I still remember 30 January, 2011 — the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi — when people were introduced to Jan Lokpal Bill at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai by the organisers of India against Corruption. The faces of respectable leaders from all faiths, constitutional experts and intellectuals beamed from the large colourful posters plastered all around. Anna Hazare subsequently went on a fast on 5 April, 2011 after drama at Tihar jail following his arrest. This set the tone of the movement with hoards pouring out at Jantar Mantar; the media, especially the electronic media, had found their mascot and pitched their tents for a long haul. Team Anna succeeded in finding a seat in drafting of the Lokpal Bill by the UPA government.
Anna Hazare went on his second indefinite fast on 16 August, 2011, demanding a strong anti-corruption body, Jan Lokpal. The fast lasted for 12 days and was called off after the Parliament adopted a so called “Sense of House” on 27 August evening. I had participated in both the fasts along with the others at Azad Maidan in Mumbai to express our solidarity in the fight against corruption. I, like many others, had got drawn to this anti-corruption movement as all-pervasive corruption had become an emotive issue touching the poorest of poor. The movement had found widespread and spontaneous support from people from all walks of life across the country as scam after scam tumbled out including CWG, 2G, Adarsh housing scam and so on. A small minority, including some from the media, took a consistent stand against the movement but only against the tactics used by the activists. The common bind was that all the corrupt had joined hands together in corruption and it was time that all ‘good people’ joined hands to defeat them.
I kept away from fasting when Anna was almost forced to go on another fast in December in the same year in Mumbai even when he was in poor health and had high fever, though I agreed to look after the medical arrangements. I was not convinced of the timing or the need for the protest this time. The fast was perceived to have flopped even as I saw the long faces of Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and others mistaking these for their concern for Anna’s health.
Much has happened since then with AAP attracting traction as a new party with high moral and ethical principles with the spectacular victory in Delhi elections. But the movement had lost the collective voice of the nation against corruption. Questions raised by Anna Hazare’s Jantar Mantar protest, however, still linger though TV bytes are forgotten and newspapers long dumped into trash. Was it a victory for the people or was it only a partial gain, having aroused the nation especially the youth to unite in the cause of nation-making and to ask difficult questions to politicians who claim to represent “the people”?
These questions are important today as they were at that time. The citizens who rallied then are still united, if by nothing else but their antipathy to corruption and poor governance, a sense of betrayal by those that we elect as once again manifested by the action of the UP government against an honest IAS officer, Durga Shakti Nagpal.
I remember the April and August fasts today as a wonderful experience of heightened spiritual awareness and peace. It was a glimpse of the India we wish to see with Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus fasting together with gutsy "Bharat Mata ki Jai". The youth connected with a rustic old man because his cause was sincere. The entire atmosphere was charged, happy and very peaceful.
How does one look back? The support to IAC was an issue based on fighting corruption only with no commitment to support anything or everything that Anna or Arvind Kejriwal decided to do otherwise. I believed then as I do now that there are many honest and intellectually superior politicians and bureaucrats and one should not paint them all with the same brush. I used to appeal through interaction with the media to every honest politician and the bureaucrat to extricate themselves from the cesspool and help in cleaning up the system. Some friends in the media called this ‘being soft’ for not adopting harsher language. A former student from Gujarat wrote to me, “I was pained to watch Annaji saying from Jantar Mantar that 'sarkar ka nasha utar jayega. Jaisa sharabi ko nasha hota hei vaise hee iss sarkar ka nasha hei'...I hadn't expected the use of such a language."
I could not find fault with his complaint as some activists used low language. I could only tell him that the movement included diverse groups of people, loosely connected and of different ideological persuasions but led by a person whose greatest strength was his personal integrity. Anna’s energy was raw and untainted unlike many more sophisticated and articulate ones who only point finger at others.
As Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP faces controversies galore inviting a rap on the knuckles from Anna Hazare, those associated with a fine movement, India Against Corruption, cannot but be saddened by the foolish decision of forming a political party much against the wishes of Anna and many supporters.
(Dr Ratna Magotra is a Mumbai-based cardio-vascular surgeon. She was associated with India Against Corruption (IAC) and worked closely with Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal.)