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Monday, 22 August 2011

Analysis: Anna Hazare's deplorable moral fascism

For those in their 20s and 30s, dressed in their jeans and bermudas, T-shirts and sweatshirts, in their sandals and sneakers, this is a moment of political baptism. They can now stand up and say, “We have a political view of our own and we think it is both right and good.” This is entirely due to Anna Hazare and his efficient commanders — Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan — who have organised in the most fantastic manner a movement that attracted the urban middle class youth.

What goes unnoticed is their political naïveté and even ignorance.
Most observers are taken up by the electrifying effect of the Hazare movement in the public sphere and they tend to believe that here is an authentic revolution unfolding before our eyes. And that this revolution needs to be recorded faithfully and accurately for posterity. There is also the feeling that in the presence of such a ‘holy episode’, no uncomfortable questions should be asked, no doubts entertained about the ‘historic moment’. There is also the novelty of a counter-culture, Woodstock-like flavour to the bohemian youth of an Internet Age walking into the political arena.

Woodstock and counter-culture events do not happen in a social vacuum. In the America of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the protesters against conformity were also dodging the draft for the Vietnam War even as poor blacks were being shipped to the killing fields of Southeast Asia. At the moment, the good-hearted, unkempt and well-meaning Indian youth are facing an acute economic uncertainty in terms of jobs, salaries and raises. It is bye-bye to late-night beer bashes and hello to political protests at the Hazare party.

The Hazare activists have mastered the language of propaganda — keep the issues simple, cut out the complexities, however important they may be, and make it appear that the basic dichotomy is between a right — their view — and wrong — those who disagree with them. Of course, this is a typical tactic of the leftist and rightist partisans.

What gives Hazare and his commanders the tremendous self-assurance is the instant response they are getting from the chattering classes, who have now poured out on to the city streets, and from the ever-hungry media looking for that elusive exciting story. Political discourse is reduced to political spectacle.

The dangerous element in the Hazare-led anti-corruption crusade is the strident self-righteous tone of the campaigners. They are convinced that what they are prescribing is right and others have to accept it. They claim that they are speaking for the people — the few hundreds, the few thousands and the few tens of thousands — who are congregating in the city squares, and they are not embarrassed by their preposterous claim. There is total absence of modesty and humility. It is this smugness of the Lokpal activists that is frightening. In the language of Hazare, Kejriwal, Bedi and Bhushan, ‘many’ stands for ‘all’, a terrifying verbal sleight that bends dangerously close to untruth.

The other disturbing aspect of the Hazare group is when they claim to represent the people at large and they also have no hesitation in telling the people what they should accept — the Jan Lokpal bill, of course.

The non-violent fast-unto-death of Hazare has the ugly element of force, threat lurking in its language and gesture: “Listen to me, or else...”. The people who threaten the use of force in the name of morality are fanatics with a totalitarian bent of mind. This undermines democracy. Democracy is a contest of ideas. Hazare and his friends have no stomach for an open debate because they are exhorting everyone who is willing to listen, and even not listen, that they fall in line.

There is also the basic question: is it moral on the part of Hazare to say that he will fast unto death if the government or the Parliament does not listen to him? Common sense says that this is moral and emotional blackmail and it really amounts to immorality. There should be more rational and sensible ways of persuading others of the rightness of your views. It is this missing note of sanity that makes the present democratic discourse quite unhinged and deranged.

Invoking Gandhi is not legitimate because we are now formulating a political debate based on everyone’s right to express their views and there are no laws or conditions preventing that from happening. Hazare can speak out; therefore, he cannot threaten to fast unto death. This amounts to moral fascism.


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