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india Updated: Aug 21, 2011 01:58 IST
Varghese K George
Varghese K George
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Krantikari Manuwadi Morcha (KMM) is one of the organisations mobilising people for Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption. Krantikari means revolutionary, and Manuwadi means adherer to Manusmriti — the ancient text of law which many say forms the theological roots of Indian conservatism, particularly related to caste and gender.

But there is no contradiction, says RK Bharadwaj, who founded KKM in 1990 to oppose caste-based reservations, and is now a zealous campaigner for Anna. “Reservation is the root of all corruption. The real revolution is in establishing Manu’s merit-based society.” Bharadwaj says he has travelled to 30 cities in the last two months to mobilise support for Anna. “Those who get reservation indulge in corruption. Those in the general category are the sufferers,” he explains.

Voices that link corruption to caste are not lonely in the Anna crowd. “Those who must have been cleaning shoes are making others clean their shoes and ruling and looting this country,” said another person, who did not disclose his name.

As in KMM, in Anna’s movement too, krantikaris and the manuwadis converge. “Each one understands corruption differently. It is a vague concept, but then all mass movements are vaguely defined,” points out Arvind Kumar Mishra, associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a social psychology expert.

Manifestations of corruption according to various speakers at Ramlila Maidan where Hazare is sitting on a fast include India’s nuclear deal with the US — ‘nothing but a ploy for politicians to make money.’ The Unique ID — that many say will dramatically reduce corruption — is merely a ‘government tool to snoop around.’

The gathering is of those who have lost their faith and then suddenly found it again in Anna. Anna will deliver them from evil, they believe. Among the pantheon of saints, philosophers and poets invoked at Ramlila is Jesus. For the believers in Anna, Indian democracy is an undelivered promise — like Jesus who has not come back. Anna Hazare is like the TV healer who commands, “in the name of Jesus, be freed of cancer.” It’s politics — or faith — of the Here and Now.

The slogans have evolved accordingly. “I am Anna, you are Anna, the entire nation is Anna,” was an initial one. In a latest, Kiran Bedi, police officer-turned-key aide of Anna put it simpler. “Anna is India, India is Anna.”

“The prime minister of India says he has no magic wand to end corruption. Why is he the prime minister?” screamed one protestor. Anna has a magic number, Bedi explained to the crowd. “After the Jan Lok Pal, you can dial 101 the moment someone asks you for a bribe. Within minutes a Lok Pal vehicle will come and arrest him. Our fight is for 101,” she said.

In the Jan Lok Pal narrative, an India free of corruption, like a pizza, is just a phone call away. But the Anna movement is not at all restricted to the dial-a-pizza middle classes, as it has been widely suspected.

Messiahs unite people. Anna’s movement has the young and the old; Brahmin and dalit; the highly educated and the illiterate; the elite and the lumpen — in fact, even a dash of pickpockets too. They are all united in the fight against ‘corruption.”

The core of believers in Anna include romanticist youngsters — people like Harry Lal, a 29-year-old lawyer from Kochi who first travelled to Ralegan Siddhi — Anna’s village near Pune — last month and now to Delhi. “I am going to be with this movement for as long as it takes,” he says. Amit Raghav, 21, a computer science student of Delhi is in it because he “wanted to be part of a revolution.” Vaibhav Gupta, a 22-year-old engineer came with his parents on Friday and Saturday — after office hours — waving huge national flags in support of Anna. Mostly affluent — the Guptas have four cars — these young idealists with an urge to “do something,” but unsure of what, make up roughly half the crowd.

An angrier section in the crowd is linked to the new economy in an inequitable way — those who are forced to work longer hours for a pittance and those who lost their livelihood to development projects. Then there are political workers who are frustrated with their respective political parties. (See profiles, above)

DIFFERENT STROKES

Corruption, by no account is new and there is nothing to suggest that corruption has increased suddenly. Corruption affects everyone. The question then is why Anna captured the imagination of so many, unlike many other anti-corruption crusaders who have come and gone without a whimper. The saturation media coverage that Anna is thankful for, only partly explains it.

Around the core of young idealists are many who have a recent grievance against corruption — two doctors travelled all the way from Jalandhar in Punjab, agitated over frequent transfers. Someone has not got his passport in time; someone paid a ‘donation’ for the kid’s admission. “Even after paying bribes, we have not got the payment for our wheat the government procured,” said Yashwant Patel, a farmer who owns 18 acres near Jhansi.

A conversation with any Anna supporter soon slips into the stronger cause of the anger that they share, beyond the slogans. Except the seriously rich, others become animated as they list price-rise as their most serious concern. RL Atri, retired government official, says: “Inflation and corruption create a vicious cycle. How can you blame an official for taking bribes when his grocery bill goes up by three times?”

Sociologist Dipankar Gupta says: “An average salary earner in this country has to actually cut his basic food consumption, making for a lot of resentment.” In the last year, milk has become 13 % costlier, egg, meat and fish 16 % and fruits, 22 % . All EMIs have risen. “When distinction between the personal and collective frustration is blurred, its stirs a movement,” says Mishra.

On all issues other than ‘corruption’ and price rise, the beliefs are different. “The nuclear deal must happen,” say the Jalandhar doctors; “cast reservation is necessary,” says a Delhi university law student.

“The mobilisation behind Anna is based on a single agenda. The movement will collapse if they are tempted to expand it into a wider political platform,” explains Gupta.

By harping on corruption in exclusion of all other politics, the Anna Camp is keeping the flock of believers together. But the krantikaris and manuwadis can’t cohabit as easily in real life as they can in a party’s name.

With inputs from Vikas Pathak and Shreya Sethuraman Anna's people