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India's trial by ire

In 2011, Anna Hazare gave our thoughts a new direction. But now he must move from fierce campaigns to calm discussions to ensure his movement's success. GopalKrishna Gandhi writes.

india Updated: Dec 03, 2011 00:37 IST
GopalKrishna Gandhi

One whole month, December, remains for 2011 to play itself out. And something, anything, could happen in any part of the earth yet to say 'This is the tail-end of the year; tails can sting'. Or, 'The year flickers; its last log glows longest and best.'

But even if 2011 is yet to take its bow, one can look back to see how it's gone, who shaped it , who - if anyone at all - made a difference during the year to our thoughts, our hopes, our fears and our lives.

The fact is there isn't such a one. No person, no explorer, sports-star, scientist, philosopher, author or leader, no hero, no one, really, may be said to have taken the world by storm during the year, either by some dazzling accomplishment or by a rare stand of courage or statesmanship.

Pinnacles remained vacant in 2011, summits uncrowned.

But if a stage were to hold the chorus alone, with no heroes or heroines, not even great jesters, then the human stage, 2011, has been just that. The chorus has been the play, the play its chorus and the audience has joined the chorus, on its feet, hands clapping in rhythm, to sing 'We are the global warmers, We are the climate changers'. That ecological spoof would be speaking the truth.

World-wide, those who made the Arab Spring, or made Arabia spring were people, simple folk, masses upon masses of them. Their tidal wave of civil resistance from Mauritania on that continent's north-west to Oman on its north-east, with little Tunisia leading from the centre, turned not one but many chapters as only an elemental heave could.

Likewise, those who initiated the incredible Occupy Wall Street campaign sprang a surprise. They brought 'corporate ego' down to a reality check with human experience, President Barack Obama handsomely acknowledging the point.

Nearer home, the dismantling of Myanmar's military regime after nearly half a century and the installation of civilian rule in that Buddhist land has placed a rainbow in South Asia's sky.

The people have spoken. They have made the climate. But will the new seasons , the change of weather bring new ailments with new relief?

Will the Arab Spring be allowed to bloom or will the region's oil, its politics, its strategic location turn into a wilderness of new opportunisms?

Can Wall Street introspect? Does a mint feel? Do the 1% care?

Is Suu Kyi free to do as she would like to?

Let us turn to India. Who or what, in 2011, gave our thoughts a new direction and our lives a new energy?

Without question, Anna Hazare did. He stamped it with his presence, deep and strong. With his words, few but sharp. With his actions, clear and emphatic.

This doughty man, scarcely known outside Maharashtra and the world of NGOs became a household name. He had been heard of as a grassroots leader who had taken on the corrupt head-on. But compared to nationally and internationally known leaders like Baba Amte, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Sunderlal Bahuguna, Aruna Roy or Medha Patkar, he had been seen as a local phenomenon, 'the reformer from Ralegan Siddhi'.

Come 2011 and he sprang out of that 'corner' like a panther to catch the nation's apathy by its jugular. The idea of a lokpal had been a haze in the public's mind. The globally-connected saw it as a vague desirability of Scandinavian origin. Those versed in legends saw in it a throw-back to ancient Indian Kings who placed bells outside their palaces for aggrieved subjects to jangle them out of sleep. Anna Hazare turned the lokpal into a palladium of national pride and a goal that amounted to a public obsession. He was, overnight, 'game changer', 'page turner', and news-maker Number One. He was, not his 'core' teammates, articulate as they were. Not the many Anna bandwagon clamberers-on agile as those were.

There too, it was the people's chorus that did it.

India's 'Don't-Disturb-Me, I-Am-Mobile' middle class had so sickened of corruption - ubiquitous, entrenched, powerful and now getting into many multi-digit figures - that it wanted someone not in politics to give them a lead, a road-map, and a new calibre of inspiration. The logarithm of Hazare speaking the people's thoughts, uttering their warnings and raising their collective fist worked.

His critics - they are many - will concede that had there been no Anna Hazare , the Lokpal Bill would have lain buried, dead cold, under many other draft enactments of zero value.

No Hazare, no movement.

Equally, no people, no Hazare.

Where does that leave us ?

With the people, again.

Does that mean another movement? Anna Hazare Round Three?

India can be spared the ordeal.

The people are fuel. They combust, ignite. They spur, empower. They are the campaign's energy. They don't give the vehicle its direction. The role of showing the way, of taking the integrated energy of a campaign to its goal, has to come from the wisdom of leaders.

Anna Hazare Round Three has to be people-led again, but with a difference. It has to see the ingots of popular rage move from the foundry of campaigns into the coolants of calm discussion.

And his political interlocutors have to deal with him not as Bad News but as Bitter Truth, and give careful shape to the fiery ingots through negotiations.

The people who have fuelled the campaign deserve the relief of seeing it succeed, not the return of another ordeal of fire.

Two circumstances can deny the Anna Hazare movement success and rob us of the joy of seeing corruption retreat:

-The movement's own hubris.
-The political class's subversion of it.

The year 2011 can yet rescue promise from pride, opportunity from obfuscation. A lokpal can yet emerge, symbolising the nation's conscience, consensus and craftsmanship.

It can be the year the power of the people prevailed over the tyranny of money.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor. The views expressed by the author are personal.