On the Contrary

The Man Who Could’ve Been

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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Why Anna Hazare’s decision not to fast in Delhi is an admission of defeat
Anna Hazare is goind on a fast again from 10 December to press for the passing of a stronger Lokpal Bill and, while a noble cause, it will most probably fail. The main reason for that is because he is holding it in his village Ralegan Siddhi and that itself is an admission of defeat.

He helmed something spectacular in 2011 after the first fast at Jantar Mantar and the second at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. As they now mull over how things came to this pass, Hazare and his followers keep repeating that they were betrayed by politicians. The truth is that the common man, with his limited attention and empathy, got bored.

Politicians, who understand their voters much better than Hazare does, knew all along that they just had to be patient and wait for the Indian citizen to revert to the mean. They were proved right when the fast called by Hazare in Mumbai saw abysmal public participation and shocked him into temporarily giving up the fight. He once said that the ordinary Indian would not let him die till the Bill was passed, but that mythical Indian was too busy with the business of day-to-day survival to worry about his dying. Plus, Hazare didn’t want to die either.

As he tries to reclaim that space once again, Hazare says he can’t fast in Delhi because his health does not permit it. That makes little sense. Delhi is just a flight away and a man on fast has nothing much to do except sit on a pandal.

The reason Hazare is doing it in a temple in Ralegan Siddhi is because that is his home and makes him feel secure. He is popular there and assured an audience. The fast cannot fail by the yardstick of that region. But while it might not lead to losing face, it won’t help get that Lokpal Bill passed either.

If you start off with concern for your own health, there is a high probability that the ‘indefinite’ fast will be called off at the first sign of health being affected. Given that a political fast is essentially a bluffing game, which government is going to take him seriously? This is a game he has lost even before he started. All he can hope for is a token assurance before calling it off. It is, in one sense, sad that the victory of politicians over him has been so total.

Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, who was more politician than saint and had all the cunning that came with it, Hazare is a simple man. There is undoubtedly a certain greatness to him, but without any feel of realpolitik, it is left to those around him to strategise victory. It was Arvind Kejriwal and the others around him who turned the 2011 fast into a national movement by stretching the duel with the Government to breaking point and providing the high drama that had the country rivetted.

Hazare still does not understand that he made a mistake excommunicating Kejriwal after the latter jumped into politics. Even if he didn’t want to get his hands dirty, Hazare could still have been a Gandhiesque father figure or conscience to the Aam Aadmi Party, a monitor of its morals. But despite being repeatedly beseeched, Hazare rebuffed Kejriwal. Like everyone else, he didn’t anticipate or comprehend the AAP’s success at a time when his own mass appeal was fading away.

His letter to Kejriwal, asking that his name not be used in AAP’s campaigning, missed the point altogether. The AAP does not need him now; he needs them. But ever since the party was formed, he has treated it with condescension and suspicion. After suffering it for some time, the AAP is now returning that attitude. Kejriwal’s most recent letter to Hazare had retort in its tone; the days of meek supplication were over. All that Hazare can truly bank on now is Ralegan Siddhi. That is why he won’t fast in Delhi.