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Brand ‘Anna’ getting diluted?

By Shobhika Puri | Last Updated: Monday, January 9, 2012 - 10:06
Shobhika Puri
En Passant

Till about a year ago, the word ‘Anna’ was just another name. But now, this has become a brand to reckon with; a name everybody or anybody who is somebody wants to get associated with. A leading news channel even bestowed him with the honour of ‘Indian of the Year 2011’, and rightly so. Whether one agrees with Anna Hazare or not, one thing is for sure, everybody is talking about him. Anna has indeed brought the debate about corruption to the fore.

The first time round when Anna staged his fast at Jantar Mantar, thousands joined this man, who was little known back then. Anna soon became a brand and his next fast saw a tremendous response. But, Anna’s recent fast at Mumbai was a damp squib. Was it because people’s expectations were too high? Or, was it because people did not want a corruption-free India anymore? Were people losing faith in the Anna campaign? Or, is brand Anna getting diluted now?

So what is it that created this brand called Anna in the first place that seems to be fast diminishing now? Anna talked about corruption, an issue that touches the lives of everybody across the strata of society. Anna was fighting for corruption when he started and he is still talking about corruption now. But, the response of many people has changed. Why? One plausible reason is that they are losing faith in the team that Anna has. A slew of charges against them about financial irregularities has broken many people’s hearts. Then, the Anna team seems to have an opinion about everything under the Sun - be it corruption, drinking, Kashmir or even politics. One move that just did not go down well with many Anna supporters is the involvement of the Anna team in the Hisar by-elections political campaign. Earlier, many people were happy that here is one person with an equally committed team that is not interested in power or politics but, just the good of people at large. And, when team Anna campaigned in Hisar, many people were shocked.

One key component of the creation of brand Anna was the parallel that was drawn with Mahatma Gandhi and non-violence. As time passed Anna made a few slips, some minor ones like the recommendation for flogging people who drink to major ones like death penalty for those who are corrupt. Recently, when somebody slapped Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Anna Hazare was asked for his impromptu response, the latter replied, “Just one slap?” in a derogatory tone. His initial response was a clear approval of this act even though he retracted this statement later, when it was too late. Gandhiji was one person who advocated volunteering for another slap after getting one and was a staunch supporter of non-violence. Anna is clearly not.

When Anna started his anti-corruption campaign, he had little or no funds. Many people were attracted towards him because he seemed to be from amongst the common people who just wanted a corruption free India. But, Anna and his team got carried away. They started encashing on the brand Anna. Crores of rupees began to be spent on his events. Soon it became so commercialized that products with this brand began to be sold ad nauseum. Do protestors necessarily need flags, caps, T-shirts and the like to protest? It was apparent to many that a marketing campaign worth crores of rupees was at play. And, where was this money coming from? Donations from the common man? The simplicity of the Anna campaign was lost.

The timing of any event is very crucial. The first time round in April 2011, Anna was careful to time his event between popular events like the cricket World Cup and IPL matches. But this time, Anna announced his fast in December 2011 even when the Parliament was in session in protest against a ‘leaked’ report even while the government was telling everybody that it would do justice to the Lokpal Bill. This seemed a bit irrational to many. Had Anna done this after the ‘official’ report was released, the response would have been different.

Did the change of venue from Delhi to Mumbai play a role in the lukewarm response from people? This is a debatable point. Some could say that Delhi is the political capital of the country and the best place for such protests. Mumbai, being the financial hub of the country, is too busy for such events. But, this is just a conjecture.

Anna was very careful to choose his team, which played a big role in his success. He chose people from different walks of life, people who had contributed to the development of society at large. But, when charges of financial irregularities started cropping up against them, the image changed. People who are fighting against corruption are expected to have an impeccable background. It was apparent to the people at large that this was a smear campaign by the government against the Anna team but, still it did have an effect. What bothered many was the response of the Anna team. Instead of crying foul, had they just brought to light the facts of cases against them, people would have been satisfied. Unfortunately, this did not happen, much to the chagrin of many.

One thing that has disappointed many people is the inflexibility being shown by the Anna team. It is either their Jan Lokpal Bill or nothing else. The government is playing its cards very well now. It is crying hoarse that inspite of it trying its best to bring a good Lokpal Bill, the Anna team is not cooperating. Many people are also raising objections by saying that who gave the Anna team the right to represent them? And, how can they assume that their solution is the best solution?

The biggest jolt in the face of the Anna team is the fact that there are some Anna supporters who have turned against him. When they come on television and raise their concerns, it paints a very sorry picture of the Anna team. It raises all the more doubts in the minds of the common man. For instance, when a man like Santosh Hegde, whose success against the Karnataka mining scam is still fresh in the memory of the people at large, comes on television saying that he does not support team Anna’s participation in the Hisar election campaign, his opinion does carry weight.

Any event or campaign has a shelf-life and a cycle. Maybe the Anna campaign has run its course or maybe it is just going through a lean phase? Maybe Anna’s fasts are being staged at very small time intervals. Maybe people cannot be expected to leave their jobs or businesses every few months just to join Anna. Maybe people are just fatigued. Maybe people are losing their faith in Anna and his team in being able to carry this campaign to its logical conclusion. Maybe brand Anna is actually getting diluted. Or, maybe one is reading too much into it. After all, Anna is no God and just a human being. But, so is the rest of the country.

<i>(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer.)</i>

First Published: Monday, January 9, 2012 - 10:06

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