THE ANNA SYMBOLISM
A movement becomes a mass movement when the cause behind it is bound by a thought process linked to a symbol of almost no folly and supreme trust where the common man sees a reflection of solution to his endless problems and Anna, today, has become that. India was struggling to find a way to gain independence but it could get a pan-India character only when it found a symbol to follow in Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma went on to become a Thought as the Movement prolonged. And the Anna Symbolism is extension of that thought process. The Mahatma thought process effected many movements globally with its unique legacy of ‘demanding change through the means of peace and non-violence’ giving rise to leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu but, back home, the Independent India has always felt a lacuna except names like Vinoba Bhave or JP.
We are in a position today where we need to accept with a sense of urgency that we have failed to live up to the aspirations of the Mahatma of an Indian society based on ideals of equality and purity, what he defined as ‘Ram Rajya’. Mahatma was not a utopian. He was a practical strategist. He had a vision to get the ends meet and the most important one was the political restructuring with decentralization upto the village level. But, India, collectively failed the Mahatma. If India is ranked among the most corrupt countries year after year, we have reasons to believe in that. If India is debated more as a chaotic democracy with reducing people-orientation, we have reasons to believe in that. If every other Defence, industrial and social project deal is ultimately taking a hue of ‘being corruption laden’, we have reasons to believe in that. What a country can feel when its PM says in issues like corruption and inflation that he has no magic wand to cure and he, time and again, repeats it?
The 65 years of consistent failures and patches of success slowly have given way to what we are witnessing today as the Anna Phenomenon and what we witnessed during the yesteryears in luminaries like Vinoba, JP or Lohia who could truly mobilize masses for greater change. Like Vinoba, Anna has imbibed the Mahatma during his over three decades of living with the Gandhian means to bring the change on-board. An India that was reeling under pangs of corruption and establishment apathy, after decades, found someone in Anna Hazare to look forward to. Masses always look for a leader to follow, history tells us. They need a formidable character to look up to, to run behind. And, any social upheaval needs subsequent political characterization to stabilize and here a character like Anna is needed. India lost the opportunity after it emerged victorious from the 70’s Emergency when the political movement could not correspond to the great mass mobilization and JP had to lament on demise of first non-Congress government owing to its own internal deformities. Could it capitalize on the gains this time?
Now India is again at the brink of such an opportunity. Its seeds were sown when NDA lost the power to the UPA in the 2004 General Elections. Everything, from the analysis of political pundits to the media and opposition, had this feeling that NDA was going to return to power with comfortable majority. But the results were a slap in the face of every such analyst inhabiting the corridors of power. Common man had spoken through his ballot. The ground beneath NDA’s feet was taken away by the momentum generated by the ‘Spiral of Silence’ that the common man was subjected to. It was the time for the political class to take some lessons because the dissenting voice of the minority was on the way to become a majority with consistent increase in India’s young population inheriting restlessness and uncertainty owing to the limited career avenues available. The unexpected outcome was telling that something fundamental about majority of Indian society was changing. But that wasn’t to be. No lessons learnt.
Irrespective of party and coalition affiliations, the political class continued with practices of ‘take it easy’ and ‘it happens’ attitude in dealing with issues of the common man, cases of corruption and implementation of common man oriented policies. Some good things like MNREGA, ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ and Mid-day meal scheme lost their utility owing to the wide-scale corruption in implementation. Taxes didn’t come down much; income didn’t increase proportionately while prices skyrocketed. The common man saw the humiliation of the nation when success of its biggest sporting event was compromised with a corruption on the scale seldom heard-of. Telecom scam has already sent some big political names to jail. Parliament witnessed the shameful episode of currency notes being waved by its members. Things reached to the level of debasement when allegations were labeled on some House members to take money for asking questions in the House. All this while, public anger was simmering looking for a way to vent out its anger. But the political class didn’t take note of it.
So when the government decided to bypass the draft Lokpal Bill without including major points of the draft bill of the Anna Hazare group and the PM challenged from the Red Fort on the Independence Day that Fast was not a way to make an effective Lokpal and his government would not allow it happen, it sent negative feelers to the Indians across India now having privilege of information accessibility through wide reach of media vehicles unlike the days of Emergency. Anna had achieved a pan-India perception of a ‘crusader of truth’ after his Fast for the Lokpal in April at the Jantar-Mantar. PM’s open challenge and irresponsible attitude and statements of its ministers and members like Kapil Sibal, Manish Tiwari, P Chidambaram, Pawan Bansal, Janardan Dwivedi only capitalized the negative sentiment in the common man that government was going overdrive to muzzle Anna’s movement that was ultimately aimed at bringing good for an ordinary Indian like him. Anna’s arrest from his New Delhi place of stay worked as the catalyst to make the masses erupt in anger. Agreed Anna’s team had worked out the strategy anticipating this dictatorial step by the democratically elected government, the mass level mobilization within hours that the country saw on August 16 could only be spontaneous given its pan-India nature.