The fact that Anna Hazare is no longer on the list of the most powerful shows that people are more sober today and sceptical of tall claims made by so-called crusaders
The weekly, India Today, has just published its annual compilation of the most powerful people in India. Such lists inevitably contain some degree of arbitrariness as well as an element of subjectivity. But in the capital city which gets its kicks on gossip and patronage, such listings are sacred rites of reaffirmation. These yearly snapshots give a reasonable idea of how power is deemed to be shared among the prominenti. What is most astonishing about this year’s Power List is that social activist Anna Hazare, judged the most powerful person in India in 2012, does not find a place at all. The man who a year ago was declared the mightiest public presence has been reduced to a big nothing. Even Arvind Kejriwal, that energetic major domo in the Anna clique, who figured prominently at no. 47 last year, does not make the cut this time.
The exclusion of Anna Hazare should be a fascinating phenomenon to every student of Indian political sociology. Was his canonisation last year totally misplaced or is his exclusion this year a reflection of a distorted notion of “power” and “powerful”? After all, only 12 months ago, the man was serenaded as our saviour for his anti-corruption campaign — a man who inspired millions of fellow Indians to raise their voice against a flawed system. It cannot be anybody’s case that India has become significantly free of “corruption” within a space of 12 months, or at least has become so much better that we no longer need the Anna Hazare ministrations. Or, have those who responded to Anna Hazare’s call to come out to the streets seen through the game, have become wiser, even a bit cynical?
Or, have those who promoted him in the first place and crafted a halo around him, given up on him, having achieved whatever elbow room they were looking for themselves? Has the “political” class beaten back an honest crusader or has the democratic legitimacy of the political system finally prevailed? What has changed in India that the man who was hailed as leading us to our “second war of Independence” is almost forgotten as a fallen hero?
All these are troubling questions and there are no easy answers. And the absence of easy answers points, once again, to the complicatedness of our collective woes, as also to the inescapable unpleasantness inherent in maintaining and sustaining a state order, in this exacting age of borderless capital and borderless terror.
Admittedly, the story is yet to be told of who decided that Anna Hazare be pitch-forked on to the national stage. All these years, the Gandhian activist was content to play the role of a minor nuisance to Maharashtra’s highly contaminated politicians and bureaucracy, that too with only patchy results. He never did set Mumbai on fire, yet he was now pencilled in for the role of a prime time insurgent. The powerful people with motives and resources who bankrolled the “movement” too were cognisant of his limited mind space. His only asset was that he was perhaps the only one around who still donned a Gandhi cap.
Moment of frustration
But for a while the Anna show was a great hit because the moment was ripe. It would be totally unimaginative to negate the national mood that provided the backdrop to the Anna Hazare movement. It was a moment of national frustration. A strange sense of helplessness and paralysis was visible to the vocal middle classes, who needed to have someone to blame for their globally induced economic miseries. So much so that a leading intellectual even allowed himself to suggest that Anna Hazare’s rambling speech at Ram Lila Maidan was more inspiring than Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Tryst with Destiny” oration. Such was the middle classes’ desperation and disenchantment with the A K. Antony rate of decision-making in UPA-II. As far as the middle classes were concerned a “Jan Lok Pal” was the abracadabra to make all the corruption go away and with it their miseries.
Not a ‘movement’
The Anna campaign was never a “movement” and it petered out because the very process that made it a “movement” lacked the integrity and moral stamina for a long-distance journey. To begin with, the TRP-jihadists saw a potential in Anna Hazare and adopted him as a long lost cousin. As it were, a number of media personalities came to invest heavily in the Hazare phenomenon. Some of them wrote fawning books, some cheerfully strategised with the India against Corruption crowd. They joyfully crossed the thin line between journalism and political partisanship.
For a while, corporate advertising support was available for this jugal bandi. The same telecom giants who figured dishonourably in the “2G” scam were in the forefront of providing the requisite advertising help to this “revolt of the masses.”
But then all good things do come to an end. And the media barons are not without greed. The eager-beavers who were leading the anti-corruption crusade were themselves caught on camera cutting deals with the “corrupt” corporate personalities. The spell was broken. A year later, the citizen is today much more sceptical of tall claims made by crusading matadors on the nightly shows.
Quest for good governance is a noble aspiration among citizens, not just in India but all over the democratic world. In response to this aspiration, the Manmohan Singh government has taken a few baby-steps towards instituting a new accountability structure. The Prime Minister had the wisdom and the humility to acknowledge and salute Anna Hazare, only to be greeted with arrogance and hubris of petty politicians. But thinking citizens do understand the soundness of the constitutional scheme of things. The Anna Hazare-backed solutions were located outside this constitutional arrangement. And if he is a forgotten man it is because the great institutional equilibrium is in the process of recovering its centeredness. It was only in the fitness of things that the judiciary as an institution should have become alarmed at the excessive extra-judicial vigilantism among its ranks. And, when the government gathered the courage to seek a Presidential Reference in the 2G matter, the judiciary grabbed the opportunity to undertake a course correction. An errant Comptroller and Auditor-General, who whetted our appetite for conspiracies and corruption, lost his bite as he increasingly painted himself in a partisan corner. No institutional functionary can be effective if he chooses to give an impression that he believes that all the bad men and all the badness are located on one side of the political divide. Partisanship begets partisanship, and the institution loses its respect and prestige.
The energy and anger that sustained Anna Hazare have not dissipated. But the Indian citizen is much more sober today than he was a year ago. Indeed, the Hazare sales-pitch was predicated on our weakness for the myth of a single man as a solution to all our collective ills.
This is essentially a Bollywood-isation of national imagination. Too often a determined clique is able to manufacture a halo around a man, promising to set things right, and then all the self-styled defenders of democratic values and democratic space effortlessly rush in to enlist in manufacturing a personality cult. At the height of the India Against Corruption crescendo, Kiran Bedi used to argue, as if in a trance, that “Anna has never failed.” The same infallibility and inevitability is now being chanted about another entrant to the Power List, a certain Chief Minister from Gujarat. The same players and strategy that were in play during the Anna “movement” are furiously at work again. But India is wiser today and has moved beyond the Anna Hazare temptation precisely because it can see through false prophets, and the sales-pitch made by them and on their behalf.
(Harish Khare is a veteran commentator and political analyst, and former media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh)