This appeared in the Asian Age on Saturday...
Anna : From King Kong to Mickey Mouse.
One thing was proved in 2011 : India needs better laundries. And dhobis. All our dirty linen was right there for the world to see. And no amount of Robin Blue could white- wash our soiled international reputation as one scam after another hit the headlines. The stains were of the permanent kind, unfortunately. Like leaked ink on pristine white school uniforms. Obstinate and indelible. Despite this far- from- pretty picture, there was a silver lining, too. As citizens reeled from one scandal after another, there was also a sense of something major, something positive, taking place under the grimy exterior. Finally, the C-word was out in the public domain. Corruption not just defined the dirty doings on parade in 2011, but it also became the centerpiece of an overdue national awakening. India desperately needed a symbol, a catalyst, a change agent. And that responsibility fell squarely on the frail shoulders of just one person – a 74- year- old man called Anna Hazare. Anna came out of virtually nowhere, and became an unlikely, overnight folk hero, capable of generating mass hysteria. Everybody suddenly wanted to ‘be Anna’ not just support him. Anna appropriated this monumental, moral responsibility (I would like to believe it was by design and not through default), and kick- started an aggressive anti-corruption campaign on a brilliant note. What happened subsequently, will need years of decoding by historians. But what cannot be denied is that a man, who started off as King Kong, ended the year as Mickey Mouse.
Where did India’s Saviour go wrong? Oh… there will be books devoted to that in the future, I’m sure. But I’d say, Anna slipped up when he stepped off the dusty highway of social activism, and stepped on to a lofty pedestal. Anna failed the day he started to play Gandhi-2. The 21st century Mahatma. There are no second acts in history. There are only pretenders and wannabes. Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle took 30 long years before it succeeded. It was a strategic battle fought against foreign rulers. Anna and his misguided team treated their agitation like a cup of instant coffee. Get the mix and temperature right, whip up some foam. Voila! It’s done. Perhaps, carried away by the first wave of spontaneous euphoria, Team Anna sensed victory in the offing. The ‘brains’ decided to scale up the protests. In the bargain, the tone got shriller and shriller. And minor characters began to overshadow the star – Anna. References to the ‘Second Freedom Struggle’, did nothing to tone down the tenor of the andolan. Prompting critics to snigger, “What’s needed is a third Freedom Struggle - to free poor Anna from the clutches of the coterie.” With Anna more or less marginalized and the coterie hogging centre stage, it was already a doomed strategy that would eventually derail the agitation. The worst fallout of the Flop Show was the sense of disillusionment it generated in the hearts and minds of young Indians, whose hopes were pinned exclusively on Anna. When their Messiah faltered and failed, they turned away feeling cheated and let down. I’d say, the ‘dirtiest’ picture of 2011, was that of the half-empty MMRDA grounds in Mumbai. That single image signified the anti-climactic end to what could have been a passionate, inclusive movement which could have transformed India – not overnight. But over time.
We lost an invaluable advantage. We lost the momentum. We also lost the plot! Chances are , India may have to wait for another decade or more for the next Anna Hazare. Whoever that person turns to be, let’s hope it’s a better team he or she picks. Though we aren’t back to square one yet, the scenario is looking pretty grim. Politicians have won a key round by stone walling the Bill yet again. And cynicism has replaced idealism. Questions and debates revolving around a ‘stronger’ Lokpal Bill are likely to remain unresolved, unanswered. For the rather obvious truth is that nobody wants it! Least of all the political class. Forget Anna’s version of the Jan Lokpal Bill (uncompromising and unrealistic), but even a Lokpal Bill with more teeth than the one under scrutiny, will be played like a ping- pong ball in the days ahead. Technicalities and alibis will be trotted out to ensure there is a stalemate. Citizens will be palmed off with the standard excuse: ‘This is how things work in a democracy. The parliament is supreme’. More dirty pictures of rowdy parliamentarians will hog prime time on television, as hyper-ventilating anchors ‘demand answers” (but from whom, beta?). In all the ensuing confusion, the aam aadmi will meekly go back to doing what he does best – minding his own business and getting on with life. This is the exact and shrewd calculation our netas are banking on – wear down the believers. Distract them. Confuse citizens. Soon, they’ll tire, and forget there was someone called Anna Hazare.
Poor Anna. For all his flawed vision and obduracy, he meant well. He fasted. He suffered. There was nothing fake about any of that.Which is precisely why he touched so many hearts. Those same hearts are broken today. Does Anna have the will or even the desire to reconnect with his original , impassioned war against rampant corruption? Or has he switched sides and become a politician himself? Instead of campaigning against a political party and thereby denigrating himself, Anna should consider withdrawing from his spot under the bright glare of lights, and introspecting. Away from his minders. Away from the media. Away from sycophants. Perhaps he’ll get an answer to what he and his countrymen are looking for – how to effectively tackle the monster called ‘Corruption’. And when lightning does strike, I’m confident Anna will be good enough to share his homegrown wisdom with the waiting world. The unprecedented success of a movie called ‘The Dirty Picture’ proved one thing : Indians have come of age and can handle, ummm… dirt. In all its forms. Let’s hope 2012 will be India’s ‘Ooh La La’ moment. It’s time for the world’s hottest item girl to graduate and become a full fledged heroine.
Happy New Year, readers!