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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Land Acquisition Ordinance and Anna's Confused Gandhism

The Land Acquisition Ordinance has been a subject of much debate. There are differences between the government and the opposition over the finer nuances of the bill. However, instead of a reasoned debate and discussion which can result in a compromise, the opposition is piggy backing on the agitation started by Anna Hazare. This is wrong and dangerous. 

A natural question that arises is: why is Anna wrong now and why wasn’t he wrong when he started his agitation for the Jan Lokpal Bill? The answer is simple. Corruption is a plague that no one in their right minds would support. The anti-corruption agitation came in the backdrop of mammoth scams under a shaky UPA-II government which was reluctant to enact a strong Jan Lokpal Bill and was playing politics instead of tackling the problem head on. Land Acquisition, on the other hand, is a policy. Different people may have different opinion on this policy and the government can either take note of these opinions or can ignore them. It is ultimately the difference of perspective; it does not signify a lack of political will or policy paralysis.

To arm twist the government into accepting a particular set of amendments is unacceptable. And that is exactly what Anna is threatening to do. In an interaction with Zee News, he threatened to return to Ramlila Maidan and start a ‘jail bharo andolan’ if the government did not accede to his demands. What kind of Gandhism is that? For Gandhi, agitations and fasts unto death were last resorts, which had to be undertaken only when all other options such as negotiation, deliberation, compromise etc. had been exhausted. For Anna however, this seems to be the first and the last resort.

This does not mean Anna doesn’t have a right to protest. Protests are a legitimate form of expression of dissent in a democracy. Yet, there is a difference between expressing your dissent and trying to enforce your will. At the end of the day, all protests have to be responsible towards the democracy in which they take place. By threatening to sit in Ramlila Maidan, he is being highly irresponsible for he is insulting the clear mandate that the people of this country have bestowed on the Modi government. He is also setting a dangerous precedent.

The opposition which is rubbing its hands in glee in a sign of true opportunism should realize that they can also get their hands burnt in the fire they are putting a match to. There is no problem with any political figure or party joining Anna on stage or elsewhere during the protest at Jantar Mantar. But before extending any support to his threat of an agitation at Ramlila Maidan, politicians should think long and hard about what would happen if a similar threat was handed out in the future to a popularly elected government. Would 67 seats out of 70 matter then?

For Gandhi, Satyagraha was meant to change the heart of the oppressor in order to show him the injustice of his position. One can discern no such intention in the protest being headed by Mr. Hazare. On the contrary, this seems to be a battle between the mood of the central government and the bloated ego of Mr. Hazare where the latter is content with calling names instead of finding a compromise. No Mr. Hazare, no matter what you think, neither is this “a battle for second independence” nor is the central government “acting like the British”. 

By hiding behind the Mahatma for all his agitations, Anna is only damaging his own hard earned reputation. He is also misleading people regarding the nature and meaning of Gandhism, which is a greater disservice. Instead of being a means to an end, his agitations have become an end in themselves. They have started looking less like political protests and more like a part of a Reality TV show. 

For a better understanding of how Gandhism works, Anna needs to train his eyes to Manipur, where Irom Sharmila has been carrying out her peaceful hunger strike against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act for the last 14 years. Yes, 14 years. She hasn’t succeeded yet, for Gandhism doesn’t assure quick results. But when she does, and I am sure she will, her victory would be the true victory of the Gandhian method.