Millennium Post

Rebel without a cause?

The euphoria of social activism has evaporated. That it lacked staying power was evident early enough when Anna Hazare’s decision to shift his venue of protest from Delhi to Mumbai in December 2011, exposed the movement’s fragility. In contrast to the surging crowds, which attended Anna’s meetings in the national capital during the summer of that year, large empty spaces were visible in Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla complex ground when Anna held his meeting.

To make matters worse, Bombay high court’s observation that one man’s satyagraha can be a ‘nuisance’ for another was a blow to the campaigners. In addition, what probably hurt them was the admission that they left Delhi, which had proved so receptive, for Mumbai was because of the cold. If support for a cause is so dependent on favourable weather conditions, then its future can hardly be considered bright.

And, so it has proved to be. The last time one heard of Anna was when he was conducting the second phase of his janatantra yatra, although it will be fair to say that neither of the two phases had set the Yamuna on fire. In fact, few had been aware of the two yatras because of the paucity of media coverage. The television anchors, who saw in Anna a messiah who would save India from the corrupt system, evinced no interest in his latest endeavours.

Why the movement had turned out to be a dismal failure is not difficult to explain. While its rise was due to the fact that Anna was able to tap into the widespread discontent over the prevailing corruption, he simply did not have the intellectual wherewithal to carry it forward. His rustic simplicity, which recalled Gandhi, was an asset in the early stages of the agitation, it became a liability when there was a need to give it an organisational and ideological framework.

Such a focussed endeavour was clearly beyond the mental capacity of the well-meaning, but ‘slightly dumb’ neighbourhood elder, which was social commentator Ashis Nandy’s description of the crusader from Ralegan Siddhi. Banking on occasional fasts, again recalling Gandhi, and calling for the people to rise and change the system were not enough to sustain the campaign.

In essence, Anna can be said to have run into the difficulty which the Maoists face. The latter, too, want the people to rise and change the system. But, their appeal cannot have the kind of wide appeal, which they expect because of the availability of an easier way to oust a regime which the elections provide. The result is that but for those who are committed to the orthodox Maoism – now discarded in the Great Helmsman’s own country – the Maoists have virtually been reduced to a band of dacoits of the kind who have always roamed the lawless countryside.

In Anna’s case, even the ideology was missing. The demand for scrapping the parliamentary system in favour of an undefined ‘participatory’ democracy, voiced by a member of Team Anna, Prashant Bhushan, known for his sympathy for Maoists and Kashmiri separatists, could not be the call which would act as a catalyst for overturning the system.

If such woolly concepts reflected the inchoate idealism of a motley group, which had nothing to unite it except mistrust of the political establishment – all politicians are bikaau or purchasable, Anna had said with remarkable pomposity – reports of how drunks were flogged by Anna’s followers in Ralegan Siddhi detracted from his Gandhian image.

So did his prescription for slapping the corrupt, which he advocated after seeing the film, Gali Gali Chor Hai. When Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was slapped by a bystander at a function, Anna asked, ‘only one slap?’ These comments as well the claim by his admirers that the people who were flogged asked for more in their repentance, suggested that the putative crusader could not be taken seriously. Not only that. Even his contempt for politicians seemed simulated since he was not averse to sharing the stage flanked by the BJP’s Arun Jaitley and the CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat.

It may not be an exaggeration to underline Anna’s proximity to anarchism considering that he wants to demolish the existing system without spelling out a credible plan for an alternative set-up. It is strange, therefore, that the reputed American magazine, Foreign Policy, chose Anna as one of the 100 global thinkers in 2011 because it was his ‘simplicity and singlemindedness which awakened millions of middle class professional who were fed up with India’s pervasive culture of graft.’

Unknowingly, perhaps, the magazine mentioned a crucial point of Anna’s campaign when it referred to the middle class flocking to his banner. This was its Achilles heel, for it was evident that his campaign was primarily a middle class affair in which the working class or the underprivileged or the minorities or the Dalits had no place. Since the fickleness of the middle class is known, it is not surprising that the movement has faded away.  IPA

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