‘Annalogy’ of protest turns new chapter (Comment)

August 24th, 2011 - 1:07 pm ICT by IANS  

A veritable wave of ‘Annamania’ has swept an angst-ridden, urban, middle India, specially in ‘Annapolis’ (read Delhi), giving the illusion of a new era christened ‘Anna Domini,’ marked by ‘Annalia’, mixing anti-establishment hysterics, populist entertainment and the romance of a revolution.

The week-long spontaneous uprising against corruption shepherded by a fasting 74-year-old self-styled Gandhian has spawned a new vocabulary of protest and bred a popular mythology that is seductive but may not survive a reality check.

Since India’s 64th Independence Day, Anna Hazare has morphed into a contemporary icon thanks to a direction-challenged government and an angry, disillusioned, ignored middle class that flocked around him over the mantra of the anti-corruption crusade.

Anna’s mantra-like formulation, “India’s second independence movement”, regardless of the accuracy of this self-deluding label, has struck a powerful chord with middle India who have been swelling in numbers with every passing day, making a former soldier and a grassroots campaigner, pushing his version of anti-graft legislation, a national hero.

Anna’s apostles too have been astute enough to invoke mythology to feed popular imagination, building him into a modern-day messiah. Swami Agnivesh has compared Hazare to Lord Krishna. “Where was Lord Krishna born? In jail! And Anna came to Ramlila from Tihar jail!” Agnivesh told thousands of cheering supporters at at Ramlila Maidan.

It isn’t just Anna Hazare and his comrades who are minting this new-fangled vocabulary, but an overheated media has let the imagination run riot and crafted seductive banner headlines and labels like ‘Annalia,’ ‘Annapolis’ and ‘Anna Domini’.

Trying to unravel the Anna phenomenon, some analysts and commentators have compared the Anna-led anti-corruption crusade to the J.P. Movement of the mid-1970s that led to the imposition of the draconian emergency and cited the mishandling of the agitation by then prime minister Indira Gandhi and her minders that made Jayaprakash Narayan’s call for “total revolution” so appealing to the masses.

But the contexts and provocations were different: the Anna movement, if it can be called that, lacks the pan-India appeal the JP Movement had.

Stunned by the scale of mass mobilisation and the making of a contemporary icon, the international media also latched on to the Anna phenomenon, with some of them comparing the upsurge to India’s “Arab Spring” - an allusion to spontaneous SMS-inspired popular movement that toppled dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia and that threatens to dislodge more totalitarian regimes in the Middle East.

But the comparison, except for the use of new social media and a near spontaneous mobilisation around the issue of corruption, does not survive closer scrutiny. For one, Anna and co is not pitching for a change of regime but only for stronger anti-corruption legislation.

Neither are they fighting for democracy; they have become a phenomenon precisely because of the exuberant Indian democracy that can also indulge in anarchist rhetoric and still retain its character. Nor is the government, like some of the bloodthirsty dictators in the Middle East, using live bullets to crush protesters.

But revolutions or pseudo-revolutions, for that matter, are not based on logic or facts; they often peddle fantasies and utopias of classless society - a corruption-free India, in Anna’s case - and that becomes a veritable nightmare for its subjects.

(24.08.2011 - Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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