As Anna Hazare broke his 12 day long fast on 28 August 2011, lakhs of people celebrated across the country in various ways. While some consider Anna’s anti-corruption movement a way forward for India’s democracy, critics have described Anna’s methods as blackmail and the movement undemocratic and intolerant. However, it is important to examine the broad aspects of the movement and assess the impact of the movement on the society.
Not India’s Arab Spring
Considering the developments in the Middle East and North African countries, some commentators have branded the anti-corruption movement as India’s Arab Spring. However, the phenomenon of the Arab Spring seems to be an unreal representation of the Indian movement. The people’s fury in the Middle East and North African countries was directed against the totalitarian and dictatorial political system that existed in those countries for decades. However, the public ire in India was not against the very foundation of the political system but against the retardation factors of the same. The anti-corruption movement was relevant to a particular issue that affects the lives of millions of Indians on a daily basis. It may not be incorrect to say that the citizen’s anger with the present day government is the result of harassment the common man faces at the hands of petty government officials. This combined numerous scams that were uncovered in the recent past have led the people to join the movement led by Anna Hazare.
The protests remained peaceful throughout, despite the fact that it was spread over 13 days and included thousands of people. The movement involved all sections of the society, with majority from the middle class. Moreover, many people who did not come out on the streets continued to feel a part of the movement and followed every development on their televisions screens and on the social media. Clearly, the whole of the country was not out on the streets asking for a change in the way they are governed as seen during the Arab Spring.
Throughout the movement, there was a tussle between the critics and supporters of Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill. There was no single point of criticism but many and it would be impossible to state all due to limitation of space. Primarily, commentators stated that Anna’s method was outright blackmail, showing disrespect for the Parliament which is the supreme law making body in the country. The Jan Lokpal Bill was draconian and would facilitate a police state. One of the most frequent statement echoed in the TV studios was, “Laws are made by the Parliament, not on the streets.” Many also professed that there was no need of a Lokpal but a need to strengthen the present systems and laws to ensure a corrupt-free society. R Jagannathan in his article ‘Answering Anna’s critics: 10 Posers and Rebuttals’ in Firstpost, attempts to rebut almost all the points that critics periodically used throughout the movement and even today. Responding to the issue of blackmail, he states that “form of pressure can be seen as blackmail” whether strike by workers and even the censoring of the latest film, Aakarshan. On other issues of Jan Lokpal resulting in a police state and flaws in the bill, he goes on to highlight the need for more discussions and compromise. Finally, rebutting the point that laws are not made on streets, he stated that “laws cannot be made in vacuum” and the rising need of consulting people at all levels.
Opposition: The Beneficiaries
Undoubtedly, it was not easy for the UPA government to handle the impasse. The periodicity of their errors and the resulting situations were a disaster if seen through Public Relations scales. Anna Hazare’s arrest even managed to turn many of Anna’s critics into his supporters. BJP sought to revive its position with the Anna movement and indeed managed it very well. Other opposition parties like the Left parties, Shiv Sena, TDP etc also capitalised on the Anna wave. While the opposition remained on the fence for long and remained ambiguous about their stand, on the last day of Anna’s fast, they cornered the UPA government and sided openly with Jan Lokpal and the Anna Team. Young Turks like Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia tried their best to manage the reigns, but Anna supporters instantly got attracted to Varun Gandhi. Varun Gandhi was a hit among the youngsters when he went to Ramlila to express his solidarity with Anna Hazare and also gave a speech in the Lok Sabha openly expressing his support for the anti-corruption movement. Clearly, the politicians who supported the Anna Hazare movement instantly struck a chord with the protesting masses. While the government lost out on its credibility with thousands, the opposition gained points, especially at the last day of Anna’s fasts through their speeches in the Lok Sabha.
Impact on the Society
First and foremost, the Anna Hazare movement has activated many politically disenchanted or inactive members of the Indian society. According to National Council for Applied Economic Research, India’s middle class is almost 160 million people presently and is likely to rise up to 267 million by 2016. The voting record of the Middle Class is very poor owing to various reasons ranging from their preoccupation with daily lives to disenchantment with the politics of the country. Unfortunately, many of the protesters on the streets may have not ever voted, but continue to feel the side-effects of bad governance. Anna’s movement has awakened the youngsters and a politically uninterested section of the society and compelled them to come on the streets and have a collective voice against the plague of corruption. It has forced them to think about their inactivity and their non-voting nature, which is likely to change in the next elections. Over a period of time, such an awakening is likely to be evident in the future of the electoral patterns of the country and a mirror of the people’s aspirations. The movement has forced the common man to reconsider his ‘chalta hai’ attitude with regard to taking or giving bribes, corruption and many other relevant issues, which should bring about a significant change in the country.
The anger displayed on the streets has cautioned the ministers and the government about their callous and unresponsive attitude towards the citizens of the country. It has made every politician realise that they would eventually have to be accountable for their actions and not just woo voters every five years and then bury their expectation in the cold storage. The political landscape of India has seen the prominence of the civil society and its relation with the Parliamentarians. The recent events have attempted to redefine the ways in which the government interact with its people. While some criticise this trend, it is a new layers of dynamism added to the Indian democracy. The Lokpal bill was first introduced in 1968 but eventually lapsed. The subsequent versions of the bill were re-tabled in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008. Without the movement, the bill would have continued to be kept at the back-burner and would have probably died its natural death without even being noticed by the masses. It was the Anna Hazare movement that highlighted the seriousness of the issue, made the public aware and forced the government to take a serious view towards the same.
Additionally, the non-violent method of protest, even though criticised by many, has been a success story and has rekindled people’s faith in the Gandhian methods. However, there are some issues that can result in worrying patterns for the future. There may be times when people resort to similar protests for causes that does not enjoy popular support. Such instances in the future may not always be very healthy for the society and can act as a source of conflict and resentment among the people.
What has India gained?
The most important action of the Parliament was to not accept the Jan Lokpal bill as it is. This would have been disastrous in the long run; owing to the lacunas in the same and the assumption that one bill could uproot the problem of corruption in the Indian society. While maintaining the supremacy of the Parliament, the government also included the people’s voice in the process of law-making.
While the House agreed to Hazare’s ‘three points’ in principle, the victory remains symbolic but yet very important for every citizen who feels more involved in the democratic process of the country. To that extent, it is a victory of the people. The Anna Hazare Anti-Corruption movement has restored a degree of self-esteem in every Indian that was fast eroding away with stories of corrupt politicians siphoning off millions of rupees. Most importantly, the movement has given a much needed feeling of ‘Indianness’ to every citizen, a feeling that would need to be nurtured everyday and would demand much more than just support for the right cause.