Anna Hazare has begun an indefinite hunger strike against the Narendra Modi government to demand the setting up of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas, and the implementation of Swaminathan commission recommendations to address farm distress. He is back to protest in Delhi seven years after his anti-corruption hunger strike, but with new partners and hardly any support from any big political party.
ThePrint asks: Is Anna Hazare a victim of India’s use-and-throw politics?
Anna is a shrewd person, he uses a new team every time and emerges winner
Anna Hazare is again in the news but the question is: Will he succeed like the last time, when he sat on a hunger strike in 2011? The image of the Tricolour fluttering at the Ramlila maidan and Anna sitting in the backdrop have become etched in the public imagination. He inspired millions of Indians. That was also the time when the country was reeling under a barrage of corruption charges. The media was very aggressive in its coverage, and the man called Arvind Kejriwal and his genius were doing wonders behind the scene.
It is said that it was the Anna movement and the anger it generated that prepared the pitch for the BJP in the 2014 parliamentary elections, and catapulted Modi to the national scene before he finally emerged victorious. It was a government led by Manmohan Singh, who might go down in history as one of the best Prime Ministers and, paradoxically, the weakest Prime Minister too. Singh had the mettle but not the political capital to deal with a movement like Anna Hazare’s. Now, the country is led by Modi, an extremely powerful and ruthless leader. He does not know how to surrender. There is public disenchantment with his government but his control over the media, particularly TV channels, is absolute. Seven years ago, it was the TV channels that made Anna Hazare the crusader against corruption and a ‘mahatma‘.
Not many people know that Anna was only the face of the movement. The command was with Arvind Kejriwal and his team. It was the committed volunteers of India Against Corruption and their hard work and idealism that did wonders for him. Without that, Anna was a big zero. In fact, when this movement was planned, he was greatly apprehensive about the crowd, and was only expecting 200 to 300 people. Though it is believed that the RSS contributed to making his rally successful, I don’t buy that argument at all. If the RSS was that good, why could it not organise a similar rally for itself ? I don’t disagree that they might have been in the crowd, but then every mass movement has many shades.
It is also said that Anna has been used by politicians and different groups for their vested interests. I don’t buy that argument either. He is too shrewd a person. My experience is that he uses a new team each time and emerges the winner too. He has a knack for planning movements and he has great sense of timing. But this time, the nation has changed. And today he does not have the biggest X factor, Kejriwal.
Anna Hazare isn’t a victim of politics, he just lacks judgement on who to choose as allies
It would be incorrect to say that Anna Hazare is a victim of use-and-throw politics. He is instead a victim of lack of judgement about who to choose as his allies. A movement such as this is all about credibility. When it unfolded the last time, it was idealism, but subsequently it was revealed that his followers were bereft of the very credibility the movement demanded. Hazare remained a silent spectator to the degradation of his ideals, and everything he opposed manifested itself in a government led by his own team in Delhi.
People have lost faith in him since he seems to have no effective solutions to offer. Moreover, people in his entourage are self-seekers rather than genuine crusaders.
It is also critical to understand the context in which the movement began seven years ago, against a backdrop of immense corruption in the UPA-II. Every day, there was a new scam. People were shocked by the extent of corruption in the government.
Now, that has changed. The BJP government is seen to be completely clean. In terms of corruption, no fingers have been raised against us in the last four years.
That is also why the response to Anna Hazare is so lukewarm this time. He’s a well-intending man who doesn’t have the wherewithal of either judgment or methodology to regain the confidence of the people.
Anna Hazare is well-meaning, but those who benefited from him are now missing
President, All India Mahila Congress
The 2011 anti-corruption campaign centred on the hunger strike and protests of this man — Anna Hazare. It was argued that he shook the conscience of the nation, but one must note the political fallout of the same: firstly, despite the non-political nature of the protest, Arvind Kejriwal, one of his closest aides, started the Aam Aadmi Party; and secondly the current government came to power on the agenda of this campaign — on the promise of no corruption. One must also question the scale of mobilisation that the movement achieved, and how all the noise has been drowned out today. We are still faced with corruption running into thousands of crores, with instances concerned with Jay Shah, Nirav Modi and the Rafale deal.
At that point of time, a view was voiced that the mobilisation was provided by the RSS and the BJP. Today, Hazare protests again for the constitution of the Lokpal, in which regard the government has acted slyly. As I write, he is on a hunger strike at the Ramlila maidan, arguing for the rights of farmers and the broken promises of this regime, claiming that the government had cancelled trains to stop people from joining the protest.
The Congress-led UPA government today has been cleared of the 2G scam. Dr Manmohan Singh has been absolved in the coal scam. Hazare, a well-meaning social activist and a Padma Bhushan awardee, continues his protests with the same amount of conviction as he did in 2011; the only difference is that the mobilisation is missing and those who gained electorally and politically from his campaign are missing.
It makes good optics to see an 80-year-old man sitting on fast in front of TV cameras
Columnist, former political editor of the Hindustan Times
The political parties have been using social reformer Anna Hazare, and he is using them as well to remain in the news, as he does not believe in permanent friends or permanent enemies. It has become a two-way traffic. While almost all the political parties accuse various state and central governments of corruption, they also use Anna Hazare to embarrass the same governments.
Interestingly, Anna is not with any political party but he does not mind taking the help of politicians. He has a band of followers who follow him around although the Aam Aadmi Party was the first political party that emerged out of his India Against Corruption (IAC) movement and also formed the government. The IAC movement produced one chief minister, one governor and one minister. The AAP dumped Anna afterwards. The only weapon he has is fasting, which is why he leans on one party or the other, depending on the circumstances. It makes good optics to see an 80-year-old man sitting on fast in front of TV cameras.
Anna became a national figure when he successfully launched his IAC movement in April 2011, ending his six-day fast after the UPA government agreed to his demands for the Lokpal bill. After the stupendous success of the movement, things don’t seem to be going exactly the way he would have liked.
At that time, it was the BJP and the RSS that used him to embarrass the Manmohan Singh government by getting the crowds. The timing was perfect as the Congress was under the scanner for many scams, like 2G and CWG. But since then they have dumped him.
Now the tables have turned and Anna is against BJP-led governments at the Centre and in Maharashtra. He has been critical of PM Modi since he took over and also of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. He supported the recent farmers’ march. Anna managed to get the tacit support of the NCP, the Congress and the Left parties in Maharashtra for this agitation.
However, there is a question mark over whether he will succeed in Delhi this time. Unlike the BJP, the Congress, the NCP and the Left parties do not have the adequate strength to get crowds. Secondly, Anna no longer has good second-rung leaders like Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan. Thirdly, he has no organisational strength in Delhi. Therefore, though corruption and farmers’ distress are good issues, it is not clear whether he can succeed like he did in 2011.
Political parties use persons like him and throw them after their use is over, but Anna is also smart enough to use them to his advantage. For both, it is a kind of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of situation.
Anna Hazare is no babe in the woods, he knows politicians use others for their own ends
Editor (investigations & special projects), ThePrint
Almost seven years after he parked himself in Delhi along with several thousand supporters to pressure the then Congress-led UPA government into legislating the Jan Lokpal bill, Anna Hazare is back in Delhi. And so are the crowds — though much fewer in number.
The numbers are simply not there, and live TV coverage is also missing. The year 2018, it is clear, isn’t 2011, when ‘Anna mania’ gripped an entire nation, with Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan turning into a must-visit spot for both the young and old. Anna and the volunteers of Indian Against Corruption (IAC) led by (now) Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal occupied the mind space of an entire nation.
One reason for the absence of buzz around Anna’s latest protest could be the fact that there is a new government in the country, led by RSS pracharak-turned-BJP-politician Narendra Modi, who has grown up in a culture where organising protests is intrinsic to the organisation.
With the protests targeting the Modi government, the RSS, which was allegedly the prime mover of the 2011 movement, won’t play any role this time. Ditto for Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party, and the Congress, to be truthful, simply doesn’t have the capability to organise protests of this nature.
Thus, to ask if Anna Hazare is a victim of India’s use-and-throw politics is a question that can have only one, emphatic, answer: Yes. But, then, politicians in India are not exactly known to behave otherwise.
Today, the leadership of the Congress, which was rejected emphatically in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, is hurling daily corruption charges on the Modi government. And Modi, who had repeatedly talked of strong anti-corruption measures in the run-up to the 2014 polls, is still dithering on the issue of setting up the institution of Lokpal. Kejriwal, with whom Anna has strained relations, is so busy going around apologising to all and sundry that he or his party may not even be aware Anna is back in town!
Anna won’t have the support of the political class this time, but he is not a babe in the woods to not have known that politicians use others for their own end. It will be interesting to see for how many days he manages to stick around this time.
Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj, Journalist at ThePrint.