracurricular manner). Which, incidentally, is precisely what one would have expected. A guy who can bask in the glory of being described as a crusader doesn’t think it’s important for him to let us have any clue of any kind of conceptual thought his mind is capable of conducting, if any.
Per the biography, he joined Indian Army in 1963. Began some social work in his home-town, Ralegan Siddhi, in 1975. Retired from the Army after 15 years (which makes it in 1978). Devoted himself to full-time social work after retirement.
He showed some great initiative and did some really good social work initially, in his home town. The work included watershed development as well as multifaceted development of his village.
One began hearing about him a few years later, say around mid- or late-1980s. The reports usually were full of praise for him. Perhaps it was around this time that one derived the impression that he was given the Magsaysay award. A search at the official Magsaysay award site [^] fails to confirm that he did receive that award; however, Indian media seems intent on saying so; e.g., see this search [^].
In Pune, one heard a lot of stories: of how the village had been transformed; of how a once barren land had been transformed into greenery rivaling Mahabaleshwar; etc. etc. A casual drive through the area in late 1990s, and I failed to spot even outstandingly thick greenery let one rivaling that at Mahabaleshwar. (One then realized, a prominent guy among them was a BJP+RSS-wallah PuNeri Brahmin. These characters always rely on spinning stories—the primacy of consciousness is their basic premise—they actually believe that the same thought repeated enough times can actually bring about change in physical reality without recourse to anything else.)
OK, but that digression was about the BJP-RSS-wallahs. But as far as Hazare himself goes, so far, so good. No arguments about his good work in Ralegan Siddhi.
Another piece. As I said, I have many relatives and acquaintences in rural parts, and I now recall a talk years ago (perhaps in late 1980s/1993–94 times) with some of them. The topic was: How farmers can improve their lot. My position was that the farmers were perhaps not helping themselves enough. To buttress my argument, I gave the example of Anna Hazare’s work in Ralegan Siddhi.
In Ralegan Siddhi—one of them emphasized. “Has he been able to do similar work in any other village?” he continued. Turns out, Hazare has always been a one-village wonder. He has not been able to similarly transform even a single other village. For whatever reasons, he has not been able to. He has been offered help by IAS officers and all. Funds have been arranged. They do run workshops in Ralegan Siddhi, on watershed management. OK. But that integrated sort of transformation? “Nowhere else,” I was informed. And, then, I was asked: “What do you think? Don’t we want to better ourselves? Aren’t there enough people in our villages to replicate Ralegan Siddhi?” And, then, what then was a shocker (which, then, I didn’t believe in.) “Do you think Anna Hazare even bothers to go to other villages, if not to work then at least to inspire people? Do you know how arrogant he is?” There was no personal enmity between the people informing me of ground reality and Anna Hazare. No rhyme or reason for them to hold any. Why would they say the way they did? I could not figure out, and left the question at that.
It took a few years more, and I ran into people, even stranger, casually telling me (or discussing among themselves, in ST (bus) journeys and all) that Anna Hazare does not even like to discuss the issue of why his social experiment has not worked out in any other village. He gets angry. He begins calling people in the non-honorific (Marathi) “are ture” sort of way, once anyone raises the issue. He insults them as lazy bums who cannot do anything to help themselves. He can insult people, but won’t stop to face the fact that indeed that there is a failure of replication. Naturally, no analysis is even permissible: What might have led to the failure. And, no betterment: Having understood the reasons for failure, what can be done to overcome them and remedy the situation. None of that is possible. The way he behaves, people indicated, is to enjoy his senior status in his village, to bask in the media glory outside it, and to refuse to even consider the possibility that even very honest applications of his approach might encounter failures elsewhere—let alone suggest ideas to overcome them.
Ideas—outside of the media-adored Ralegan Siddhi experiment—seems to be anathema to this man. That was an inescapable (though a tentative or intermediate) conclusion I drew.
A few years passed by, and I was in the USA and all, and so had lost touch with the everyday sort of happenings taking place in India. But, after I returned in 2001, I heard that this guy (Hazare) had progressed far too ahead on that line. He had not been able to control the Ralegan Siddhi success go to his head. This accusation seemed to be true.
No longer were people questioning anything about his approach, I observed. Instead, people, notably those from the BJP and Shiv Sena, were egging him on to take ever bigger role, riding on his brand-name as a social crusader (much of which was anyway generated only via the media-hype), and many “middle-class” variety of social workers also were running after him. He had established a group/forum/NGO against corruption, and the clever BJP folks were using him to tactically gain political advantages against their enemies: the Indira Congress, but even more notably (given their predominance in the areas where he primarily operates): the NCP.
Ok. That’s so much about politics. But one thing was for certain. Given his combative style, his inability to introspect, his inability to reach out to his critics—and, what the heck, I will name it—his plain stupidity, he simply couldn’t be a Gandhian. (To call someone a Gandhian is not the greatest compliment in the world, IMO. But for all their flaws and inconsistencies, one still associates names like Yashwantrao Chavan, and many many other, small village freedom-fighters who need not be named, and why, even Sardar Patel and Morarji Desai, with the term “Gandhian.” One has heard the first in public meetings more than once, and read about the other two.) And, yet, his (implicit) media managers were now portraying him as a Gandhian. And, the retards that Indians are, none was raising even a suspicion. His wearing “khaadi” dress and Gandhi “Topi” was enough to make him a Gandhian. Undestandably so. If a usual Indira Congress moron could be a Gandhian, why not this guy. And, after all, how many “Gandhian” sort of people could BJP wouldn’t mind hooking into and magnifying (if you discount Vajpayee himself—who, for obvious reasons, couldn’t be portrayed as a Gandhian, of course!)
In short, Hazare had already become a useful pawn to political parties, and a fond avancular figure for the wooly-wishy sort of social workers (some of them retired IAS/IPS types too), by mid or late 1990s. That is, about a decade or more ago.
Ok. So, that’s the man we are talking about, here. Now, what are his convictions? And what does he bring to the table?
The first question is very easy to answer. As far as his convictions are concerned, whatever bunch he does carry around, they are not very consistent. Let alone sucsceptible to be any serious scrutiny (let alone a thorough, objective validation).
If you don’t believe me, consider these facts. Ok. Before that, let me state what is it that I do consider to be an objectively validated set of ideas. The prime part of the answer is: Ayn Rand’s philosophy—Objectivism. Politically, the answer is: the actual motivating spirit (and most of its articulation as well) which led to the creation of the American political system—the spirit of Enlightenment. Given the spectacular success of that original American political revolution, I do not think it is necessary to stress here that any individual or group who addresses the government in India, and asserts his moral authority to the extreme degree of fast-unto-death, must remain open to have his convictions examined against that golden standard: The original American political innovation, and the complete (and consistent) integration with philosophic fundamentals as found in Ayn Rand’s philosphy. Is such a process of judgment difficult to undertake? Not at all. Consider the following.
If Anna Hazare can hold India’s government to task, what is his position vis-a-vis Capitalism? Is he a Capitalist? Any answer? … Nope. Perhaps, he doesn’t even know the word. But since so many of his group-mates do, and since none of them has ever publicly spoken of any unreservedly good remark about Capitalism, we may take it that this guy Anna Hazare, when the chips are down, is likely to go/wither away from Capitalism. That’s his “conviction” no. 1. As always, the more fundamental an issue, the better judgment we can have. So let’s go to a bit deeper level.
Ok. So, consider this: What does Anna Hazare think about Individual Rights? Blank out. How about his having a crusade for restoring full property rights by amending the amendment forced on us by the semi-dictatorial Indira Gandhi? Blank out.
On the other hand, does he have the usual socialist sort of ideas? Hint: Don’t check with him—he is too stupid (I told you so!). Check with his associates (both in and out of the political “right” in India). They will tell you. If not, consider that in the last set of elections, BJP was equal to everyone else in promising Rs. x/kg of rice, wheat, “tur daal”, etc. etc. etc.
Hmmm. Now, how about his metaphysics and epistemology… Boy, are you insistent or what? I have already begun yawning here…. I think I will not entertain your request to enquire into these aspects of Anna Hazare’s set of convictions, explicit or implicit. Not at all necessary. What we observed above is enough to draw a rational conclusion.
Namely, that this guy has basically never bothered too much with ideas despite his burning ambition to do something at the national, constitutional etc. etc. levels. He is that stupid. And, he evidently, is easy to get misled (which is not surprising if he hasn’t bothered to have a firm and consistent set of convictions—consistent with reality, that is).
Now, I haven’t at all discussed anything about that supposedly people-friendly “Lokpal” bill, and its provisions. The point is: I simply don’t know enough about it, and am still in the process of reading and absorbing what say different political parties have about it. And, that, incidentally, leads to the conclusion of this post.
If someone like me—someone who at least browses through all the headlines and all the titles on the edit pages of at least 3/4/5 newspapers (both in a local langugage and in Englihs) on a daily basis, apart from browsing on the net—still doesn’t know enough about the Lokpal bill, obviously, the “civil society” (in the true sense of the term) hasn’t even begun discussing it. Newspaper editorials have barely begun doing so. (For a couple of good pieces, see today’s Indian Express, and a bit of half-hearted piece by DNA’s V. Rao, on the front-page.)
If, absent sufficient discussion in the “civil society,” this guy goes all the way out and jumps into a fast-unto-death, can we, applying any proper standards, consider it a major issue? A national issue? I mean, shouldn’t his action be taken as a rather open way of committing suicide? And, given the absence of any consistent and solid intellectual and moral positions, and given the absence of his jumping ahead to the last resort prior to the occurrence of any national debate, is there any reason why one should care about him?
There is only one point you may validly raise. And, it deals with “corruption.” Given the way my mind works, it is impossible for me to tear out of context anything like “corruption” and start beating the chest about it. Sure, corruption is bad. But if thinking of Hazare and, say, “crusade … to end … corruption” is at all permissible, then surely it also must be permissible to think of such issues as: the kind of the working morality whose realization a given kind of government facilitates; the proper nature of government, the principle of checks and balances, and the fine ways in which it has been realized or deterred in a given system of government; the role of constitution in shaping the life of a nation—including introducing artifical stresses and strains in the fabric of its life if not serving to tear it apart; the systemic reasons for corruption; etc.
Surely, if you can give the idiot that is Anna Hazare so much of a latitude, you could give me some, and allow me to post on these matters at my own pace, some time later on in future. … I think I will open the next post on these matters, esp. corruption, by observing not corruption itself directly, but something different (which, hopefully, you will find relevant to the issue corruption, the way I think it is). A small example not related to legalities, constitutionality, national issues, etc., but one that I think is relevant anyway. … I am too busy (both in my day-job and my leisure-time work), and so, please excuse if I don’t write that next post immediately.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A Song I Like:
[NB: I do like this song, but not all of its associated aspects… If you know me, you could easily figure out why; just read on to see why I say so 🙂 ]
(Hindi) “Aana mere pyaar ko naa tum…”
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultaanpuri
Singers: Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik
[PS: I have just written, but not read even once after writing, this post. If I find time (and I hope I do), I will streamline it a bit.]