By MV Kamath
Anna Hazare: The Face of India’s Fight Against Corruption; Pradeep Thakur and Pooja Rana (Eds); Pentagon Press, Pp 114 (HB), Rs 295
What sort of man is Anna Hazare? His team mates are saying that he is greater than the Parliament, and, as a well-known columnist, BS Raghavan has noted, “Team Anna is in need of counselling”. His point is clear. As he put it, Anna Hazare and the members of his team, comprising Messers Prashant Bhushan, Shanti Bhushan and Arvind Kajriwal and Ms Kiran Bedi are committing the grievous blunder of disregarding the peoples” capacity to see through their continued irrational behaviour. That is putting it mildly. Hazare himself is behaving somewhat arrogantly, as if power has gone to his head. He has deprecated LK Advani’s Rath Yatra, as if fighting corruption is his sole monopoly and nobody but nobody has any right to try to beat him at his game. In the first place, Advani has no desire to compete with Hazare. Why should he? In the second place, shouldn’t anyone have the right to fight the battle in a way best suited to his talents? Advani has, in the past, had six such yatras and one may question whether they in anyway have produced any meaningful results. But that is not the point. What matters is the intention and the effort to fight for a cause. Success of failure is best left to the Gods. Anna has a point to make, which can’t be questioned. Parliament has made eight attempts since 1968 to pass a Lokpal Bill, a different version each time, all in vain. Who can say that Anna Hazare’s latest effort which has invited so much public support, possibly more than he dreamt of, would succeed where other efforts in the past have failed? Anna has made some important recommendations. Thus, he insists that the charters, already on ministerial desks should specify the nature of punishments for non-compliance.
In their biography of Anna Hazare, Pradeep Thakur and Pooja Rana have taken a lot of trouble to present Anna in a positive light. There is no doubt that Anna is a man totally committed to public service. He is a social activist beyond compare. When he initiated his anti-corruption movement he could not possibly have expected the kind of reception that he recived from the public. Even bollywood, as his biographers have noted, have come out completely in his support. Corruption in India is nothing new. His biographers have devoted an entire chapter to old corruption cases like the Churhat Lottery Case (1982), St Kitts case (1989), Bofors Scandal (1987), JMM Bribery Scandal (1993), the Hawala Scam (1993), the Fodder Scam (1996), the Telecom-Sukh Ram Scam (1996) and many others. What action have the past governments taken? That constitutes the subject of another chapter.
The authors deal efficiently with the Vohra Committee Report (1993), the Right to Information Act (which covers the whole of India except Jammu & Kashmir), deficiencies in the present anti-corruption systems like the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and Departmental Vigilance Wings. What is significant in this work is an objective critique of the Government Lokpal Bill. Full treatment is given to the Jan Lokpal Bill which has been submitted as a valid alternative, but which the government apparently wishes to keep at arm’s length. This has already caused anger in the Team Hazare camp which now seems anxious to go all out to fight the Congress is state elections. One expected the biographers to provide plenty of background to Hazare’s life and times and on this account, the book leaves much to be desired. His entire life is dismissed in about 24 pages, which is doing poor justice to the man who has shown that he commands respect across the board, across parties, religions, castes and creeds. He is described as a “simple man” with a simple philosophy of life, who has no family, no property and no bank account, who lives in a simple way, in a small room attached to a temple in Ahmednagar’s Ralegan Siddhi village. He wears only khadi. But what comes as a surprise are the awards he has won like the Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award, the Krishi Bhushan Award, even the Padma Shree and Padma Bhushan Awards, not to speak of the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
The biographers could have interviewed him at length as also people in his village,to get better acquainted with him and his style of living. He is quoted as saying in times past for him there is “no black and white” and it is either black or white. One understands that at one point in time he even contemplated suicide. He is reported to have said: “What’s life after all? To be good to others. In fact, seva mein hi anand hai (to serve is to be happy). Apparently that message took root in him in the mid-60s. it seems during the 1965 war against Pakistan, when he was serving the Indian Army, he was in the front and saw his colleagues killed. He was the only one who survived. That changed him, too. Later he read Swami Vivekananda and was quite taken by him. To be the lone survivor changed him. To Hazare it was a rebirth. The biography is painfully inadequate and was obviously meant to meet a rising demand to know more about Hazare than what the media has reported. For all that, it is still worth a read because it deals not so much with Hazare alone, but the role of corruption as a way of life and how it needs to be fought. No doubt there will soon be other biographies on him. This can be taken as a starter and a solid one at that, for which thanks be.
(Pentagon Press, 206, Peacock Lane, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi-110049, [email protected], www.pentagon-press.com, www.pentagonpress.in)