Anna’s Movement An Appraisal
The entire country is singing paeans over the success of peaceful and Gandhian-type movement against corruption under the stewardship of Anna Hazare. That the people of all strata of society lent their spontaneous support to the movement was quite conspicuous. They were not brought to Ramlila Maidan by any private transport, nor were they paid to participate in the movement, as is the practice witnessed in a political rally or movement. The reason was obvious: it is not just Anna Hazare along who wants stringent anti-corruption laws. It is the country, including the common man, that wants to see the corrupt punished. In fact, India is today plagued by corruption of such enormous breadth and depth and running across all public authorities that it is now at serious risk of becoming a banana republic and a mafia state. It was in recognition of this alarming reality, demanding a comprehensive, independent, empowered, though an accountable anti-corruption authority, that Anna went on an indefinite fast. The most amazing and the most remarkable aspect of this India-wide agitation, in my view, was the total absence of violence of any kind anywhere in this vast country whose people were terribly agitated and angry as a result of the high-handedness and the excesses of the government that tried to thwart the movement and arrested Anna and put him in jail right in the beginning. The movement, which galvanised the whole nation as never before, is a mark of the triumph of truth. Anna selected the abstract concept of “corruption” as the object of his movement. But people understood the reality and the real persons denoted by this metaphor. Indeed, the people’s real anger was against the netas and not against the abstract concept of the corruption-phenomenon. It was all along believed that the elected representatives were supreme and were free to run their writ unquestioned by the electors till another election. This was disproved by this movement.
But there is another side of Anna’s movement that needs to be debated. Anna’s “second freedom struggle” leaves the real aam aadmi feeling cheated. They are much more aam than you or I, and they are victims of both corruption and potential victimisers. For example, they are not your regular three-wheeler guys who fleece you and are in turn get fleeced by cops. The more aam the Indian—the vast majority—the less he is in a position to offer or demand a bribe. So why does he feel cheated? Is it because the aam aadmi has been offered a Hobson’s choice: suffer corrupt politicians who handpick corrupt bureaucrats to loot the country on behalf of corrupt business interests; or back a group of self-appointed ‘liberators’ who blackmail democracy with a fast-unto-death to force us to accept their panacea of a law? Is it because some (not-so-aam ) people waznt the rest to believe that the end justifies the means? Ironically, this approach is the first sign of corruption that Team Anna’s fascist “means” so dramatically aimed to “end”. When a few men want Parliament to accept a law they drew up in their drawing (or conference) rooms, it corrupts democracy itself. If successful, it will be a dangerous precedent since most Indians have some experience in fasting and many are far bigger crowd-pullers than Anna. The other thing one did not like about the Anna movement was the complete feeling of superiority they have about themselves. Anything that Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal said was the gospel truth. Anything that the government said was utter nonsense. Exactly, who gave these people the right to take such a supercilious and arrogant stand? Last week, on TV, when Kiran Bedi was all worked up, she was being sarcastic to the bone. Would she mind being a little decent while talking to others who may perhaps have a different point of view? This is the tragedy in today’s media-built world of celebrities. Their celebrityhood gets ahead of them and they start believing they are the real super-stars. The focus is on them and not on the issue. They forget that there are many others who may not be as media savvy as they are; but are nonetheless more committed and effective. Finally, one may not concur with several proposals in Anna’s Bill. But fundamentally here is what one would not like. It assumes that the entire institution of the Lokpal will itself be above board. From what I can make out, Anna’s proposal would be like the creation of an entire bureaucracy that is totally independent of all that exist today. Hence, in a democratic setup, there is always space for deliberations and adjustments and nobody can ever claim to be the sole spokesperson on any issue. The approach to ‘my way or the highway’ was the most unfortunate step by Anna’s team. The Parliament must take its own course rather than buckle under the threats of suicide. The Parliament must not abrogate its own responsibility under any circumstances as it is the combined voice of 1.2 billion people and is accountable to public directly. One hopes, at least from now on, Parliament will lead the nation rather than being led by the nation.