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25 February 2015

Raju Guide Of Indian Activism

Dig deep into Anna Hazare’s past and you will see how an ordinary man, basking in the glory of cleverly designed ‘people’s movements’ from Maharashtra to Delhi, started believing he was a saint like the protagonist of the 1965 Hindi film Guide

I
n the 1965 classic Guide, Raju, the main character played by ‘evergreen’ Dev Anand, is a boy-next-door with a fair share of rights and wrongs in life. He gets into a relationship with an adulterous Rosie (played by Waheeda Rehman), commits forgery, gets caught and is jailed. The fraud was committed for the sake of retaining Rosie’s love and not letting her return to her husband. That is to say, Raju had a heart after all.
On release, Raju wanders about in search of some meaning of life. He is unsure, miserable, in tatters, starving and lonely until he runs into a wandering group of hermits with whom he spends a night at a derelict temple in a village. With some turn of events, the villagers get an impression he is a holy man. He takes the accidental image seriously and enters a fast-unto-death in the hope—or rather belief—that the penance would cause rainfall in the drought-hit village.
Coincidentally that very year when Guide was released, during the India-Pakistani War Hazare was posted at the border in the Khem Karan sector. He was the sole survivor of an enemy attack—variously claimed to have been a bomb, an aerial assault and an exchange of fire at the border—while he was driving a truck. During his career in the Army (1960–75), he was posted at several locations, including in Punjab (Indo-Pak war 1965), Nagaland, Bombay (1971) and Jammu (1974). During the 65 war, Hazare survived a road crash while driving for the Army. He interpreted his survival as a further sign that his life was intended to be dedicated to service.
Again while he was posted in Nagaland, one night Naga rebels attacked his post and killed all his fellow soldiers. Hazare had a miraculous escape as he had gone out to answer nature's call and thus turned out to be the lone survivor.
On 5 April 2011, Jantar Mantar, New Delhi’s designated spot for demonstrations by activists, was abuzz with an anticipated arrival. The crowd was thin, but outside broadcasting (OB) vans and hand-held television cameras were all over the place. The organizers, rather than declare an all-out war against the establishment, announced through the loudspeakers that they were demanding their inclusion in a joint drafting committee to device and depute a national ombudsman (as if they knew that much of a demand could be easily met by the then government).
We were told Anna Hazare was at the Rajghat, offering prayers to Mahatma Gandhi and, in a bid to soar up the anticipation, every other minute the announcer would say the ‘saint’ was a few minutes away from the venue of agitation. A young man from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living in the meantime was helping the scattered crowd fight boredom with a pop-style hymn composed for ‘Jan’ Lokpal, accompanied by strums of a Spanish guitar.
Kisan Baburao ‘Anna’ Hazare arrived in some time and related his transformation from a driver with the Indian Army to a satyagrahi. He claimed his unit was once ambushed on a front that killed everybody except him, giving him the idea that ‘God’ had other plans for him. And so, he said, he dedicated his life thereafter to service of the people.
The story does have some truth in it, but it was adequately spiced up to add the halo of a sacrificial, saintly leader to his persona. Meanwhile, the organisers were spreading the word around that Anna was the new Gandhi and the demonstrations at Jantar Mantar were part of “the second Independence movement”!
Actually, Hazare did not retire voluntarily in response to conscience or a ‘will of God’, as claimed by him citing the incident of attack by Pakistani forces in the 65 war. He retired normally after completing 12 years of service in the Army.
Hazare had enrolled with the Army on 14 April 1963. He had completed his training at Aurangabad in Maharashtra. He had joined the service as a recruit. He was attested as a soldier on 16 November 1963 and was holding the rank of a sepoy at the time of leaving the service in 1975 when the Khem Karan episode was 10 years behind him. It is anybody’s guess if Anna was ‘talking to God’ for a decade.
“Anna has always done all those street-plays at the behest of someone. Be it against Shashikant Sutar, Babanrao Gholap or Sureshdada Jain, during the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) reign or now,” an activist from Maharashtra wrote on his Facebook wall.
Who are these people? Sutar was agriculture minister in the Manohar Joshi government of Maharashtra. Hazare had accused him of misusing his ministerial post to favour his sons’ hospitality business. It turned out that the two restaurants owned by his sons were set up with a loan facility from the Rupee Cooperative Bank. Sutar was absolved of all corruption charges by Justice ML Dhudhat, the one-man inquiry commission set up by the state government to investigate charges of corruption levelled against him by Hazare.
Gholap was Maharashtra's Social Welfare Minister at that time. Hazare had written a letter to then Chief Minister Joshi demanding Gholap's removal for allegedly siphoning off Rs 4.5 crore from three state-run corporations to the bankrupt Awami Merchant Bank. Responding to the allegation, Gholap filed a defamation suit against Hazare. The satyagrahi was arrested in April 1998 and released on a personal bond of Rs 5,000. In September 98, Hazare was imprisoned in the Yerawada Jail to serve a three-month sentence after Hazare refused to furnish a bond of Rs 5,000 and give an assurance that he would not make irresponsible statements during the period of two years.
Jain was elected from Jalgaon constituency in 1980 as an Indian National Congress (Indira) candidate, in 1985 as an Indian Congress (Socialist) candidate, in 1990 as an Indian Congress (Socialist) – Sarat Chandra Sinha candidate, in 1995 as an Indian National Congress candidate, in 1999 as a Shiv Sena candidate, in 2004, as a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate and in 2009, he was elected from Jalgaon City constituency as a Shiv Sena candidate. The turncoat has been in jail for misappropriation of Rs 29 crore in the Gharkul Housing Scheme scam since March 2012, much after the Anna effect had dissipated. Jain’s arrest was culmination of a complaint by then municipal commissioner of Jalgaon Pravin Gedam in 2006. Interestingly, Hazare found Jain corrupt only when he was not with the Congress (2003), though the protest against Jain continued even when he became part of the Congress-NCP coalition government the next year.
Hazare’s adventures misfired on other occasions. The PB Sawant Commission of Inquiry, for example, while indicting Anna’s targets Jain, Nawab Malik, and Padmasinh Patil in February 2005, also found three trusts headed by the social worker culpable for financial malpractices. The commission concluded that Rs 2,20,000 spent by the Hind Swaraj Trust for Hazare's birthday celebrations was illegal and it amounted to a corrupt practice. It said that the trust’s act of setting apart of 11 acres of its land in favour of the Zila Parishad without obtaining permission from the charity commissioner was a case of maladministration. The commission also concluded that the maintenance of accounts of Anna’s Bhrashtachar Virodhi Janandolan Trust after 10 November 2001 had not been according to the rules and Rs 46,374 spent by the Sant Yadavbaba Shikshan Prasarak Mandal Trust for renovating a temple thwarted its object of imparting secular education.
Closer in history, people in Hazare’s village wonder why Anna allowed Congress leader Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil to meet him during his hunger strike in Ralegan Siddhi demanding the passage of Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament. Many wonder why the crusader never protested the alleged scams by Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar.
The whole country—most prominently, former IPS officer and lawyer, Yogesh Pratap Singh—complains about some politicians, especially of the NCP, amassing huge wealth through the Lavasa Housing Project. Singh accused Ajit Pawar of awarding 348 acres (141 hectares) of land at throwaway prices to the Lake City Corporation (which was renamed Lavasa Corporation). The land was awarded at a paltry monthly rent of Rs 23,000, of which share of 20.81 per cent was held by Sharad Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule, and her husband Sadanand Sule, Singh said. Anna never called for action against the Pawars even as the policeman-turned-activist charged the political family with corruption in the controversial project.
But as Anna’s demeanour suggests, he is not evil by any stretch of imagination. His lack of understanding of politics is evident in the fact that he praises Narendra Modi’s “Gujarat model” one day and says on the next that he was misinterpreted. Or, he tells one television channel after the Aam Aadmi Party is formed that greed for power has got the better of Kejriwal, and then tells another channel a few days later that Kejriwal is a “good man”; his objection is only to the choice of making a party.
It is, therefore, compelling to conclude that Anna is just a simpleton who has been manipulated to carry out a certain brand of activism to target only one section of the polity, in all likelihood without him noticing the pattern.
Did it behove an 'honest' Anna Hazare to break his fast after receiving a message from a 'corrupt' Vilasrao Deshmukh in August 2011?
In August 2011 when Hazare broke his fast at Delhi’s Ramlila Ground following a request by Vilasrao Deshmukh, it lent credence to an allegation I had heard in political circles during the April protests that year. People in Delhi and much of northern India was not aware of Hazare’s antecedents till then. When he became a poster boy in April that year, political observers pointed at his chequered past. Deshmukh, accused in the Adarsh Housing Society scam and recipient of brickbats due to his ‘terror tourism’ of the Taj Hotel with son Riteish and filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, had for long been a close friend of Hazare. This former chief minister of Maharashtra is understood to have incited the social worker at different points of time to initiate satyagraha against his political rivals, whether in the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government or in the rival faction of a Congress-NCP government.
In Delhi, on the other hand, while the Jan Lokpal Andolan looked like taking activists of all hues along, finally mostly Ford Foundation beneficiaries made it to the group that negotiated terms with the government. Within that group, as those that have fallen out now reveal, Arvind Kejriwal (now Delhi’s Chief Minister) was often found talking to then Union minister Kapil Sibal in the middle of internal discussions within India against Corruption (IaC), though that was the ‘crime’ for which Swami Agnivesh was evicted unceremoniously from the group. Ashwini Upadhyay, who is now in the BJP, shared this information with me many months before he was expelled from the AAP after which he joined the ‘saffron’ party.
Somewhat like the wandering sadhus of Guide, it was Kejriwal who ran into ‘saint’ Anna. As has been reported in Swarajya’s web portal, the AAP’s national convener, then an RTI activist much smaller in social stature than National Advisory Council’s Aruna Roy or Lok Satta Party’s N Jayaprakash Narayan, was looking for a ladder to climb up to fame. After several short stints with social workers ranging from Mother Teresa to Rajendra ‘Waterman’ Singh, and following several appearances in the RSS’s Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and the BJP’s intellectual cell, all of which made media focus only on the ‘stars’ greater than him, Kejriwal hit upon the ‘Gandhian’ who could be the mascot of a new ‘revolution’.
Kejriwal had also met with BJP patriarch LK Advani; the meeting was arranged by theatre personality Lovleen Thadani, whose family knew the Advanis since their years in the Sindh of undivided India. Advani told Kejriwal, as narrated by Thadani to me, that his party did not have the credibility to pull off a people’s movement in the wake of a flop yatra by the BJP leader.
If in Maharashtra, Anna was used by the Deshmukh faction of the Congress, in Delhi his movement gave rise to the AAP that now rules the capital city.
Didn't Anna take a sacred vow never to share stage with politicians? Are leaders of the AAP not politicians?
And conveniently forgetting his resolve not to share stage with politicians, if Hazare met with Vikhe-Patil in Ralegan Siddhi, he has no qualms about letting Kejriwal and Medha Patkar, both functionaries of a party, deliver political speeches from his platform in Delhi.
For, Anna knows an elaborate plan to make a movement successful is beyond his wherewithal, notwithstanding his own past complaint that Kejriwal had misappropriated funds collected by selling “Anna cards” during the 2011 agitation. The entire JLP movement was meticulously designed by IaC’s leaders who today make the AAP’s highest decision-making body, the political affairs committee, in connivance with a large section of the media, journalists from which today tell me how Kejriwal dictated the projection of the group to the people via television and newspapers.
Former blogger for Anna, Raju Parulekar was asked by the Open magazine in November 2011 what the compulsions of the ‘Gandhian’ are in retaining Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan. He said, “Financial and health compulsions. The movement has generated huge sums of money. Kejriwal is the custodian. The funds generated by the Anna Hazare brand are not in his hands, they are controlled by Kejriwal, Bedi and Bhushan. Annaji does not know how to manage the funds, so he is dependent on these people. They know this and are exploiting the situation.”
Parulekar is now so bitter about the IaC experience that I desist from citing other charges he has levelled against both Anna and present members of the AAP, as his statements may have less of facts and more of rants.
Curiously, the Congress, forever beleaguered by charges of corruption, never found Anna threatening enough to either rush its ministers to the airport to receive him or unleash brute police force on him that they did to the original crusader against black money, Baba Ramdev. The UPA’s biggest constituent faltered on the plan to go soft on him only when its chairperson was off to the US for treatment of some undisclosed disease; they committed the folly of arresting Anna in August 2011, which only helped his popularity soar higher.
Only for once could he be used by the right wing. Anna targeting Sutar following SW Puranik report’s indictment was seen by the Shiv Sena as the ‘remote controlled’ Chief Minister Joshi trying to cut Balasaheb Thackeray to size, as Sutar was close to the party honcho.
But does Hazare understand the game? He slips from Gandhism every now and then, either while flogging alcoholics with his Army belt in Ralegan Siddhi or while questioning reporters whether Pawar received just one blow on his cheek. Thankfully for him, the media does not highlight these follies while some newspapers and magazines relegate such news to some obscure pages inside their editions. And so the image of ‘Second Gandhi’ sustains.
When Anna thought too much of himself, this is what he got: Not more than 5,000 people attended India against Corruption's December 2011 demonstrations at Mumbai's MMRDA stadium
That image raises Anna’s megalomania to Mayawati’s heights. He wrote a letter to Home Minister Rajnath Singh on 29 December 2014 why his disciples were not being allowed to install his statue in a town of Haryana. To be fair to him, he did write he was against self-aggrandisement. In his letter, Hazare wrote, “Though I am against installing my own statue, an activist with me, PL Kataria, and his team, was keen to install the statue at a crossing in Gurgaon. I request you to help Kataria.”
Finally, the silence of a satyagrahi Anna that is most deafening and ironical—given his latest protest for farmer rights—is on the issue of farmers committing suicide in his native county of Ahmednagar and all over Maharashtra for years on end, not due to any land acquisition law. The National Crime Records Bureau of India reported in its 2012 annual report that 13,754 farmers had committed suicide that year of which 3,786 were from Maharashtra alone—a quarter of the countrywide statistic. In 2011, the count was 14,207. In 2010, 15,963 farmers in India had committed suicide. Nothing could have been more urgent than this horrifying suicidal spree of peasants to make Anna lead a nationwide stir to pressure government to address their plight. He did nothing of the sort.
But he missed the media’s focus on him in Delhi in 2011. So on 23 February he came back to seek the lost limelight. The next day, among the rag-tag alliance of foreign funded NGOs and activist groups gathered at Jantar Mantar protest the Land Acquisition Ordinance, when this correspondent went around asking the farmers what the flaws with UPA’s law and National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) amendment were, they were found as clueless about either as villagers in Guide were about Raju’s credentials.
No big head has ever rolled in Maharashtra for Anna’s hunger strikes. The UPA government at the Centre, after ensuring that the IaC safety valve worked, did not concede any ground to the activists led by Anna. Will Narandra Modi’s BJP—not all constituents of the NDA are with the government—budge in awe of the build up of activists led by Anna? That would be the rain Raju had entered into an absolution for in Guide. Given such making of the real-life false god, one can only wish his story does not end as pitiably as that of the film’s tragic hero.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.