File photo of Anna Hazare | PTI
File photo of Anna Hazare | PTI
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Anna Hazare announced another protest and then cancelled it. He does it ever so often that it doesn’t even make news. Yet there are some liberals, especially Congress-minded ones, who go ‘we told you so’. We told you he was some charlatan. His only purpose was to make UPA-2 unpopular and bring Narendra Modi to power. The Lokpal movement was an ‘RSS conspiracy’, and so on.

All of this is very unfair to the old man. It is also not factually correct.

First, the Lokpal movement did not make the Manmohan Singh government unpopular. It gave voice to growing disenchantment with UPA-2. It crystallised the sentiment — but the sentiment was there. By the time the Lokpal movement arrived, we already had non-stop corruption scandals, the government’s inability to keep its house in order, and most of all inflation so high that it pinched everyone.

Second, Anna Hazare was just the mask. He was the mukhauta, the face chosen by Arvind Kejriwal for the Lokpal movement. Once Anna Hazare was no longer needed, he was discarded. Kejriwal was to later make it clear that use-and-throw is his style, because the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) did the same with Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan as well. In Kejriwal’s defence, this also shows he’s a ruthless politician. Isn’t that a quality that seems to be doing well for politicians these days?

Question is, where does that leave Anna Hazare? Were his intentions mala fide? Who is the real Anna Hazare? What did he want then and what does he want now? These questions may be politically inconsequential today but just for curiosity and closure, we need to know the answers. Anna Hazare, after all, left his mark on a defining chapter in the history of modern India.


Also read: Not Modi’s rise, not Rahul’s fall. Arvind Kejriwal is this decade’s biggest political story


‘Main Bhi Anna’, redux

When future historians write this history, they will do well to read the book AAP and Down by Mumbai-based activist Mayank Gandhi. In the book, Gandhi claims credit for turning the Lokpal movement into the Anna movement. His claims have not been denied by Arvind Kejriwal or the AAP.

Here is what happened, according to the book: Arvind Kejriwal, an RTI activist, was planning the Lokpal movement. He approached Mayank Gandhi to become part of it, just as he approached various people across the country from different backgrounds and different political persuasions, including the extreme Left and Right. Mayank Gandhi said he liked the idea but who would be the face of the movement?

This was a critical question. Movements need and look for faces, and when they don’t have any, the media appoints some. According to Gandhi, Kejriwal instantly agreed that this was going to be an issue and asked if he had anyone in mind. Gandhi said Anna Hazare, and described the pros and cons of using him.

Among the cons, Gandhi spoke of Anna’s ego and self-importance, how his ideas of politics were vague, how he was a stubborn man influenced by a coterie around him, and how his working style was whimsical.

Today we can see all these qualities in Anna Hazare. It became clear as the Lokpal movement was winding down that Anna Hazare wanted constant media attention. He wanted to not just be the face of a movement but the father of the nation. And that’s why he keeps announcing new fasts and protests, hoping the nation will be roused again. He’s trying to recreate the good old times when people wore caps saying ‘Main Bhi Anna’. All he wants is attention. He wants to be Kangana Ranaut, if not Narendra Modi. If he was 20 years younger and knew how to outrage people through Twitter, he would even have some chance to succeed.


Also read: BJP showed dreams of corruption-free India, are those claims now hollow, asks Anna Hazare


Need for a face

None of this can take away from the fact that Mayank Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal’s assessment was spot on. Anna Hazare as the face of the Lokpal movement was a hit. And for all the reasons Gandhi mentions in his book. Anna Hazare was a Gandhian, a school of thought and mode of action that has great resonance in India, even today. He did not fit in neat ideological boxes: he was neither too Left nor too Right.  Most importantly, he had the credibility to lead an anti-corruption movement. He had earlier held fast-unto-death protests and had achieved resignations of ministers. He earned a good name as a rural development person and for RTI activism. He was already familiar with the idea of the Lokpal Bill.

So the people who were mesmerised by Anna Hazare were supporting an idea, of which he was just the face. Should they be embarrassed about it today? Not at all. It was just the times we lived in. If you think the Anna movement failed in achieving the political change it campaigned for, the blame for that should go to Arvind Kejriwal. Anna was actually the victim.

What the Anna Hazare story should leave us with is the importance of credible faces who have the courage to lead the demand for change. Just imagine if the national opposition had such a face today.

The author is a contributing editor. Views are personal.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Anna and his movement were the first most widely televised movement on Godi media based on a clearly orchestrated lame duck the 2G scam. Ramdev, Singh, Kher, Bedi or Ilmi, everyone is now part of BJP. You just cannot say it wasn’t orchestrated by BJP. Ask Harare, where is his Lok Pal Bill? India was taken for a ride by the most mammoth pseudo event.

  2. Anna Hazare is a BJP/RSS agent beyond any reasonable doubt. What is his Lokpaal doing now in India? Has corruption stopped? If the UPA government was so corrupt why no one is behind bar in seven years of Modi rule?

  3. Don’t make me laugh thinking of Shri Rahul Gandhi wearing Shri Anna Hazare’s cap and glasses and pretending to the face of the national opposition.

  4. Anna Hazare used to drive a truck in the Army. It felt odd some years ago to see General V K Singh standing deferentially next to him. 2. Successive CMs of Maharashtra played him like a harp, flattering his vanity a little. UPA should have entrusted the Anna file to ministers like Vilasrao Deshmukh, who had a lot of time on their hands in Delhi. 3. Looking back, it would be fair to say the Anna movement did India a lot more harm than good.

  5. I think this is the only article by Mr Shivam Vij which sounds absurd. Both Anna and Kejrivwal Were working for the RSS. The Anna movement was a RSS sponsored movement to dislodge Congress from the Centre and bring the BJP to power at the Centre.
    When that objective was achieved Anna was cut to the size and he was no longer required by the RSS and the BJP.
    Anna claims to be Gandhian bu he is simply a RSS man in garb of Gandhianim.
    He will never fast against illegal CAA or NRC.
    He is simply a RSS stooge nothing else

    • This is the only article by Shivam Vij in which he is reasonable. His other articles like ‘I’m feeling a bit bored, let me go and bash-up BJP and Modi’ kind.
      And btw, RSS may be a bad word for you. Most of India sees it for what it really is — an organization of patriotic volunteers, which is present to help everybody at every crisis.

  6. Anna Hazare did great damage to India by succeeding in overturning the then UPA govt’s legitimacy but failing subsequently to ensure that the current govt gives us a genuine Lokpal which can have oversight over the govt’s actions. His obvious partisanship is in major part responsible for tarring all protests, even well-meaning ones like the current farmer protests, as agenda-driven rather than genuinely principled. History will not judge Kejriwal harshly – like Shivam Vij points out, he was just taking advantage of the situation for his own ends. History will judge Anna harshly (and rightly so) and only some kind of extreme atonement may redeem his reputation. Otherwise peaceful “Gandhian” protests and protestors will continue to lose legitimacy in India.

  7. Hv u traced anna s background he is a rss man their r enough photos to the same pls do research before writing pro bjp articless

  8. Anna Hazare has an opportunity to redeem himself. If he was used by a group to malign the UPA govt, as is the common perception now, then he should speak up and clear his name. His image is dented and reputation in question. It’s time he clears the clouds about both.

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