Two years ago Anna Hazare was riding a wave that he had generated almost single-handedly, threatening to sweep the UPA out of its fortified ivory tower. The groundswell of support for his Jan Lokpal mission had reached levels of support that Gandhiji’s satyagraha movement had attained during the battle for independence from the British Raj. Anna had become another Gandhi in his uncompromising opposition to violence and untruth. The Manmohan Singh government apart, even entrenched anarchists like Arundhati Roy felt threatened by him as he was stealing the limelight from their exertions and occupying prime time on TV channels. Arundhati Roy felt compelled to write an article “I’d rather not be Anna,” dutifully published by that establishmentarian newspaper “The Hindu” on 21st August 2011. Hazare was then in the middle of his 13-day fast at Ramlila Maidan. Roy, from the commanding heights of a Booker winner, roundly castigated the 74 year old Gandhian in impeccable English, even pointing her needle of suspicion on a possible collusion between the 2G-scam-tainted journalists-lobbyists and captains of corporate India, and Anna Hazare, to divert attention from their shenanigans. Roy writes in her article:
“Remember the campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill gathered steam around the same time as embarrassing revelations by Wikileaks and a series of scams, including the 2G spectrum scam, broke, in which major corporations, senior journalists, and government ministers and politicians from the Congress as well as the BJP seem to have colluded in various ways as hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees were being siphoned off from the public exchequer. For the first time in years, journalist-lobbyists were disgraced and it seemed as if some major Captains of Corporate India could actually end up in prison. Perfect timing for a people’s anti-corruption agitation. Or was it?”
Anna Hazare does not possess her facility with words, especially of the English language. He is just a semi-literate villager, from a nondescript village in Maharashtra; an ex-Havildar of the Indian Army, honourably discharged after service with a minor medal. He cannot claim to have won the Booker or any other glittering award, nor has he written such scathing attacks on the establishments worldwide as Ms Roy has in “The Algebra of Infinite Justice” and “An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire”, books for which she must have received hefty sums from publishers. Such is her influence in the literary world that a publisher had paid a royal sum even before the novel “The God of Small Things” was written. I am not asking whose money owns these publishing firms, but you can bet that some “Captains of the Corporate” world would have had something to do with them. Of course, what she did with all that money is not my concern. The lady from Ayemenem is certainly entitled to use it in whichever way she likes.
But I know what Anna Hazare did with the meagre retirement fund that he received after being discharged from the army. He spent it all on his village Ralegan Siddhi in an attempt to better the lives of his fellow villagers. Today Ralegan Siddhi is a model village from where alcohol has been banished, where primary healthcare centres function, where schools have teachers and students. Anna lives amidst his people, in an 8 x 10 feet room in the village temple, and his possessions would probably be less than what a sadhu in the upper Himalayas would have. Some people have complained that he is a dictator and has forced the villagers to abjure alcohol and other evils. I cannot understand how an unarmed man, without a gang of enforcers, can make a whole village to follow his diktats. Unless it is some moral pressure that only those who have led a moral life can command. I don’t know how Ayemenem is doing, because its most famous resident has not lived there for a very long time, and has not enlightened us about its condition. Maybe Ms Roy should pay a visit to both Anna’s village and her own.
However, a movement that had begun with so much promise and had thrown up such unlikely leaders as Arvind Kejriwal and what was then known as “Team Anna,” has since petered out into a mild ripple instead of the tsunami that it could have become. Like the credit that is due to him for initiating and providing the first thrust to a serious challenge to the entrenched oligarchy of politicians, bureaucrats and the captains of industry, Anna Hazare will also have to take the responsibility for frittering away that momentum and jettisoning the entire enterprise midstream. After breaking his indefinite fast at Ramlila Maidan on 28th August, 2011, he was taken to Medanta Hospital, Gurgaon for post-fast treatment and recovery. Maybe he went into deep sleep in the comfort of one of the most modern medical institutions in the country, and woke up with a bout of amnesia. His breaking up with Arvind Kejriwal defies understanding and his subsequent utterances on electoral politics have left most of his followers confused. His non-stop harping on the Jan Lokpal Bill has begun to sound tiresome, which can be seen from the dwindling support that he now gets from the aam aadmi.
When he went on his fast to force the government to implement the Jan Lokpal Bill, the future political roadmap had not been outlined. However, it was obvious from the reaction of the Congress and its allies that the battle would have to be fought and won in the arena of electoral politics and not through fasts-unto-death and such agitations. The moral pressure that a fast exerts can only have limited success. Eventually, real change can only come if moral people sit in the legislatures and offices of governance. The likes of Manish Tewari and Kapil Sibal, with their supercilious smirks, kept taunting “Team Anna” to fight them politically by standing as electoral candidates. The sickening arrogance of these leaders was asking for a rise in the collective conscience of the nation that would wipe the smirk from off their faces. Anna and his team had just begun to stir that collective conscience, when he, of all the people, decided to turn his back on electoral politics and left the movement high and dry. The break-up with Arvind Kejriwal on the latter having formed the Aam Aadmi Party, and launching his own Janatantra Morcha are inexplicable actions that defy reason. By announcing that the Janatantra Morcha will not become a political party or participate in elections, and by dissociating with Kejriwal, he has handed over the advantage to the Sibals and the Tewaris. With such utterances as “PM should be directly elected by the people” while abjuring electoral politics, he is continuing to confuse and confound his admirers. It is not clear as to whose advice he listens to. Kiran Bedi has continued to be by his side and so is Gen. V. K. Singh. But with every passing day the Anna Hazare phenomenon is fading into irrelevance.