Let us start with Arvind Kejriwal. He and I were inducted into the Ashoka Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurs together in 2004. At that time Arvind was just starting off in the social field whereas I had already spent two decades in it. We had a long chat in Kolkata where we were inducted and Arvind asked me how to build up a big people's movement because he felt that working in isolated corners as we were doing, would not yield much. Having failed to get a big movement going despite all my efforts along with the likes of the late Shankar Guha Niyogi, Medha Patkar, Swami Agnivesh, Ramdayal Munda and Baba Amte I told him that given the huge power of the State and especially the Global Corporations it was very difficult to do this and I at least had reconciled myself to fighting a rear guard action since 2001 when our attempt to build up a strong mass movement of the Bhil tribals in western Madhya Pradesh was brutally crushed by the State. Arvind, however, was not to be put off, much younger as he was and he approvingly cited at that time how Baba Ramdev had been able to gather a big following around the practice of Yoga.
After this Arvind graduated from the handholding of people in small battles against corruption to a wider stage as a result of being given the Magsaysay award for emergent leadership in 2006. This brought him into the limelight and media attention and he along with Aruna Roy launched the National Campaign for the Right to Information around the implementation of the RTI Act which had come into force in 2005. Soon, however, he found that the RTI Act, like any of the many other good legislations that have been enacted in this country from time to time does not really ensure transparency because ultimately it is bureaucrats who man the Information Commissions and prevent its implementation. That was when he tried to broad base his movement by taking up the issue of grassroots democracy or 'Swaraj". But he is not the first person advocating Gram or Mohalla Swaraj as there have been many before him, most notably Gandhi, who have tried and failed. Like those before him Arvind too did not get far with this, primarily because electoral politics in this country is vitiated through and through by money and muscle power right down to the grassroots and it is very difficult to make much headway beyond a few villages which is not enough to win elections to the State Legislatures or the Parliament. So though Arvind was getting media attention with his energetic crusades he was not able to muster the kind of mass movement that he hankered after.
Then last year, 2011, he broke ranks with Aruna Roy and the RTI campaign and along with Anna Hazare launched the campaign for a LokPal bill. Now like the RTI Act the LokPal Act when it does come into force also will not be able to ensure transparency. Once again, because the establishment of the LokPal will be manned by the same bureaucrats and politicians who have effectively stymied all good statutes in this country through willful non-implementation. Nevertheless, Anna and Arvind landed up in Jantar Mantar in Delhi in April 2011 with a small bunch of followers on their dharna and indefinite fast. Now on many occasions before people like Medha Patkar and the Bhopal Gas Andolan have come to Jantar Mantar with their dharnas and fasts but never before had the media paid any attention. This time, however, the electronic media suddenly took up the issue wholeheartedly and within a week the campaign had snowballed into a huge movement that eventually forced the Government to take notice and come to the negotiating table for finalising a draft of the LokPal Bill for enactment.
After the Government representatives typically filibustered during the LokPal draft negotiations, the second agitation was launched in July 2011 at the Ramlila Grounds and this time too the media gave heavy coverage. Also the Sangh Parivar joined the fray overtly by sending its supporters in a big way to Ramlila Grounds in Delhi and throughout the country to the rallies and dharnas held in support. In fact in Alirajpur where we work the rallies and dharnas were being manned by the very same moneylenders and exploitative traders against whom our organisation, the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, fights all the time. Obviously this created a huge pressure on the Government and so once again it bowed to the movement and Parliament adopted a resolution to discuss and enact the LokPal Bill. At this point of time even though I was sceptical personally about the longevity of such a media and Sangh Parivar propped up movement, I still suppported it wholeheartedly from outside because it was anti establishment in many respects and had for the first time since the Sampoorna Kranti mobilisation in 1975 brought the Central Government to its knees through vast mass mobilisation. At least what we had never been able to do in western Madhya Pradesh had been done by the IAC and it had shaken up the whole of the mainstream political class. It had also brought the politically apathetic middle and upper middle classes on to the streets. However, I wrote at the time that the IAC would have to put a grassroots cadre based organisation in place to take the positives from its success and take the movement forward and make a lasting dent in the politics of this country. Something that the many grassroots movements earlier had not been successful in doing. At this point of time the IAC was able to bring on board a host of people's movements and mass leaders like Satinath Shadangi and the Bhopal Gas Andolan, Medha Patkar and the National Alliance of People's Movements, Akhil Gogoi and the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti. The core group of the IAC consisted of many other hardened mass campaigners besides these well known figures and so one would have expected them to come up with a well laid out mass mobilisation programme to carry forward the struggle.
But, that was not to be. The IAC and especially Arvind took up frivolous and negative activities like campaigning against a Congress candidate in the Hissar Lok Sabha by elections and then he capitulated by paying the Rupees nine lakhs odd that the Government was demanding from him for quitting his job in the Income Tax Department. He should have fought against this order in the courts. Thereafter as is only to be expected the media and the Sangh Parivar deserted the IAC and without an organised cadre it was not able to mobilise people again. One does not know what went on inside the core group meetings but almost certainly the views of the likes of Medha and Akhil must have been overruled because these latter distanced themselves from the movement pretty soon. Lakhs of likes on FB or frequent appearances on TV are not equivalent to dedicated workers and masses in the streets and villages. When the Government and the political parties once again dithered on enacting the LokPal bill the IAC decided to launch another fast and Jail Bharo programme in Mumbai in December but that had to be hastily called off as not enough people could be mobilised in support.
Thereafter, Arvind's strategy was to somehow get the media hype going without much concern about mass mobilisation at the grassroots and so he made one sensational statement after another to stay in the news. Charges of corruption were levelled against fifteen ministers of the Government including the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister who was later to become the President. Finally, Arvind announced that he was going to fast unto death to get cases lodged and investigation begun against these fifteen ministers of the Government. One doubts whether he ever had any intention of actually fasting to death like the great Jatin Das did in jail during the freedom struggle against the British demanding better facilities for political prisoners. If he had such a commitment then he would not have given up the fast after just ten days without getting any response at all from the Government. From the beginning it was a publicity stunt in a last ditch attempt to get the media hooked like before and so put pressure on the government. However, this did not happen leading to the inevitable withdrawal of the fast and nothing gained other than moral high ground, which they were sitting on any way.
A golden opportunity that was provided by the media and the Sangh Parivar supporting the IAC for reasons of their own in July last year was let go. If Arvind had controlled his penchant for publicity mongering and instead got down to hard grassroots mobilisation and sought to bring the many mass movements that are afoot in this country onto his platform then the story would have been a different one from that it is now where he and the IAC have become the butt of ridicule across the country. In fact just before the Mumbai dharna and Jail Bharo campaign in December 2011, the organiser of the IAC there had announced that he had applied to the Guinness Book of World Records on the basis of the lakhs of likes generated on the IAC Facebook page that this would be the biggest ever Jail Bharo campaign in the world and so it should be covered by their validation team! In the event it turned out to be a damp squib as all the Facebook likers stayed home. Amitabh Bacchan can preen with pride with the many likes that he gets on Facebook but when a political mass movement also begins to rely on such a fickle measure of support, then it has some serious rethinking to do. When the IAC is not capable of mustering numbers for its mass agitations then how does it expect to muster them for the elections which are dominated by money and muscle power.
Corruption is extremely deeprooted not only in this country but also worldwide otherwise there would not have been the 2008 financial meltdown or the doctoring of the LIBOR by the top international banks while the Federal Reserve Bank in the USA looked the other way or the 32 trillion dollars in offshore bank accounts in tax havens. Arvind would do better to first read up on the history of mass movements in India and abroad and the reasons why they were not able to halt corruption before launching himself into futile fasts unto death and now fighting elections on the strength of a false belief that media attention can substitute for hard grassroots mobilisation.
The other personality of note in what has now degenerated into a Punch and Judy show is Anna Hazare. Anna has spent a lot of time fasting in Maharashtra against the corruption of Government Ministers there. He has even succeeded to a certain extent in getting some Ministers indicted. However, overall the Governments of Maharashtra, irrespective of their political colour, have become more and more corrupt with time following the global trend in this regard. A trend that is an integral characteristic of late capitalism worldwide. However, since Anna or for that matter Arvind, do not have much faith in Marxist analysis and their anarchism is of the Gandhian variety which does not have a structural critique of capitalism in place, he has not learned anything from his overall failure or that of many other mass movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan or the Bhopal Gas Andolan in bringing about any substantial change in mainstream politics. He too has been carried away by the huge media publicity he has generated and lived in an illusory world ever since the movement took off in April last year. Now he has nothing to offer other than a very stale programme of undertaking Yatras throughout the country as a prelude to fighting the elections in 2014. As long as the first past the post system of elections prevails and money and muscle power rule there is very little likelihood of the IAC candidates saving their deposits with a programme centred around the enactment of the LokPal bill. In fact the IAC has assiduously distanced itself from the many burning issues like displacement due to development projects, factory labour exploitation, non functioning of the Public Distribution System which are all likely to make it lose its media support and upper middle class friends. Moreover, people at the grassroots know very well that laws by themselves wont bring about justice and an end to corruption as long as the system remains the same. The way in which the IAC has gone from one frivolous event to another does not build confidence that it is capable of bringing about sytemic change or undertake a truly broadbased mass programme of action.
Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan and for sometime Swami Agnivesh too have been active members of the core group of the IAC. None of these people have ever displayed a critical understanding of the structural nature of late capitalist exploitation and especially the role of the media in devastating mass movements. Consequently over the course of its brief shooting star trajectory the IAC has been just a flash in the pan. No doubt all the protagonists are well intentioned but as often happens in mass politics, an inadequate understanding of the structures of power and oppression has resulted in the IAC trudging the dismal road to a Hell of irrelevance. The task of building up a truly mass based opposition to capitalism in this country still remains and will be accomplished only by genuine grassroots work that can shun media publicity instead of craving it.