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Anna Hazare - a thunderstorm and a rainbow of hope
There are moments when a quiet listless landscape witnesses lightning and thunderstorm, stirring people out of their slumber and resignation. Anxiety soon gives way as a rainbow straddles the sky and hope melts away cynicism.
Something similar has recently happened in India with long-term consequences for India and maybe even the world. A phenomenon that some commentators have described as an “inflection point,” and “the second war of independence.”
Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare, better known as Anna Hazare, a 73 year-old former soldier turned social activist, went on a fast unto death, demanding that the Government take concrete steps to introduce effective laws “with teeth” to destroy the menace of corruption. The response was surreal. People in many cities across the length and breadth of the country joined to support in a big way. Some fasted, others thronged the venues with placards and candlelight marches, and millions tweeted away at a furious pace. They were from all strata and walks of life - students, software engineers, spiritual leaders, retired army and air force officers, housewives, school children, college students, street theatre groups, film actors, farmers, journalists, corporate honchos – you name it and they were there – to form a veritable slice of India. The best part was that the youth came out in a big way, destroying the commonly held notion that the youth of India were too self-centered and therefore uninvolved and disinterested in political and social issues. On the fifth day the government relented and issued a notification setting up a joint committee consisting of civil society representatives and government ministers to draft a new bill by 30th June 2011. Most Indian films have a happy ending; only, this was real life.
India celebrated the birth of hope, even if cynics carped that nothing much was achieved to warrant the exultation. Controversies are bound to be there when we take a position, but sometimes it is necessary to not get hooked and instead raise oneself above all the known positions so that events can be looked at dispassionately to figure out the long-term consequences. This seems to be one of those events.
Is this is a passing shower or an event with long-term consequences? Time alone will tell, unless one is endowed with some special talent for prescience. But as rational observers, there are pointers.
This was one of those very rare events when people got mobilised in strange ways, in a break from all established patterns. Anna Hazare has no formal education to speak of. He speaks in Hindi or his native Marathi and his attire is entirely Indian with no trace of western accoutrements. He is 73 years old. These are enough reasons for a person to be denied the across-the-board support that Anna Hazare received. Moreover, the single issue he raised was corruption. It was believed all the while that “corruption was an international phenomenon” and therefore not a serious issue for the masses who were supposed to be “more bothered about inflation and the trickle down effects of strong GDP growth”. In fact, politicians paid lip service to probity in public life and sat smug in the face of corruption allegations because “it wouldn’t matter at the polls.” Finally, the methods that Hazare used were “antediluvian” Gandhian methods of non-violence and fasting. He even visited Rajghat (cremation ground and memorial to Mahatma Gandhi) to pay his respects to Mahatma Gandhi before commencing his fast. Now, even if Mahatma Gandhi is ritualistically remembered and venerated as the Father of the Nation, his methods and teachings are largely forgotten and never practiced, and considered outdated for a modern India trying to find its place as a leading nation of the world.
Because of all these reasons, the spontaneous and exponentially growing support flies in the face of commonly held notions and therefore portends long-term consequences.
It is very early to visualize all the long-term effects, but some possible consequences are clear:
1. The manner in which the movement got public support and the way Government responded with a notification to set up a joint drafting committee would suggest that after forty two years, India would finally have a strong, effective anti-corruption bill. Assuming that it would get implemented with equal seriousness, the country could benefit by seeing drastic reduction in corruption and black money in the next five years. This would naturally make a huge difference.
2. The nation witnessed the power of a participatory democracy with active civil society involvement to address intractable problems that have defied solution. This may start a trend of other intractable problems being taken up and getting addressed similarly.
3. Most of the active participants in the movement spoke of their faith in democracy and a strong sense of national pride and belonging. This could get reinforced further in the coming months and years, and that would go to check fissiparous tendencies.
4. It seems corruption was perhaps never a non-issue. People endured and suffered it because of sheer helplessness and want of alternatives / remedial methods. The huge support goes to show that people were waiting for some serious and reliable leader to take the lead.
5. All the cleverness and guile that one can employ come to naught in the face of strong character. Here was a man who was bold enough to state that he never asked anything for himself all his life. The critics had their say but the public support was so overwhelming that his “unreasonable” demands had to be met.
6. Non-violence as a tool will never be outdated. An instrument fashioned by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa in the last century showed its effectiveness in the hands of a genuine practitioner.
7. Simplicity and a missionary zeal to serve others will have a universal appeal.