Hazare: Only A Protestor

Anna Hazare is back on the political stage threatening a “jail bharo” protest movement from January 1, if an effective Lok Pal bill is not passed during the winter session of the Indian Parliament. He has also announced his intentions to go on an indefinite fast from December 27. If the bill is passed in keeping with recommendations made by him, it will be welcomed with a ceremony at Ramlila grounds, according to Hazare.

Legally, politically and socially, Hazare has the right and as an Indian citizen, is certainly playing a “responsible” role by raising his voice against corruption. His demand for a Lokpal Bill is also to a degree justified. In the process, he has received substantial media coverage, enough for the world to consider him as an Indian protestor. There, however, appears to be a major communication gap between how the world, media and politicians regard Hazare as and what people at the grassroots think of him. The real voter cares little about Hazare being labelled among the 10 leading protestors. What have they gained in the process? The apathy shown by the Indian voter towards Hazare is reflected by the results of civic body elections in Hazare’s home district, Ahmednagar (Maharashtra). The Congress has won 80 seats, the NCP-37, the BJP-14, Shiv Sena three and small parties together with independents or rebels have won 39 of 173 seats.

Clearly, there is a major difference between the political appeal that a protestor has for the voters and a democratic leader. Democratically, Hazare does not hold any political office nor has been elected to any democratic body. In this context, politically and legally, Hazare can protest on issues concerning him, but to a limit. He does not hold the democratic authority to issue commands to a democratically-elected government that is answerable to the entire country and not to just one man called Hazare.

Undeniably, even as a protestor, Hazare would not have won acclaim from certain circles, if he had not received considerable media coverage. The coverage given to him by Indian media has played a major role for him being recognized by western media as a protestor. In this context, the Indian media has played a responsible role by not allowing Hazare’s voice to remain unheard. It may be noted that there exist numerous demonstrators and protestors whose voice remains confined within their own circles. The media coverage received by Hazare has apparently also prompted the central government to pay some importance to his demands.

Considering that substantial success has been achieved by Hazare in being acclaimed as a protestor, isn’t it time that he started moving beyond these to achieve his goal, that is his anti-corruption drive? Hazare has certainly issued repeated warnings to the government and also asked it to quit, if it is not keen on paying heed to his demands. Considering that legally, politically and democratically, Hazare does not have any authority to pressurize the government to his terms, isn’t he going a little overboard? The government is apparently well aware that Hazare’s drive is probably a politically motivated move, providing ample ammunition to the opposition parties to target those in power. This probably explains as to why the government is giving the impression of paying some attention to Hazare’s demands. If the government decides to bluntly reject Hazare’s stand, it would only provide him and his political supporters an issue to lash at the ruling parties.

If Hazare is genuinely serious on issues that have made him demand resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his cabinet, why hasn’t he paid more attention to opting for a legal course of action? It may be recalled, around 35 years ago the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was not spared legally and politically for alleged election fraud. A case was filed against her in Allahabad High Court by Raj Narain. The court upheld the accusations against Indira Gandhi on June 12, 1975, set aside her election and also disqualified her from contesting polls for six years. Definitely, the court verdict was not welcomed by Indira Gandhi. Displaying no inclination to quit office, she reacted by imposing Emergency on June 26, 1975. In 1977, she called for polls, apparently under the impression that she had the people’s support. The illusion was shattered by her own defeat in Rae Bareilly constituency, where Raj Narain emerged as the winner amid miserable performance of Indira’s party which could secure only 153 seats against the 350 Congress had won in the previous polls.

Hazare has the right to protest on issues he feels aggrieved about, but he certainly does not have the authority to dictate terms to the government. Democratically, politically and legally, if Hazare is convinced about his own stand, what prevents him from adopting a politico-legal course of action? If he continues only protesting, then as mildly proved by Ahmednagar civic elections, it may not take long before he is viewed as a protestor without genuine democratic base.