Through the lens of 24/7 television cameras, a visitor to India could be forgiven for thinking that the protests in favour of Team Anna amount to a societal tsunami engulfing everything in its path. Yes, there is no doubt that there is much empathy with the crusade against corruption and respect for the 74-year-old Anna Hazare though we would not go so far as to say that his fast puts him in the league of Mahatma Gandhi. Now that the government and police have caved in and allowed him to conduct his 15-day fast in the Ram Lila grounds at a time of his choosing, things should be seen in perspective.
While huge numbers support Anna and his cause, an equal, if not greater number of people, do not have the luxury of being able to hang out at the Ram Lila grounds or other venues of protest though they may be in full sympathy with anti-corruption movements. As we have seen in the past, such protests tend to take on a life of their own and spread out over public spaces, putting those who want to get from one place to the other out of gear. The protestors who are fighting the good fight should ensure that those who want to get to their workplaces, educational institutions or hospitals should be allowed to traverse unhindered. They should not insist on shutting down educational institutions and other establishments and observing hartals to boost the fight for clean governance. We have seen the results of such shutdowns in places like West Bengal and Kerala where the economy was pushed to the ropes at great cost to the people. Of course, those who want to stay away from schools or work are free to do so, but Anna and supporters cannot create conditions of chaos where normal life comes to a standstill. In the democratic system that we are all fighting to save, maybe not quite as vocally as Anna and his supporters, people have an equal right to get on with their daily lives and not be prevented from doing so by the security measures undertaken by the police or the rallies undertaken by the Anna faithful.
Anna has proved his point, that his democratic right to dissent cannot be taken away by a muscular government. In that spirit, he should exhort his followers to confine themselves to the areas designated for them by the police, and for people who have not come out on the streets to protest in whatever way they see fit as long as this does not intrude into anyone else’s space. It now falls upon Anna to ensure that this is really a democratic protest in every sense of the term. The very same cameras which have created a multiplier effect for him, could mirror a less than positive image if he and his followers are seen to create hardship for the common man whose cause they are championing.