“Our country had lost its direction and was looking for someone to salvage it. Anna Hazare has come as a messiah and he is our country’s only hope,” said a protester, refusing to identify himself, at Azad Maidan on the humid Friday afternoon.
If the applause he received was anything to go by, many among the thousands gathered there shared his sentiment.
Another chant popular among protesters is: ‘Jadoo ki Chhadi, Anna Hazare’. (Our magic wand is Anna Hazare.)
At Azad Maidan, where the city’s protests are centred, such opinions are common. The youth, frustrated about corruption, have found an icon in 74-year-old Hazare.
The caps they don proclaiming ‘I am Anna Hazare’, the comparisons to Mahatma Gandhi, the posters of Hindi films with the protagonist’s face morphed to Hazare’s to the protesters who go up to the stage and speak about Hazare and not the Lokpal Bill indicate the movement has become more about Hazare and less about the cause.
“The flip side to such attention on Hazare is that there is hardly any debate about the bill,” said Uttara Sahasrabuddhe, associate professor, department of civics and politics, University of Mumbai. “The issue of this agitation was about the government not approving the Jan Lokpal Bill, but it has strangely diverted to Anna Hazare’s personality.” He goes so far as to say she suspects this diversion could be by design, “to ensure attention remains on Hazare and not the bill”.
Sarah George, assistant professor of humanities at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies, agrees. “The focus of this movement has been on Anna and for people, he’s become a symbol for anti-corruption. But that the focus is solely on Anna and not the bill means people supporting him have neither the interest nor the inclination to probably read the bill.”
Anupam Padaya, one of the India Against Corruption volunteers, who has been fasting, feels there’s nothing wrong if the focus is Hazare. “He is the only leader to lead such an agitation in a way that the government could not do anything to break it. He deserves all the respect and adulation he is getting,” he said.