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Not a Gandhi, but his protest good for India

Britons, more familiar with the other Hazare — the late cricketer Vijay — have also been learning about Anna and his movement.

delhi Updated: Aug 27, 2011 23:30 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times

Britons, more familiar with the other Hazare — the late cricketer Vijay — have also been learning about Anna and his movement.

The Lokpal Bill has figured prominently in the British media, with several newspapers running editorial and comment pieces by well-known India hands.

“Mr Hazare does not have, or aspire to, anything like Gandhi’s stature,” said the Left-leaning Guardian. “He does not confront, as Gandhi did, his followers’ complicity in social evils, an aspect of his career underlined by the subtitle — His Struggle With India — of a recent book on Gandhi. But Mr Hazare has found an issue — and is exerting a leverage which on balance must be good for India.”

The author Patrick French recalled India’s freedom struggle in a lengthy piece on Hazare in the Daily Telegraph: “A fast unto death is a touchy subject in India because of the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, who used the tactic against the British.

One thing successive viceroys and prime ministers particularly feared was the popular uprising that would quickly follow if he died on their watch. The viceroy Lord Wavell wrote in his diary in 1944 that if Gandhi were to die in prison: ‘I might go down to the readers of two thousand years hence with the same reputation as Pontius Pilate’.”

Among Anna supporters of Indian origin in Britain, there are two strands here: older, first-generation immigrants — typically Gujaratis from east Africa — tend to support Baba Ramdev. Some 2,000 of them protested outside the British parliament in June under the umbrella of Action Against Corruption.

The other group, Indians Against Corruption-Great Britain, will not have any truck with religious organisations such as Ramdev’s or political groups. It consists mainly of relatively recent immigrants from India, many of them professionals who came to Britain under the erstwhile highly-skilled migrant programme (HSMP).

This loosely-organised group has an armoury of 1,500 Gandhi caps, ordered from Mumbai but said to be too tight-fitting, that they distribute freely among would-be supporters. Its existence emerged when TV cameras captured a bunch of Indian cricket fans wearing the Gandhi cap at the India-England Test match in Birmingham earlier this month.

It has the backing of a powerful India-focussed campaign organisation, the HSMP Forum. The Forum said in a statement, “We in the UK believe corruption must be eradicated for India to continue its confident march on the road to progress.”

First Published: Aug 27, 2011 22:40 IST