Millennium Post

Kolaveri Di movement

Kolaveri Di movement
On last Saturday morning I eagerly waited for the nation’s largest circulated daily – to see what headline they had for the conclusion of the fast by Anna Hazare and his team members the evening earlier. Bleary eyed, I initially could not find the mention of the event. This was sufficient to shake me out of slumber and examine the paper carefully.

I located the news on the left hand corner – a mere 12 centimetres by seven centimetres item with a very matter of fact headline in small point size, ‘Team Anna goes political, calls off fast’. Compare this to the decision to end their fast at Jantar Mantar in April 2011, the same paper had gone to town stating, ‘India Wins’. On 4 August 2012 the said newspaper preferred to give precedence to other news of public interest like Vijay Kumar winning a silver medal at London Olympics and TRAI giving option to the subscribers to rid themselves of pesky marketers.

This particular newspaper, known for its legendary marketing skills, has often boasted of getting the pulse of the nation right. I would like to make a little correction – they have always served to the palate of the English readership. And what is the total English readership of the country – a microcosm when compared with the nation’s population and the total number of electorate.

Hazare’s movement, demanding the introduction and passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill, can at best be termed as the upsurge by the English-speaking, Tweeting and Facebook-posting urban sections of the society with no wide social base. This narrow base too developed a feeling of apathy towards the movement in less than four months of its peak in August 2011. The loss of faith was first manifested in Team Anna’s failed attempt to find roots in Mumbai last year. Following the failure to garner any support in Mumbai, Tim Sullivan, the New Delhi-based correspondent of Associated Press, sent an interesting dispatch calling the anti-corruption campaign ‘a ratings bonanza as some channels even began calling on viewers to join the protests.’

Hazare’s protest received breathless TV coverage and any attempt to question the intent and content of the movement came to be seen as being pro-corrupt. This notebook writer, who from day one maintained a skeptical approach towards the Team, too faced the wrath, a story to be told some other day.

The Team, which a year back, had reserved its McCarthy fangs only for those few who had dared to question them then, a year later did not hesitate to paint the whole media black for focusing too much on the numbers, which refused to turn up at Jantar Mantar this time. So did the market savvy Dr Naresh Trehan, who wouldn’t waste time ‘examining’ Hazare with no crowds around.

Hazare’s movement failed to move beyond being a media spectacle, to be precise, an event. Arvind Kejriwal and company managed to give the nukkad natak psyche a stage. They all through harped on a false sense of martyrdom and self-righteousness, so dominant in staging of nukkad nataks. As the events unfolded, it became clear that self-righteous they are not and they decided to abandon the stage as soon as they had the first opportunity to wage a long struggle.

The agitator from Ralegan Siddhi, whenever he goes on a fast, is known to keep the doors for Track II negotiations always open. The Annalila at the historic Ramlila grounds in August 2011 had union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh playing a central role bringing the agitation to an amicable settlement. In July-August 2012, with government standing firm and Opposition parties showing indifference, the former army driver had no option but to put the movement in reverse gear.

Questions, however, will be asked as to how the movement went so high on the popularity chart and why it suddenly deflated. The answer lies in what could be called the Kolaveri Di syndrome.

The song, Why this Kolaveri Di, bereft of any meaningful lyrics, harped on traditional folk rhythm and went viral on social networking sites in November 2011 as soon as it was released, coinciding with the heydays of Anna movement.

Where is Kolveri Di today on the popularity charts? Somewhere close to where the Jan Lokpal Bill movement lies. If the song in Tanglish [a mixture of Tamil and English] was bereft of any meaningful lyrics, so was Anna Hazare’s movement, without any ideological moorings. They did not have an agenda. Team Anna, in the end, turned out to be a comity of self-seekers promoting their individual agendas. Despite their mutual respect, they could not even create unanimity on the draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Hazare has said that he will not run for polls. In his absence, whatever little numbers that turned-up at Jantar Mantar would recede. Arvind Kejriwal says his party would have no high-command.

However, his organisation, India Against Corruption, functions through a totalitarian core committee which has expelled every dissenting voice. It’s unlikely that they will provide a political alternative, something to which even their sympathiser psephologist Yogendra Yadav would agree to.

But there must be a take away from the movement. Having usurped the space of principal opposition and keeping the debate in Parliament focused on a non-issue like Jan Lokpal, this team has done the highly discredited Manmohan Singh government a great service. Today, the government has weathered the storm created by the 2G scandal, CWG scam and soaring inflation. Team Anna indeed has played their role of safety valve very well, giving vent to the pent-up anger against the government.

Sidharth Mishra is president, Centre for Reforms, Development and Justice, and consulting editor, Millennium Post.
Sidharth Mishra

Sidharth Mishra

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