Five years ago, the film Lage Raho Munnabhai gave us a Mahatma of the shopping mall, a Feel Good, Archie's Card Gandhi who materialized at Munnabhai's elbow with potted wisdom on how to get through a bad day. But 2011 brought us an altogether different avatar of Gandhi, someone who invoked the Mahatma in more powerful ways.
Kisan Baburao Hazare, or Anna Hazare with his Gandhi topi and his satyagraha against corruption became the defining individual of 2011. The Hazare movement began quietly, crept up unnoticed, then burst upon the nation, grabbing state and society by the jugular. Currents of revulsion at corruption had simmered for decades under the surface, now anti corruption- anger towered into a tidal wave, a wave that combined anti-elite, anti-rich and anti-politician anger, a gigantic wave with Hazare seated at its crest.
In the first few days itself, thousands poured onto the streets. Forty thousand 'liked' Anna's page on Facebook in the first week alone. There were protests in 400 locations around the world. Seven lakh expressed solidarity by giving a missed call. The Lokpal Bill had been in cold storage for 40 years. Anna's fasts in Delhi, at Jantar Mantar and Ram Lila Ground, have now forced the government to create a Lokpal, a supreme ombudsman, within months.
2011 brought us an altogether different avatar of Gandhi, someone who invoked the Mahatma in more powerful ways.
Supercop Kiran Bedi, RTI campaigner Arvind Kejriwal and lawyer Prashant Bhushan became the core members of Team Anna. They were derided, they bore the brunt of parliamentary privilege motions and physical attacks, there are many that critique them as dictatorial and unreasonable, yet this year, Anna along with his team, became impossible to ignore as agents of fundamental change.
Baba Ramdev's massive following and midnight arrest by the Delhi police created a storm in the national capital. The government's flip flops with Baba Ramdev gave the impression of an administration adrift. But Ramdev blazed only very briefly on the national stage, controversy overtook some of his actions and endeavours, and left him marginalized by the Anna wave.
If civil society and the assertive new middle class found their urban legends in Anna and Team Anna, the ballot box threw up its own heroes. In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee stormed to power in a historic assembly election that ended 34 decades of unbroken rule by the mighty Left Front. Mamata became Bengal's Ma Durga in a crumpled sari, a subaltern goddess, who by sheer stamina, street fighting politics and tenacity, built a single-woman-led challenge to the seemingly invincible Red Fortress.
Her record in governance since her victory may be mixed. But Mamata's spectacular victory in 2011 makes her India's Lech Walesa, an anti-communist hero who defeated an indomitable communist party and its well-organised cadres, through democratic politics.
Rahul Gandhi's politics has many critics as well as admirers. At 41, the Gandhi Amul Baby appears still to be a youth leader on a perpetual discovery of India. He seems to lack a big idea and has yet to build a party from the grassroots in the manner that Mamata Banerjee has done so successfully. Yet there is no doubt that Rahul Gandhi, whether through his appearances in Bhatta Parsaul or padyatra from Bhatta Parsaul to Aligarh or in relentless travels and night-stays through other parts of UP has managed to build a saliency to the extent that even mighty grassroots leaders like Mayawati and Anna Hazare are targeting him personally.
Handicapped by dynasty and privilege, Rahul Gandhi spent 2011 fighting his image trap; but he dominated headlines too.
2011 also saw the return of the veteran yatri LK Advani. His age and message may be reminders of a previous century but in energy and stature LK Advani reminded us that it was he who created the modern BJP, who gave it its lexicon, who challenged the Nehruvian consensus from the Right by inventing such phrases as 'minority appeasement' and 'pseudo secularism'. Those phrases have worn a bit thin, and Advani's 38- day Jan Chetna Yatra across 23 states aimed to arouse the public against corruption, may have become a wannabe Anna Hazare act. But in 2011 it brought Advani back to centre stage in the BJP.
The 2G case dominated 2011 and in this has been a year when the Indian public witnessed the remarkable. Extremely powerful politicians and businessmen, who just a decade ago would have been completely beyond the reach of the law, remained in jail and were repeatedly denied bail. That Kanimozhi, none other than the daughter of Dravida supremo Karunanidhi and powerful corporate honchos actually had to serve time in jail was an extraordinary feat by Indian standards. For the never-before long incarceration of the high and mighty, 2011 is a stand-out year.
Subramanian Swamy, the tireless and tenacious 2G petitioner, now with his eye set on home minister P Chidambaram was an important newsmaker of 2011. Swamy was stopped from teaching his courses at Harvard University because of an article in which he argued for the disenfranchisement of Muslims. Swamy is seen as a purveyor of hate speak against minorities and a divisive figure. He is the poster boy of the 'internet Hindus' on social media sites and a cult figure on Twitter and Facebook. Yet he is also the David in the 2G case to the Goliath of governmental corruption.
Swamy is controversial. So is Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai and his finding that there was a Rs 1 lakh 76 thousand crore loss in the 2G case. This figure is increasingly being seriously questioned. Both Subramanian Swamy and CAG Vinod Rai are touched by controversy but if 2011 was the year of reckoning of the powerful, they have played a vital role.
Other faces flashed prominently in 2011. Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia was once again pigeon-holed as a neo liberal icon. The Planning Commission's controversial affidavit pegging Rs 32 per day per person consumption, as the cut-off for the poverty line stirred a moral as well as an economic debate.
Sonia Gandhi's top secret illness raised questions about whether the leader of the main political party should take the nation more into confidence about her ailments.
Captain Courageous Mahendra Singh Dhoni led India to that stunning World Cup victory after 28 years. He became the captain of a billion hearts for his cricketing acumen as well as for his handsome manliness. In that tense final at Wankhede stadium, the brave skipper promoted himself in the batting order, carrying away the Cup for his men and his country with the calm confidence of an Achilles in battle.
2011 will also be remembered for Amitabh Bachchan and Sushil Kumar, host and winner of Kaun Banega Crorepati respectively. The spontaneous, joyous hug between the great star and a shy Sushil Kumar, the computer-programmer from Motihari in east Bihar, brought a tear to every eye.
A quintessentially human drama unfolded when Sushil Kumar won his five crores. It was not about the money. Instead the KBC finale was a fable of new India, as if to say aspiration and success are all possible, fairy tale endings can happen, even if they happen in a corporate-sponsored neon-lit television game show.