Is it too early to write off Anna Hazare?
In what seems sardonic now, a key Team Anna member, Arvind Kejriwal at the height of their success had said on a national television during a debate – “If people like Aruna Roy decide to sit on a fast for their version of the Lokpal Bill and if 50,000 people come to their venue then the government will be forced to listen to her. Otherwise she will be force-fed two days later.” This statement of his must have come to haunt Kejriwal this time around when his team went on a fast at Jantar Mantar beginning from July 25 in Delhi to press for a stringent anti-graft bill and an inquiry into the allegations of corruption against over a dozen ministers. However, the crowds were missing on this occasion, the media was asking uncomfortable questions and the so-called TEAM was clearly flustered. So much so that a key Team Anna member attacked the media saying that the fourth estate had been told by the government to downplay the stir.
However, the crowd did swell up during the weekend and it became considerable when Anna Hazare himself decided to go on a fast from July 29. The anti-graft crusader was greeted by a much larger crowd than what had been witnessed in the past four days. Around six to eight thousand people turned up at Jantar Mantar on Sunday as per reports, whereas only a few hundreds were seen at the venue since July 25. Inspite of the thin crowd in the first four days and many warning him about his health, the Gandhian decided to go ahead with his fast-unto-death proclaiming rather confidently – “Till we get Jan Lokpal, the countrymen will not allow me to die.”
Probably Anna took it upon himself as a challenge to send a message to the government that he still has steam left in him and that his persona will be able to attract the crowd which his team could not. However, Anna may withdraw his fast like he did in Mumbai if the crowd cannot be sustained. But all that is for posterity. This is the fourth indefinite fast by Hazare since April last year. The April fast was followed by one in Ramlila Maidan in Delhi in August and in Mumbai in December. In between, he also undertook single-day fasts in Delhi thrice - in June and December last year and March this year.
So did many of us write the epitaph of the Anna movement and of the diminutive man from Ralegan Siddhi rather too soon or have we got it right? Though I may not agree with many aspects of the way Team Anna has conducted itself, I do feel that if the movement is slowly dying its natural death, then it will be a victory of the all-powerful political establishment and a defeat of the common man. Because what we witnessed last year gave us hope and what we witnessed subsequently is another story all together.
Cut back to last year - The celebrations that were witnessed on the streets of India on the night of August 28, 2011 after the Lok Sabha passed a resolution agreeing to all the three demands put forth by anti-graft crusader were unprecedented. The celebrations were for the victory of the common man over an all powerful establishment. I had gone to India Gate and the Ramlila Maidan to soak in the atmosphere on two earlier occasions. And I also made a small monetary donation, just to contribute to the cause in my own little way. Both the times I could feel the energy of the people – the candles, the rousing songs, the Anna caps and T-Shirts and the multitude of flying tricolor. Though the cynic in me knew deep down that the menace of corruption and the power of the politicians would not dissipate overnight, I too started hoping. After all it was the time of Arab Spring and people’s power. The resilience of the common man was at display in many parts of the world – Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. Also there was something magnetic to see Anna sitting on the stage and attracting a multitude of people around him.
It was no mean task for Anna to be able to force the government to sit up and take notice and to force the Parliament to cede to people’s aspirations. One could only imagine that the Jay Prakash Narayan movement in the seventies against corruption and the autocratic rule of the incumbent Prime Minister Indira Gandhi must have been something of this sort. Not many of us can forget when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rose in the citadel of democracy and exhorted Anna to break his fast as he was too ‘valuable’to the nation. The PM also said – “I salute you.”
But as they say that time is a great leveler and the greatest eye-opener. The same Congress party was rubbing its hand in glee when a thin crowd was seen at Jantar Mantar. Infact it threw challenge at Team Anna exhorting them to fight the 2014 General Elections. It also accused Hazare and his team of turning
dharnas into a ‘joke’.
Anna's call for a second freedom struggle last August, though I do not subscribe to the term – was successful mainly because of the participation of the middle class who was reeling under the weight of rising inflation, price rise and the helplessness of getting anything done without greasing the palms of those in power. The 2G scam had added to the revulsion.
When I visited ground zero last year, I found majority of the people from the middle class. I talked to couple of them and they all said that they had come in support of Anna and what he symbolised – a clean society where the all powerful would not be able to trample the have-nots. And yes, not everyone was there for the Lokpal Bill – many with whom I talked didn’t even know the difference between the government’s version and Team Anna’s version of the bill. They were there because somewhere they could see a glimmer of hope of a better cleaner society and in Anna they saw hope of a better future. However, it cannot be ruled out that the most successful of all Anna’s movement was said to have the tactic support of the RSS, though the man did not ever acknowledge the same publicly.
Nonetheless, the crowds failing to turn up initially this time around does not mean that corruption has vanished from the country and all is well now. And who knows the support for Anna may swell in the coming days and force the political class to once again take note of the simple man from Maharashtra or it may wane as the days go by.
Maybe Anna and his team need to do some introspection as to where they went wrong. For starters they cannot keep changing the goal post too often. They started with the need for a Lokpal Bill and then started demanding a SIT on more than a dozen ministers. No one is denying the fact that if you are in the wrong you must be punished, no matter what position you hold. But to use harsh words against the political class all the time (though some of them deserve it) and be too loud does not always work.
Also, Team Anna members getting embroiled in certain cases of cheating and fraud has not been good for their credibility. Prashant Bhushan’s take on Kashmir also did not gone down too well with many. In between some members like Rajendra Singh, called the waterman of Rajasthan and PV Rajagopal quit the team due to differences like Team Anna campaigning in Hissar which was virtually seen as a campaign against the Congress party and not against all political parties which were corrupt. It was said that a non-political movement had become political. The team has also been talking in different languages. For example, on the one hand his team was leveling allegations against Pranab Mukherjee, the new President of India and on the other hand Anna Hazare congratulated Pranab for occupying the top post of the country. They definitely did not appear to be in sync.
There is also the contentious issue of whose Lokpal Bill should it be? Should it be only Anna and the team's version of the Lokpal Bill or should it be a bill where consensus has been drawn from all sections of civil society and the best bill is thus passed. It is no secret that the bill which was passed in the Lok Sabha and got stuck in the Rajya Sabha was the government’s watered down version of the bill. Maybe, Team Anna needs to relent on certain issues and definitely the government needs to relent much more.
Post Script: Maybe we the people should not be in a hurry to write the obituary of the man from an obscure village of Maharashtra. Even though I may not agree with some of the means and at times the obstinate nature of Anna Hazare and his team, the cause that they are fighting for is in our larger interest. Anna tried to do what you and I have been wanting to for a long time. So let us not give up yet... After all isn’t four decades enough time for the government to have passed a bill?