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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 37, September 3, 2011

Anna Movement, Real People, Backroom Dynasts

Tuesday 6 September 2011, by Analyst

Deification is a tempting business in India. The media, the intellectuals and the people at large have shares in this business. The Anna Hazare protests showed how easy it is to become the “general will” if not the “divine will” of the state in the age of 24/7 media channels. Interestingly, both Team Anna and its critics are equal participants in this process.

It is evident that Anna Hazare is the man of his times. His movement was premised on a masterly sense of the mood of the nation. But he alone would not have created the cathartic condition that finally emerged had it not been for the overall hopeless situation in the country over inflation, an ineffective political leadership, and the general breakdown of the governance machinery. While he took the initiative to launch the Gandhian movement, his supporters need to be told that even if the movement was Gandhian on its rough contours, it does not survive the nuanced Gandhian scrutiny. Anna Hazare’s movement was recognised by the people for its power. That alone would have sufficed to Gandhi. But Team Anna was clearly seeking recognition from the government. A few days into the fast and the on-stage antics of Kiran Bedi and telephone talks of the likes of Swami Agnivesh showed that this movement needed backroom support from the powers that be. Gandhi’s fasts were for his people primarily. Once the people came out of homes, the weaponisation of the fast did not take long. Then the government was certain to grovel. The same was happening anyway. So where was the need for the display of frustration? Was Team Anna cynical that in the age of fleeting attention span, people might not support the spectacle beyond what they consider “reasonable”? That apart, the language from the podium from all participants including that of Anna himself was far from Gandhian.

Despite its shortfalls, Anna’s movement was a product of its time and its superstardom is also due to the larger context. What also goes to the movement’s credit is that it remained totally non-violent and exposed other activists of the civil society, many of whom have predictably turned against the movement.

Success does not create new friendships and Anna Hazare’s movement has divided the civil society like no other hitherto. Friendships between Aruna Roy and Medha Patkar have broken down. There are fissures between old comrades, Prashant Bhushan and Arundhati Roy.

This piece has already conceded the flaws that existed in the Anna Hazare’s fast. But no one can question that it was a superb success because of the widespread support from the masses as a result of which the angst-ridden people were able to dissipate a bit of their collective worry.

One of the sticking points for this movement is that despite being vocal, many members of the civil society are basically backdoor elitists who do not want to cede their space to new entrants. Like some totalitarian realm where the king stares at himself in the mirror, this intellectual and political elite of India never tires from seeing itself in the “corporate” media. When the same corporate media turns the camera to a counter-elite that is using the language of nationalism to draw attention to the popular problems, the elite, especially the prize winning authors et al., attack the new rising stars. These authors are quick to decline native awards, but are prompt in accepting corporate awards from the West. How can Anna Hazare’s movement be considered funded by the West when most of our elite fund their education, their feeling of power, and their sense of entitlement with their access citadels of power in the West?

Anna Hazare’s movement, despite its problems, has exposed India to its own eyes. It has held a mirror before all. The people, the deities of India, the elite and the counter-elite—all have to see in the mirror to understand what India wants. India wants real people to come to the fore and not the backroom dynasts who stand thoroughly exposed in the entire episode.

September 1 Analyst

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