‘This was a Gandhian movement’

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Ashis Nandy 
Social Scientist

Ashis Nandy Some sociologists say this isn’t really a movement, it only imitates one, what are your views? 
I do think this is a movement. If the assembly of people at Tahrir Square is seen as a movement, I don’t see why this is not a movement. I think there is a spontaneity to the way movements have taken shape in this country. The Jayprakash Narayan movement was exactly this way. I want to suggest that there are indicators that even in the classical sense of the term, this is a movement. In the sense that in 200 places, spontaneous demonstrations took place, voluntary fasting took place. I think this is the way much of Gandhian movements took place. It is a part of our social unconscious, whether the sociologists know it or not. There is a tendency of erring on the side of institutionalised democracy, not erring on the side of the culture of democracy.

Is this a television-generated movement as some are calling it?
I think that is also bogus. The television media jumped on the movement. They are always looking for such news. But that by itself doesn’t discredit it. Even Gandhi’s movement depended a lot on the deft use of the media.

Is this a middle-class rising, like the Jessica Lall case?
If you had gone to Jantar Mantar, you would have known it was not confined to the middle class. I was there. I saw. There was a man for instance, carrying an empty tiffin carrier who was obviously coming there straight from work. He was an old man. And there were literally hundreds of such people. And politicians knew it has caught the imagination of the people. They knew it was going to be really bad if they ignored it or treated it with disdain or contempt. And to me, a movement is ultimately based on public sentiment.

Does this movement set a bad precedent for our democracy?
I found those comments extremely silly. I think the civil rights activists have shown a lot of maturity and commitment and wisdom. To dismiss them self-appointed representatives of the people is absurd. Somebody has to fight. If they are fighting openly, it is to their credit. They also represent the people. I have lot of respect for democratically elected people. I know a lot of civil rights activists are self-righteous and self-assured. But they have to be. If you are a single fighter and you are fighting against dams for 30 years… at great personal sacrifice, they have to be self-righteous to hold on to their cause. People who are saying this have never upheld a cause staking everything on it. I’m willing to accept they represent some sections of the people, but they also represent the people.

How would you describe this movement? 
I’m not giving them a blank cheque. All movements have their strengths and weaknesses. I will say however lasting or transient it is, it is in the tradition of political movements and democratic political movements. There is no doubt about that. There was no burning of buses, no rail roko, look at the dignity of the whole thing. At points, the movement did attract people who are uncomfortable with the democratic process itself. People who said the army should come in and take over. But that happens in every movement.

What about the presence of religious leaders at the movement?
They came on their own and they are also part of civil society. I was not enthused about Baba Ramdev’s presence. I think he has an empire now and he thinks it can translate into electoral support and it can become a significant voice in Indian public life but Indian democracy can take care of that too.

Many said some of the people at the helm over-simplified a complex issue of governance, what do you think?
A movement is not supposed to provide you with academic pleasures and sophisticated analysis. It is supposed to draw people who have simple arguments. But the way it was done by Anna Hazare, it allowed the diversity of support bases to come together.

How would you describe Hazare?
I have not studied him enough to comment on his life. I will only say this: he knew that he didn’t have the charisma of a Gandhi or a Jayprakash Narayan. So he played a low-key role. He didn’t accept either the chairmanship or co-chairmanship of the Joint Committee. It tells you something. I think we should be proud that this movement has been run not by great intellectuals or great political leaders. It has been run by modest persons. Born from the experience of everyday life and common sense.

Has this movement given the impression that all politicians are corrupt?
Yes it has endorsed that position. But this blow was in any case going to be delivered in some form or another. We are lucky that this message has not been delivered by the army but through a relatively small movement. In fact, I’m glad it’s partly a middle-class movement and possibly thousands of those where children suspect their own parents and grandparents are corrupt. There could be a little bit of embarrassment generated.

Is there a danger of this becoming a precedent for vigilantism?
That danger is always present in our society, starting with the films of Amitabh Bachchan in the 1960s.

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