Anna’s Blockbuster: Don or Munnabhai?

Why has Hazare asked Sonia Gandhi for a debate? Is it because his churlish demands can get some legitimacy when standing across from a supra power? But, when something is wrong in the government, it immediately goes back to the ‘high command’. What does Anna represent? Power without responsibility. 

We are supposed to applaud the fact that Anna Hazare’s team has not resorted to violent methods. The fact that this is emphasised reveals the potential the movement has to ignite just such violence. Besides, we cannot rule out the violence of intent. How did the latest box office showing manage to get people at the ticket counters? Through the internet and SMS. How does this ‘vote for your favourite reality show contestant’ sort of support qualify as a ‘people’s movement’? I know one is repeating many of these statements, but we are witnessing a strange situation where whipped up collective anger is passing off as idealism and resurgence.

1.4 lakh people have signed up for the Jail Bharo call. This is such a ridiculous strategy, to begin with. For, those who want to be participants in the Lokpal are behaving like opponents. To solve any major issue, such emotional tactics do not work. By courting arrest, you give more teeth to the System you wish to see tempered down. How many of the anti-corruption crowds are aware of what prison rules entail? Have they visited jails before, and sought to bring about change in the conditions in prisons, the abuse that takes place there, the wrongful arrest of several people for reasons ranging from petty robbery to terrorism? Do they know that people serve sentences for years only to be proved innocent later? Do they understand the seriousness of this issue, and it includes the flavour of the moment – corruption – which those imprisoned can ill-afford to indulge in?

Yes, there are ministers in jail; many of the elected MPs have charges of corruption against them, besides murder, possession of arms, involvement in scams. They are there long before Hazare got his Eureka moment. The Constitution was referred to to put them behind bars, the courts decided on it. There were industrialists and CEOs in there, too.

Does Team Anna have the courage to go and agitate before the houses of these corporate giants? Recent reports have stated that 100 prominent people from Mumbai have accounts in Swiss banks. No one puts legal money there; it is black money. Why is the anti-corruption brigade silent about it?

We are being fed the illusion that Team Anna is honest and upfront. Why is a businessman from Haryana sponsoring the food stall at the maidan? Why was it necessary to spend Rs. 8 lakh to hire the ground? Just take a look at the mind-boggling arrangement: a barricaded stage that has a room tucked with ensuite washroom for Mr. Hazare, 32 mobile toilets, ambulances, doctors on call, a fire tender, generators. There is also a separate VIP entrance close to the stage, so that those who matter do not have to pass through the ordinary people. Metal detectors, screening of vehicles, CCTV cameras and a police force of 3000 that includes 16 ACPs and 50 police inspectors will handle security. The people’s movement has also got well-wisher bouncers from a private agency.

While the Mumbai Police has ensured that it will put a plug on provocative speeches as it does for any public meetings, it has set up an Anti-Mischief Squad to protect Anna from any egg on the face, or rather shoe or slipper being hurled. Why? Because last month when someone slapped Sharad Pawar, the peaceful Gandhian had retorted with, "Sirf ek thappad? (Just one slap?)" Of course, he had immediately justified it as the anger of the public. Now, when a small group wearing black bands protests against him or if some parties suggest that he has links with the RSS, they get touchy about it and go into overdrive. Arvind Kejriwal even tries to meet Muslim groups, and yet these people object to quotas in the lokayukta. If you do not want reservations for certain sections, then do not try to woo them from the backdoor.

Kejriwal has taken on an offensive defence stance:

"The government is provoking us by saying Anna is an RSS agent. Congress government is targeting Anna by spreading such rumours. Even former president Abdul Kalam and Digvijay Singh have been photographed with (Nanaji) Deshmukh.” 

Such excessive reaction clearly denotes that they have something to hide and they agree that the RSS is not quite the desired company to keep. Or, like political parties, they too believe in vote banks.

Why has Hazare asked Sonia Gandhi for a debate and not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? Is it because he knows that his churlish demands can only get some degree of legitimacy when standing across from a supra power? In that case, he is not completely right. Ms. Gandhi is, for better or worse, the Congress Party president and the members as well as the allied parties in the coalition accept that. She represents the UPA. What does Anna represent? Power without responsibility. When something is wrong in the government, it immediately goes back to the ‘high command’ and that includes some decisions she might not be well-versed with. Like all political parties, there are sycophants who want to be more loyal than the queen. Their statements are hurled back at her. We have the choice to hold her responsible, and we have the choice to express our opinions about dynastic politics and also ensure that the party does not return to power whenever we have a better option.

Just as L.K.Advani held forth when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the PM, Sonia Gandhi can do so too. However, she is answerable to her party members, the coalition party leaders and the public when the time comes. Right now, we can only make the prime minister directly responsible. There is no question of a public debate between Ms. Gandhi and Anna Hazare.

His ideological terrorism is dangerous. His perspective is neatly divided into black and white: “Gore chale gaye, aur kale aa gaye (The Whites, British rulers, left us and the Blacks, obviously refers to Indians, replaced them). What difference did their departure make to your lives?" And this man wants you to fill up the prisons, when he has no sympathy for the many Indians who were thrown in jails for fighting for our freedom. Who did he expect would rule us? I understand his query is rhetorical, but the same Gandhi whose back he is riding on did think it made a difference, and the Mahatma was guest to an industrialist, who probably would have indulged in some form of corruption to be safe in British-ruled India, as did many princelings and rich saabs.

Anna’s satyagraha is not about the people, but the core group, which has had its share of infighting like any political squabble. It was shocking to read a report that stated:

“Anna Hazare aide Prashant Bhushan stepped up pressure on the government by declaring that any political party or individual not backing Team Anna’s four-point agenda for a strong Jan Lokpal Bill will be targeted in a campaign.” 

Bhushan was quoted as saying:

“The statements by Sonia Gandhi and the government show that power has gone to their head and they understand only one language –of votes – so we have asked the people of the five poll-bound states to not vote for those who oppose the Jan Lokpal Bill.”

This is pugnacity, and that is the reason Team Anna could not wait until Parliament made an announcement. It is also a smart tactic to take credit for performance when the Congress is anyway not likely to shake the citadels. However, for all the talk of speaking against the establishment, Team Anna wants to be considered king-makers. They forget that a Mayawati is not a greenhorn; she got elected with a huge margin. Team Anna had better understand that the anti-corruption group will have no influence on the results. What they want has nothing to do with constitutional validity, but a parallel government or a kangaroo court. We already have panchayats and we have certain Articles that are relevant to some states. This appears to be more like the durbars in the courts of kings or our latter-day parties that subsist on machismo. The Shiv Sena has used such aggressive tactics before, but it was at least obvious and did not seek subterfuge under the guise of ‘peace’. Pushing and jostling for space, and craning necks to appear before the cameras are all forms of aggression.

Had there been no media coverage, how many people would have expressed solidarity? The media backing is unfortunate, for the charge of paid news could well be leveled against it. There are probably no envelopes exchanged here, but there will be people in positions of power who have a stake in this movement. Flawed as the government is – and the buck always stops at the ruling party – its opponents are not pure as driven snow. We have seen industrial groups in different states given special privileges and they need to fight the Congress to retain hold of that acquired land, the proposed factories.

The arrogance of the movement is evident when Kejriwal says, “This fast is not a protest. This is more of an engagement with Parliament where discussions will be held. We hope the voice of the people will reach Parliament.”

Parliament is not on the grounds of MMRDA and not in Mumbai. If you wish to engage with Parliament, then you do not threaten to agitate outside the homes of political leaders. Moreover, let us make it clear to the members of this movement that they do not represent the people. What they want cannot be “non-negotiable” because they are unwilling to negotiate. Their form of dictatorship will suit ‘activists’ who have been created overnight. It includes film stars, businessmen, students from big universities, a sprinkling of godmen, a few political upstarts.

The Bandra Kurla Complex was the desired venue because it is the new trendy destination and houses some big companies, posh institutes, and the US embassy.

Three days of fasting, singing and dancing qualify as drama, not debate. It is a bit like pronouncing a film a hit based on an item song.

(c) Farzana Versey


  1. Well written :)

  2. "What they want has nothing to do with constitutional validity, but a parallel government or a kangaroo court."

    Who? the parliamentarians who first introduced the bill in 1969?

    As long as a group of political parties were trying to get this bill passed for last four decades, nobody suspected that it was an attempt to set up a parallel govt or a kangaroo court but now when millions of Indians are agitating for the bill, we are being fed stories of how a bunch of unaccountable dictators want to usurp our constitutional democracy by setting up a parallel govt.

    Anyway, the bill has been passed by Lok Sabha. So the final responsibility for legitimizing this 'Kangaroo Court' lies with parliament itself, not with team anna..lol

  3. Eklavya:

    Hold your horses, or your 'lol' just yet. See new post, if you wish.

    The kangaroo court was what was extra-constitutionally demanded in the streets. We are aware that a Lokpal Bill existed within the provisions of the Constitution. Big difference.

    If you have read anything I have had to say about the Congress, the PM, Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, and the rest before - labels are there - you will understand that I do not have separate standards for dictators, but there are certain aspects where I do not believe that 'freedom' must go haywire.

    I am afraid I do not agree with you about the millions supporting the movement. Who are they? Why are they forcing people?


    Thank you....for the smiles.


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