The Importance of Being Anna

Watching Anna’s agitation from the comfort of my living room I got the impression that it was a damp squib this time around. As per the news, the crowd was extremely thin, and the zing was missing. Breathless anchors on channel after channel prophesied the lingering death of the Jan Lokpal movement. Various reasons were ascribed to this, from people being disillusioned with team Anna not being above board themselves, to ‘agitational fatigue’. Print media was also quick to dismiss the latest episode of the agitation. As per one columnist, Team Anna has been ‘knocked off the pedestal’ that people had put them on.

But then I went over to Jantar Mantar to take a look for myself. I found the story completely different. The crowds are very much there. Ordinary people of all ages and from all walks of life. People who have come of their own accord, taking precious time out from the tyranny of earning a living. There is singing, dancing and slogan shouting. One little boy comes up to the stage – he wants to sing a song. “Nannha Munna rahi hoon, desh ka sipahi hoon”- with a slight twist. “Bade hokar main bhi Anna banooga” he improvises to thunderous applause. The sentiment of the people gathered there is very clear. They have had enough of corruption. Of headlines announcing scams of grotesquely ugly proportions every day on one hand, and the choking grip of rising prices on the other. They are not concerned with the semantics – is the Jan Lokpal bill the best solution? As long as they are getting an opportunity to do something more than bemoaning the state of affairs in their drawing rooms and neighbourhood gatherings. Everyone wants to do SOMETHING to change the status quo.

Having been there the last time around too, I find that the spirit and enthusiasm of the crowds in no less than last year. If anything, it’s more. The news reports are deliberately giving a different spin, probably out of ulterior motives. It is quite possible that the government, with all the means at its disposal, succeeds in outwitting the poor octogenarian yet again – whether by false promises, prosecution or use of force, or other dirty tricks up their sleeves. For example ‘Anna’s Rasoi’, the free kitchen set up by volunteers to feed the crowd last year, is not being allowed to function on some pretext or the other this time. But irrespective of the immediate outcome, the movement has made a definitive change in the way the common man views his own helplessness against the travesty of democracy by his elected representatives.

This movement has attracted people like me, not because I feel that the Jan Lokpal Bill would be the answer to all our woes. Nor am I unduly perturbed if members of Team Anna are not as squeaky clean as they ought to be. It’s just that we have had enough of the anarchy in the name of governance. The leaders who claim to represent us people are smug in the belief that they have hacked the system. There is a convenient covenant amongst political parties on all sides of the political spectrum. The modus operandi is loot when you are in power and shout when in opposition. And vice versa. Secure in the knowledge that the cases will drag in court, and they will never really be called to pay for their sins.

When we go to vote in an election we find that the choice is between a thief and a dacoit. Since change seems hopeless through the electoral process, what other options does the common man have? Does he take to the gun, as the naxals have? That is obvious not viable nor desirable.

The agitation route is the most attractive outlet that the common man therefore has. The political class is understandably flustered by the sudden availability of this option. No wonder the constant refrain about this movement (or Baba Ramdev’s parallel agitation) being undemocratic. “If you want to speak for the people, come out and fight elections”, they say, knowing very well that it is almost impossible to match their money and muscle power when it comes to fighting elections. But, whether they admit it or not, these popular movements, and the spontaneous support for them, have badly unnerved the established political class. It has imposed caution on them, making them realize that they cannot go on with this brazen loot without people having any recourse. Irrespective of what is the outcome of this agitation, it has certainly brought about a positive change already. It has set the stage for many more Annas to emerge.