Anna Hazare, that tired but persistent theoretician of a moral society, has again been heard from. On Gandhi Jayanti, he popped up for a photo-op at Raj Ghat and expressed himself to be thoroughly unhappy at the way things have worked out these last three years; in particular, he appears to be annoyed that there is no sign of a Lok Pal, the presumably magical piece of legislation that the India Against Corruption cabal had waved so earnestly before a credulous nation.
It is a measure of how the times have changed that, with a minor exception here or there, most newspapers relegated the old Gandhian to the inside pages. When he threatens to resurrect his anti-corruption movement, it becomes difficult to decide whether Hazare is an incorrigible fool or a very, very shrewd old man. It is quite possible that he has cunningly sensed that the Modi sarkar has become wobbly and that it has rendered itself vulnerable to public anger after having so brazenly abused and misused people’s confidence to indulge in its whims and fancies. Any regime that enters this zone of doubtful respectability invites poaching from moral archers of the Hazare type.
Or, is he too simple a man who continues to believe genuinely that he led a genuine ‘anti-corruption’ movement in 2011? Granted, his movement attracted honest, idealistic souls to his corner at the Ram Lila ground, those who thought that a ‘change’ was possible. Well, a kind of ‘change’ did take place. Simply put, Hazare ended up preparing the ground for a new regime to come to power. This Hazare has to be a very, very simple man to believe that he can once again recapture public imagination and that he can summon agitated souls to rally around his banner.
Gandhians make poor insurgents – unless there is a shrewd Mohandas in charge of both tactics and strategy. Hazare is no Gandhi. He is just an earnest man who wore a Gandhi cap (which the Mahatma never needed). He is entitled to feel that he has been betrayed by his spear carriers – the Kiran Bedis, the Arvind Kejriwals – but he remains curiously innocent about the very nature of the movement that was put together in his name. India Against Corruption was a perfect platform to bring together assorted babas, NGOs, media moguls; there was corporate funding, and retired intelligence hands were there to lend a hand with planning and disinformation.
If Hazare cares to look around, he will find that since 2014, his “moral army” has been the principal supplier for Raj Niwas’, parliament and assemblies, councils of ministers. That is not enough. The babas have become entrepreneurs, presiding over multi-billion-rupee empires; prospering with government patronage and protection; and, behind-the-scenes strategists now man national security portals.
The political capital the Hazare movement generated has been encashed to the last rupee. And, above all, all that flag-waving at Ram Lila ground was rather cleverly choreographed, preparing the ground for the carnival of a resentful nationalism. Some may find it charming that he refuses to see that he had already been once taken for a ride; but he should not be encouraged to think that he can replicate his “movement” again. No society will allow itself to be hoodwinked a second time. We feel morally cheated. Those who proffered themselves as our saviours and social cleansers have turned out to be very ordinary political operatives, if not worse. Nor will he be allowed to pitch his tent.
In hindsight, it can be suggested that in 2011, Hazare faced a rather benign adversary. The Manmohan Singh regime was a decent arrangement. Hazare will discover that he has underestimated the official ruthlessness the ‘New India’ is capable of unleashing on all those who decide to annoy it. More pointedly, the global context has disappeared; the Arab Spring has turned out to be a state department sleight of hand; none of the countries subjected to a presumably moral renewal has experienced peace, harmony or political stability.
The Indian middle classes get easily frightened at the slightest hint of disorder and they are ready to run to the safety offered by this or that strong man. The moral economy of the Arab Spring disintegrated long ago. The Hazare movement was part of this global subversive project; but, now, there is a businessman and a deal-maker in the White House. Nor will corporate India dare to offer any kind of comfort to a second Hazare movement. The corporates today make a deeply tamed crowd, barely managing to survive the inspired governmental incompetence in handling the economy.
The media was a powerful ally in the anti-corruption movement. This time round, Hazare will discover that the media has found it profitable to sup with the big boss; it no longer thinks of itself as an ally of the underdog in his fight against the daily ritual injustice and indifference; it has enrolled itself in the nationalistic cause. Even if Hazare was to find another bunch of innocent souls to help him try to re-enact the Jantar Mantar tableau of righteousness and disapproval, he will find the media laughing him out of town.
Above all, we are an emotionally exhausted society. The creative power of our passions is degraded every night. A slow intellectual hemorrhage is inflicted on our collective sanity. Our righteousness has been so subtly, so shabbily – and, so toxically – directed against Pakistan. Our anger has been channelled – and wasted – against the Left, minorities and other assorted deshdrohis. The prime minister has abused our trust; he asked us to trust him because he came from a poor family and then made millions of poor, honest and hard-working people stand in line to get their own hard-earned money while the fat cats were able to work out deals with the Ashoka Road managers. Not only that, he told them to feel good, feel empowered in their misery. Every week, if not every evening, he tries to frog-march us emotionally back to his depleted leadership corner. We are not persuaded to feel good, we are even made to feel small when a Yashwant Sinha is mocked and jeered as a job applicant.
Today, we are an emotionally exhausted nation. Perhaps, even morally tired. We are in a dangerous zone. There is a certain kind of moral coercion in the Hazare variety of earnestness. This is an avoidable trap because it ends up in an authoritarian cul-de-sac.