“Jab dil bhara ho aur dimag khali, to kisko charcha mein ruchi hogi?” ("When the heart is possessed and the mind is empty, who will then be interested in deliberations?") --Hazari Prasad Dwivedi
Those interested in history are likely to be aware of volumes such as “Baburnama”, “Humayunnama”, “Akbarnama”, “Jahangirnama” and “Shahjahannama”. These are accounts of the lives and reigns of medieval kings written either by the rulers themselves or penned by chroniclers who were loyal to the royals. The nature of association between the authors and the subjects explains the highly eulogised character of these versions.
In more recent times, March 2012 to be precise, a book of the same genre appeared. Written by Ashutosh, a journalist with many years of experience and who is currently the managing editor of IBN-7, it is titled “Anna: 13 Days That Awakened India”. However, the author chooses to refer to it as “Annanama” for its amply eulogised content, and the rest of this article shall substantiate this position.
The moment of knowledge of “Annanama” was in the course of an interview of Ashutosh on “The Newslaundry” website. It was conducted by Madhu Trehan on February 29, 2012, and is still listed under the “Can You Take It?” section. As the interview proceeded to discuss the passionately pro-Anna reportage by journalists including Ashutosh, he said:
“Sometimes anger is revolutionary. Sometimes you should be angry. A section of society which claims to be the intellectuals of the country… is saying…that this man is seventh pass, he is an army deserter … I have all the reasons to get angry. He was branded as anti-democracy because he was not speaking English, he was not educated in St. Stephen’s ...” (13:24 – 14:30, emphasis added).
The observations of Ashutosh with regard to the intellectuals are selective. The author doubts that any intellectual of repute would have criticised the Kejriwal-Anna-Bedi performance on grounds as frivolous as the educational underachievement or conduct in the army of its septuagenarian leader; for the contributions of grassroot leaders and “organic intellectuals” are well documented. Cases in point would be Jyotirao Phule and Harry Braverman, and serious intellectuals are aware of their influence on history. In case such comments have been made they in all likelihood must have been mouthed by the Mani Shankar Aiyars.
If only Ashutosh had not taken pride in anger and had suppressed his emotions, he may have had the inclination to understand the criticism and apprehension voiced by intellectuals. Now, like Markandey Katju and more recently Shekhar Gupta, the author suspects that most journalists do not read beyond pulp fiction. But even if Ashutosh had read the Economic and Political Weekly, usually subscribed by news organisations, or been through the website Kafila, he surely could not have missed the writings of Gautam Patel, Arvind Rajagopal, Suddhabrata Sengupta or Partha Chatterjee. They offer a nuanced critique of the Kejriwal-Anna-Bedi drama rather than crass sound bytes.
So, finally when asked why he chose to write the “Annanama” in English despite being a champion of Hindi journalism, Ashutosh replied:
"It is a deliberate thing. During the Anna movement when I saw the reactions of these … English intellectuals I was really very hurt and I wanted to give them back. I wanted to tell them that how you have no understanding of India…Again it is my anger, otherwise I could have written it in Hindi…I wanted them to read it. React.” (17:10 – 17:54, emphasis added).
So what follows is a reaction by no means from an intellectual, for the author is miles away from that coveted epithet. But it is a dispassionate, as opposed to angry, response from a thoughtful student of society and politics.
To begin with, the understanding of Ashutosh with regard to corruption is (un)surprisingly limited. Throughout the book corruption is treated as an ailment which is specific to the state. Thus, for Ashutosh the villains of the Commonwealth Games scam, the Adarsh Society con, the 2G Spectrum swindle, and the other scandals are only individuals associated with the functioning of the state--Suresh Kalmadi, Ashok Chavan, A. Raja, and Kanimozhi (pg 7-8). Nowhere does Ashutosh write about the involvement of private corporations despite Supreme Court verdicts against Reliance Telecom and Tata Teleservices among others in the 2G Spectrum rip-off.
The reason for such deliberate and practised blindness is not hard to understand. It lies in the political economy of journalism in which Ashutosh and his ilk are willing participants. For instance, the news station in which Ashutosh is employed runs on revenue from advertisements given by private corporations. The mighty pen of journalism usually takes a leak when it comes to exposing them. For such action is certain to kill appraisal first, then face salary-cut, and finally the boot.
Now, birds of a feather flock together and a very remarkable demonstration of the adage has been the congress of mainstream journalism with the Kejriwal-Anna-Bedi performance. Just like journalists, the trio and its followers believe that corruption is exclusive to the domain of the state. Several versions of the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by them make no mention of the need to monitor private corporations. Even the biographer of the Kejriwal-Anna-Bedi tamasha has perhaps felt embarrassed by the red carpet welcome provided to a member of the corporate community, or maybe IIPM advertises even on IBN-7. Ashutosh mentions the appearance of Aamir Khan (pg 22) on the Ram Lila dais but makes no reference to the presence of a management guru. In February 2012, The Caravan--a magazine with limited financial means--published some interesting details about the education business of Arindam Chaudhuri. In response, a Rs 50-crore defamation suit was filed and the article was pulled down as per an injunction from the Silchar civil court.
“You can call me an Anna supporter, but above everything else, I want corruption to be rooted out from the body politic, from the social fabric and from the national consciousness of the country.” (pg 92).
That corruption is a widespread problem is almost unanimously agreed upon. But to fight corruption one does not need to, in fact, must not support the tango that the trio now-and-then engages in. The reason why intellectuals, not the kind Ashutosh knows, have criticised the hullaballoo is that it defines corruption as an issue associated only with the state. Any formalisation of such a definition--the Jan Lokpal Bill for instance--excludes corruption in the private economy and therefore poses the danger of normalising it. Under such a circumstance, the emperor will once again trot naked but there will be no recognition of it.
Another reason why these intellectuals have expressed apprehension with regard to the actions of the Kejriwal-Anna-Bedi trio and its troop is because of the fascist nature of their demands as presented in the Jan Lokpal Bill. The fact that the proposed bill is a threat to the balance of power among the legislature, executive and judiciary, anti-democratic, authoritarian and elitist has been conceded even by the media. The realisation of such a bill was such an impossibility that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth--the propellers of the show--had to suppress the witches in them and settle for a diluted version of it where the main focus is the lower bureaucracy. But even in this case, the nama-writer assumes the role of the advocate to defend his client with the most bizarre logic:
“One always starts bargaining from the higher position and then comes down to accommodate the rival’s viewpoint to reach a middle ground. There is always a give and take in the process.” (pg 152).
Ashutosh argues that in the course of a bargain one always demands the most to begin with and then relents to reach a middle ground. This is the ground on which he justifies the demand for the Jan Lokpal Bill. But here is the catch. Consider an example. Suppose A demands a camera from his father B. The latter declines. C, friend of A and photographer, appoints himself as the mediator to convince B. Now, under no circumstance will C start with the demand for a high-end DSLR camera for his novice friend. Because in case B agrees, it will not just be a financial burden on B that will also hurt A, but the gadget itself will be too much to handle for A. Thus, the highest point from which C should logically start the bargain is the best point-and-shoot camera or the basic DSLR at the most. If C still decides to start the bargain with a high-end DSLR it will be for a very selfish reason: if B relents, then as friend of A and photographer, C may well have the maximum control over the gadget.
This is precisely what happened in case of the Jan Lokpal Bill. The very fact that it included Magsaysay awardees to be in the committee appointing the Lokpal is enough hint about the authoritarian ambition of Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi both of whom have received the award. Had the state relented, the biggest gainers would have been the duo. Ashutosh admits that the numbers supporting the agitation had little knowledge about the intricacies of the bill (pg 84, 109). All that mattered to them was corruption.
This is the sign of “crisis”--a word which is not simply a synonym for “problem”--but in fact refers to extensive social pathology. At the level of the individual it means starvation, rotten grain, land-grabbing, displacement, lack of medical care, lack of education; the list is endless. Corruption, public and private, is of course a causal agent but what is central to it is the shift from a policy of welfare to a policy of withdrawal by the state. However, mainstream journalism can comprehend only events; it neither has the ability nor the will to comprehend processes. Thus, it understood the financial scams as isolated events, not as the result of a process, and attributed it to the corrupt practices of a few individuals. Society was waiting for a messiah to deliver. Ashutosh comments:
“Anna was incidental. It could have been anybody with a strong moral fibre.” (pg 27).
History has been witness to quite a few “anybody with a strong moral fibre”. They have sought commitment to a homogeneous moral authority, demanded absolute power from the polity, and promised to deliver society from crises. They were Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, L.K. Advani, and now behind the de jure Anna Hazare the de facto Kejriwal-Bedi duo. The similarities are impossible to miss unless one is ill-read or suffers from bias or both. For Mussolini the moral fibre to unite society was anti-socialism and jingoistic nationalism, for Hitler it was racial identity, for Advani it was Ramrajya, and for their protégés Kejriwal and Bedi it is anti-corruption where the notion of corruption is deeply politicised.
Moreover, the emergence of fascists has always been preceded by social disequilibrium. In case of Mussolini and Hitler it was economic hardships of the First World War, in case of Advani it was an economic emergency and the rise of the middle castes, and in case of the Kejriwal-Bedi duo it is the rapid retreat of the welfare state.
“But we journalists are of a different mettle altogether. We don’t look at things straight. We are trained to read between the lines.” (pg 10).
However, in the light of the ignorance at display the analytical prowess of journalism faces serious doubt and such a statement serves as an illustration for another proverb, empty vessels sound most. Journalism has taken the phrase “read between the lines” too literally, precisely why it regularly draws a blank.
Support for the corruption conundrum has been a matter of great debate. Journalism has projected it as a mass mobilisation of great magnitude. Sceptics have derided it as pockets of enthusiasm hugely magnified. The “Annanama” informs that participation was nationwide, Ramlila Maidan in Delhi to Azad Maidan in Mumbai (pg 29) cutting across Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Ahmedabad, Jaipur … (pg 197). The highest figure mentioned with reference to the gathering in Ramlila Maidan is one lakh (pg 126).
However, Ashutosh admits that a large number of these supporters were cadres of the RSS and followers of Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (pg 38, 45). The contradiction does not bother Ashutosh and without resolving it the writer continues to describe the agitation as a universal episode. Following the difference between the Anna camp and the saffron groups, Azad Maidan and in recent weeks Jantar Mantar have worn a deserted look. This clearly points at the possibility of attainment of numerical strength earlier on the basis of cadre participation. The issue is neither clarified nor acknowledged but squarely avoided in what could be the worst form of nama-bazi.
The participation across the cities can also be explained. The participants were mostly youth often in search of their 15 seconds of fame or in search of the fire that Rang De Basanti promised they have in them. Bored of being photographed in costumes during college admission and tired of planning a “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” while slogging before the computer, they wait for that opportunity to rebel, even if symbolically. The anti-corruption agitation provided an opportunity to do some justice to those Che Guevara tees and Gandhi caps. They were after all in the midst of a revolution or so the ministers of knowledge were saying through the news media.
A poem-song composed during the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.A. must be mentioned here:
“The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.”
And thankfully, despite all attempts the television has failed to conjure a revolution. Journalism made all efforts to play midwife to it. Among the many scams reported one involved some very prominent scribes and the corporate-journalism-state nexus had been exposed. Reckless support to the campaign provided journalism a chance to win back public confidence. None of this, of course, finds mention in “Annanama” for reflection is not the mettle of journalism.
Finally, the book is a terrible advertisement for journalism. “Shout”, “roar”, “immediate”, “scramble”, “jump”, “taste blood”, “carpet bomb”, “mayhem” are some words used to describe the journalist in action. The word “think” is missing almost throughout. In a way, such an advertisement is a positive occurrence. It will allow aspirants a peek into the world of journalism and spare them any illusion. “Annanama” warns that journalism is no longer intellectually motivated. In fact, the author is in the knowledge of at least a dozen individuals from reputed journalism schools and news organisations who have quit in the last 12 months and are currently students in Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi School of Economics. The exodus, surely, is much more pervasive.