Anna Hazare is a simple man. We know that. A simple man with simple sensibilities: the world is black and white, and a good whipping will cure any boozard. There’s nothing like early morning drills to instill moral discipline, and every issue of ethics is so simple that any debate serves only the purpose of identifying the crooked—the debate is otherwise useless because all that is right is already stored safely in the Anna silo.
This man has now landed up in Haryana, where a bypoll is scheduled at Hissar, and called upon people to vote against the Congress because the party is apparently not allowing the passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill. (There have been several clarifications to this statement by Hazare’s lieutenant—and increasingly, minder—Arvind Kejriwal, from Hazare meaning the UPA when he said Congress, to Hazare in no way endorsing the BJP, and so on, and it’ll go on, doubly righteous to damage-control an ever ready mouth).
Gandhian activist Anna Hazare along with civil society member Arvind Kejriwal at a press conference in Ahmednagar. PTI / File photo
Hazare and his campaign against corruption caught the public imagination because it seemed to be above political one-upmanship and associated grime, because his message appeared to embody such simplicity and untarnished virtue. (I think a statutory declaration is called for here: I do not believe that Hazare, when he started fasting, was in any way a pawn of the Sangh Parivar, which is now using the public wrath he provoked in a scramble to get political mileage out of his appeal.)
Oh, I used the word “virtue”. That’s a laden word, too heavy for most men to carry around, especially in the times that we live in. Anna Hazare and his supporters, clearly, believe that he is a champion weightlifter.
But does virtue without prudence or wisdom have much value? It’s, after all, lack of prudence and wisdom that leads to making a bad choice, and by shoving himself into the political arena at its most mundane, Hazare has shown a remarkable lack of both qualities. The RSS may claim that its workers were present at Ramlila ground in Delhi as Hazare fasted, and I am sure it is true, but swayamsevaks and fellow-travellers could hardly have formed the majority of the 24-hour throng.
Whatever one feels about what Anna achieved in those 13 days—I am not interested in arguing with anyone who calls him a misguided fool or with someone who hails him as a messiah; what happened, happened, and it was a fact, and he did light a fire. But to keep that fire burning requires powers of analysis and imagination that require, to put it mildly, slightly more intelligence and astuteness than giving your metabolism a long break. India is not Ralegan Siddhi, and—sorry, but big surprise!—people can think for themselves, be they your brothers in arms, or those who, after the regimented vegetarian meal, can still scratch their…OK, heads—about the froth on the TV anchor’s mouth.
Hazare believes he is a Gandhian: he should, at the very least, read some more about his hero, especially about the unmatched wiliness and pragmatism that was integral and essential to his idol’s supposed sainthood. To start with, Hazare should emulate Gandhi’s periodical maun vrats—the code of silence is of course far more difficult to follow now with all these TV guys shadowing him (and drinking, I am sure, on the sly)—and spend the time reading more about the man who he worships. The Mahatma was all for simplicity (though, that cost a lot of money, to quote Sarojini Naidu), but he was, not by any stretch of the imagination, simple-minded.