By Aditya Dev Sood
In todayâ€™s Hindustan Times, Ramchandra Guha makes some critical comparisons of the Anna Hazare movement with Jayaprakash Narayanâ€™s rallies against Indira Gandhi, more than a generation ago:
Some commentators have compared the struggle led by Anna Hazare with the movement against corruption led by Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s. A man of integrity and courage, a social worker who has eschewed the loaves and fishes of office, a septuagenarian who has emerged out of semi-retirement to take on an unfeeling government — thus JP then, and thus Anna now.
Once a hero of the Quit India Movement, then a founder of the Socialist Party, Jayaprakash Narayan abandoned politics for social work in the 1950s. Two decades later, he returned to politics at the invitation of students disenchanted with corruption in Bihar. At first, JP focused attention on his own state; then, much as Hazare has now done, his struggle moved outwards to embrace the whole of India.
In the late summer of 1974, as his movement was gathering ground, JP went to Vellore for a surgical operation. While he was recovering, his associate Acharya Ramamurti kept him up-to-date with the struggle. Ramamurti’s communications, note, with some alarm, the entry of a political party into a professedly â€œapoliticalâ€œ movement. While JP was away, wrote his colleague, â€œthe leadership of the movement at least at local levels, is passing into the hands of the Jana Sanghâ€œ. Ramamurti also worried that â€œthe common man has yet to be educated into the ways and values of our movement, whose appeal to him continues to be more negative than constructiveâ€œ.
The materials of history thus suggest that the parallels between JP and Anna are less comforting than we might suppose. Front organisations of the Jana Sangh’s successor, the BJP, are now playing an increasingly active role in `India against corruption’. While Anna cannot be blamed for the infiltration of his movement by partisan interests, he certainly stands guilty, as did JP, of suggesting that the street — or the maidan — should have a greater say in political decision-making than a freely elected Parliament.
Notwithstanding the right-wing bent of the two mass-mobilizers’ following, Guha could have gone much further back before JP, to explore the parallels between Hazare and Vinobha Bhave, M. K. Gandhi, Swami Shraddhanand, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and the even longer pre-modern tradition of social protest movements in India. This tradition runs in striking contrast with a more top-down and technocratic approach to change, which also own in India, which can be traced from Tughluq through Dalhousie through to key representatives of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. But perhaps the most powerful contemporary representative of that tradition is Nandan Nilekani, who argues that the kind of change Hazare is trying to bring about is best handled through his Aadhar or UID initiative:
Hazare and Nilekani appear to represent two extreme and polar approaches to social change in India — one using mass mobilization and ethical and moral appeals and the other looking for technological, regulatory, organizational, and management solutions to bring about change. They seem to be talking two different languages.
How can we translate across these two idioms and bridge this gulf in Indian public discourse?
* The views presented here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Knowledge Societies