By Anjora Sarangi:
Anna Hazare, until lately a little known activist from Ralegaon Siddhi in Maharashtra has today become a sizable presence in the Indian scenario. With millions of people supporting his stand against corruption with headbands of ‘I am Anna’ choking the streets of Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Nagpur, and other cities, there are reports of similar spin-offs even abroad. Every day, there are protests, demonstrations, unrests, campaigns, and a revolution seems to be envisaged. People are calling it a ‘second freedom struggle’.
Anna’s proposal of combating corruption is expressed in the Jan Lokpal Bill which advocates an independent body to ensure speedy checks on corruption and the corrupt in public life. It would have power to initiate prosecution of any public authority found guilty and the PM as well as the higher judiciary would not be exempt. It would also have oversight of CBI and CVC and could impose a punishment from a minimum of 10 years to life imprisonment. The government’s version of the Lokpal bill is more moderate in its proposal and among other things does not include the PM in its purview. While the government’s Lokpal Bill will not achieve its desired purpose because of its lenient outlook, the Jan Lokpal is not a workable proposal as it is impractical to the extent of being draconian in some of the suggestions.
Having been termed a Gandhian by the newspapers, other stalwarts of the struggle and the general public, Anna Hazare is being venerated primarily because of certain apparent similarities with Mahatma Gandhi in the method of agitation, attire, belief in non-violence and the likes, however, such a label should not be taken at its face value and requires deeper analysis.
Anna Hazare, borrowing from Gandhi, has used the method of fast-unto-death to persuade the government to address his concern but the fundamental difference between the methods of the two is that Gandhi took to fasting to unite people against violence unlike Anna who is using it as a means to extract particular concessions from the government. Gandhi’s fast during 1932 was not one aimed against the British government but was to highlight the condition and oppression of the harijans and untouchables. His fasts were directed at the people and not against any institution. Anna has also advocated the Gandhian ‘Jail Bharo Aandolan’ and has of late also given a clarion call of ‘lao ya jao’ resembling the ‘Do or Die’ of the Gandhian times and the results of these methods are still awaited.
Far from being non-violent, Anna’s struggle is coercive in character carrying with it an implicit threat of violence if his demands are not met. This mode is not only anti Gandhian but also anti-democratic. While it is true that corruption is a vital malaise in our system and requires a strict check for smooth functioning, the established parliamentary procedure must be followed or else it will lead to the devaluation of the Parliament and the constitution and widespread chaos.
In the case of the national movement carried out by Gandhi, it was a method of last resort to free oneself from the yoke of an oppressive foreign rule which had no democratic pretentions whereas in the present day scenario, Anna is pitted against a democratically elected, fully legitimate government where options of constitutional remedies are embedded in the system which can be subverted only at the risk of complete mayhem.
Gandhi’s charismatic personality, oratory skills, simplicity, belief in right means for the right end, unprecedented methods took the country by storm and led to creation of a broad based movement. Coming from an aristocratic background, Gandhi was able to gain support even from the lowest rungs of the society whereas Anna’s appeal seems to be limited to the urban middle class. Anna Hazare today, seems to be a mere reflection of the past having cashed in on Gandhi’s image but not persona.
The movements led by Anna and Gandhi primarily differ in their scale, agenda, targets, social strata of followers, methodology, technology, times, space and personalities involved. Even though going by the images there appears to be on the surface, a few similarities between the Mahatma and Anna, what is missing are the ideas and the philosophy behind those images. Anna remains at best only a mask which resembles a Gandhian image behind which his forces are finding unity and voice.