In the naming of crusading against corruption, a number of supporters of the caste system, who are also vociferously opposed to reservations for the historically oppressed castes, have got together to stir up a massive agitation against India’s democratic system, insisting that democracy must bow before their dictates. In effect, what they are demanding is that the government must do as it is ordered to by them, and that if it does not do so, they will engineer mass protests which will make it difficult for any government to survive.
These casteist forces, who claim to be protesting against corruption, are being projected by a pliant media as supposedly being the voice of ‘the people of India’, but nothing could be further from the truth. In this regard, it is heartening that crores of Dalits, Adivasis and other oppressed people across the country have chosen to clearly stay away from this movement. And, more than that, they have also begun to come out on the streets to protect democracy and the Indian Constitution from the threats posed to both by this casteist movement. They firmly refuse to accept the super-power Jan Lokpal that the so-called ‘Team Anna’ wants to impose on the country.
The Anna Hazare movement shows every sign of being dangerously opposed to democracy, as the defiant rhetoric of the members of the so-called ‘Team Anna’ indicates. These men have been issuing repeated challenges to the Indian Constitution, to the Parliament, to Democracy. A careful caste-class analysis of this movement is necessary at this juncture to clarify its true nature. It cannot be that, at this crucial moment, the whole country is stupefied into such blind adoration of Anna Hazare that we forget this fundamental task. It is clear that this movement has its own particular casteist and communal undertones, which need to be identified. It is also crucial for us to note that much of the support that Anna Hazare is receiving is actually an expression of a general disgust with widespread corruption rather than an expression support for a Lokpal of the sort that the so-called ‘Team Anna’ has proposed.
Some people might accuse me of seeking to divide the movement at a time when it has garnered considerable popular support by raising the question of the participation or otherwise in it of Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs and religious minorities. Such Anna Hazare supporters are bound to raise questions about my understanding of their movement. They might even accuse people like me, who point out the casteist nature of their movement, of being supportive of corruption simply because we do not support them!
My simple response to them is: Who has given the right to the so-called ‘Team Anna’ and its backers among the middle-class urban Savarna Hindus across India to brand every voice that opposes them as a ‘collaborator of corruption’, a ‘Congress agent’, or as ‘lacking in merit’? Is it that they still view the world through instrument of the Brahminical texts, the Puranas and the Smritis, according to which Shudras have no rights at all to study, speak, and even to know, understand and ask, their only task being to slave for others?
The slogans and demands raised by the mobs gathered in Delhi, from Jantar Mantar to the Ram Lila Grounds, clearly indicate that the entire Anna Hazare-led movement is distinctly anti-Dalit. It is against the Mandal Commission. It is against the caste census. It is against democracy. And it is, in essence, against the Indian Constitution itself. Banners of various caste associations can be seen fluttering at the Ram Lila Grounds, including of the Krantikari Manuvadi Morchha (‘Revolutionary Manuvadi Front’). Volunteers of this outfit had brought their posters with them, which call for an end to reservations at the same time as they demand the ‘Jan Lokpal’. RK Bharadwaj, fervent supporter of Anna Hazare and one of the key leaders of the Krantikari Manuvadi Morchha, is on record as declaring, ‘Reservations are the root of all corruption. The real revolution will come when the merit-based social system of Manu Maharaj will be reinstated.’
The casteist thrust of Anna Hazare’s movement can also be gauged from his own stance on the caste question. This ‘devotee of Gandhi’ is himself a supporter of the iniquitous and hierarchical varna system. He has declared that in every village there must be at least one Suthar (carpenter), one Kumhar (potter), one Sunar (goldsmith) and one Chamar (leather-worker). But our Babasaheb Ambedkar had clearly told Dalits to give up their demeaning ancestral professions, even if this meant that they had to starve to death, and advised them to leave the villages, dens of caste-discrimination, and settle in cities instead. But, as a votary of Gandhi, Anna Hazare seems to regard village life as ideal. His own village of Ralegaon Shiddhi is a case in point. For many years, elections have not taken place to the gram panchayat on the grounds that the gram pradhan should be elected unopposed. Can this at all be said to be in accordance with the norms and ideals of democracy? Using this logic, might it not be possible that someone might demand that a dictator, a Narendra Modi or a Varun Gandhi, or a Raj Thackeray, be declared to be the Prime Minister of India unopposed?
It is absolutely necessary at this juncture to point out that Anna Hazare is being used by anti-reservation and anti-Constitution forces. The man behind this entire affair, Arvind Kejriwal, has never been known to be a supporter of Dalits or an admirer of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Clearly, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule and Kabir are not his heroes, although they certainly are ours. He does not even hesitate to declare that no reservation can be made for Dalits in the drafting committee for the Lokpal on the grounds that for formulating laws one needs specialization! When Dalits protested against this, he threw the ball into the Government’s court, saying that the government could appoint a Dalit. What sort of contempt for Dalits does this reveal?
Kejriwal remains silent on a key Dalit demand—reservations for Dalits in the private sector. At the same time, he is said to be vehemently opposed to reservations in government services. Kejriwal’s close relationship with the vociferously anti-reservation ‘Youth For Equality’, a key actor in the Hazare-led movement, is well-known. No Dalit or Adivasi has been promoted to leadership positions in his own organization, Parivartan, as well as in ‘India Against Corruption’, which is solidly backing the Anna Hazare campaign. Not a single person from the Dalit, Adivasi, OBC or religious minority communities has been incorporated into the core team of the ongoing so-called ‘anti-corruption’ movement. But, of course, men and women from these communities have been granted the ‘opportunity for service’ to the movement as volunteers at the venue of Hazare’s mammoth demonstration in Delhi—to clean up the rubbish, carry loads, spray water and so on. After all, such manual tasks were assigned precisely to these people in the Manusmriti itself, and so it is hardly surprising that the same Shudras should be doing the same work here, too. From all this it is clear that it needs no great wisdom to understand the implications for Dalits and other oppressed castes if Anna and Arvind’s Jan Lokpal comes into effect.
This much is, then, obvious: that Anna Hazare’s so-called ‘anti-corruption movement’ is distinctly casteist, supportive of the varna system and opposed to Dalits. It is thus very possible that it might soon transform into an anti-reservation movement. It is not far-fetched to suspect that certain forces propelling the movement aim at subverting or even completely scrapping democracy through the institution of the Jan Lokpal, as devised by the so-called ‘Team Anna’, because genuine democracy is a menacing threat to the ruling class/caste elites. It is also possible that one of the aims of the movement is to create a ‘super-government’ in the form of the Lokpal as devised by the so-called ‘Team Anna’ which can be used to trap and persecute officials, employees and leaders belonging to the Dalit, Adivasi and religious minority communities.
Dalits across India are seeing through the game-plan of the Arvind-Anna team and are beginning to stridently oppose it. In Hazare’s own state of Maharashtra, Dalit groups are standing up and demonstrating against this anti-Constitution movement. Just a few days ago, a massive demonstration of Dalits and people from other marginalized communities was organized in New Delhi in order to save the Constitution from the threat posed by this movement. Activists of some Dalit groups are also on hunger-strike at Jantar Mantar to support the Constitution and to condemn those who are challenging it. But—and not at all unexpectedly—the so-called ‘mainstream’ media has not provided them any coverage. It has shamelessly suppressed the voices of Dalits who are protesting against those who are bent on subverting democracy because it wants the whole country to go the Anna Hazare way. Why? Because the movement clearly indicates the revival and assertion of Manuvad, and this what those who control most of the media actually ardently desire.
I am not alone in voicing such concerns. The noted Dalit intellectual from Nagpur, Dr Sandip Nandeshwar, argues, ‘In the name of this fast, Manuvad has got a fresh lease of life’. The well-known Dalit writer from Delhi, Chandra Bhan Prasad, maintains, ‘Anna Hazare’s movement is opposed to social justice and is Manuvadi.’ Ashutosh, National Convenor of the Dalit Economic Rights Movement, insists that the so-called ‘Team Anna’ is making a complete mockery of parliamentary norms.
Savarna casteist and communal forces, who, in their hearts, are vociferously opposed to reservations, are solidly backing Anna Hazare. Throughout the country, activists from such outfits as the Krantikari Manuvadi Morchha, VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Durga Vahini, Bharat Vikas Parishad, Shiv Sena, Youth For Equality, Samanta Manch, and Arakshan Virodhi Manch, are joining hands with Anna Hazare’s movement. These anti-reservation Manuvadis have found in this movement which is ostensibly against corruption a good opportunity to spread their wings under its cover.
Dr. Udit Raj of the Justice Party, an important Dalit leader who organized the ‘Save Constitution’ rally in New Delhi recently to protest against the threat to the Constitution posed by the so-called ‘anti-corruption’ movement, had posed a number of questions to Anna Hazare:
1. Is your movement opposed to the Constitution of India drafted by Babasaheb Ambedkar?
2. Will you launch a movement for the implementation, in its full and proper spirit, of the Constitution prepared by Babsaheb Ambedkar?
3. Do you want to place the Lokpal above the Constitution?
4. Are Dalits, OBCs, Adivasis and religious minorities not also part of ‘civil society’?
5. What are your views on reservations for Dalits in the private sector?
6. Why were you silent when north Indians were being attacked in Maharashtra?
7. The entire leadership of your movement consists of Savarnas, so what does this mean for Dalits, OBCs and religious minorities?
8. Why are corporate houses and NGOs not under the purview of your proposed Lokpal?
9. What are your views about the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat?
10. Why is a decidedly anti-reservation group such as Youth For Equality Forum playing such a leading role in your movement?
These questions put to the so-called ‘Team Anna’ will probably remain unanswered by the latter, probably because it does not consider these questions of the Dalits and Adivasis as worthy of being replied to.
Udit Raj perceptibly noted that the nature of Anna Hazare’s movement seems to indicate that he is much more concerned with the Savarna middle-class, vociferous supporters of privatization and ‘globalization’ and ardent opponents of reservations for the oppressed, than with the pathetic conditions of the most marginalized sections of Indian society—Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities—who are the most heavily-exploited victims of an inhuman, sternly hierarchal and extremely corrupt caste-based social order. He pointed out that although Hazare’s movement is ostensibly aimed at ending corruption, it has already begun moving in the direction of challenging and changing the Constitutional system itself. Yet, he noted, the men behind the movement are silent on the precise details of the alternate system they want to usher in. Is this not a betrayal of the Indian people—and, therefore, a form of ‘mental corruption’?
Udit Raj also rightly accused the movement of seeking to bring the three wings of government—the legislature, the judiciary and the executive—under an extremely powerful Lokpal, which, he feared, might easily be used to enforce and strengthen the Brahminical system. This, he insisted, had no warrant at all in the Constitution of Babasaheb Ambedkar. It is nothing but a thinly-veiled but concerted effort to change the Constitution itself, he argued. He very correctly indicated that accepting the Lokpal in the form proposed by the so-called ‘Team Anna’ would be tantamount to destroying the Constitution made by Babasaheb Ambedkar. This is something that Dalits simply cannot accept.
What sort of ‘anti-corruption’ ‘people’s movement’ is this when, under its guise, crowds of unruly people are coming out into the streets and protesting? When leaders of the movement are instigating people to gherao the houses of MPs? Is this the Republic of India or a Banana Republic? Can law and order be surrendered at the feet of Anna Hazare? Why is the media adding fuel to the fire by proving a 24-hour running commentary on this whole affair? Why is the corporate sector funding ‘India Against Corruption’? Why are a seemingly unlikely set of companions, NGOs and funding agencies, on the one hand, and so-called sadhus, babas and religious institutions, all excitedly bent on turning Anna Hazare into a messiah? Why is it that the so-called ‘Team Anna’ has left out the rampant corruption in the media, in NGOs, in corporate houses, and in religious bodies like mutts, temples, waqf boards and churches, from the purview of their proposed Lokpal? Does this not reflect a ‘you-save-my-skin-and-I’ll-save-yours’ approach, so that ‘upper’ caste interests, that these institutions promote, can thereby be protected and that they can be left free to engage in corruption themselves?
Dalit activists are apprehensive that ‘corruption’ is simply an excuse and that the real aim of Anna Hazare’s movement is to subvert the Constitution and destroy democracy. This analysis is completely correct, for this is precisely what the Lokpal, in the form presented by the so-called ‘Team Anna’, would do if it comes into being. It would simply demolish parliamentary democracy.
Anna’s hunger fast is not a novel development as far as Dalits are concerned. Many decades ago, in the 1930s, MK Gandhi also went on a hunger fast—to protest against the demand of Dalits, led by Babasaheb Ambedkar, for separate Dalit electorates. By going on that fast, Gandhi betrayed the Dalits. And today, in the name of the so-called ‘second freedom struggle’, and under the guise of fighting against corruption, Anna Hazare is on a fast, making demands that would clearly lead to the subversion of the Constitution, with dangerous consequences for the Dalits and other oppressed peoples. As far as Dalits are concerned, this is no ‘second freedom struggle’ at all, despite what the media might claim. Far from it, it is actually a ‘second betrayal’, undertaken again through a Gandhi-style fast. Little wonder, then, that Dalits have refused to join this movement.
Today, the so-called ‘Team Anna’ and the movement that it is spearheading has emerged, despite its populist face, as a potent challenge to democracy. It insists that the country must run according to its dictates. The language of the so-called ‘Team Anna’ is completely un-parliamentary. It drips with egoism and dictatorship. Is the intention of some forces supporting the movement to create chaos and lawlessness? If that happens, Dalits, Adivasis and the religious minorities who would be hit most. Is this, then, as many conscious Dalits fear, all part of a larger Manuvadi conspiracy to destroy democracy, which the dominant caste-class combine regards as the biggest threat to their hegemony, which is today being increasingly challenged by the historically oppressed peoples of this country?
To sum up: It is increasingly clear that the Anna-led movement is definitely a casteist one and is wholly opposed to the Ambedkarite vision. It is also definitely working in tandem with Hindutva communal forces. Anna is on record as praising Narendra Modi, the man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Muslims. Varun Gandhi, whose anti-Muslim views are well-known, is also an ardent Anna supporter. Top RSS leaders have rushed to express solidarity with Anna Hazare’s demonstration. This clearly shows that corporate interests as well as communal-fascist forces have joined hands, and, with generous media support, have created and are fanning this anti-Dalit movement, which, I believe, might soon turn into a full-fledged anti-reservation movement.
That is why Dalits and Adivasis, the most heavily-burdened victims of corruption, have chosen to stay away from this movement. They have realized the threat to democracy, as well as to reservations, that this movement poses and are refusing to get fooled by its rhetoric against corruption. They have said a loud ‘No!’ to the un-Constitutional Lokpal as envisioned by the so-called ‘Team Anna’ and the lawless movement that, ostensibly in the name of curbing corruption, is backing this demand. They are aware that in the name of this Jan Lokpal an alternative Constitutional structure is being sought to be imposed, which would prove a monster as far as they are concerned, not hesitating to brutally repress their voice of dissent, their quest for liberation, their dream of equality and freedom.
Bhanwar Megwanshi is a noted social activist from Bhilwara, Rajasthan. He edits the Hindi monthly ‘Diamond India’, a journal that deals with grassroots’ social issues. He is associated with the Mazdoor-Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org