If you happen to watch television
news or read the newspapers, you may feel that the nation is on the
brink of a revolution unleashed by an austere man in a white cap
not many wear anymore. Anna Hazare, a former driver with the
Indian Army who has the useful Indian talent for sitting
cross-legged for long periods, is right now on a thin white
mattress by away side in Delhi, having vowed to fast until death
or until the Government agrees to set up a potent anti-corruption
body made up of good people who would have power over all
important arms of the Government.
His protest comes in the wake of a series of scams that are
extraordinary even by Indian standards. Intoxicated by images on
television of this man, who is not a politician, people in several
towns have begun their own fasts. And the middleclass is wondering
if this, finally, is their deserved revolution.
But there is much that is not evident on television. As this
column goes to press on the second day of the fast, the number of
people at his protest in Delhi is just around 300, including
journalists. They are on a 50 metre stretch of a roadside that is
between a public urinal and a wall.
Hazare, who is on a raised platform, has acquired many of the
mannerisms of Mohandas Gandhi, including a thoughtful tilt of his
head. Behind him are images of Gandhi and a very shapely Mother
People take turns to say things into a mike. One man says that the
fact that Indian news channels were not allowed to carry footage
of the cricket World Cup is further proof that foreign
corporations are trying to control India. Poets have descended to
read their poems, many of them impoverished. One of them sings,
“You have planes and ships/We have no roads to walk on.”
An announcer says, “In our fight
against corruption, we specially thank the media for their
Everybody claps. Later, he requests
the cameramen present not to fight among themselves.
One man comes up and screams, “We are not begging, we are asking
for our right. Now raise your hands if you are not beggars.” Very
few do. He looks unhappily at the crowd and says, “Lots of beggars
There are a lot of messages on placards pinned on activists and on
walls. A poster that is titled Latest Denomination says, "200
Crores = 1 Koda; 25 Kodas = 1 Kalmadi; 4 Kalmadis =1 Raja‟. And,
enigmatically, "100 Rajas = 1 Rani‟.
Suddenly, a man appears undressed as Gandhi, holding a stick.
Journalists flock to him, he denounces corruption and asks one
newspaper reporter when his article will appear.
Apparent activist, Swami Agnivesh, in saffron robes and turban,
goes on stage. With Agnivesh dressed like Swami Vivekananda and
Hazare pantomiming Gandhi, the scene resembles a college skit.
Is this revolution?
We must not underestimate what television can do to an absolute
farce. A good example is the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue
in Baghdad's Firdos Square. The footage of the toppling of that
statue by US Marines and Iraqi people became an iconic television
moment in the American invasion of Iraq. Anchors used the images
to announce America's triumph and the jubilation of the Iraqi
people at the victory. The truth was very different.
The toppling of the statue was an accidental and insignificant
moment in the war. Peter Maass wrote in The New Yorker, "Primed
for triumph, they [editors] were ready to latch ontoa symbol of
what they believed would be a joyous finale to the war.‟
The timing of Hazare's protest, Indian editors know, is dramatic.
It is a season of extraordinary revelations. Even the Supreme
Court was disgusted enough to ask, employing language that is rare
in judicial prose, “What the hell is going on in this country?”.
Hazare, as a relic of Gandhi's way of life, is in a unique
position to capture the mood of the nation.
But what kind of man is he, really? Haima Deshpande, a senior
political writer with Open, has met him several times. About 10
years ago, when he went on a fast to protest against corruption in
the Maharashtra government, Deshpande covered the event. She was a
bit surprised when he said that he wanted to end his fast because
journalists from the English media were finding it hard to reach
his village. He wanted to end it on a Sunday.
“Two reporters told him that since the Pune Cantonment elections
were to be held on that Sunday there would be no space in the
newspapers. So it was mutually agreed between the journalists and
Anna that he would give up his fast on Monday at 1 pm.”
And that was what he did. Now, the media wants a revolution and
there is a good chance that Hazare will not disappoint.
Manu Joseph is the
editor of Open magazine. His first novel, Serious Men, is the
winner of The Hindu Best Fiction Award.
The above article
appeared online on Open April 09, 2011.