Repeat of a JP-like movement: What's holding Anna back?

Unlike JP whose grounding in socialism and training under Gandhi enabled him to grasp impulses of Indian society, Anna Hazare often comes across as anti-political

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Ajay Singh | July 31, 2012




There are many anecdotes about Jayaprakash Narayan. One such anecdote recounts how the old man turned angry when he was made to wait for an hour to meet then prime minister Indira Gandhi. More commonly known as JP, he was a socialist comrade of Nehru and a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi. A quintessential politician who never pursued power, he was well versed though in the cross-currents of politics. JP vowed to oust Indira and he succeeded in his mission through instrument of politics.

Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption is often compared with the JP’s movement of the seventies. There is enough display of anger by leaders of the movement. Anna and his team have been first feted and later slighted in the worst kind of political puerility. And Anna has all the reasons to nurse this anger and turn it into a tidal wave against the government. The big question is: can he repeat a JP-like movement?

There is no denying the fact that there are many similarities between the two situations. The groundswell of the emotions that triggered Gujarat’s Nav Nirman movement and students’ unrest in Bihar is not different from the chaos witnessed in the country now. For instance, the recent killing of a manager in the premises of Maruti-Suzuki plant in Gurgaon is just an indicator of the silent anger welling up within certain social groups.

But this is just one side of the story. That the state has become insensitive would be an understatement. The criminality of Maoists (radical left) is matched with much more brutalisation of the state forces to repress common masses. If one has any doubt, it can be dispelled with visiting encounter sites in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or Orissa. Similarly, the alienation of people in the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir has become an integral part of the statecraft which is carefully fashioned by deceit and hubris.

But what is more sinister is the paralysis that has gripped governance in the country. Much before the reputed foreign journals diagnosed the malaise of underperformance, there was unanimity in New Delhi’s power corridors that the government did not function. There are many ministries where critical positions of deputy and joint secretaries remain unfilled for months on end. Bureaucrats are scared of moving files to clear projects which are vital to the development of the country. One would get these stories merely by paying cursory visits to the offices of various ministries in New Delhi.

This abject state of governance combined with undiluted arrogance of power is an ideal situation to channelise people’s anger into positive politics. But unlike JP whose grounding in socialism in the United States in his student days and subsequent training as an activist with Mahatma Gandhi enabled him to grasp impulses of Indian society, Anna Hazare often comes across as anti-political. His understanding of society is limited to rural parts of Marathwada. His views conform to an old and archaic feudalism. Yet Anna refuses to be a pushover and rises like phoenix when the government predicts his imminent doom.

This time again his indefinite fast is bound to unnerve the government as his health starts deteriorating. But it would be wrong to surmise that Anna’s movement would craft an alternative political grammar which will eventually throw up a new political paradigm. On the contrary, there is a greater risk of people turning to cynicism in view of the sterile effect of Anna’s movement. There is hardly any doubt that Anna is no JP. But his phenomenal rise in people’s esteem is a clear indication of people’s love for basic human values — simplicity, truthfulness and honesty. Anna is loved in the streets of Delhi for emotional reasons. But his influence beyond Delhi is unlikely to make much impact as people still long for a hard-boiled politician with ingredients of Anna Hazare. This was the precise reason why JP could teach Indira Gandhi a lesson. But Anna’s denouement would be quite akin to a tragicomedy for the country’s politics.

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