Anna Hazare the Pied Piper of India
Syed Ali Mujtaba
Anti graft campaigner Anna Hazare ended his 288 hours of fast on Sunday August 28, 2011 and by doing so he gave the nation a sigh of collective relief. The 74-year-old social activist began his fast on August 16 and continued for 12 days uninterrupted.
It was a rare show of unanimity and purpose that saw unprecedented mobilization of the people across the nation. It resulted in special session of the Parliament to hold discussion on the Lokpal bill, stretching over nine hours in the Lok Sabha and eight hours in the Rajya Sabha.
Going beyond party lines at the Parliament passed a resolution agreeing to his three core demands of Anna Hazare for Citizens' charter, Lower bureaucracy under Lokpal through appropriate mechanism and establishment of Lokayukta in states. Parliament also passed a resolution to forward the proceedings of the House to the Standing Committee for its perusal while formulating its recommendations for a Lokpal Bill.
There are few very seminal points that have emerged out of the twelve days agitation led by Anna Hazare. The overwhelming response of Anna Hazare’s call to end corruption has set a precedent of sorts for mass mobilization in the country. In near memory there are three events that stand out for mass agitation.
One was the mobilization of the masses against rising prices, unemployment that led to the proclamation of national emergency in 1975. Then the agitation against it that was led by Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan, and Achrya Kirplani, the veteran freedom movement leaders, that led to the ending of the dark days in India. The anti emergency stir caught the imagination of the nation and people from wide spectrum of society came on the streets and rested only when the proclamation was withdrawn.
The second mass mobilization was seen in India during 1998, primarily from the youth of upper caste who were opposed to the implementation of the Mandal Commission report that gave 27 per cent reservation to the other backward caste categories of the Hindu society. This agitation was primarily confined to north India, where upper caste youth came out in large numbers and some even immolated themselves for the annulment of the law. Its was mass hysteria with the underpinning of suicidal impulses on the lines French sociologist David Émile Durkheim proponed in his study, ‘Suicide: A Study In Sociology, published in 1895.
The last was the Sangh Parivar’s mass mobilization centering on Ram Janamboohmi. A wounded civilization came out in large numbers to destroy the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. As the angry agitators pulled down the three domes of the Muslim’s place of worship, in that carnival of rebellion, it seems the three domes, on the Parliament, on the Supreme Court and on the Rashtriapathi Bhavan, crumbled. In hindsight, the mobilization of the masses was more for destruction than actually for construction, as the intended purpose thereafter could not mobilize the masses.
Contrary to all of them, Anna’ Hazre’s agitation was unique in many sense. It demonstrated to the world that even in this age, there are pied pipers who can bring the people on the streets. The charismatic figure of Anna Hazare, caught the imagination of the nation many equate him with Mahatma Gandhi and his method of agitation.
Some may point out that the mass mobilization was due to spread of the social media, others may say it was the handiwork of the television channels, that went gone gung-ho telecasting this reality show, some may also credit the organizational acumen of team Anna, the fact is there was unprecedented mobilization of the masses never seen, since the independent movement of the country.
The other feature of the movement was the discipline shown by the agitators and volunteers’ having a total control of the situation is something remarkable. Skeptics had cast doubts over the agitation and some even predicted it may end up in Chauri Chaura way, and like Mahatma Gandhi, Anna Hazare too calling off his fast in a dejected mood. However, every thing went of the scripted way of the reality show and this something laudable.
However, it’s not that every thing was picture perfect in Anna Hazre’s agitation. There were many flaws in it as well. The twelve days agitation of Anna Hazare has able to dictate the content of the Lok Pal bill. The government was forced to bow down to the pressure that was applied on it through the strength drawn from the street, even though it took eleven days to do so. This is unprecedented.
It has set a new precedent for future political discourse in the country and the future governments have to be prepared to handle such dictate from the so called people’s parliament.
Imagine a situation when the farmers of the country march to New Delhi, to press their demands or the Hindutva forces muster such strength and pressurize the Parliament to build the Ram temple or in wake of terror attack, the people’s Parliament ask the government to go to war with Pakistan. Let’s leave it for propriety as imagination stops to build future scenarios.
Certainly, Anna Hazare should have avoided the ill advised call to his followers to gherao the Prime Minister, MPs and MLAs. He and some of his spokespersons called people’s representatives as dacoits and thieves and that amount to spreading hatred. Apologies on this count in the closing speech were dished out, but the damage done certainly lowered the dignity of the movement.
Another matter of extreme concern was the source of funds for sustaining the movement for twelve days. Even earlier to that, the members of team Anna were flying at different locations in the country and there were huge shows being organized. All that needed money, where did it come from? Many people visiting Ram Lila grounds are reported to have been fed with snacks and food. All these would not have come without money? It is quite possible that such money may have come from the followers of Anna Hazare but the country need to know the people who have funded them.
In the closing speech, it was said that the money spent during the agitation were from public donations and from admirers of Anna Hazare. To some this sounded more like a politician’s comment then the words of a social activist. It leaves an element of deep suspicion among the civil society about the movement it represents.
In such issues, transparency is a very important. In a rare show of solidarity countrymen belonging to a cross section of the society have given unstinted support to Anna Hazare’s protest against corruption. Team Anna should clearly make public the names of the people who have funded the twelve day agitation. Keeping the curtains over the faces, would go against the noble cause that the movement represents.
Even before the agitation has begun allegations of impropriety came forth regarding all the NGOs to which category Anna Hazare and his team belong, that they are not corruption free. A few of them have been accused of swindling large amount of money and misusing the NGO portfolio for ulterior purposes. The fact of the matter is; Anna Hazare has missed to comment on this disturbing fact for whatever reasons.
Anna Hazare’s practice of giving a free hand to his hand picked people has raised eyebrows. There are certainly many more knowledgeable people in the country with great credentials that Anna should spot and utilize them for the larger good of the nation. Keeping the tainted faces in the crusade against corruption takes away the sheen out of the movement.
Finally, the claim that the battle against corruption has been half won seems bit exaggerated. The fact is that the battle against corruption has only just begun. The movement still has a long way to go. What is required is to fine tune it to a substantial extent to provide dignity to the campaign.
The bitter truth is that during the twelve days of fast, team Anna have not been able to elevate the quality of the campaign to the lofty level necessary to sustain such movement. It’s imperative to plug the loopholes in future.
In the end, let’s hope and pray that human greed is over powered in our country and corruption is banished from this land. If and when it happens, Anna Hazare will be hailed as the pied piper of India.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org