Who says Hazare did not achieve anything?
Did Anna Hazare’s fast achieve any- thing? This is the first poser that comestomindwhenweseethousands
of people in whom he raised hopes rejoicing
in the streets. The answer depends upon how
we see his campaign. We can answer the
question better after understanding what he
did achieve and what he did not.
I have been listening to political leaders’
cliché-ridden sanctimonious speeches deliv-
ered in a monotonous tone that put me to
sleep for nearly four decades now; the latest
one of this genre was Indian Prime Minister
Dr Manmohan Singh’s Independence Day
address. This painful exercise coupled with
watching corpulent parliament members
walking in and out of parliament on non-
issues with feigned indignation beamed on
Lok Sabha TV has turned me quite cynical
about our ‘democratic process’. This cynicism
had been further reinforced after watching
our lawmakers in disorderly conduct on the
floor of the House with increasing frequency.
In fact, I advise parents not to let their kids
to watch India’s Lok Sabha proceedings, lest
the young minds consider them as standard
parliamentary procedure and perpetuate it.
So it came as a great relief for me to see members of parliament seriously discussing issues with the level of
urgency they deserved. Of course, in the past they had
shown great urgency in dealing with and disposing of
issues inside parliament without all the song and dance
about select committees. But these were issues they considered to be of great importance, like increasing their
own emoluments and allowances that left taxpayers like
me jealous and fuming.
So it was amazing to see them discuss issues related to
corruption, which they had wished away for four decades. I
doubt whether the lawmakers would have shown such
alacrity if Hazare’s deteriorating health had not put a gun
to their heads. Making lawmakers of all hues face issues
that matter is the first achievement of Hazare’s fast.
The ability to analyze the core issue from different perspectives demonstrated by some members was impressive.
The way some young members like Varun Gandhi,
Jyotiraditya Scindia and Naveen Jindal demonstrated their
ability to separate the grain from the chaff and zero in on
the core issue was amazing. I am at a loss to understand
why their political parties are not using them to identify
and handle issues troubling GenNext.
Hazare’s second achievement is that he has shown that
one can achieve results, at least partially, applying
Gandhian methods of nonviolent struggle on a national
scale. It has given a lease of life to the whole philosophy of
nonviolence for social activism. For most of the post-Independence generation, the Mahatma had become a distant memory with relevance only linked to a national holiday. Hazare, a frail, aging, non-political social activist
whose articulation was at best simple and basic, has
demonstrated that all classes — I should add castes — of
people regardless of their differences could be mobilized to
focus on a single agenda without political patronage.
I come from a state where all major political parties woo
— read bribe — the people with Biryani packets, free movie
tickets, liquor and ‘pocket money’ to attend their political
rallies in large numbers. So Hazare’s mass mobilization
through informal channels, made up of a motley collection
of assorted professionals, retired bureaucrats, etc — who
would never have come together otherwise — was shock
therapy to me. To dub this as a middle-class movement is
sophistry and ignoring the core issue of corruption that
galvanized people of all walks to the cause. Surely, the dab-
Anna Hazare has has been able to achieve what no political party or movement in
India has ever before been able to do — create a national focus
bawallahs of Mumbai and petty shopkeepers of Delhi, who
struck work in solidarity with Hazare’s call, are not flag
bearers of the Indian middle class.
The ‘Anna phenomenon’ may or may not survive but it
has set a precedent, if not an operational procedure, for
other potential Annas with a cause to do it all over. This is
a scary scenario for political parties, which have taken the
people for granted. That was why most of the political parties remained silent initially and some of them closed ranks
to talk of how Hazare’s movement was threatening parliamentary process and the Indian constitution; some of the
media also highlighted these issues. The regional parties
resting on the bedrock of casteism and parochialism were
reluctant to discuss and talk of corruption as an issue at all.
But the doubting Thomases among the political parties
became jittery after the government’s traditional methods
of browbeating, character assassination through innuen-does, intimidation and arrest failed to stave off the surge of
support across the country for Hazare.
Rahul Gandhi echoed their sentiments in parliament
rather late in the day when events were already overtaking
the validity of this argument. Rahul probably excluded
himself from the Congress party’s firefighting group to get
out of an increasingly embarrassing situation.
This stark realization struck the Congress party and Dr
Singh when they started losing control of the situation rapidly. They had limited options but to act before something
happened to Hazare. As a result, Hazare’s movement has
put political parties on notice.
Can another social activist do a copycat performance of
Hazare, as the political parties fear? I doubt; for such an
act requires a leader who can relate to the common man
with a cause that can appeal to the whole nation. But who
knew earlier that Hazare could? This uncertainty is sure to
dog the political parties from now on. And it is a good thing
that the political parties with their cozy setups get shaken
up once in a while.
Anna’s insistence on parliament discussing and recogniz-
ing the three core issues germane to corruption and gover-
nance — a Citizen’s Charter for accountability of govern-
ment; bringing the lower bureaucracy under the anti-cor-
ruption mechanism; and establishing Lokayuktas in states
— has a special place in the whole tale. But for his insis-
tence on this basic minimum condition for breaking his
fast, the government would have ignored these issues. They
provide a broad framework for evolving
a national anti-corruption policy to
clean up governance.
Colonel R Hariharan, a retired military intelligence
specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace
Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as head of intelligence.
He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China
Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group.