Politics and The Great Indian Rebel: Of the Many “Anna Hazare”s

Posted on February 28, 2012 in Society

By Saikat Bose:

I have often wondered why the “angry young man” of Popular Indian cinema has been a formula that has never failed to attract the masses. While art films, rom-coms and parallel cinema have found acceptance among the urban audience, the concept of the socially marginalised hero raging a war against the Establishment to either marry a princess or avenge a death of another marginalised figure has never really gone out of fashion. We Indians have revelled in the defeat of establishment, the destruction of a power structure and the triumph of the Rebel figure.

Cinema depicts society and a society is shaped by its history. Our history of a prolonged freedom struggle culminating in a glorious overthrow of the colonial power has conditioned us in manner that the Man on the street has always attracted our sympathies and more often than not, our support. We have cheered for him, assembled behind him and voiced his slogans. Tim Robbins says in The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing”. Every movement, every protest, every revolution has given us the hope of a better future.

It must be pointed out, in this context, that public mandate in our country has been largely motivated by the influence of individual personalities than by ideological positions of their parties. We have worshipped our leaders, risked stampedes to shake hands with them and mourned their deaths. The repeated murder of the Constitution and the twisting of ideologies have never attracted our attention, leave aside the tears. The creation of an individual Mahatma has further served a camouflage to our collective cowardice. In making a God out of a leader, we acknowledge our mediocrity and occupy the paradoxical position of a ‘supporter’.

It is the triumph of the person over ideologies, that seals the fate of Indian democracy. When the politics of a State is based on face value, election is reduced to nothing more than a trial-and-error method to hit on the perfect government. We clamour for change and not for reformation. Consequentially, the decadence of the political structure is neither detected nor mended. Rather, it lies concealed under the game of shifting allegiances from one Messiah to the other.
It is this politics of ‘change’ that makes the Man on the street assume the legendary stature in public perception. His presence assures us of an alternative, a reaction to the Establishment.

A few instances from post-independence India would be handy to substantiate my argument. Consider the example of revolutionary CPI(M) leader Charu Mazumdar, the mastermind behind the Naxalbari uprising of 1967. It is the brutal suppression of the uprising by the CPI(M)-supported United Front Government that contributed to the “spurned comrade” image of Mazumdar, something that converted him to a larger-than-life figure. It was his courage to defy his own party to fight for marginalised peasants that made a legend out of him. Charu Mazumdar became an impulse that ran through the nerves of the educated urban youth of Calcutta in 1970, because he was a  non-conformist martyr, a figure deserted by the Establishment.

Another celebrated figure in post-independence revolutions was Jayaprakash Narayan, who was named Loknayak: The People’s Hero. JP’s act of evocatively reciting lines from Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s poem to a crowd of 100,000 in Ramlila Maidan — “Singhasan choro ke Janta aati hai” — sent a symbolic message to the masses who refused to see him as just another leader opposing the Emergency. For them, it was the voice of a “Gandhian Socialist” who had left party politics to join the Bhoodan movement of Vinoba Bhave, an advocate of “saintly politics”, who, in spite of being an outsider to popular politics, dared to challenge the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and attack her on the violation of human rights during Emergency. In doing so, he was elevated in public perception to the Rebel figure who dared to challenge the Establishment of Congress Dynastic politics. The result: Janata Dal, under his leadership became the first non-Congress party to come to power.
Both Mazumdar and Narayan lived in an age where there weren’t 500 news channels with thousands of journalists scampering with their cameras to squeeze out the most trivial of news from our daily lives. Those were days when Leaders Rose and Revolutions took place.

Then came the electronic media, and leaders were created and revolutions were manufactured. It’s the age of consumerist market policies, of brand marketing and advertising fundas. A mass revolution sells newspapers, raises TRP and engages the audience who suddenly feel this is their moment to awaken the spirit of duty within them. They ‘have to’ support this.

Year 2011: The congress government is on a sticky wicket following the exposure of numerous government scams. The chief opposition BJP is still struggling to maintain harmony among its top ranks and conceal its “hindutva” image in this land of apparent secularism. Enter Anna Hazare, with the demand of a strong anti-corruption Lokpal Bill. The cameras start rolling and celebrities start paying him visits to express solidarity. Within days, Anna is Mahatma. Google Instant dethrones Anna Kournikova to make way for Anna Hazare, and every corrupt man feels that wearing an Anna cap makes him a freedom fighter, something more ludicrous than washing one’s sins in the Ganges. What is forgotten in the midst is that Corruption is not an institutionalized evil that is restricted to the politician. Rather, it is essentially a result of individual human greed. A Lokpal is another law, something that we have in abundance. It can make us gloat in a sense of false power. What it cannot do is implement laws in a country where brothers kill each other for property. These questions were not asked because for the revolution to be complete, a common enemy was needed. Who else, but the government? All ‘sensible’ Indians who watch 24×7 news channels instantly identify with Anna and what started out as a collective movement got converted into a Rebel figure’s struggle against the crimes of the state, a messiah suffering for the masses. Even the septuagenarian social activist succumbed to the charm of being a Mahatma, and his asanas became his weapon to attack a government baffled by this sudden rebellion. What was interesting was that neither Anna nor the ones wearing his caps had any clue of what was happening. The ones who did; knew how to manufacture a revolution, when to replace Bharat Mata’s picture by Gandhi’s on Anna’s stage and when to distance Anna from the RSS. But, for the people, Anna was the Messiah, one who would redeem them. But then the Rebel became a petitioner. Rebels in India are celebrated only when they are martyrs. Anna survived and people got bored. Newspapers forgot him, cameras ignored him and people got back to their lives. The Rebel had neither died nor pulled down the State. Thus, his magic had waned away.

Someone has rightly said, “India loves Bollywood and Cricket”. In an age when cricket is played throughout the year in different formats, it is difficult to predict the future of its madness among people. But, what is certain is that Bollywood has taught us something, “Anth mein jeet hamesha satya ki hoti hai”. We love revolutions. Individual heroism lets us conceal our collective cowardice. The power of Satya for us is one we can identify with, one who fights alone and is doomed to defeat even in the long run. Even in his victory, the rebellion dies a natural death. Unlike our colonisers who have still not been able to do away with the Queen, we do like changes. If revolutions are coming, we are ready to embrace it…. with open hands.

Do you think the author of the above article is right to say that Protests and revolutions in India are short-lived? Are We, as people, only enamoured with the idea of The Great Indian Rebel? What, according to you, do political and ideological leaders in the country have to learn from this? Write in to [email protected] with your views on the same.

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