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Seema Mustafa is the former Political Editor and Delhi Bureau Chief of The Asian Age newspaper.

Government should fear corruption, not Hazare

Social activists and members of Lokpal Bill drafting committee, Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal leave after the first meeting of the panel at North Block in New Delhi on Saturday.

would go to the length of giving the whole Congress a decent burial, rather than put up with the corruption that is rampant..." Gandhi, May 1939.

And judging from its "going all over the place " reactions, the panicky Congress and its corrupt comrades in arms are terrified that Gandhian Anna Hazare and the thousands who turned out across the country against corruption have started digging the grave. That can be the only explanation for the kind of attack that has been launched against Hazare and his civil society group with the Congress using the usual means of disinformation through whispered allegations and planted stories to tear down his credibility and support.

There have been sanctimonious reactions from civil society groups about his reference to the Ugly Indian, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as being great administrator. Tomes have been written about Hazare's politics. And questions asked as to why he has ignored communalism, casteism and all the other ills of India to focus only on corruption. Before addressing all this, it is essential to understand who Hazare is, and what he stands for.

Anna Hazare was an army man. Also a Gandhian, in that he picked up the anti-corruption theme and made it his own. He has little understanding of politics, or for that matter economics. He does not have a vision, or a world view. He has used the hunger fast and satyagraha to good effect in the past, as he is a man respected by all in his village, has raised his voice where it counted, and inspired support. He is apolitical but not dangerous as he does not even try to pick up causes other than corruption. In Delhi, he was catapulted to instant fame when the crowds poured out of their houses in support. He ignited a response that took him and his advisors completely by surprise. He was suddenly asked to answer questions on issues he had not even considered before, and not being progressive, or particularly secular, or for that matter even concerned with such issues he gave absurd answers that created a storm.

ut it is at best a storm in a teacup. Simply because Hazare is serving a limited cause, and has only a one point agenda: corruption. When confronted with the reaction on Modi he tried to modify his stand, and clearly he will be relevant for a short, and not a long time. That is because he is incapable of enriching his agenda with the other substantive issues of concern, and can at best speak on corruption and the need for an honest and accountable government. He makes sense also only to the middle classes as well as sections of the elite, and this constituency of support is and has always been, fickle.

The relevance of Hazare thus does not lie in his persona or his politics (of which he has none) but in the fact that the middle class that usually sleeps off its concerns was sufficiently provoked by the high levels of corruption to come out on the streets and be heard. And the middle class Congress panicked, as while it could ignore six lakh trade union workers marching on the streets of Delhi just a few weeks ago, it could not ignore its basic constituency of the middle class that expressed anger against the government across the country. The media too — that never reports the agitations of the workers and the poor — came out in full support of Hazare, making the government crawl even where it only needed to bend.

Hazare, thus, has his own importance today and instead of trying to imbue him with every vice or every virtue, it would be best if both his critics and supporters gave him the space to carry out a relevant struggle. He is not the repository of all politics and solutions, he is just an old man from a Maharashtra village trying to step into shoes that even he admits are too big for him. Let him be. His voice is being heard, and at least he is prepared to stay the course on an issue that has acquired importance. He has got the selfish, sleeping middle class on the streets and at least the toothless Lokpal Bill will get some new dentures, if nothing else.

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