By Sujata Anandan
When the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, with Anna Hazare at its head, began their protests amid much excitement and frenzy last year, I was among the first to say that it left me cold, reminding me suspiciously of a real life Peepli Live from Jantar Mantar.
More than once in this column, too, I have stretched my neck and stated that Anna and his “team’’ are a media creation – essentially the electronic media and mostly by those from outside Maharashtra who had had no idea about what this so-called Gandhian was all about.
The amount of abuse I received from 18 year-olds to 80 year-olds, all of who mistakenly believed that I was supporting corruption rather than pointing out the truth, was truly unbelievable. But while the rest of the world was ecstatic at discovering this so-called Gandhian – an insult to Mahatma Gandhi, given the vast difference between the intellect of the original and the wannabe – at least media persons in Hazare’s home state knew what he was all about: a flip-flop man who sailed with the wind and who believed everything he heard, without checking out the facts for himself and a tinpot dictator in his own village. But more importantly, even in the 1990s, without the advantage of so many TV channels, a media creation by those of us who were absolutely enthralled at the manner in which he seemed to take on the mighty (chief minister) Sharad Pawar. He was then supported by Shiv Sena boss Bal Thackeray but, being easily influenced, he went hammer and tongs at Thackeray, too, in no time at all.
And how he was manipulated by his handlers became very apparent when he thought he was exploding a real estate scam against then deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde – but all that he ended up doing was hurting Munde’s family by bringing his private liaison with a tamasha dancer into the public domain.
However, what took the cake was that while he was exposing corruption against the ministers in the Maharashtra government, his own Hind Swaraj Trust was found guilty of misappropriation of funds – a fact ratified by a judicial commission and one to which Anna admitted and apologised. The media disillusionment with Anna was by then complete. But neither the ministers at the Centre in the UPA nor the people outside Maharashtra knew what Anna was all about.
Rather than relying on the three former CMs from the state in the Union Cabinet (Sharad Pawar, Vilasrao Deshmukh and SushilKumar Shinde) to neutralise Hazare, the government was taken in by all the media hype, only to accord the movement the legitimacy it did not deserve.
“They should have made use of me long before they did,’’ Deshmukh told me recently. Deshmukh had Anna’s measure but so did Pawar and Shinde, all of who had played him along through various agitations while at the same time meeting him halfway on his demands that did succeed in cleaning up their governments and getting rid of some corrupt elements (the IAC hasn’t even come close). However, as one senior All India Congress Committee general secretary told me some months ago, “Our ministers just sit before television and believe that everything that is hyped up on this or that popular channel is the gospel truth. They have added to the myth of Anna Hazare.’’
But now that myth has been busted – by those in the media outside Maharashtra (remember how Anna left the Bombay media cold last December, leading to the downfall of his movement?), given that the contradictions in Team Anna are now starkly visible, as are the differences between them, the scams against various members and, more importantly, the dwindling crowds at IAC rallies.
But while people like Shanti Bhushan were quite happy to go along with the very same media ‘looping’ images of crowds throughout the day last year that made the movement larger than life, they seem to now have a serious problem with the thin crowds at the IAC rallies being similarly looped through the day. And though there are other reasons for the thin crowds (lack of RSS participation, for example), I guess it is only Anna Hazare (and not those who actually abused the media) who apologises because he alone has past experience of what it means to live by the sword and die by the sword: the media, in this regard.
I guess the IAC’s Peepli Live moment is now well and truly over.