On the morning of Tuesday 16th, Hazare and fellow activist Arvind Kejriwal were detained by police as they left their Delhi residence on the way to begin the fast. Over a thousand further supporters of the Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, including prominent activists Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan, were being held in Chhatrasal Stadium up until the time of writing on Tuesday afternoon. As yet, there is no word on when they will be released.
I have written previously that I do not support Hazare's cause, or his methods. His proposed solution to corruption in India addresses the symptoms of corruption but not the root cause; it is another piece of legislation on top of countless others that have been twisted and turned to suit whoever has the power to wield them. A Lokpal figure or committee has the potential to become corrupt itself, and whatever boon it offers to an increasingly agitated population will be short-lived.
However, Hazare's delusions were nothing compared to the concretely unconstitutional, utterly condemnable act on the law's part in detaining him and his (apparently peaceful, according to reports) supporters. In this case, there is no grey area: the law and constitution of India do not provide for the arrest of a person who threatens to stop eating, let alone a person who seeks to protest the government.
Congress leader Ambika Soni removed the government from the equation: “The police is not under any political influence. They are working independently.” This, to me, seems very difficult to believe. Hazare is a major figure in Indian activism and has in the past six months gained millions of followers in his fight against corruption. It would be fair to say that at present he is India's best-known activist, especially given the constant comparisons with Gandhiji he is accorded in newspapers and on television. It follows that the government would surely keep a handle on all of his movements, and any police body would seek governmental approval before going so far as to arrest him.
Still, whether the decision to detain Hazare and his supporters was made from up high or on the ground – and in either case, Delhi Police remain in servitude to and an instrument of the Indian government – it remains an unreasonable and over-zealous act. It sets a dangerous precedent for future protests and how they will be dealt with. In effect, those who detain Hazare attempt to brush his movement aside rather than actually deal with it – a quick fix as inadvisable in stopping the movement as Hazare's own Lokpal Bill is in weeding out corruption. What's more, it has actually led to much more attention for Hazare and his principles than had he been allowed to fast.
This fact was not lost on Hazare, and his statement upon arrest showed that he had prepared well in advance to be arrested. It also showed that his delusions extend far beyond the Lokpal's effectiveness. “The second freedom struggle has begun,” he declared, in reference to Gandhiji's long fight against the Raj. As he urged supporters across the nation to peacefully court arrest and get themselves detained, he said, “there should be no place left in jails in India to accommodate any more persons.”
Hazare, then, also possesses delusions of grandeur and of anarchy in addition to his misguided legal propositions. Gandhiji fought for freedom from a foreign power; Hazare seeks merely to alleviate corruption in a freely self-governed republic. Neither he nor his struggle are nearly as important or influential as Gandhiji's Satyagraha, or even the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. As for his cry for “no place left in jails”, it would be a deeply frustrating shame for a revolution to begin over such a misguided principle. It would call to mind an argument between spouses where one party goes off on a trivial tangent and from there the other takes sharp offence and escalates the row, while the real issue gets lost.
Because that is the real loser today: the broader anti-corruption movement itself. Legislative economic reforms have been widely touted (see Nitin Pai and Vivek Dehejia) as having the potential to reduce corruption; replacing existing laws surely offers a better option than piling more laws on top. But we now have on our hands a situation where a weak and ineffective solution was proposed, which ultimately led to an abuse of democratic power. Corruption will continue unabated as the rest of this episode plays out, a sideshow that became the main event. I can only hope that the saga ends before it descends into greater abuses of power, or into violence.