Anna shows the way

Peoples power to the fore

People’s power has reared its resplendent head kindling hopes of the regeneration of a strong civil society with minimum dependence on the government. Anna Hazare’s fast galvanised the whole country against corruption and the government was forced to bow down. People’s power is always respected in a democracy, but in India it stands on a different pedestal altogether.

The way Anna Hazare attracted people and media attention made most of the political parties feel jittery. Some of them dubbed the whole movement as something bordering on ‘fascism’ which is trying to discredit the parliamentary system and foisting its own views on the country. They are questioning the term ‘civil society’ and the legitimacy of some activists’ claim to represent it, and asking whether the politicians are uncivil. But they are not able to proffer any credible explanation as to why the Lokpal Bill has been hanging fire for 42 years.

Hazare’s fast, which had an electrifying effect on the country, has once again proved the might of people’s power in a non-violent way. It is certain that the Lokpal will now become a reality. The Right to Information Act empowered the people to question the rulers and expose public malfeasance but it does not have any provision for penalising the corrupt. Therefore, a strong Lokpal is needed.

People’s power has made it possible. It reminds of Gandhi who shunned political power with contempt as he had an unwavering faith in the people’s power which he wanted to strengthen. In ‘Hind Swaraj’ (1909), he went to the extent of characterising the British parliament, the mother of parliaments, as infertile and a prostitute. His demand for the parliamentary democracy in 1937 was not a volte face but it was meant to be a stepping stone for self-rule as he tenaciously stuck to his philosophy of village republic till the last.

Gandhi stands out as a rare leader in the world who kept away from power after leading the freedom movement successfully though he was the natural claimant to it. In every country, the leader of a freedom movement always assumed the mantle of power after its successful conclusion but Gandhi was very clear that the State alone was not capable of bringing about any meaningful change in the society.

Some similarity can be found in the father of Chinese Republic, Sun Yat-Sen, who led the fight for the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty. After dismantling the Manchu power, Sun was immediately elected provisional president but he declined it in favour of Yuan Shih-K’ai, a former member of the old regime and a successful warlord. Yuan utilised this opportunity for aggrandising power and pelf and Sun fought him fiercely until the dictator died in 1915. After this bitter experience, even Sun accepted office and continued in and out of office fighting one warlord after another.

George Washington

In the case of George Washington too, we find that after winning the decisive battle of Yorkshire in 1781 with the help of the French he returned to Mount Vernon and would have been quite content to remain there had the increasing need for a strong central government not forced him to come back into public life, first as chairman of the Constitutional Convention and afterwards as the first President of the USA. However, he relinquished the presidency after two terms, though he could have continued. Similarly, in South Africa, Nelson Mandela accepted power and then renounced it. But Gandhi is the only exception to have never embraced power.

Gandhi was convinced that state power alone cannot remedy all maladies of the society. In fact, he suggested dissolving the Congress party and forming a Lok Sevak Sangh. On January 29, 1948, the day before his assassination, Gandhi prepared a document for making amendments in the Constitution, saying the Congress had outlived its utility and should be disbanded. The philosophy of Tolstoy influenced him greatly, which included renunciation of political power. Gandhi believed in Tolstoy’s proposition that ‘wielding power is sinful as it leads to many evils.’

Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) was another colossus to keep away from power. After parting ways with the Congress, he devoted himself to the task of fortifying people’s power and village reconstruction and pleaded for lessening of dependence on the State. He undertook an extensive tour of the country for awakening the masses. In course of a journey in 1949 he was injured in a road accident in Bihar.

His left hand was fractured which remained encased in plaster for three months. After the plaster was removed he found that the hand had totally atrophied. After some physiotherapy the blood circulation became normal and the hand regained its movability. JP then wrote: “Similarly (to my hand) the power of lokshakti, that our country had, seems to have evaporated like camphor. The reason is that the power was covered in the plaster of slavery for 100-150 years.”

It will be hoped that the euphoria generated by Hazare’s fast is arduously fostered to bring about larger political, administrative and judicial reforms in the country and no particular group is allowed to hijack it for its own aggrandisement and leave the people high and dry.

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