Moments after Anna Hazare announced that Team Anna would end their fast at 5.00 PM on Friday, spokespersons for the Congress preened themselves up and, sneering and contemptuous, told all news-persons who cared that they had predicted the decision by Team Anna to enter the political fray and that the Congress ‘welcomed’ the decision.
Other political parties were no different. They, too, ‘welcomed’ the decision. Within minutes, news TV channels had declared the announcement as a milestone: Team Anna had lost, they had nowhere else to go and they had run out of steam.
Even die-hard supporters of Team Anna were unclear as to the import of the decision and a section was certainly disappointed by the announcement.
Protesting from April 2011 till today, punctuated by a number of fasts, mobilising public opinion and support – and nothing to show for it; what a waste of time it has been. That, in a nutshell, is how sections of the media, the political classes, Anna’s detractors and some disappointed Anna supporters view yesterday’s announcement.
This assessment is dangerously wrong – for the political classes.
There are two major achievements by Anna Hazare’s movement. The first is the fact that he has succeeded in bringing the issue of corruption centre stage and the second, which is more ominous for the political classes, is that news media has learnt that covering corruption brings them viewers and readers.
The demand for coverage of corruption by viewers has forced media to devote more time and space to the issue – and the return of investment in the terms of increased viewership and readership is patent. The obvious public hunger and taste for such coverage has forced news media to chase such stories – and be less submissive and stronger in withstanding pressure from the political classes and other vested interests to kill such stories.
So from corruption in corporation tenders to the Adarsh scam to the 2G scam, no story of corruption is going to disappear. Such stories will stay on the front pages and be discussed on prime time news television. The media is no longer scared, thanks to Anna Hazare, of touching what was once a taboo area.
As a consequence, political parties will have to take hard decisions when choosing candidates, at every level of elections. The choice of an obviously corrupt candidate will be reported immediately and, as a result, discussed in the streets, buses, tea shops and bars. Non-corrupt candidates will have, thanks to Anna’s movement, a better chance than they have ever heard in the electoral politics of the country.
But the larger gain is that the movement has given news media new courage and teeth. One could argue that the media, today, is the bravest Indian media has been in the 65 years of a free India – and this is in large part thanks to the Anna Hazare movement. No longer can news outlets take partisan positions – corruption by any party needs to be covered, or your competitor will win the day.
These are gains enough. Citizens are now aware of the scale of corruption in the country. News media is forced to be aware and forced to highlight transgressions. Non-corrupt candidates have a better chance at the hustings.
That’s gain enough – so thank you, Anna Hazare.