Hazare And The Moral Technique

Posted on August 23, 2011 in Politics

By Shikhar Singh:

Why is Anna Hazare gathering support? Is there a link between his mass contact programme and the moral dimension to his anti-corruption strategy? This is where we need to rollback to Mahatma Gandhi and the politics of fasting.

Gandhi’s political technique to counter the Empire was passive resistance. In the Hind Swaraj he explains what this entailed:

Passive resistance is a method of securing rights by personal suffering; it is the reverse of resistance by arms. When I refuse to do a thing that is repugnant to my conscience, I use soul-force.

This is the context within which a fast operates– it serves as a supreme assertion of the self (manifesting itself as “soul-force”) against something “repugnant” and evokes the moral conscience of the otherthrough its “personal suffering”.  Likewise, a fast-unto-death serves as a tactical advancement, one that mounts greater moral pressure against the other.

So how has Anna Hazare so successfully used this technique, particularly in relation to mass appeal it has generated?

For this we must turn to Kaushik Basu’s recent paper “Why, for a Class of Bribes, the Act of Giving a Bribe should be treated as Legal” (see here).  Basu identifies, what he calls, “harassment bribes” or ‘bribes that people often have to give to get what they are legally entitled to’ and makes the case for ‘the act of giving a bribe in all such cases as legitimate activity’.  Of course the suggestion is made in a legal context and with the aim to strengthen anti-corruption mechanisms (Basu believes that the legal liability on a bribe-payer acts as a deterrent for him to report on the bribe-taker).

However, what the Chief Economic Adviser has suggested contains a moral component.  His view reflects a larger social consensus that the personal integrity and moral conscience of an individual is not necessarily tainted because he/she paid a bribe since harassment bribes are a compulsion of everyday life. This is the wellspring of Basu’s argument and essentially the basis for its social acceptability.

Yet, in recent weeks, Anna Hazare’s use of passive resistance has nudged social morality.  His “personal suffering” has evoked the collective moral conscience while his “soul-power” against the “repugnant” has demonstrated that there can be no partial acceptance of corruption.

Thus this anti-graft movement provides people with a unique opportunity to reconcile their everyday compulsions with a broader moral principle. It calls for a total rejection of corruption through sustained pressure on the state to bring about institutional innovations. More importantly, by galvanizing the social conscience, it serves as amass shuddhikaran (“self-purification”) of people by adopting the moral technique in the war against corruption.

The writer is a student of History and Politics from Balliol College, Oxford University. He blogs at Everything Politics.