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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 36, August 27, 2011

The Anna Factor

Friday 2 September 2011, by Devaki Jain

Beginning as it did with not only deep skepticism about the legitimacy of the crowds —starting with aspersions that this was a middle-class urban community, triggered and extra-polated by the media, especially TV—the comments of the gatherings in Delhi in particular and elsewhere have begun to see the ‘crowds’ differently. From Left to Right, from journalists to commentators there is an acknowledgement that the crowds have all classes as well as all sects and are truly gripped by the opportunity, as some people have put it, to feel citizenhood.

One factor that perhaps has not been as much noticed or described is the imagery of Anna Hazare himself.

There have been, of course, demeaning statements ranging from accusations of corruption, personal arrogance, foreign support etc. There has also been much challenging of his Gandhian garb ranging from the critique of his use of the fast as a ‘method’, weapon [?] to put pressure on the government.

The national flag, the slogans have also been seen as misplaced in this context.

Taking another look at the Hazare persona, I would like to argue or propose that it holds within it the most crucial attraction for this huge public turnout. Whatever may be the other aspects of Anna Hazare’s persona, it is impossible not to see an extremely strong, inward-looking, peaceful picture of a small-size man with the white cap and a khadi desi clothing, reflecting what can be called ‘everyman’s’ image of a Gandhian.

Gandhians in terms of those who now live in Gandhian ashrams and meticulously perform Gandhian rituals—running schools and khadi centres—are almost completely absent from the public spaces today. Earlier there would be a Narayanbhai Desai or a Radhakrishna or such figures milling within the public platforms in Delhi and elsewhere. The Gandhi Peace Foundation was a lively place where progressive and human rights groups would meet and some of the individuals, what I would call the traditional Gandhians, would be invited as part of a diverse group of commentators. All the noted Gandhian figures were part of the media reports amongst opinion-makers. In the last few years, and may be more particularly in the last few months after the passing of Lakshmi Jain, there is actually not a single Gandhian who is part of the public debating spaces or media debates.

Yet in the minds of the younger generation, not only college students but all the way to middle level professionals, IT technicians, farmers and the vendors, rickshaw-pullers and other citizens, there is a kind of awe for the national flag, for the freedom struggle, for what they hear about the ‘Quit India’ Movement and so on. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is invoked on October 2, flashed every day on Doordarshan news. Many young people whom I have met in the age group 25-50 have often said – ‘We envy you. We were not there. How thrilling it must have been! How united all of you were!’ So there is a yearning.

On to the scene is projected a Gandhi topi-wearing diminutive man always looking serious, if not frowning, going through the rites of praying in Rajghat, of by and large being silent but always looking peaceful, smiling, what can even be called warm-hearted or loving. It is this image of the ‘Noble Gandhian’ that has triggered the heterogeneous widespread communities who have come to put their faith in ‘Anna’.

It is well known that the majority of these flag-waving chanting crowds do not know the various draft bills designing the office of the Lokpal. But they trust him to make it happen because of that emotional trust in a ‘Gandhian’. If one understands this then the kind of ‘badnaaming’ that is doing the rounds might be modified. It would be most useful if respectful conversations could be arranged and organised between the ‘professional members’ of the Anna team, the hard working drafters of the NCPRI bill and the less militant spokespersons from the UPA Government.

Looked at carefully and with sympathy the solution seems quite simple. Let us take the various issues.

How the Lokpal is Selected

THERE has been much debate on this issue and the NCPRI draft captures the sentiments of what can be called the public as it is today. The Lokpal should be selected after the Search Committee, composed of informed persons representing different types of social classes (Dalits, minorities, women), making a proposal with names. The Selection Committee also should be a mix of professional state actors like the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice but also reliable non-governmental leaders. The Lokpal office itself, it has been suggested, could be composed of a six-nine panel, again a mix. Such a formula seems quite obviously acceptable. The government draft has none of this and much more. Surely it is possible to persuade the government draft for it is wiser to take this broadbased option.

Let us take another—The Inclusion of the PM. Here too a via media has been found, namely, the PM after he remits office.

Let us take a third—The Inclusion of the Higher Judiciary. Here too a proposal has been more or less accepted, namely, that the Judicial Review Committee is allowed to first submit its report which will have sufficient ideas for monitoring the ethics of the judiciary.

What then is left? These are whether the CVC and CBI are moved to the Lokpal office or how broadbased and deep should be the dimension of the Central Lokpal. Here also the NCPRI proposal is sensible in its request that there is a sharply focused role for the Central Lokpal such that it can really function and bring attention to the higher levels of political bureaucratic persons and professional and the bigger spaces.

This kind of nuancing need not become non-negotiable. Those who are debating on the TV should stop enjoying their performances as adversaries and put this together to become proposers. TV anchors are creating bull-fighting deliberately. It will be much better to move from the big fight mode to the Think Tank, Discussion Group, Working Group, and Negotiating Group mode. Surely the charmed circle of personalities is being used by all the TV channels—about 50-70 of the ‘chosen’ persons. Channels can create out of this a group reflecting all these elements and then making this into a ‘publicly available mediating group’. This would bring out of this andolan the capacity of Indian intellectuals, public figures to translate and transform a public protest into public policy.
Give this a try.

The author, a noted development economist, is a former Member of the South Commission.

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