Two Fasts Two Responses

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Anna Hazare, the 72 year old Gandhian has been on a fast barely a week demanding an anti corruption law be introduced in the country, and he has touched a raw nerve throughout the country. Solidarity voices have been literally been pouring in tidal waves from all parts of the Indian subcontinent, although of late he has been also facing some serious controversies, especially on the question of his reluctance to take on the chief minister of his state, Narendra Modi. By contrast, another hunger striker, Irom Sharmila, one who has been on a fast for over 10 years now to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA-1958, has not attracted even  a small fraction of the same attention in the country. All the national television networks have been going gaga over the former for virtually 24-hours daily nonstop but have not even in passing been mentioning the other hunger striker. This contrast highlights a number of grave issues. Above all, it demonstrates how much disparity there is between the concerns of the north eastern states and the rest of India. Who can now say with any justice that the vexing nationalistic problems in the north east have no deeper basis than lack of development? Rather than this, the emerging scenario of the nations concern over the hunger strike by Hazare should have made it clear that at the roots of the north east problem is also an exclusion of the region from the national psyche.
The issue raised by Hazare understandably would without fail strike hard at the nation’s conscience, coming as it does immediately after a series of high profile multi lakh crore corruption scandals, in particular the Commonwealth Games scam and the 2G allocation scam, running into several lakh crore rupees of swindled money. According to various estimates, at least 40 percent of the Indian economy is black. Not only is it about tax money being siphoned off by corrupt government authorities and officials, but also about influential and rich corporations scandalously dodging taxes or else buying their way to pay only part of what they should be paying. The 2G scam was exactly about this. But there is more. If the corporations have been depriving the national coffer of big money, so has small enterprises and proprietorships, many of whom are extremely successful, and make enough money to make their owners millionaires, although seldom pays enough to make their employees have comfortable livings. According to another estimate, the biggest tax money loss may be on account of this class of entrepreneurs. Few if any of them pay taxes honestly. Many do not pay at all. The sum total of the taxable money that end up untaxed from this class is estimated to be much more than even what was supposedly swindled in the 2G allocation scam and others.
There can be no doubt Anna Hazare’s hunger strike is important and deserves all the attention he and his cause are getting. Even if an anti-corruption bill drafted not by politicians but by civil bodies, as has been widely criticised, may not prove either feasible or productive, he certainly has raised questions which should open up profoundly influential debates amongst various circles, including in the corridors of powers in New Delhi, and in the states. We do hope these debates result in the changes envisaged towards ending, or at least drastically limiting, the Indian national scourge of official corruption. But while this cause is honourable and deserves all the wide solidarity pouring in from every quarters, what is painful is the utter neglect from virtually all these quarters of the other and much more persistent hunger striker in Manipur, Irom Sharmila. The cause of the woman who has come to be fittingly nicknamed the Iron Lady is not any less. Her’s is as much a moral cause, for she is fighting for the return of democratic means of addressing social problems and not the military ones. Her method is also not any less nonviolent and “Gandhian”. Yet even in matters of conscience, the peripheral states of India, it seems are condemned to remain peripheral. Who can then blame the peripheries wanting radical changes in their political predicaments, including severance from the centre so that they cease to be in the periphery of the current centre and become their own centres?

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