Monday, August 22, 2011

Uniqueness of Anna Hazare Movement

On Friday, a friend of mine called me for general chit-chat and asked about my views on the Anna Hazare movement. In last two or three months, I, like many of you, have read so many streams of views on it that I found myself in a bind to consolidate my own. Later I decided to step out of the present bubble, to insulate myself from the high decibel the movement has acquired, and think how some years from now I would remember the movement. I would remember the A movement for the very reason that I would remember the year 2011. (Now that we have lived through the larger part of the year, it’s not premature to take a panoramic view of it.)

Let alone a year or two back, even a month or two before the onset of this year, many of us would not have thought that 2011 would bring a chain of popular revolutions (or proletariat uprising as some left-minded chaps would like to say) reestablishing our faith in people power.

First, the streets of the Arab world erupted in protest, and then we heard China putting down sporadic popular uprisings in the country. Meanwhile, various countries in Europe saw people hitting the streets questioning government policies. And finally, England, a part of the continent that’s supposedly home to most discipline-loving people (no pun intended), caught cold with London going up in flames.

Though the reasons that triggered these protests were as diversified as their geographies – in Arab and China political and civil rights and in Europe economy (and as for London, some would say plain looting) – a common thread ran through them: Outpouring of popular anger expressed not through any regulated outlet – like conventional media – but by people themselves taking to the streets. The Anna Hazare movement shares this commonality.

However, there is a significant difference between Anna’s movement and the other ones. The difference is while the other movements are more of leaderless-faceless-sporadic- spontaneous uprisings, the Anna movement has always had a particular man at its centre – Anna - around whom the movement started and then slowly built up. (Some political observers have likened it to the JP and Mandal movements of the past, but even there Anna’s movement is different as it’s allegedly apolitical and, being so, it has been able to attract support from all sections of society.)

The A movement has another vital difference. Unlike its foreign counterparts, this movement is (and always has been) around a single cause: corruption. And I think this singularity and universality of the cause (corruption being a problem that touches everyone’s life, rich and poor) is behind its success.

But I also believe its cause- corruption - is its biggest undoing. I don’t have enough familiarity with the bill proposed by the Anna Team to understand whether it would be effective in eradicating corruption or not, nor am I qualified to do so. But I think having a society completely free of corruption is a utopian idea - simply because corruption doesn’t just reside in any one layer of the system, but it’s available everywhere. How much will you stem, how far will you go?

But that’s no excuse to not try to cleanse the system. Every society is corrupt, but some are more corrupt than others. We may or mayn’t become a fully corruption-free country, but we can certainly avoid topping international charts on corruption.

The A movement has scored several successes so far: It has developed a pan-India appeal, it has forced a reluctant government (!) into acting on corruption, it has assured us that the Indian middle class, for all its indifference, can rally around a public cause etc. But the biggest achievement is it has brought corruption at the centre stage - which will occupy the place of prominence on political manifestos for sometime to come.

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