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.
‘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.
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.