A private man without wealth, without property, without official title or office, he is not a commander of great armies nor ruler of vast lands, he can boast no scientific achievements, no artistic gift. Yet… These words are lifted from Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi but they could also describe Anna Hazare, the man who has shaken India with his self-proclaimed second freedom struggle, a movement against corruption that has earned the support of tens of thousands and rattled the central government.
Last Sunday, more than a lakh people cheered Hazare in Delhi’s Ramlila ground. Rich people flew in from Bombay and Bangalore to mark the weekend spectacle. Hazare’s fast for an anti-corruption Jan Lokpal bill has connected in an unprecedented manner with people across different backgrounds. One slogan calls him the country’s second Gandhi.
“Anna is a spiritual life force of the universe that has appeared in a moment of great struggle,” says Pradeep Thakur, the Ludhiana-based author of Anna Hazare: The Face of India’s Fight Against Corruption, the only book on Hazare available in the bookstores at the time of writing this article. This author has also written biographies of Angelina Jolie and Madonna.
The flash success of Hazare’s movement is credited to the nature of the cause that touches everyone’s lives, and also to the blunders of the Manmohan Singh government, which arrested the old frail man and sent him to Delhi’s Tihar jail, the final address of murderers, rapists and terrorists. It didn’t help that Tihar rhymes with Tahrir, the revolutionary square in Cairo.
But what about the man who has become the face of the anti-corruption movement? Anna Hazare is 5 feet four inches. His mother tongue is not Hindi (it’s Marathi). He was a driver in the Indian Army and performed no award-winning feat there during the Pakistan war in 1965. Until a few months ago, he was barely known outside his home state Maharashtra. What is it about the 74-year-old that has struck a chord in a country that has more than half of its population under the age of 25? Is it because of Hazare’s Gandhian persona? Is it the way he speaks, or the stern way he frowns or wags his finger – like a tyrannical but lovable dadaji?
In an apartment in Ghaziabad, Delhi’s satellite town, lives a retired man who quoted a verse from Tulsidas’s Ramayan for me to describe Hazare:
Nirmal mann so jane mohipawa
Mohi kapat chhal chid na bhawa
(I like the one whose mind is pure/ I like the one who is without cunning and shrewdness)
Meanwhile, TV news channels have been beaming sound bytes of eager youngsters – seemingly in search of heroes – exclaiming that they have seen a second Gandhi.
In an opinion piece in The Hindu, author Arundhati Roy wrote: “While his means may be Gandhian, Anna Hazare’s demands are certainly not. Contrary to Gandhiji’s ideas about the decentralisation of power, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a draconian, anti-corruption law, in which a panel of carefully chosen people will administer a giant bureaucracy, with thousands of employees, with the power to police everybody from the Prime Minister…down to the lowest government official. The Lokpal will have the powers of investigation, surveillance, and prosecution. Except for the fact that it won’t have its own prisons, it will function as an independent administration, meant to counter the bloated, unaccountable, corrupt one that we already have. Two oligarchies, instead of just one.”
In the same piece, I discovered the best understanding of the current crisis. Read this: “For completely different reasons, and in completely different ways, you could say that the Maoists and the Jan Lokpal Bill have one thing in common — they both seek the overthrow of the Indian State. One working from the bottom up, by means of an armed struggle, waged by a largely adivasi army, made up of the poorest of the poor. The other, from the top down, by means of a bloodless Gandhian coup, led by a freshly minted saint, and an army of largely urban, and certainly better off people.”
What if Gandhi were to be alive today? I talked to Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson who lives in Chennai. He said, “Gandhi would have been nauseated by corruption, its ramifications, its deep percolations, its stubborn entrenchments, particularly, in the political class. He would have been nauseated by the larger role of money in our national life, from our elections to our day’s daily rhythms.”
Would he have resorted to a fast like Hazare?” Gopalkrishna Gandhi replied, “He would have drawn attention to not only how ‘bribery’ corruption is unacceptably rampant in politics and in government, but also in its ‘non-bribery’ but more sinister forms in our corporations, in NGOs, in benign-sounding trusts, high-sounding societies, big-name institutions, degree-selling colleges, and media.”
As I’m writing, Hazare, who is on the 8th day of his fast, is playing stubborn and refusing to eat. It helps that his health is being take care of by a medical team led by Dr Naresh Trehan, one of India’s most expensive doctors. Meanwhile, ‘Team Anna’ is acting as if they are the only righteous people left in the country, and if we are not with them, we are anti-Indians.
Would Gandhi have been equally unreasonable?
Gopalkrishna Gandhi said, “He would have made the ending of that fast not such a difficult proposition. He would have been firm on principles, not stubborn over procedures; unrelenting on the destination, not inflexible about the number or duration of intermediate stations.”
Even if Hazare was humble, polite and reasonable like Gandhi, I still would have been skeptical. I’m hundred per cent sure that if Gandhi were alive in 2002 when thousands of Muslims were being killed in Gujarat, he would have immediately sat on a death fast. Hazare did not bother. He will never be my hero.
Mayank Austen Soofi lives in a library. He has one website and four blogs. The website address: thedelhiwalla.com. The blogs: Pakistan Paindabad, Ruined By Reading, Reading Arundhati Roy and Mayank Austen Soofi Photos.