If one were to twist Samuel Johnson’s famous quote "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" and fit it into the Indian context then "politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel", will be a very apt commentary on the current state of affairs in the country.
Though the first republic and democratic state was in Vaishali, Bihar almost 600 years before Christ was born, yet in modern day India the average politician is one of the most despised individuals even though several leaders of the country have set very high standards, both in terms of their personal conduct but by virtue of their professional expertise.
In recent time becoming a politician has not been among the top career choices of any young Indian and the conduct of our rulers since Independence has done much more to discredit the profession than to elevate its status and bring it on par with what it was during the freedom struggle.
In the eyes of the 'aam aadmi' (common man) a politician is uncouth, uncultured, steeped in corruption, uses musclemen and ill-gotten money to win elections, plays caste and communal cards at the drop of a hat and believes that laws are not to meant be adhered to.
Over the years this belief has only been strengthened as several of our politicians have indulged in all kinds of anti-social and corrupt activities, fanned communal tension and caste divides, failed to come up with a road map to make India into a developed and law abiding country.
Although isolated incidents of protests and agitations against politicians have taken place in the country, but a mass agitation in the country that challenged this supposed supremacy of the political class in keeping with the "chalta hai" attitude, which is so common in India, had been unheard of till now.
An occasional heckling, showing black flags and in recent times hurling slippers or shoes was all that the citizens indulged in if they wanted to vent their anger towards the politicians. There was not much planning, strategy or organisational effort in taking on the politicians and even if such a movement was planned it was inevitably sponsored and organised by the rivals.
But over the last few years as the high handedness of the political class, especially the unearthing of several corruption cases as well as involvement of criminals in politics and their eventual ascendancy in the corridors of power, forced the latent anger to reach boiling point.
Slowly and surely the view that if something was not done quickly to challenge the political class and question the so-called immunity enjoyed by them due to their being members of either Parliament or state assemblies, then the fate of not only the citizens but also the overall state of the country would never improve.
The volcano finally erupted after several scams some of them costing the country several lakh crore rupees were unearthed within a span of a few months in 2010 and 2011. The brazenness with which several of our leaders were alleged to have been involved in such corrupt and illegitimate practices was the final straw and the stage was set for a churning against the politician who till now had hardly found time to address the basic issues and problems facing the country.
A 74-year-old social activist from Ralegan Siddhi, a nondescript village in Maharashtra, along with his loyal band of supporters decided to take on political class and announced that he would not rest till the country had a strong anti-corruption law to deal with the crime of the high and mighty. The man, a former Army jawan known as Kisan Baburao Hazare but more famous as Anna Hazare, had already earned his spurs by taking on several Maharashtra politicians and exposing their corrupt acts.
However, his pan-India appeal was still not known and even though his cause was worthy, yet the aversion of the common people of the country towards anything to do with politics was likely to prove to be the biggest stumbling block in his campaign.
Yet, when he first issued an ultimatum to the Central Government in April 2011 and sat on an indefinite hunger strike demanding a strong anti-corruption law known as Lokpal, the message struck a raw nerve among the citizens. They thronged in large numbers at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to express their support and solidarity towards the cause.
The massive show of strength which was almost spontaneous, totally apolitical in nature, and aided by relentless media coverage forced the Government to accede to his demands and form a committee to discuss and prepare the draft of the proposed Lokpal Bill.
One of the major features of the April agitation was that not a single politician was allowed to share the stage with Hazare even though some of them made a feeble attempt to reach out to him, before being promptly booed off.
Now, not only Hazare but the mass of humanity that had come out in his support had tasted blood and they wanted a bigger say in the law making process. Hazare along with his close associates, popularly known as Team Anna, issued an ultimatum that if the Lokpal Bill was not passed by Parliament by August 15, then he would sit on another indefinite hunger strike at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi.
The political class, smarting from the Jantar Mantar fiasco but still believing that their citadel was impregnable, tried to buy out time on the Lokpal hoping that the lack of organisational muscle, public fatigue and the inherent distaste of the common people towards mass agitations, which till now were the preserve of the politicians, would mean that Hazare’s agitation would remain a flash in the pan.
Several miscalculations and misadventures by the Central Government including the arrest of Hazare just a few hours before the start of his hunger strike on August 16 citing law and order threat revealed not only a dictatorial streak of the authorities, but also riled the citizenry who saw no evidence about how a 74-year-old and his followers, none of whom had any track record of indulging in violence, could pose a problem.
With the high handed police action coming under severe criticism, the Government decided to release Hazare from the Tihar Jail where ironically several politicians accused in corruption cases were also lodged. But he refused to leave jail till all his conditions about his hunger strike were met.
Even as the government machinery tried to appease him, several thousand people gathered outside the Tihar Jail and spontaneous protests broke out in support of Team Anna. With the support cast growing day by day and the seething anger spreading across the country, it become clear that Hazare’s popularity had reached stratospheric heights. The aversion towards the political class was aided by images of Hazare sitting and sleeping on the floor while several of our elected representatives were busy enjoying the spoils of power.
Finally after three days when Hazare walked out of the jail he was greeted by a sea of humanity, many of whom saw in him another Mahatma Gandhi and his agitation as second Independence struggle with the villain this time being corruption and those politicians who were shamelessly looting the country.
The Ramlila Maidan in central Delhi turned into the headquarters of agitation where the politician was not invited and the protesters were not shy of making this very clear, although sometime they also stooped to the level of those who they were protesting against.
While Hazare was the face of the agitation the mass of humanity that gathered to support him in several cities, towns and villages swelled, moved by the image of an old man with no assets or property, and a spotless track record taking on the mighty political class.
Hazare's movement for a strong Lokpal Bill struck a cord with the citizens of the country, who came out in large numbers to show the Government that they were now no longer willing to take things lying down.
Though the movement came in the backdrop of big ticket corruption, yet its target were not only the big fishes but also the lower level government officials many of whom would do nothing unless their palms were greased.
The massive support and the intense media glare send the shivers down the spine of the politicians as the common man's anger found a perfect outlet in the Hazare movement, which was apolitical to the core.
While the Arab Spring swept though several Middle East countries toppling the entrenched rulers, in India the scenario was not much different with a cornered political class, faced with a rival who had no known political affiliation, finding it extremely difficult to come out with an appropriate response.
The sheer number of protesters not only made sure that their voices did not go unheard, but also ensured that the anti-corruption movement became India’s first truly apolitical movement.
Keeping their political stance aside, singing "I am Anna", the protesters gained strength day by day aided by the 24x7 media coverage and the use of social media to get their points and views across to a large section of the people.
Ordinary men and women, students, doctors, lawyers, government employees, private sector employees, the daily wage earners all thronged to the Ramlila Maidan and other protest sites across the country to express their solidarity and support the movement. The scene was similar across all the major cities of the country with the protesters wearing their anti-politician stance proudly up on their sleeves.
The success of the movement lay only in the impassioned appeal of Hazare and the image of his wasting body as the indefinite hunger strike continued even as the Government and the political class dithered in its response, but also in the peaceful and anti-politician supporters who lost no opportunity to point out that it was the political class that was busy undermining Parliament by its conduct both inside the House and outside it while saying that the highest law-making body of the country was supreme.
Finally as the Government bowed before people power and Parliament debated the Lokpal Bill, it became clear that the anti-politician had arrived and was here to stay, much to the discomfiture of entrenched power groups.
The birth of the anti-politician has ensured that now our leaders will now not only be forced to rethink about their priorities, but also work overtime to assuage the fears the they are a class apart and not keen on tacking the problems facing the country.
Perhaps, the movement will also strengthen our democracy and help its root go deeper apart from making the common citizen a stakeholder in not only the entire law-making process, but also in the functioning our Parliament, state Assemblies and other elected bodies.