Is Hazare movement significant for Indian democracy?

Written by: Shubham Ghosh
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Anna Hazare recently declared that he will embark on a fresh strike in New Delhi from July 25 if the Centre did not probe corruption charges against 14 'tainted' Cabinet ministers listed by his team. This time, though, Hazare himself will stage a dharna while his associates will go on an indefinite fast. Hazare had also demanded registering of FIRs against the corrupt ministers failing which, they would launch a 'jail bharo' agitation.

Anna Hazare

The Hazare phenomenon has been the most memorable political sensation that the nation has witnessed in recent times and the man from Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra has emerged into a powerful opposition outside the Parliament. Hazare has stirred up the nation in a big way, as his fast protest demonstrated last August, and some quarters even started to call him 'Modern day Gandhi.'

But is really Hazare a new Gandhi vis-a-vis a 'corrupt regime' in independent India? It is not that all are convinced by his tactics, particularly the elite and English-speaking people and the Leftist minds of the country. For them, Hazare is doing no good by hijacking the essence of parliamentary politics and made it a street tamasha. But for many others, Hazare has been the conscience-keeper of modern-day India. Some even dislike him for his modest appearance and background!

We must understand that wisdom does not lie in passing a 'good or bad' judgment on Hazare. The 73-year-old social activist can not be compared to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi or Jayaprakash Narayan. He has not done anything sort of taking on a mighty British government or preach satyagraha. Hazare has been just an activist who chose to use relentless pressure tactics against a government, which has been plagued by countless scams and allegations even before it completed half the tenure.

This is actually what is significant. For all those who say that Anna is making a street tamasha of the politics by hijacking parliamentary issues, they must understand that the stature of our law-makers today has seen an unprecedented deterioration and as a result, an institution like the Parliament, has been badly crippled. But since there exists no vacuum in politics, hence the role that the parliamentarians are supposed to play out, has been 'hijacked' by people like Hazare. Noted sociologist Ashish Nandy has compared Hazare rather to Irish nationalist Bobby Sands, who too used fasting as a weapon to deal with an oppressive regime in the 1970s. Sands, in fact, died while fasting.

We must keep in mind that Hazare has not, what the government alleged, tried to usurp the legislative powers of the Parliament by dictating his own terms. Hazare, rather, gave an outlet to the growing public cynicism against the pressing issue of corruption just like he did in his home state of Maharashtra. The Hazare phenomenon does not indicate that our democracy is on the decline. Rather, an individual taking up an issue in the people's interest tells that it is getting stronger. It is creating more space for individuals and civil right activists vis-a-vis the state, something the rest of the world could envy.

Hazare's protest programme is no less than any movement in the world, even though if it might have geographic limitations. Scattered but spontaneous response to Hazare's fight against corruption is a genuine movement for it is something which involves minds and their free expression.

A protest need not be a huge mass gathering to qualify as a movement. Hazare has shown that there is a democratic culture which our society embraces and which is in stark difference with any institutionalised way of functioning. A 5-km-long protest march cheering for Hazare in Mumbai last August testifies that statement. The urban middle class, a huge driving force of modern India, has been moved by the man the most. Most of us fail to understand the Hazare Movement in this light.

Hazare and his men did not embark on any sort vandalism to prove their point. It has been a well-organised and maturedly handled programme to exert pressure on the establishment, something which our political parties 'fighting for popular issues' can always learn from. A movement led by modest people, who till yesterday were lost among the aam janata, taking on a powerful national government for a cause is indeed a reason to feel proud about. The consequences and possible turnouts are not essential.

One can counter the logic by saying that Hazare phenomenon is a product of the media. It is true that media attention catapults any incident to a phenomenal level today, but we must keep in mind that media shows only what's happening on earth. Had there been no Hazare himself, there had been no media sensationalism. The media just used the momentum to help its own cause. That's the story with many other movements around the world.

Association of film stars, religious leaders or even common men who are distasteful towards democratic norms is just a fallout of the movement's widespread appeal. Some might like Anna, some might hate him, but none could actually ignore him.

What Hazare has sought might be an over-simplified solution to a complex issue. Reaching an ideological consensus on such a crucial bill like the Lokpal is not easy in India, leave aside the procedural complexities. Besides, Hazare's taking up legislative issues without being a public representative is another point that critics have raised. But when institutionalised politics fail to address vital issues, then the onus falls back on proponents of civil rights movement to take up the cause. For these are too important issues to be left unaddressed.

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