History hangs on tiny chances. The five gentlemen in the pic below have nothing in common now. From left: First is a tax-guru, next is a film-maker, 3rd is a politician, the fourth is a playwright and the last one is a lawyer. Yet, if you look up history, it will tell you that these guys do have something in common. They, with a few more, led the first and only successful mass agitation ever in the history of independent India. What will shock you even more is that the agitation started with what was a small, localised issue of hike in canteen charges in a college. The issue of corruption got added to the canteen issue.
History hangs on tiny chances. Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, immolated himself over losing his stocks after paying a fine and that triggered in Tunisia what we now know as the Arab Spring. He died.
Cut to the present. What is it that TeamAnna wanted to change? Obviously, corruption in the govt system! Change the system to what? Bring in a Janlokpal. There is no specific incident or event that triggered Anna’s Lokpal movement. It’s not as if someone killed himself or self-immolated directly for corruption. This was a well-planned, well-organised agitation and not a spontaneous movement that brought people together. How to bring about that change? Hunger strikes, gatherings in Delhi, SMS for support, put up websites and so on. Then they made a fatal mistake. Following some minor success in terms of people’s response, they broadened their agenda. They added to their demands Lokayuktas across all states, Citizen’s Charter, CBI under independent control, Charge-sheets against certain ministers and a bit more. The menu had grown bigger.
The movement died the day Anna gave up his fast after 12 days in August 2011. That may be a bitter pill to swallow for some but that’s the fact. I may sound harsh but why did Anna give up his fast when he had the govt and MPs by the scruff of their necks? Especially since he kept repeating that he is a soldier who will “die” for his cause. No, I don’t regret it. I am happy Anna is alive and we hope he leads a long, healthy life. But there is no Lokpal. There is nothing to show as results for that agitation. In the end, when the Lokpal Bill does get through the credit will be claimed by some political party (just like with RTI) although that may not be that important.
Having failed to get the Lokpal Bill, the movement has now become some kind of a political monster. It has become the very thing that Anna’s agitation targeted. Irony! Not in terms of corruption but in terms of strategies and language. The “how to” change has become more of hurling charges at some politician or prominent figure every week. Mind you, the charges are not being discussed here. Arvind Kejriwal now leads a political movement. His tactics, though, haven’t changed. The only visible change is that AK has borrowed Anna’s ‘Topi’ which he never wore earlier. It’s once again an irony as some point out. AK wants new-style politics with old-style symbolism. The Gandhi-topi for long has become a symbol of the pot-bellied, corrupt politician and not the principles that Gandhi used to represent. The other grave and serious mistake that AK and his team are making is: fighting a battle in the media. By now AK should have been wise enough to learn that the media is not his friend. It is nobody’s friend. It’s a friend to those in power and those with money. If you have neither, they will make sure you are run down and destroyed. I have documented the media follies of TeamAnna long back in the post ‘Goodwill Blunting’
After the noise and drama over Robert Vadra and Salman Khurshid even the disappointed media called TeamKejriwal’s so-called ‘expose’ on Nitin Gadkari a “damp squib”. Naturally so! The media would have loved to see some serious charges against Gadkari. It would have suited them great and so too their Congress bosses. Haha! Not surprisingly, even chronic distorter Digivijaya Singh was unhappy with AK. He stated on TV that he would have liked AK to go after Narendra Modi. Why not! In the context of the forthcoming Gujarat elections nothing would have pleased the Congress and media more. Agitations and political battles are not fought on television. This is something that the IAC team doesn’t seem to have learnt and something Narendra Modi seems to have mastered. Even if you do not wish to pursue corruption charges in court it’s a lot better to take these to the people than to the media. As simple as that! Narendra Modi’s 1880 Crores charge against Sonia Gandhi is going to stick for a long time. The media will bury allegations against Robert Vadra, Salman Khurshid and Nitin Gadkari and move on. They need their daily “item number” and AK seems to be providing it for free. But if AK and his motley crew had gone to the people at various places they would have succeeded in creating “perceptions” that would be hard to dismantle by the media.
One of the stupidest arguments by fanatical AK supporters when he is lampooned or criticised is “what are you doing about corruption?”. This is as silly as they can get. Far from getting more support it alienates more. First, not everyone has chosen to fight this battle for their own reasons, not even the media. Secondly, how stupid would it be to ask a movie critic to go act in or direct a movie if he lampoons a movie? If Harsha Bhogle were to criticise batting or bowling, how moronic would it be to ask him to go out and play instead of commentating? The media has already targeted TeamAK by bringing out some builder-NGO nexus of corruption against Mayank Gandhi, one of members of TeamAK. Who can forget the frivolous travel bills issue about Kiran Bedi? That made more noise in the media than allegations against Gadkari. The question both AK and his supporters need to really ask is: Why has the biggest face of IAC, Anna Hazare, himself withdrawn? That has never been honestly explained. Merely borrowing the symbolic “topi” for the media doesn’t mean anything. As it gets tougher for their paymasters, the media is sure to raise more muck against TeamAK, real and imaginary. Symbolism has to connect with people.
The five gentlemen I mentioned earlier are Mukesh Patel, Manishi Jani, Umakant Mankad, Parthiv Vyas and Nirupam Nanavati. All were leaders of the Navnirman agitation in Gujarat in 1974. The agitation also found support from political parties, including some members of the then Congress govt in the state. Even Narendra Modi is reported to have been involved from the outside through RSS and ABVP. Except for Umakant Mankad, who is a Congress member, none of the others are in politics. They succeeded in their agitation; perhaps far beyond their expectations. It was the agitation that triggered Jayprakash Narayan’s movement which led to the Emergency in 1975 and eventual downfall of Indira Gandhi. The first pic on the left is of the agitators on Nehru Bridge in Ahmedabad. The second pic is that of stone-pelting. Haha! Ironically, it’s not by the agitators but by the police in retaliation to being attacked from rooftops. There was no TV then and most newspaper reports couldn’t be accurate because of months-long curfews. The Navnirman agitation brought down the Chief Minister and the state govt. All this by traditionally “effete” people as Barkha Dutt and Vir Singhvi call Gujaratis. Navnirman wasn’t fought on TV or in the media. It was fought on the streets by a huge number of people.
Symbolism matters. No, not on some stupid media channel but on the ground with people. During the Navnirman agitation a Sparrow was unfortunately killed in police firing or by stone pelting. The agitators symbolically took out a huge funeral procession for the unfortunate sparrow. Not even the police dared to stop the procession and allowed the funeral rites for the martyred sparrow to be completed. Over 100 people died in police firing in the Navnirman agitation. Each time Team AK hold a press conference for their ‘exposes’ it keeps getting bigger and bigger. The media gets a reality show without having to pay for the production costs or hire actors. Sooner or later this same media will destroy them. These shows aren’t as powerful as the funeral for a sparrow.
Note: The Late Chimanbhai Patel, Chief Minister, who was brought down by the Navnirman movement returned as CM some years later. He is credited with initiating the Sardar Sarovar Project (Narmada Dam) which is a lifeline for Gujarat. He remains a much respected figure in Gujarat politics.