As concerned leftists, we must defend important national-bourgeois thinkers of modern persuasion. When I see Anna Hazare being transformed into Gandhi, I feel the need to rescue Gandhi.
I have many fundamental disagreements with Gandhi and his politics. In fact, I see little point in Gandhism in all its political variants and believe that it has committed much harm to Indian society in many crucial respects. Nevertheless, Anna is not Gandhi because his movement is not based on a coherent critique of the capitalist system. Gandhi’s approach to economics dealt with the “ethical” aspects of economic behaviour. Corruption, then, is a violation of this ethical code pertaining to consumption and accumulation. While it is correct to say that many of his ideas were result of his idiosyncratic insistence at individual levels, it certainly had a systemic element against “industrial modernity” following, among others, Tolstoy and Ruskin. Anna’s politics is woven around corruption but does not make any such connection between ethics and economics, leave alone presenting a critique of neoliberal capitalism which thrives on corruption of “moral” and (extra) legal varieties.
Secondly, Gandhi believed in “political action” where truth is negotiated between individuals. In this respect, it is obvious that even when he pretended to invoke his “inner voice”, he was not deceitful or misleading in propagation of his political project. Even his strongest adversaries were aware of his political goals and methods. Everybody, hence, dealt with Gandhi in their own respective ways. Anna, on the other hand, is fraudulent since nobody (not even his supporters like Mallika Sarabhai and Prashant Bhushan) knows his alignments with RSS, Ramdev, Ravi Shankar and BJP.
Thirdly, Gandhi, in his utopia, believed in a stateless society. Modern states, according to him, were founded and maintained not through “soul-force” but “brute-force”. The individual, in his/her capacity of a satyagrahi, was given some agency as the arbiter of moral and political action. This transformation of authority from an abstract absolutism to the sphere of individual action, at least, constituted a modern approach to political action. Since every individual is entitled to his own truth and he/she can base his actions on it, religious or such authority is then reduced to “pure ethics”. On the contrary, Anna’s soldiers are steeped in “brute force” and far from integrated into the politics of our times. The mobilisation and public posturing in this movement circle around religious symbols and fake sadhus. Their political project, by their own admission now, is based on a Hitler-type dictatorship.
Fourthly, Gandhian mobilisation was reasonably successful because it had some basis in the economic struggles of its time (see Habib 1995). The popularity of Gandhi among peasants was a result of his consistent upholding of certain immediate issues concerning them. Anna’s movement is based on “immoral” class basis. Its goal is to enable accumulation at the altar of neoliberalism by cleaning up the base.
Finally, Gandhi’s moral authority, at least, in his last days flowed from his brave personal acts of fighting “communalism”. It can be argued that he laid his life fighting communalism in its worst forms. Anna’s authority, even in his small village, comes from fear and force. His views about caste and democracy are fascist, as is clear from his recent pronouncements on electoral politics and Modi. In his article, Mukul Sharma quotes Anna as saying this about Dalits in his village,
...we started telling them the reasons why people kept them at a distance. We said that the society condemns you because your way of living is dirty, your food habits are dirty, and your thinking is dirty. Therefore, you have to change. With such constant hammering, the dalits were also made vegetarian (Sharma 2006, p. 1984, emphasis added).
The integration of dalits into an ideal village has two components in Ralegan. One is to assume that they were always there to perform some duties and necessary services and that their usefulness justifies their existence in the present...(T)he other component is hegemonic, designed to get dalits into a brahaminical fold (ibid., p. 1986).
The villagers are beaten up, publicly flogged and serve under a controlled regime under Anna Hazare. Even when that is not the case, it is anti-democratic and has no place for social-economic mobility of Dalits. Anna Hazare is casteist and fascist, that too slyly in his public and political life. All references to previous political movements and personalities are mistaken. He does not deserve to be compared to Gandhi or anybody else.
Habib, Irfan (1995). “Gandhi and the National Movement”, Social Scientist, Vol. 23, No. 4/6, pp. 3-15.
Sharma, Mukul (2006). “The Making of Moral Authority: Anna Hazare and Watershed Management Programme in Ralegan Siddhi”, Economic and Political Weekly, May 20, pp. 1981-88.