As 74 year-old Anna Hazare broke his fast in Delhi’s historic Ram-Lila Maidan after 13 days, one message was impossible to miss: cynicism can’t. Not in a country with an overwhelmingly young population.
Over the past fortnight, as tens of thousands of people from all walks of life spilt onto the streets, many questions were raised: about the direction taken by this mass agitation against corruption, the ethics of team Anna’s methods, the mertis and demerits of various Lokpal proposals.
The debate on how to tackle corruption will continue. But I am concerned about some of the other issues Anna’s movovement has thrown up.
Some see a Hindu right-wing plot. Some smell jingoism in the sea of tricolours at the rallies. Some say Dalits and Muslims are not part of Anna’s crusade.
A friend confessed to a sinking feeling seeing young men in bandanas, even if they were white. It reminded him of the saffron bandanas adorning those who brought down the Babri Masjid.
Then there is the snub - what do these people know?
But do the fears of some, justified or not, delegitimise the right of others to be inspired by Anna’s message? Should there be an entry requirement to be in a mass movement? What about those who have never seen a mass movement at close quarters and want to check it out before taking a position? What about those who have been apathetic towards political issues till now or those who may have given or taken a bribe sometime?
Can they be allowed to sully the ground where lofty thoughts are being articulated?
A 20-something bank manager told me she went to RamlilaMaidan on a Sunday. She had never seen a big rally before. She was apolitical, never been an activist, did the ‘right things’ - graduation, B-school and now a job in a multinational bank. RamlilaMaidan was her first glimpse of a mass movement. She went with friends to “check out the scene, to find out why other people were talking about it.” Her takeaway message - “For the first time in my life, I felt we, as Indians, could be united. There were so many people from so many walks of life. What attracts me to Anna is his simplicity, his genuineness. That is a powerful message in itself in today’s world.”
I took the Metro to RamlilaMaidan the same Sunday. In my coach, there were old people, families with children, and young men who shouted ‘VandeMataram.’
Some carried the national flag. Most were headed towards the Maidan as well. The queue outside was so long I could not see where it ended. But what instantly struck me was its orderliness. With an old man in a Gandhi cap just ahead of me and a family with small children behind, we inched forward slowly but steadily. Volunteers milled around picking up trash. Some were distributing pouches of drinking water.
It took nearly two hours before I got inside. RamlilaMaidan that Sunday had the flavour of a carnival - people chanting slogans, waving the national flag, eating. A young volunteer studying computer science said he came to the Maidan every day after classes because Anna inspired him. I took an auto rickshaw home. The driver, another man in his 20s, said he had stood outside the gates of Tihar Jail for hours when Anna was inside.
The three young people I met would probably fumble if quizzed about the minutiae of the various Lokpal bills that the Parliament’s standing committee will now discuss.
They were there simply because they ‘connected’ with Anna Hazare and his movement against corruption. In the future, they may well change or modify their views. Do they have a right to engage with one of the most important issues of the day, even if their first response is ‘simplistic’ ?
Many questions come to fore with all the dust raised around the Jan Lokpal Bill. But the nagging question in our minds right now: you and me - have we become consciously responsible? Are we now, part of the change?
Bhoomi Network would be pleased to hear your views about the following question:
How do you see Anna Hazare - as your representative to initiate change? as just a mirage in a desert? or anything else?
E-mail us your views at: email@example.com