By B. Raman
Anna Hazare is on fast again at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi since July 29, 2012, demanding the immediate establishment of an independent and powerful Jan Lok Pal to act against corruption.
His disillusionment and anger over what he looks upon as the failure of the Government to carry out the promises on this subject made by it before he agreed to break the fast of August last year at New Delhi were evident in the very dignified interview given by him to Barkha Dutt of NDTV on July 29, 2012.
His sincerity and humility, his anguish over the failure of the Government to act on its promises and his determination to fast again came out loud and clear from his interview to Barkha.
His was a well-reasoned stand against continuing corruption and the reluctance of the Government to act against it expressed in eloquently polite language. Those wanting to have a clear idea as to why he is on fast again should see Barkha’s Anna Interview.
His fast of August, 2011, was a significant success even though it did not immediately achieve his objective of the establishment of a Jan Lok Pal. The success was due to his magnetism and moral commitment to the fight against corruption and the control that he exercised over his team of advisers and supporters. He saw to it that they did not resort to objectionable methods of coercion that were unGandhian. The media too, which was shocked by the way the Government treated him by having him arrested on flimsy charges and detained in the Tihar jail for some days before the fast, showed considerable empathy for him, his team and supporters. This empathy came out in the totally positive media coverage of his fast.
Anna’s subsequent indefinite fast in Mumbai , which had to be terminated for want of adequate public response, and the one-day token fast in Delhi, did not attract the kind of public response that his fast in New Delhi in August, 2011, had attracted. This was due to many reasons.
Firstly, the large public support for him was confined to New Delhi and did not extend to other parts of India. Secondly, there was a fatigue over his tactics of frequently threatening the Government with a fast. Thirdly, some members of his Team faced allegations of financial irregularities committed by them while they were in public service or after their retirement. Instead of responding to these allegations with the same seriousness and moral outrage as Anna, his team and supporters had reacted to allegations of corruption against members of the Government, they tried to cover up the allegations against some members of the team with self-righteous denials and attribution of motives to the Government for making their alleged irregularities public.
Fourthly, the movement, which started as a single-point crusade against corruption, started getting politicised and developed a multi-point agenda reflecting the aspirations of different members of the team. From an ethical and moral movement against corruption, it became a hotch-potch movement to cleanse the political system with demands like the introduction of the right to recall, electoral reforms etc. Different centres of influence and ambitions emerged thereby affecting the unity of the movement and diluting its moral force. What started as a moral crusade turned into a politicised kichdi.
The result: A decline in public support and media interest even though the fascinating attraction of Anna remained, but slightly reduced. The latest fast of Anna and his supporters from Jantar Mantar reflects their anxiety partly to revive public interest in their movement and partly to step up pressure on the Government and the Congress Party to carry out the promises made last year.
The Government has handled the fast with greater finesse this time. It did not try to stand in the way of the fast as it did in August last year. It asked the Delhi Police to give permission for the fast. It has refrained from circulating any allegations of improprieties by some members of Anna’s team.
The initial public response, when some members of Team Anna went on their fast, was not up to the expectations of the team. But it has picked up since Anna himself started his fast on July 29. There were reportedly impressive crowds on July 29 demonstrating the spontaneous support of sections of the Delhi public for Anna. There were large crowds on July 30 also, but not as large as on July 29. Some sections of his supporters held an ugly demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s residence and shouted slogans against him. Some prominent members of Team Anna gave a call on July 29 appealing to the Delhi students to miss their classes for a week and come to Jantar Mantar to demonstrate their support for Anna. This does not appear to have happened. The response from the student community was unsatisfactory.
Team Anna should have tried to understand that the increasing question marks over the heads of large sections of the public regarding the multiple directions in which the movement has started moving are responsible for the declined enthusiasm for Anna’s movement. Instead, Anna’s supporters, who initially directed the anger of some of the crowd that had gathered against the Prime Minister, started turning the mobish anger against the media too.
Initially, the media correctly reported that the public response to the fast of Anna’s supporters was limited. On July 29 and 30, the media again correctly reported that the movement has started regaining some of its elan of August last after Anna joined the fast. At the same time, the media has not exhibited so far the uncritical fascination for the movement that it had shown in August last. It is more skeptic, more critical and more objective.
The members of Team Anna, who wallowed in the undiluted adulation of the media last year, are now angry against the media for highlighting the poor public response to start with and the inner contradictions that have weakened the unity of action. This anger was initially expressed through publicly-voiced allegations of corruption in the media and through charges that the media has restricted its coverage this year due to pressure from the Government.
On July 30, when the student community of Delhi did not turn up in large numbers as fondly hoped by some members of the Team, this anger took an ugly turn following allegedly provocative anti-media comments by Shri Prashant Bhushan, one of the prominent members of the team. There were allegations of scuffles between some provoked supporters of Anna and some media personnel when the supporters allegedly surrounded and abused them. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7Ri4yQrgME )
This year, the online support for the Anna movement has taken an ugly turn too. There was considerable online support last year too which was organised by IT and IIT whiz kids attracted to the movement. They kept their online campaign in support of Anna dignified and praiseworthy. This year, many of them are absent from the online campaign, which seems to have passed on into the hands of the supporters of Shri Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, whom I normally refer to as the NaMo Brigade.
The NaMo Brigade sees in the revived movement by Anna an opportunity for further discrediting the Government in order to pave the way for the victory of the BJP in the 2014 elections and the emergence of Shri Modi as the Prime Minister of India. The NaMo Brigade has toned down its rhetoric in support of Shri Modi and stepped up its rhetoric in support of Anna. It is also trying to intimidate those who express misgivings over some aspects of the revived Anna movement by indulging in its usual campaign of abuses and invectives.
Let there be no doubt about it. All of us admire Anna and are proud of him. All of us support his movement against corruption and want it to succeed. At the same time, many of us are concerned over the multiple-horse chariot that he is now riding, unable to control the different horses pulling the chariot in different directions. Instead of resting with mere expressions of regret over the tactics of some of his followers, he should take firm control of the movement and make it once again a moral crusade against corruption.