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Vivek Sengupta
Wednesday, August 08, 2012 at 12 : 34

Where Hazare got it wrong


The anti-climactic collapse of the Anna Hazare movement brings to mind TS Eliot's classic phrase: Not with a bang, but a whimper. This is not how it was meant to turn out. Just last year, thanks to an enormous build-up in the media and massive mobilisation of public opinion, especially of the young through a smart use of a variety of tools including social media, Hazare seemed to be the messiah who would deliver the country from the scourge of corruption.

In less than a year's time, Hazare appeared to be a caricature of his old self. He had lost his elan. Still angelic perhaps, but an ineffectual angel, outwitted and outsmarted by his bête noire, the political establishment. He was no more the Pied Piper who had, not long ago, caught the imagination of the youth. The man, who was compared variously to Gandhi, Vinoba, Baba Amte and JP, elicited no more than sympathy.

So, what went wrong? Why did Hazare lose the plot? His initial appeal lay in the cause he espoused - the fight against corruption, specifically governmental corruption. Large sections of the middle classes, fed on media reports about multiple scams, became convinced that he would help bring back probity in public life. It did not take a lot of effort on his part to convince his votaries that corruption in high places was all that was wrong with the country. He championed the Lokpal Bill and told his supporters and that once it became law, it would be the magic wand that would transform government from a cesspool of corruption into the clear stream of service and delivery.

Attendance at his fasts was swelled by followers of his associates like the yoga guru Ramdev as well cadres of some opposition parties who were happy to add to the government's discomfiture.

But these anti-government forces were soon forced on the back foot when Hazare began to rally against elected representatives of the people and they became equivocal in their support to him. They were happy to back him only when he attacked the government at the Centre and the Congress party. Not otherwise.

Add to this the self-destructive ways of the luminaries of the so-called Team Anna. The media lost no time in finding chinks in their armour. Whatever was left of their popular appeal was compromised by their conduct and some of their pronouncements.

All of this came home to roost and the movement became a pale shadow of what it was just about a year ago. In a desperate attempt to stay relevant, the movement has metamorphosed overnight into a political force that is ready to fight elections. This is not what Hazare had wanted. This suits the politicians very well and they cannot be blamed if they think that the Hazare phenomenon has been vanquished.

Hazare's cardinal mistake was in singling out governmental corruption for attention. When he was not attacking government functionaries, he was dismissive of electoral politics. By doing so, he got the establishment's back up. It has not taken the hardened politicians a lot of effort to outwit Hazare on the issue of creating the all-powerful Lokpal that he has been demanding. They gave the appearance of conceding his demands, but they have dragged their feet in taking the Bill through the labyrinths of Parliament.

More than a strategic mistake, focusing on the elusive Lokpal was a mis-diagnosis of what ails India today. The problem with the country is not just corruption in high places. It is not just crony capitalism. It is not just black money stashed abroad. It is ubiquitous corruption and the absence of ethics-here, there and everywhere. There are not many aspects of our lives that are not directly or indirectly affected by this malaise. In almost all walks of life, this threatens to become the norm rather than be the exception. Besides impacting the economy in multiple ways, this has the potential to destroy the moral fabric of our people.

What is required today is a moral regeneration movement. We need to realise that the fault does not lie only in our politicians or bureaucrats, the so-called neta-babu nexus. It lies in each one of us. The way we drive on our roads reflects our general attitude. We have no respect for the rules of the road and are happy to break each one of them in a mindless quest to get ahead. This has to change. The paramountcy of rules has to be re-established. Once that happens, everything else will follow. Corruption will be brought down to acceptable levels.

Linked to this is the need to reform our electoral system - specifically election funding. Politicians need vast sums of money to fight elections. The bulk of this is money that is not accounted for. The need to generate this money lies at the heart of big ticket corruption linked to politicians. The only way to rid the political system of this scourge is to introduce sweeping reforms in the way parties and candidates are funded. Once elections are fought and won on the strength of legitimate funds, and not ill-gotten wealth, there will be no incentive left for politicians to indulge in corrupt practices on a mass scale.

There is thus a crying need for a leader who will use the force of moral suasion to persuade the populace to stick to the straight and narrow, to follow rules, to neither give nor accept bribes. Such a leader would also persuade the politicians that it is in their own best interest to reform poll funding. Once these are accomplished, we as a people will have brought about a peaceful revolution within a democratic framework - perhaps unprecedented in the annals of global history.

Who would be the leader who would create a movement to lead us out of this primordial darkness of all-pervasive corruption? For a few moments last year, it did seem that it was Anna Hazare who could do this. It did not take long for that hope to be dashed.


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Public affairs analyst Vivek Sengupta is Founder and Chief Executive of the consulting firm Moving Finger Communications. He can be reached at vivek.sengupta@movingfinger.in.