Why this attack on Anna Hazare now?
It’s amazing how critics silent so far are coming out all guns blazing against the Gandhian. The attack is more personal now. Questions are being raised on his credibility as a leader, an agent of change in his village and his quirky ways to ensure discipline.
How can he flog drunkards? Who gave him the right to do so?
How can one person decide things for the entire village?
Does not he have the traits of a dictator?
Why did he chicken out of his earlier agitations?
Questions are being hurled by the bucketful at the anti-corruption crusader. The intent: to highlight the flaws in the man and announce he is not good enough to lead any movement. It appears the whole world was waiting to get back at him but was too scared of his popularity. Now that his fast in Mumbai has fizzled out and the members of his team have lost the steam and media support, knives are out.
It’s unfair. Anna does not deserve such treatment.
Admitted, the anti-corruption movement led by Anna had a hundred flaws — the worst being it managed to alienate a lot of people who would have happily supported it. It had a cause, the mobilisation and a symbol—the basic elements in any successful movement—in place but it depended too much on street power and high voltage drama to make its point. Team Anna lacked the patience and inclination to listen to contrarian view points. Worse, by design or default, it was getting political.
If there’s anybody to blame for the declining popularity of the movement, it’s the members of Team Anna and the condescending attitude of a section of the media, not Anna himself. The Gandhian was roped into the movement to serve as its face. He was not expected to be an intellectual or profound in his knowledge of governance or nuances of administration. He was expected to be someone everyone could identify with.
His innocent appeal, age, uncomplicated personal life and simple, Gandhian outlook made him the perfect symbol of the movement. Plus, he had a great record at taking on governments and in social service. People across age, region and class barriers could easily relate to him. He was the benevolent patriarch whom everyone loved. His eccentricities did not matter. He was a good man; that is what did.
Without Anna the movement would not be what it was in April or August. Imagine the likes of Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan, leading a campaign of this magnitude! Despite their very honest intentions and clarity of thought they would have failed. Managing the media is one thing and connecting to people at large is quite another. Only someone like Anna could have done that. If Team Anna overplayed its trump card the fault lies with them.
He is not the despot of Ralegan Siddhi as he is being made out to be now. It is difficult to understand why the flogging of drunkards—this has to be considered a category distinct from social drinkers—is so appalling to many. When Anna came to the village after his stint in the army, it was left ruined by liquor merchants. Many villagers had become addicts. Abject poverty and borrowing from money lenders had come as the obvious consequence. Anna saved the village from the menace by organising the youth who destroyed liquor units and discouraged drinking by resorting to the strong-arm tactic.
What is so wrong with that? Village women in several parts of the country are known to unite and attack liquor outlets in their vicinity and their backers. It is not necessarily an attack on some one’s freedom; it is an effort to save one from ruination. Not many would be aware of the debilitating impact of alcohol in the countryside.
If Ralegan is an oasis of minor prosperity amid the general gloom in the Ahmednagar district—just study the home-grown concept of grain banks, watershed management and have look at the abundance of water in the once water-scarce region—it is due to the efforts of one man: Anna. It’s possible he is a bit dictatorial in his own way but why must it be such a big issue? He has saved many villages. That’s what should matter.
It would not matter if the sharp criticism of him was aimed at his approach to the anti-corruption campaign. But the attack is getting is getting more personal. That’s doing injustice to the man.