Some Indians question tactics of fasting anti-graft activist

India's elite is sharply divided over both the methods and objectives of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare.
India's elite is sharply divided over both the methods and objectives of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare. Above, Man Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy said Mr Hazare's movement was "embarrassing and unintelligible". Axel Schmidt
India's elite is sharply divided over both the methods and objectives of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare. Above, Man Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy said Mr Hazare's movement was "embarrassing and unintelligible". Axel Schmidt
DELHI // The anti-corruption fast by Anna Hazare may be gathering popular support, but India's elite is sharply divided over both the campaigner's methods and objectives.

Mr Hazare has now been fasting for 12 days at the Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi. He has been trying to pressure the government to adopt his draft of an anti-corruption bill, instead of the weaker version, drafted by the cabinet, that is now before parliament.

The bill would, among other things, create an investigator into corruption - known as the Lokpal - who would be independent of other wings of the government and the judiciary. But the debate has been split over the legitimacy of Mr Hazare's fasting methods, which some see as blackmail, and over whether his bill would add another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy.

Writing in The Hindu newspaper, the Booker Prize-winning author, Arundhati Roy, who has previously supported the activist Medha Patkar during her protest fasts against a dam on the Narmada river, called the Anna Hazare movement "embarrassing and unintelligible".

Ms Roy predicted that Mr Hazare's version of the anti-graft bill would produce two "oligarchies, instead of just one," and she argued that the NGOs supporting Mr Hazare had received money from American entities such as Coca Cola and the Ford Foundation.

"While his means may be Gandhian, Anna Hazare's demands are certainly not."

Nitin Pai, a geopolitics fellow at a think tank called the Takshashila Foundation, usually finds himself on the opposite end of the spectrum to Ms Roy on many issues. But he fears that "civil society has acquired a reputation for brinkmanship" with Mr Hazare's movement.

"The only way we can establish [Mr Hazare's] representative credentials is at the elections," Mr Pai told The National. "India is a big country, and even 100 million people amount to less than 10 per cent of the population and perhaps 20 per cent of the electorate. Claiming majority representation is [a]hazardous business."

Mr Pai contends that many of the protesters do not understand the nuances of the proposed anti-corruption legislation. But even within India's intelligentsia, consisting of people who presumably grasp the issues, Mr Pai sees a fundamental divide.

"There are people who are opposed to Hazare's solution, there are people opposed to his method, and there are people who are opposed to both," he said "Similarly, those who support his solutions might not necessarily support his methods. And then there are those who think such agitations are a good thing because they are a wake-up call to the political establishment, regardless of what the agitators are actually proposing."

But Mahesh Murthy, a technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist living in Mumbai, said Mr Hazare is "doing the right thing at the right time". Mr Murthy has urged his 11,000-odd followers on Twitter and his 5,000 friends on Facebook to support Mr Hazare's cause. "Why not go on a hunger strike?" he said. "If that is what it takes, that is what it takes."

In a note he circulated to his Facebook friends, Mr Murthy explained: the "supposedly sufficient Indian constitution has resulted in us having an enormous amount of corruption in our lives. However sufficient it might be in theory, it's not sufficient in practice ... Adding a layer of complexity is not in itself a bad thing. It is probably the fastest way to cut through the Gordian Knot of legislation and systems we currently have."

Simultaneously, criticism for Mr Hazare's movement has emerged from leaders of India's Dalit - formerly the untouchable castes.

Earlier this week, Udit Raj, head of the All India Confederation of Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe Organisations, attacked Mr Hazare's methods because they rubbed against the Indian constitution. The architect of the constitution, BR Ambedkar, was perhaps India's most influential Dalit thinker.

Mr Ambedkar himself had, several decades earlier, criticised the tactic of the hunger fast, which was used with considerable success by Mahatma Gandhi against the British. "These methods are nothing but the grammar of anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us," Mr Ambedkar said in a speech in 1950.

"No doubt corruption is rampant," Mr Raj said in a statement to the Hindustan Times newspaper. "But the fight against it should not undermine the constitution made by Dr Ambedkar. Why is there not a single representation from Dalits, or backwards or minorities in Team Anna?"

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

Published: August 27, 2011 04:00 AM

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