Friday, November 11, 2011

Beware of Dust Storms

From Byword- India Today (November 11)

Hazrat-e-buddhu bhi Gandhi ke saath hain
Zarra-e-khaq hain magar aandhi ke saath hain

There is little justice in translation. Akbar Allahabadi, the iconic 19th-20th century satirist, would have been especially amused at any transition of his Urdu into English. How do you convey to an alien culture that Hazrat, an honoured title for a holy man, can also become an acerbic appendage for any holier-than-thou hypocrite? I hope this transliteration will serve: Even the Honourable Ass is with Gandhi; He may be a mere speck of ash, but he is with an aandhi (storm).

Allahabadi wrote this during Gandhi's first great mass movement, for swaraj, between 1919 and 1922, the wonder of its age. An astonished British Raj watched the Muslim clergy, led by Imam-e-Hind Maulana Azad and Maulana Abdul Bari, gladly cede leadership of its Khilafat jihad to a frail Gujarati Bania. For a century the British had played off Hindu against Muslim with the impunity of an umpire who can change the rules to suit his decision. Communal violence lay at the deadly edge of this game. As the perceptive Jinnah told the viceroy Lord Chelmsford in 1918, "I know very well that in the Indian states you hardly ever hear of any Hindu-Muslim riots." (We should make a comparative study of riots under British rule and Indian princely states part of our curriculum).

For those three shining years, Gandhi inspired the magnificent power of Hindu-Muslim unity. His call for swaraj rose from a welter of intermeshed whispers to a storm that shook the impregnable oak of British rule till it trembled like a leaf. But an aandhi does not pick and choose each speck of dust that collectively turns it into a historic force. It diminishes differences of character or ideology, and eases contradictions because it is propelled by a single purpose that is far higher than individual or sectarian interest. And so the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind mobilised Muslims for Gandhi while the Hindu Mahasabha worked its field since both wanted India's liberation from colonial rule.

All mass movements have this ability to step over internal hurdles. The CPI(M) was on the left flank of the anti-Emergency upsurge between 1975 and 1977 and Jana Sangh on the right, and neither saw the other as a problem for their larger cause. In 1989, after at least two years of coordination in Parliament, the CPI(M) and BJP not only supported the minority government of V.P. Singh but ate weekly dinners with their Prime Minister while Singh said grace with as much grace as he could muster. No one called Singh communal; at least no one in his senses did. The Bofors bribery scandal had created space for competing ideologies to cultivate common ground, and control an election that catapulted V.P. Singh to the job he coveted: Prime Minister.

So did this mean that everyone in Singh's Cabinet possessed a certificate of honesty from Mother Teresa? I could name half a dozen ministers who took money with one hand and another six who raked it in with both. Every campaign is a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly; even Khilafat leaders like the famous Ali brothers, Muhammad and Shaukat, were accused of putting their hands in the donation till in the name of expenses. Did this matter to the people? If it did, then it mattered far less than the common cause.

Those who believe they can dilute Anna Hazare's impact through pinpricks at his associates understand neither him nor India. He does not really have associates; he has an issue, corruption. He would have remained a fringe figure if this cancer had not aroused the doctor in him. He does not run a political party. He does not aspire to become President or Prime Minister. It is immaterial what stand he took on the Babri mosque, as some Urdu newspapers have been inspired to write in the hope of deflecting Muslim sentiment away from him. He is not the guardian of secularism, or whatever passes for it currently. It makes absolutely no difference whether there is saffron in his audience or green. It is immaterial whether there is a cat watching him or a queen; he wants both to be honest with public money. The controversies over his core team, or outer ring, or the net on his periphery are unimportant to the voter, who is only interested in a cure that will keep this cancer in remission.

The establishment believes that it can deflect Anna Hazare by generating contempt for some Hazrate-Buddhu among the specks of dust. Waste of time. Anger against corruption rages in bursts, and then falls silent. A tree will tell you that the only way to survive a hurricane is to bend. We shall soon learn if Delhi understands nature, and human nature.

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