BE­WARE OF DUST STORMS

India Today - - BY WORD - by M.J. AK­BAR

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 Hin­duMus­lim 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-eHind 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.

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.

SAU­RABH Singh/www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

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