Dialogue October-December, 2011, Volume 13 No. 2


The Meaning of Anna’s Movement

Ram Bahadur Rai*



In all current developments the past and future are implicit. This is the inescapable lesson of Anna’s movement. History plays the role of reference point for the future. The present becomes a link in the continuity between the past and, the future. In order to genuinely assess the popular upsurge unleashed by Anna, it is important to understand that what happened between August 16 and 28, 2011 in all parts of the country, does not belong to the present alone. Inherent in these developments is as much the recent past as half realised dreams of the Independence movement. And if we hark back a little more in the past one can assert that it also reflects the pain of the unrealized dreams of the Independence movement which has found expression in the new generation. It is also true that events took an unexpected and unprecedented turn.                                           

     People are forgetting the sacrifices of the martyrs. Promises made during the Independence movement were being ignored. Gandhiji has been converted into a decoration piece. This movement has revived the spirit of the Independence movement. When a TV Anchor commented that he discerned the spirit and celebration of August 15 in this, the lyricist Punya Prasoon Vajpayee, added that breaking of the fast of Anna Hazare symbolised the conjunction of August 15 and January 26. He meant that independence and democracy have taken a rebirth. Diwali like celebrations ensued in the country following Anna’s announcement of breaking the fast; though he underlined that it was only a half-victory. People were evidently proud of this victory which was achieved by their hard work and sacrifices.                                                                                     
        A movement whether major or minor one, can be best understood only in the context of people and their participation or support. It cannot be seen in isolation, and its unity and entity is defined by the element of cause and effect. In the absence of live support no movement can become forceful and successful. People crave a stable social order which is hallmark of a healthy society. When social order comes under strain it promotes sentiments either of despondency or revolt. It is the sentiment of revolt which leads to movements. Anna's movement can be seen in this background also. The sudden emergence of the movement and its various dimensions have surprised the intellectuals and thinkers. One reason was its uniqueness.                                             
        Those who are searching for possibilities in this movement discern something which can provide decisive turn to country’s fate with Anna Hazare as its axis. However, even such optimists are confronted by a number of doubts and questions. One concerns as to what inspires the participatory youth? It becomes a pertinent question in the visible absence or involvement of a large organisation and its cadres in the movement. This is why it cannot be compared with J.P. Movement. However, there is a similarity. As those who had called for a march to the Bihar Assembly on March 18, 1974 did not know the extent of response and support they would get. Similarly Anna team was also in dark about the quantum of response. That is why Anna was put up in non-descript. Mayur Vihar. This decision formed part of the strategy of the movement.

    It is by and large accepted that Anna’s agenda highlighted the foremost concern of the people. Jan Lokpal Bill only symbolized what was in the hearts and minds of the people. People were fed up on issues of corruption, black money and maladministration and that’s why embraced the agenda of Jan Lokpal Bill. Anna Hazare filled the leadership vacuum by staking his life in announcing an indefinite fast. When there is an agenda and a transparent moral leadership, the third required element in any such movement is a widespread organisation which is committed and capable of sustaining a long-drawn struggle. Therefore, what surprised many observers was that the youth who joined the movement excelled even a committed organisation. Large congregations abided by leadership’s call for a peaceful and non-violent conduct beyond expectations. It is partly explained by the fact that wide spread media coverage, obviated to an extent, the need for an extensive organisational support. Media only highlighted what was actually happening and it proved adequate.                                                                      
    This movement demolished many widely accepted shibboleths, connected with movements or with prevalent political system. It made visible impact on various connected aspects. The Lokpal agenda untangled a number of our political concerns and highlighted inadequacies of the political culture to meet people’s aspirations. Will it be correct to assume that these 12 days of Anna’s fast only brought forth people’s anger against the system? Such an assumption would be negative and only underline the dangers of such a movement and not its real potential. Yet another viewpoint is that the movement is bereft of any ideology or input. Such a thinking will perhaps enable the govt. to save its existence. Those who believe in this formulation evaluate the movement in the backdrops of earlier movements. They fail to appreciate the novelty and uniqueness of this movement.                                
        Many intellectuals experienced in earlier movements are engaged in understanding the riddle of the current movement. For them Anna’s movement is a story of multiple layers. When they solve one layer, are confronted by another layer. Their first riddle is where does Anna fit into the Civil Society? He can be considered a pioneer in the field of social reform. His struggle against corruption can also be considered a part of the social reform agenda. But the Civil Society does not figure anywhere in this. Then how did this congruence of dissimilars ensued? Although Civil Rights movement is concerned with society, but the Civil Society never had the desired kind of enduring and live connection with the society at large. Then how did this movement acquire powerful support of the people? Does India have a Civil Society tradition? If not then were from has this emerged?                                                                             
    This newly emerged Civil Society is challenging the Constitutionally mandated supreme authorities, which include, the Prime Minister, Parliament, Judiciary and others. In this connection another riddle which is confronting the intellectuals is as to why the government have surrendered to such a Civil Society? Who are they to have acquired parity with the government? What bewilders them is that the functionaries of this Civil Society consider themselves outside the political system. They claim to be watchdog of political system lest it becomes corrupt. It would be perhaps prudent to solve these riddles in the context of obtaining realities and accept the outcome of such an exercise to understand and debate the movement.                                              
        What is patently visible is that the UPA govt. has been hit by one big scam after another and even acknowledged integrity of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is proving inadequate. He is also being accused that many scams have taken place within his knowledge. At international level, efforts of the US govt. to unearth the black money in Swiss Banks, which it suspects of being accessed by terrorists, has succeeded, and the banks have been compelled to disclose names of account holders. It also transpired that many Indians also have accounts in Swiss Banks running into huge sums. Swami Ramdev conducted a country-wide campaign over the issue. Anna Hazare fasted in April to highlight the need for a Jan Lokpal. In June Swami Ramdev also sat on a fast at Ramlila Maidan, Delhi, demanding action against corruption and black money. Sensing danger the govt. adopted the traditional method of dealing with them. The Anna Hazare team was inveigled into negotiations and Ramdev was dealt with police action.       

     These developments caused countrywide distress and pain. When Anna Hazare realised that the govt. was going to scuttle the Joint Drafting Committee and was merely buying time, he decided to go ahead with his declared fast unto death over the issue of corruption. His resolve received considerable support. This is the reality which needs to be understood. The attitude of other political parties towards this movement was not much different. They also perceived the movement against their interests. They continued to ignore the real message of the movement that the political parties no longer had the monopoly of the Parliamentary dispensation. This movement proved that the political parties will have to shed their vanity.                                                                     
        The ego of power does not yield easily. It is the heat generated by the movement which melted it. If the Manmohan Singh government had made sincere efforts, Anna Hazare would not have had to fast for twelve days. It is just a coincidence that his body could withstand it even in old age. It the govt. had recalled the episode of Mahatma Gandhi’s fast unto death in Yerwada jail in 1932, they would have exhibited the same zeal as the then leaders of the society to save the life of Mahatma Gandhi. The British government wished to divide the Hindu society permanently and in pursuance of this the British PM Ramsay McDonald had announced the scheme of Communal Award in the House of Commons. Mahatma Gandhi understood the British design and pledged to prevent it even if he had to sacrifice his life. The negative response of the govt. led to his fast from September 20, 1932 in jail. When his condition started deteriorating, at the initiative of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Tej Bahadur Sapru, C. Rajagopalachari, and Rajendra Prasad, a dialogue was initiated with M.C. Raja and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. With the cooperation of Dalit leaders a formula known as Poona Pact was evolved which was also accepted by the British govt. Mahatma Gandhi broke his fast on September 26. Why did Manmohan Singh govt. not exhibit the same urgency and earnestness?                                                

      The reality is that a camp in the govt. and the Congress had adopted a persistent obstructionist posture. It was the decision of the opposition party and statement of Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition, to fully support the three demands of Anna Hazare that left the government with no option. Even the initiative of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and his assurance in Parliament was sought to be undermined by the speech of Rahul Gandhi in Parliament. His statement was untimely and smacked of conspiracy. There was an uneasiness and apprehension in the country over the danger to the life of Anna Hazare. All these factors led to the resolution in the Parliament on August 27, bringing to an end that phase of the movement.      

     It is essential to assess the possibilities and consequences of the popular upsurge witnessed during the movement. Those who were pointing out that there is no presence of dalits and minorities in the movement were only exhibiting their mindset nurtured in colonialism. Only those raised these questions who felt isolated from the popular mood. The movement has raised a new fundamental question – will it give birth to healthy politics? Then the question arises what defines a healthy or transparent politics? It is obvious that it can only be a politics which is not solely driven by lust for power and respects people’s participation. It is significant because Anna’s movement is in the hands of an apolitical group. It is a serious movement with wide public support. Hence it can lead to healthy politics in case honest efforts are made.

      It leads us to the proposition as to what are the standard indicators of a healthy politics? This is a perennial question asked again and again. It was a subject of debate before independence and is even now. During the independence struggle the debate was driven by thought and ideals as the Congress then was inspired by idealism. Many concepts and options in pursuit of healthy politics were thrown up. However, when time came to implement them, the leadership of congress embraced the politics of power. It gave birth to a blind race for power. It is the ruling party which sets the rules for the political culture. Other parties only follow the culture and lose their originality and identity in such a blind pursuit. As a result now there is no fundamental difference among the various political parties except in degrees and name. In this political environment the movement of Anna Hazare is an assurance to rescue the society from the clutches of exploitation and corruption through Jan Lokpal Bill. This is the life force of the movement.                                                  
       The political power is rooted in exploitation. And exploitation is entwined with corruption. The proportion of service to people increases in the same ratio as corruption declines. The healthy politics will commence the moment politics transits from power to service mode. It will result in social fulfillment as people will not have to depend for everything on the government. Is it a possibility in the next phase of the movement? What defines those who participated in the movement and highlighted its non-violent nature is that in traditional sense they were non-political. This characterized the movement beyond the group, denominational and caste identities. Those who try to promote such differences are essentially non-democratic. Impact of this movement expands the horizons of Indian democracy. Democracy treats all its citizens equally and provides equal opportunities to all. In such a democratic dispensation rights and status do not emanate from family, parentage and wealth and nor does at determine who is master and who is subordinate. But our parliamentary democracy has unfortunately underscored the importance of family and wealth which has sullied its character. The foundations of this kind of parliamentary democracy are undemocratic and are underwritten by dictatorship of parties. The current movement, in fact, indirectly challenges this kind of system. But a question remains is merely challenging such dispensation sufficient?                                                                                                             
    However, this seemingly apolitical movement conceals the seeds of a deep political nature. It is necessary to understand and nurture it. A great responsibility devolves on Anna’s team to derive lessons from the failure of past movements and save the current one from sinking in the cesspool of Parliamentary politics. Anna Hazare himself may be cautions of this lurking threat but what his team will do only future developments can tell? If they fall prey to small political interests and gains then they will not be able to prevent the movement from falling victim to the party politics. If they are able too resist such temptations, then they can start from the stage where the J.P. movement lost its momentum. Such a movement will have the potential to change the course of politics in the country.

     This movement has started a political and cultural revolution. It has once again revived  nationalism and patriotism in public discourse. This impact would not have happened had they succeeded in reaching an agreement on Jan Lokpal without a movement. People at large have been significantly influenced by the popular upsurge and the consequent churning which compelled the govt. and the parliament to change its entrenched positions. It is essential to make the movement result oriented as it has aroused the faith and sentiments for a change. If this movement in its various phases can be sustained till it achieves its goals, then perhaps it can be the harbinger of a systemic change. At the moment nothing can be said with certainty. However, its quite possible that this movement may influence a large number of people to pledge by morality and thus control corruption. It can only be hoped that the new generation which has joined the movement will last its prolonged course.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     (Translator – J.N. Roy)  

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati