Indian Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy launched a scathing attack yesterday on the “aggressive nationalism” behind the anti-corruption drive led by hunger-striking campaigner Anna Hazare.
In a column entitled “I’d rather not be Anna” published in The Hindu newspaper, the novelist, essayist and rights activist condemned both the style and substance of Hazare’s campaign that has mobilized public opinion in India.
In particular she questioned Hazare’s use of the hunger strike and other tactics and symbols co-opted from his hero — India’s independence icon Mahatma Gandhi.
The focus of Hazare’s protest is a new anti-corruption bill.
The 74-year-old activist says the current draft is too weak and wants parliament to pass his own version, which gives more scope and power to an ombudsman who would monitor politicians, bureaucrats and the judiciary.
While agreeing that the government bill was so flawed “that it was impossible to take seriously,” Roy said Gandhi would have been dismayed by Hazare’s vision of an all-powerful, centralized ombudsman.
Hazare, who has not eaten for seven days and took his fast public on Friday, has drawn huge crowds to the open air venue where he is staging his hunger strike in central Delhi.
However, Roy, a vocal government critic, said she was dismayed by “the props and the choreography, the aggressive nationalism” of the Hazare movement.
Meanwhile, Hazare’ supporters said over the weekend they are open to talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but that the government had so far shown caution.
“The government sent an innocuous three page, unsigned note yesterday which summarized their position — as if we need to know that,” said Kiran Bedi, a former police officer and one of India’s best known anti-graft campaigners who works with Hazare.
Moves to open talks come as the main Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is organizing a nationwide protest against the government on Thursday, while a group of left parties is planning a national protest for today.