It started with a bang and has ended with a whimper. Reflecting on the Anna Hazare movement, I am reminded of a story I read in the childhood. There was this little boy who yelled ‘Wolf, Wolf’. All the villagers came running. But there was no wolf and they went back disappointed. Once again after some days, he yelled ‘Wolf, Wolf’. Again everyone came running. Once again no wolf and they went back even more disappointed. Then one day, the wolf really came. But when the boy yelled ‘Wolf, Wolf’, no one came. Can’t say if the wolf is at our door yet at this point of time or not. But when Anna Hazare called out this time, not many came. And the government looks to be at the verge of passing something called a LokPal bill, blaming opposition for not giving it a constitutional status.
Let us go back in time – 8 months back. The whole country was raging from the recent revelations related to the 2G and CWG scams and looking for an outlet for their feelings. In comes a knight in shining armor – our Anna Hazare, promising a Lok Pal bill that is going to be panacea for all evil. We are all excited and charged up. Thousands flock to the ground to support him. The entire media lionizes Anna. The government bows to civil society. Victory is proclaimed and people are cheering.
8 months have passed and what is it that we have got now? CBI will continue to be under government control. Lok Pal will not have its own investigating agency. The government will have the major say in choosing the Lok Pal members. So the government can keep the institution under leash the way the Chief Election Officer and the country’s President are currently. The government got to play caste and community card as well by introducing reservation. As it is states that have implemented Lokayukta are not finding suitable people to fill the posts. Reservations are going to make it even tougher to find the right people. It would be a good excuse to keep the Lok Pal in suspended animation in case it gets too problematic. A government controlled Lok Pal would also serve as a good whip to bring in line senior bureaucrats like this Vinod Rai of CAG who try to act too smart. Possibly Lokayuktas controlled by the central government would give one more handle to the central government in addition to the governor to arm twist state governments of states ruled by opposition parties. No wonder opposition parties are up in arms. And finally, the small fry are kept out of the Lok Pal ambit. These are the ones that cause direct harassment to general public and are easiest to catch. But catching too many of these can be a trouble as they probably will be privy to information related to big ticket corruption and might spill some unwanted beans.
I don’t know if this is what the fight was for. And what did Team Anna get? All small issues like saving money by travelling on budget flights, celebrating birthdays and failure to pay money for breaking employment bonds were raked up. Mud was smeared on all of them. Possibly there were even people who believed these acts were as bad as the 3G and CWG scams. The credibility of the team has been systematically eroded and people have gone back to believing everyone is selfish and corrupt and nothing is going to change in this country. No wonder no one came out this time.
Though I was also all excited when the movement started, now in hindsight I can see it was doomed to fail right from the start. First of all, how can one even imagine any institution will seriously pass a law that will seriously hurt its own interests? Let me draw a comparison with the independence struggle. All that the British stood to lose was some income for Britain as a country. The individual officers did not stand to lose much. Many of them might have actually even been happier leaving hostile foreigners behind and going back to their homes. Compared to that, if a serious Lok Pal is passed, many bureaucrats and politicians stand to lose almost everything they have built all their life – their name, their fame, their wealth and even their freedom. What worse can Team Anna and co do? At best they can be a minor irritant.
Next let us think from the common man’s point of view. Independence was something tangible that everyone could understand and relate to. But is Lok Pal such a cause? It is not at all clear how exactly a Lok Pal bill will improve the life of the common man. Even educated people have doubts about its effectiveness. And there are people who question whether corruption is the biggest evil plaguing the nation. When public anger against corruption was at its peak, any movement related to corruption seemed like an ideal rallying point. Now with the passage of time and cooling of tempers, can it still be such a powerful rallying point? Can people feel passionately about Lok Pal the way they felt about independence?
Last and possibly least in terms of impact, the movement is not really a Gandhian one. People associate theory of relativity and Nobel Prize with Einstein. So they assume by default that Einstein got Nobel Prize for his theory of Relativity, which is not true. Same is the case with Mahatma Gandhi. People associate Sathyagraha and fasting with him. So people tend to assume fasting to get your way is Sathyagraha. Fasting is nothing but emotional blackmail. Something which people having been doing with their near and dear ones all the time! Of course Gandhiji used to indulge in that as well. But I would say that is the worst of Gandhiji and not his best. True Sathyagraha works more at a spiritual and moral plane.
As per my understanding Sathyagraha is a spiritual practice that may or may not lead to social results in the long run. The true benefit would be one’s own spiritual elevation. It is about standing up for what one believes is true in face of great challenges over an extended period of time. The story of Raja Harishchandra is a good example. By doing so one’s own moral fabric gets strengthened and one’s soul gets cleansed, enabling one to experience a greater peace of mind and harmony. Possibly other people will be attracted by your aura and may take up a similar practice. That way it can spread and it is possible the antagonist might also eventually come under the influence of this practice and might voluntarily choose to act in a righteous manner the way King Ashoka did. I don’t think the Anna movement ever attempted to proceed in such a direction. So it would be a misnomer to call it Gandhian in the true sense.
When the movement started I had hope against hope that the movement would succeed. In spite of all their faults, I personally feel Team Anna is sincere and have their hearts in the right place. So in my heart of hearts, I still hope they somehow miraculously succeed. But my head knows the truth. The writing on the wall is clear. ‘That’s all, folks. The show is over. It is time to pack up and head back home! Once again Sachin Tendulkar top scores in both innings but India loses yet another test match abroad. Once again democracy wins; the people lose. Life just goes on.”