OPINION | Anna Hazare Fails To Exorcise Ghost of 2011
Anna Hazare's 2011 movement too was not successful as far as achieving its objective went; it failed to have the institution of Lokpal in place, its prime objective. That’s how Anna is back in Delhi in, to atone for mistakes of 2011.
Social activist Anna Hazare began his latest indefinite hunger strike against the central government in New Delhi on March 23. (News18 Creatives/ Mir Suhail)
Anna Hazare, the anti-corruption crusader from Ralegaon Siddhi in Maharashtra, came back to Delhi agitating once again in support of the agenda with which he had taken the nation by storm in 2011. He, however, ended his fast even before it was a week-old. The whole event could be best summarised as – Anna came to Delhi, fasted for a while and concurred with the government.
One of the main features of a protesting Anna this time was that it’s a real time agitation rather than made for the camera movement of 2011.Those partnering Anna this time in the protest demanding setting up of the Lokpal were mainly farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. In 2011, it was the middle class which had first taken control of the agitation at Jantar Mantar in April, and later at Ramlila Grounds in August.
Anna’s movement for now looks to be not poised for success, given the thin attendance, compared to 2011, thinner space in media and lukewarm response from the government; though Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis provided the face saver with his presence and requesting Hazare to end the fast.
Actually, Anna’s 2011 movement too was not successful as far as achieving its objective went; it failed to have the institution of Lokpal in place, its prime objective. That’s how Anna was back in Delhi, ostensibly to atone for mistakes of 2011.
Whatever the minuses, there is no denying the fact that the 2011 agitation created a stir, a political turmoil, leading to change of two governments in Delhi, one at the Old Secretariat led by Sheila Dikshit and other at the Raisina Hills headed by Manmohan Singh. It also gave rise to a political party, which is still to firm up its social and ideological base, though it has already tasted power.
Thus to understand why Anna Hazare is still on fasting spree, it’s important to revisit the 2011 movement. Every political movement has a social base, which gets reflected in the policy it pursues. Every political movement is struggle for power and the movement led by Anna Hazare in 2011 was no exception.
Communication theorist Harold Lasswell had defined politics as, “who gets what, when and how.” Examining Hazare’s 2011 movement on the whetstone of Lasswell’s definition, there is no ambiguity that Team Anna was seeking power (what) and their method was public agitation and subverting constitutional process (how). And contrary to expectation, they got power (when) in less than three years’ time, as AAP formed its first government in December 2013.
What was the social base of Hazare’s 2011 movement? Team Anna members had very intelligently not projected their social base in terms of caste configuration, something which is very integral to Indian politics, though they were as much conscious of it as any other political organisation.
In fact, they were smarter at using it. Anna was made to break his fast by receiving juice from two ‘Dalit’ children at Ramlila Maidan. Team Anna did not have a problem in even branding a child with her caste, as it suited their purpose of pursuing power.
Under laws promulgated over the years to prevent caste-based repression, public declaration of the caste of the two children made a fit case for prosecution of Hazare, but a pusillanimous government then preferred to look the other way.
Some analysts are of the belief that despite its later failings, the 2011 movement would always be seen a milestone in Indian political history for providing people the opportunity to express frustration. There is the contrary view that Anna’s movement actually made a fit case study of camera and social media created agitation which had no just cause.
In April 2011, the highest circulated newspaper of the nation carried the headline — INDIA WINS AGAIN. If culmination of every successful media event was to make India Win, the headline was appropriate. But as the events subsequently have unfolded, Anna Hazare in 2018 was back trying to force a win for a lost cause, and went largely unnoticed in media.
The 2011 agitation was indeed more of a media spectacle and less of a public movement in true sense. It was not even a patch on Jaya Prakash Narayan’s ‘Sampurna Kranti’ (total revolution) agitation of 1974-77, leave alone being compared to the freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi.
Hazare still wears a Gandhi cap; in 2011 with TV cameras in position he increasingly acquired Mahatma-like mannerism and even resorted to some bhajan listening.
The bhajan singers from Sri Sri Ravishankar’s stable were not there this time to sing for Hazare. Those who reached out to cheer him then had realised later that Hazare was actually eroding the authority of Parliament, as the much clichéd saying goes, the temple of democracy.
Hazare paid a price in 2018 for having let loose such political forces which drowned honest debate with chicanery and falsehood. Hazare in 2018 found it difficult to get support of urban Delhi because he failed to articulate a reasonable demand in 2011 as he got carried away by a media created wave mistaking it to be people’s support.
In 2018 not much happened at Ramlila grounds to catch the attention of the cameras; no Bollywood stars came visiting the fasting Anna asking people reach Ramlila Grounds. There was no Kiran Bedi, no Kumar Vishwas and no Om Puri on the stage to pour vitriol on the political class. The sale of synthetic Gandhi caps was too down in the dump.
Anna this time had an insurmountable task at hand. How would he conclude the current script was something which bothered him. The government, the opposition, and erstwhile Anna Team members for certain did not agree to the Lokpal of Hazare’s liking. But he accepted the government offer at the first opportunity.
(The writer is senior journalist and political commentator. Views are personal)
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