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Caste and the anti-corruption campaign

August 25, 2011 17:38 IST

'Reservations are anathema to many of the core supporters of Anna Hazare...'

'The deeply disturbing aspect of this whole event is the reactionary trend that political and social life, especially as dominated by "shining India," seem to be taking,' says social thinker Gail Omvedt. Reproduced with kind courtesy, Kafila.org

Why are such masses of people (apparently: In our village some came out for a morcha organised by the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti) following Anna Hazare, when it is now clear that his Lokpal is an authoritarian, centralised and undemocratically pushed proposal?

Several articles, including those by Arundhati Roy and Aruna Roy, have made this clear by now. I can find only one point to disagree with in the otherwise excellent article by Arundhati: That, like the Maoists, the Jan Lokpal Bill seeks the overthrow of the State. It does not.

The movement wants to keep the State, in an even more centralised form, but replace its current rulers with a new set. And Ranjit Hoskote's comment that "Anna Hazare's agitation is not a triumph of democracy [but] a triumph of demagoguery" deserves to be remembered.

The increasingly authoritarian, even fascist forms of activities are disturbing even many of its supporters.

But why is this happening? Many people are clearly tired of the ways of democracy in India, but why? Arundhati comments that the campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill gathered steam after embarrassing revelations by Wikileaks and a series of scams. This is an important part of the truth. But it leaves out one factor.

Indian democracy has a system of reservations, which is currently being extended to OBCs -– and demands have been heard from Muslims and from Dalit Christians that they also be included. Reservations are anathema to many of the core supporters of Anna Hazare. This includes, for example, a group calling itself "Krantikari Manuwadi Morcha."

Its leader, one R K Bharadwaj has said, "Reservation is the root of all corruption. The real revolution is to return to Manu's merit-based society." It's hard to believe -- the author of all anti-merit demands for privilege according to birth! Bharadwaj argues, "those with reservation are the ones in corruption. Those in the general category are the sufferers."

This major aspect of democratising and acting against the old privilege of birth, is hated by those who benefit from it. Now those who hate it are getting a chance to divert attention into the single issue of "corruption," with the hidden agenda of blaming much of it on reservations!

The fact that Parliament has been considering returning to the caste-based census is also something that has troubled the Manuwadis of India. This would be an important reversal of the decades old policy of trying to pretend that caste does not really exist, that it is withering away on its own.

Dr Ambedkar had a pertinent comment about the home minister of the 1940s when the first Census without caste was taken. He said, "The Home Minister of the Government of India who is responsible for this omission was of the opinion that if a word does not exist in a dictionary it can be proved that the fact for which the word stands does not exist. One can only pity this petty intelligence."

Only by admitting a phenomenon exists and devising policies to deal with it can it be overcome.

The Lokpal Bill itself is very authoritarian, in putting non-elected people of high class-caste background over elected officials and government bureaucrats (but not, as people have noted, over corporations!). "Pal" means "guardian," and in many ways the proposal recalls Plato's Guardians -- philosopher-kings who would rule the State.

Plato, of course, believed in something like a varna system -- people would be said to have special "essences," gold for rulers, silver for warriors, bronze and iron for workers and farmers. So apparently does Anna Hazare. Arundhati, again, cites Mukul Sharma on Anna's attitude to caste: "It was Mahatma Gandhi's vision that every village should have one Chamar, one Sunar, one Kumhar and so on. They should all do their work according to their role and occupation, and in this way, a village will be self-dependant. This is what we are practicing in Ralegan Siddhi."

Is this the India people want to return to? So it seems. The deeply disturbing aspect of this whole event is the reactionary trend that political and social life, especially as dominated by "shining India," seem to be taking.

But corruption, of course, is a reality. What is the solution? It used to be (in the 19th century) just as bad if not worse in the US than in India. (Not that it is completely eradicated today). It did not end through a supercop. It ended through the actions of ordinary people.

Dr Bharat Patankar of the Shramik Mukti Dal and a leader of many farmers' and project evictees' movements in Maharashtra, suggests peoples' courts as a way out. The Shramik Mukti Dal's annual melava (gathering) in September will suggest ways and means of doing this.

In fact, corruption can only come to an end when the millions of ordinary people of India fight it: By refusing to indulge in it, by taking action against the small local corrupt officials and powerholders they come against, by taking out morchas, taking action.

This is the way out -- not "Guardians" chosen by Magsaysay Award winners.

Dr Gail Omvedt is an American-born Indian scholar, sociologist and human rights activist. This column has been reproduced with kind courtesy of Kafila.org

Gail Omvedt