Anna captures nation's mood

Anna captures nation's mood

Hazare cult...

Anna captures nation's mood

Pro-Anna Hazare protesters at Ramlila ground in New Delhi.  DH File PhotoPolitics has a way of creating surprises. Out of the dormant or the unexpected, it creates the spectacle of the new. For the first few decades after liberalisation, protest was taboo.Yet out of the very middle class which treated strike as taboo and gherao as obscene arose a movement seeking to redefine our society. The movement sparked by Anna Hazare seeks to create its version of the good society.

Savvy about communication, it knows a movement without symbols is rhetorically empty.

It needs to locate itself in history but a history it has not lived but obtained second hand through NCERT textbooks, Bollywood and family stories. The movement needs a genealogy, voyeurism seeks authenticity and in doing so, it dubs itself the second national movement to go with the second industrial revolution. The youngisthan of protestors belts out ‘Vande Mataram’ with a fury the original nationalists might have lacked. Nationalism as Kitsch, as a mnemonic, has become a surrogate form of solidarity.

A society deep into globalisation realises the primordial power of Swadesi and Gandhi. The Information Society finds in civilisation the symbols it desperately needs.

This is not a movement cutting across class or social strata like caste. It is political but it is a politics created around citizenship. In that sense, it is a horizontal rather than vertical movement, built around narratives of dignity and efficiency. In many ways, it is a child of the folklore of the information revolution. The contradiction it sees is between the art of delay embodied in the old bureaucracies and the demand for speed emphasised in the new information systems. One also realises it is not a part of the old technocracy – the Nilekanis and Narayan Murthys – who have emphasised stability and management rationality, of contract while the new generation realises protest can be cybernetic that it can recharge a society in a way no management slogan can.

This is a movement driven not by lack but by delay. It thrives on speed, on the revolution of rising expectations, on the hybridisation of consumerism and citizenship. Its sense of consumerism emphasised choice, demanded quicker delivery and the right of refusal. By transferring consumerism to the then passive idea of citizenship, it revitalized it.

There is a sense of festival about the movement. Folk songs, Rock music, bhajans, nationalist music combine to create a sense of carnival which has surprised Delhi. The movement, because it is fluid and continuously inventive, is difficult to stigmatise. The Government had its measure of the Ramdev movement. A touch of violence, a sprinkling of threats, a bit of propaganda could silence Ramdev. The Hazare movement was made of sterner stuff. It was wilier. It had a gameplan worked out by Arvind Kejriwal but more critically it had in Anna a man of moral status and confidence, who had the measure of Delhi.

Delhi gets labelled in this new ethical war as colonial kingdom. The Congress is seen as feudal and wily. At best it can be correct but never ring true. The movement actually creates a split between democracy and democracy. What one witnessed over the last few weeks was a struggle between people’s struggles and parliamentary democracy. The question of sovereignty was heatedly debated. People is a category that liberal social scientists and conventional parliamentarians are wary about. They want to represent them but they want a passive people.

Favourite TV serial

When a people come alive, an effervescence is created, disorder blends with solidarity to create a world suspended in time. It is this inner war between two notions of democracy that made the Hazare struggle so fascinating to watch. It became the nation’s favourite TV serial, with a cast of characters that few TV soap operas could match.

This raises in turn the role of media. Media served more as a mirror for the movement. It saw protest exploding across several cities creating a sense of unity in diversity. The spectacle in Delhi as hub centre was predictable but the protests in Bangalore were even more impressive. The idea that increased income creates passivity is false. The new professionals, the IT executives, the college teachers who joined the movement showed that city has still a few surprises under its sleeve. In fact it was wonderful that the protestors caught the essence of Hazare’s message. Their distance from his world did not alienate them. Unlike many critics who saw him literally as a village idiot, naïve about the law, the crowd realised that Hazare understood the slipperiness of parliamentarians. An ethical life has a genius for simplicity that modern commentators used to social science jargon must grasp. The crowd showed an intuitive understanding of issues which think tanks and commentators lacked. Suddenly students and professionals seen more in musical gatherings or Talent Nites gathered to talk about the nation’s future with a passion, a zeal that was moving.

Beyond corruption

An acute political observer Edwin recently told me that “demographic dividend has yielded the democratic dividend”. The new generation is looking for a more inventive and meaningful democracy and seeks to bring its skills into play. One hopes this imagination goes beyond corruption to the failure of our cities, to the fate of agriculture. The future is still open.

A movement such as this can create its own flat land of protest built around adulteration, delayed birth certificates, bureaucratic snafu. It needs to contour itself, realise that there are ironies to any political struggle. As the Russian novelist Dostoevsky put it “from absolute freedom I move to absolute tyranny.” There is the danger of the despotic not in the response to corruption but in conceptualising a solution. The Lokpal bill can be draconian, creating a fourth estate beyond the traditional three. One needs a more subtle handling of the pathologies of our society.

A final point. There is a danger that people might condemn the Hazare movement as middle class, rooted in a nationalist Hindu revivalism. I think the middle class imagination is freer than this. It has to invent itself. It has surprised society. I think it will surprise skeptical sociologists also.

(The writer is an Ahmedabad-based Social Scientist.)

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