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View: Anna Hazare is NO Mahatma Gandhi. Here's why

Last updated on: August 25, 2011 08:48 IST

Image: Supporters of Indian social activist Anna Hazare burn an effigy depicting corruption during a protest against corruption in the northern Indian city of Allahabad
Photographs: Jitendra Prakash/Reuters
Any people's movement without a well-defined ideology and organised structure will always lead to chaos and anarchy, says Dr Abhijit Vaidya, founder of Arogya Sena

My first encounter with Anna Hazare was when I was requested by veteran trade union leader Dr Baba Adhav to come to Ralegan Siddhi as a doctor to examine Hazare on the 13th day of his first notable hunger strike in 1998. At that time, his relative and a close associate showed me packets of glucose and electrolyte powder, which he was giving to Hazare everyday, and asked me whether the quantity was sufficient.

This came as a shock to me since I was familiar with the Gandhian way of satyagraha and fasting as my own father and my two maternal uncles were freedom-fighters.

Since then, other than two public events, I have not had any contact with Hazare and I don't know if he still continues this practice.

But our objections to the Hazare phenomenon are more ideological in nature. Here I must state that we strongly condemn his arrest which was utterly undemocratic. The corrupt Congress government has made a series of blunders and it has prepared a solid ground for the Hazare phenomenon. We must appreciate also the unexpected mass support he has got as the masses are following non-violent methods of protest.


'Sentimental weakness of our people was exploited'

Image: Anna Hazare (L) is helped by one of his supporters on the eighth day of his fast at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
But Hazare is being used symbolically and shrewdly by Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi -- who are known as Team Anna or the self-proclaimed "civic society" representatives of 120 crore Indians.

Kejriwal is now being projected online as the youth leader of India and a competitor to Rahul Gandhi (without daring to enter electoral politics and challenging the present political system through constitutional means). This trio started this show at the right time, when sentiments of the common man against corruption had reached a boiling point and they were waiting to come out on the streets against this menace.

But the Indian mind is spiritual and requires a messiah to guide it. This very sentimental weakness of our people was cleverly exploited by Kejriwal with the help of the media, some industrialists, builders and even the Sangh Parivar, which was happy to accept Anna as the 'second Mahatma Gandhi'. This same Parivar, which has always justified Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, is today seen wearing Gandhi caps and swirling the tricolour instead of their saffron flags.

This whole show reminds me of Aamir Khan's movie Peepli Live. When the media gave massive coverage to Anna's first prematurely aborted phase of fast, nobody even bothered about the death of Swami Nigamanand, who died on the 64th day of his fast against the mine mafia.

'Hazare has no political or economic ideology'

Image: Anna Hazare supporters at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant/
Hazare is neither bothered about these facts nor does he have the intellectual capacity to understand the intricacies and implications of so many things. He is too happy with this unexpected status of the 'second Mahatma Gandhi' being bestowed upon him. Corruption is a disease of the human mind as well as the political and economic system. Hazare has no political or economic ideology, he has no faith in any organisation, his approach is too individualistic and shows disregard, maybe out of ignorance, for the Constitution framed by Dr BR Ambedkar.

On November 25, 1949, in his historic speech, Dr Ambedkar warned of three possible dangers to our democracy -- social and economic inequalities, the use of unconstitutional ways and hero-worship.

Anna has never talked against poverty (77 per cent Indians have a monthly income of less than Rs 600 as per the Dr Arjun Sengupta report), malnourishment (20 lakh children die per year as per Lancet), farmers' suicides (2.5 lakh in the last 10 years as per journalist P Sainath), rising inflation adding to underfed population (labourers with monthly family income of Rs 5,050 can afford to have only 1,100 calories in their diet, which is half of the calorie based definition of poverty as per Arogya Sena's survey), deadly privatisation of education depriving the poor of the basic right of education (as per the Samajwadi Adhyapak Sabha) etc.

The only thing he has done is support Raj Thackeray, shower praises on Narendra Modi (which he withdrew latter) and give a certificate to Sharad Pawar. Hazare has received a large amount of government funds for his village, he has used government vehicles and accepted the security cover provided by the government (in the past he has had Z category security).

'Gandhi believed in a wider political ideology'

Image: Anna Hazare is examined by a team of doctors on the eighth day of his fasting at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant/
This is why Hazare can't be compared to Mahatma Gandhi and his movement can't be labelled the 'second freedom struggle'. Mahatma Gandhi always believed in a sharper and wider political ideology, in building a strong organisation and even a parallel leadership. Any people's movement without a well-defined ideology and organised structure will always lead to chaos and anarchy.

It would fizzle out ultimately, leaving the masses disappointed. As far as the label of 'second freedom struggle' is concerned, we must not forget that India's second freedom struggle was the struggle lead by Jayaprakash Narayan against Emergency.

Indian democracy is not so weak, though we require a strong Lokpal to strengthen it further. But this does not mean that the draft made by Team Anna (actually only three or four people), which has in its ambit the prime minister but deliberately excludes the media, the corporate sector and NGOs, should be imposed upon Parliament.

Parliament should be challenged constitutionally, not by fomenting public sentiment. Fifty thousand or one lakh people, predominantly comprising the non-voting middle class, is not India. The hidden danger of the Lokpal becoming a super PM and threatening democracy should also be considered. More the number of unelected offices, more the threats to a democracy.

'Does Hazare have the guts?'

Image: Anna Hazare greets a supporter as he sits in front of a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant/
And how can Team Anna portray the Lokpal as the last saviour of the people reeling under the menace of corruption? How is it going to stop havaldars and talathis and babus from accepting bribes? They have not stopped accepting bribes shamelessly even while Anna was fasting.

Are we not going to address other forms of corruption like tax evasions, black money, wooing voters during elections etc? What really is needed to stop corruption is a change of the political and economic system and the moral catharsis of our society.

Does Hazare have the guts to ask the people to take an oath about not indulging in any form of corruption? Does he have the guts to call off his agitation if he finds out that people supporting his anti-corruption movement themselves are corrupt, like the Hindi film industry which thrives on black money and sometimes on underworld funds?

Mahatma Gandhi had the guts to call off his agitation when angry protestors burnt alive some policemen at Chauri Chaura, because he thought his followers were not prepared for real satyagraha. The principles of satyagraha insist upon sadhanshuchita (purity of means and ways). Principles of satyagraha also insist on tolerance. Hazare's so-called followers have become so intolerant that anyone not supporting him is labelled a supporter of corruption. Why can't Hazare teach them how to be tolerant (and sensible) to anyone expressing a different opinion? 

'Team Anna should have sat alongside Hazare'

Image: Hazare's supporters shout slogans as they wave Indian national flags at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant/

Surely Hazare can't do any of these because he is far from Mahatma Gandhi! And Arogya Sena will always refuse this mass mental pressure as we have been fighting corruption since the last 16 years and will keep on fighting it even after the mela at Ramlila, Mai Anna Hazare Hoon capwallahs and candle-holders have disappeared from the scene.

My last suggestion is one as a doctor. Hazare is 74 years old and as a doctor I am deeply concerned about any old man's health.

Ideally, Team Anna should have sat alongside Hazare for the fast rather than give interviews to TV channels and try to establish their superiority over the democratically elected Cabinet and Parliament. If they are really concerned about Hazare's health and are serious about the Jan Lokpal Bill, they should force Hazare to end his fast to enable him to continue the dialogue with the government, and go on a fast themselves.

Dr Abhijit Vaidya is the founder of Arogya Sena, a national trustee of Rasthra Seva Dal and the national president of Socialist Yuvajan Sabha, the newly formed youth wing of Socialist Party - India