Millennium Post

Anna’s a social curiosity now

The anti-corruption movement championed by the social activist Anna Hazare is at crossroads now. After capturing the imagination of urban Indians, and to a lesser extent of rural Indians, the movement is undergoing an identity crisis. Now, it faces that complex Indian reality that all movements, political formations and ideological groups are forced to grapple with in a stratified society.

Social movements tend to address the question of identity at the time of their formation and then adjust it to social realities. But, the Anna movement was an exception. Its origin lay in the stark political failure of Indian democracy.  Maybe, it did not have time to build an ideological identity before it launched itself. But, having attained the heights it did, soon it became clear that it needed to create a symbolism which its supporters could buy.

Many people have attributed the current crisis in the now-disbanded Team Anna to factions in it. However, factions are just different names for competing political interests. Kiran Bedi is angry because Arvind Kejriwal chose to attack the Bharatiya Janata Party. Earlier, Agnivesh lost favour in the team because the movement had pitched itself against the Congress. Dalits rejected the first wave of protests, because the team sought a change in the constitution. It did not help the team’s cause that Kejriwal’s credentials to take along the depressed classes are not above board.

And now, when many commentators feel that the movement is fizzling out, it is trying to do two things, though not very consciously. First, it seeks that political identity which it can sell. It is trying to keep out those elements which can become ideological liability and whose politics is fuzzy. Hazare’s impatience with the whole process is understandable, for he has been a social activist all his life. He is not a person who believes in providing a direct change, like most of his fellow travellers in the social movement domain. And, that is where the second – rather reluctant – aspiration of the movement becomes important. Indian democracy, despite making grandiose claims about being the largest in the world, has completely missed out on one important element, which one can see so dominantly present in west Europe and North America. None of their governments can afford to ignore their social movements. In the Anna movement, the country came closest to getting a social movement having a definitive say in public policy. However, the internal troubles of the movement and its inability to acquire a relevant socio-political space has taken away that moment of decisive influence on public debate from it. Hazare is soon to announce his next moves. He should keep in mind that his moves may impact the relationship between the polity and social movements.
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