One can't help harking back to two other such events in Indian history which have great similarity with the present demonstration. The first was the Dandi march of Gandhi in 1930 and the other was the Sangharsh Yatra of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in 1991. Both these demonstrations were carefully planned and orchestrated by the national and international media. While the Sangharsh Yatra had much greater planning it could not match the media attention that the Dandi Yatra got and consequently failed to catch the imagination of the nation as the Dandi Yatra and the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) of 1930-31 had. In that respect, the IAC outdid the NBA in terms of both planning and media attention and has outdone the CDM in terms of being able to achieve something concrete from the rulers. In fact both the CDM and the NBA failed totally in getting the rulers to agree to any of their demands. Unlike the NBA and the CDM, the IAC had only a very narrow agenda of attacking corruption in the government setup through a legislation for an ombudsman. As the demonstration progressed they watered down their strong demand for the enactment of their version of the ombudsman legislation, "Jan Lokpal Bill", by August 31st 2011 and instead settled for some of the main provisions of their bill being referred for consideration to the Parliamentary Standing Committee that is discussing the absolutely worthless bill that the Government had tabled in parliament earlier.
Even though this "victory" of sorts is a culmination of some very hard preparatory work done by the IAC and many supporting organisations across the country and is in a very important sense a step forward for the non-party political fringe that had become active with the Chipko Andolan forty years ago, it has to be acknowledged that there have been two other mainstream forces that have played very significant roles in the success of this demonstration. The first of course is the media. When the rag tag bunch of people first congregated at Jantar Mantar in Delhi in the first week of April they were like any other of such "civil society" groupings that frequently hold dharnas and fasts there. In fact various organisations representing the Bhopal Gas Survivors and the National Alliance of People's Movements have frequently staged fasts and dharnas there. However, they have never got any media support beyond some cursory mention. The IAC movement, from the very beginning, got massive media support and this fired the imagination of the middle classes across the nation which was very well mobilised by the IAC through the social networking media. A spontaneous response began building up and the media found that the TRPs of the news channels were going up and so they increased their coverage. As I had mentioned in my earlier post the disillusionment with the neo-liberal growth story combined with the obvious corruption and the effects of inflation led to the middle class coming out on the streets. This time around too the media provided round the clock coverage and as has now become clear the TRPs of the news channels had gone up by nearly 100% in the last fortnight. Thus, this demonstration is a great victory for the media too which is the fourth pillar of democracy. Without media support the IAC would not have been able to register the victory that it has.
The other force behind this victory is the saffron brigade. They played their cards pretty shrewdly. Throughout the country and especially in the Ramlila grounds the members of the various organisations of the saffron brigade were very active and this was most visible in the frequent chants of "Vande Mataram" and "Bharat Mata ki Jai". Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has stated that his cadres supplied free food to the people at the Ramlila grounds and obviously people also to swell the crowd. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too supported the movement wholeheartedly inside and outside parliament to ensure that the Congress was thoroughly discredited. Some of the BJP leaders in fact criticised the party for not doing more to take advantage of the situation created by the IAC and the spontaneous upsurge. Meanwhile, Medha Patkar, of NBA and the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) reportedly took on the onerous task of convincing the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra to support the Jan Lokpal Bill, which news is a shocker to say the least. Thus, what started off as a media mantar at Jantar Mantar in April finally ended as a saffron lila at the Ramlila Grounds in August.
The fact that the US administration made a statement criticising the arrest of Anna Hazare may also be construed as an indication that the forces of global capitalism may have supported this agitation. The intent being to provide a safety valve for letting out the gathered steam of frustrations that had obviously arisen in the masses due to the exploitative policies of capitalist development. In fact the whole of civil society is awash with various campaigns which are funded by imperialist countries and donors. Thus, there may well have been various other covert forces acting to fan this movement. Even though this does smack of the typical conspiracy theory, nevertheless this suspicion cannot be just blown away. Especially since the IAC has steered clear of targeting corporate and multi-national corruption.
Consequently, even while celebrating this major victory of the non-party political process we have to be aware of its drawbacks if this movement has to seriously challenge the state and not just tinker with the way in which governance is done in this country. First of all as we in the non-party political process know from bitter experience, there are always many slips between the cup and the lip. So some hard campaigning has to be done to see that a strong Lokpal Act is indeed legislated and the institutions required for its implementation are all put in place. This is in fact the biggest hurdle as all the recent progressive legislations like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Right to Information Act, the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act and the Forest Rights Act are being sabotaged by the bureaucracy and the mainstream political parties. For this the IAC will have to become a much more disciplined cadre based organisation than the spontaneous voluntary outfit that it is at present. Possibly the ongoing alliances like the NAPM could be brought into the fold and their experience in mass mobilisation could be drawn upon. However, if that happens there is also the danger that with a more fundamental and broad based agenda of change, the IAC might lose the media support that it now has for a limited platform and it will also definitely be deserted by the saffron brigade. Like grassroots RTI activists who have faced threats and imprisonment from vested interests, one of whom Akhil Gogoi of Assam is part of the IAC and NAPM, those trying to implement the Lokpal Act too will be targeted. Moreover, corporate corruption which generates the most amount of black money has not been touched at all by the IAC. If this issue is raised many of the middle and upper middle class supporters would desert the movement.
Finally there is the issue of the saintly halo around Anna Hazare. While it has helped in mobilising huge numbers of people it is to be seen whether this kind of hagiography will aid in building up a strong cadre based organisation that is prepared to implement a good Lokpal Act at the grassroots. The IAC is presently backed up by the Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF) of Arvind Kejriwal. The PCRF was set up with the funds received by Arvind Kejriwal as part of his Ramon Magsaysay award. This NGO has been trying its best to get the RTI Act implemented and it also has a campaign for grassroots democracy. This organisation has continually tried to build up cadre at the grassroots and has also done advocacy at the national level to build up critical mass on the issue of people's democracy. This preparatory work has been the backbone of the IAC and resulted in the high level of voluntary effort being put in by tech savvy people from the middle class who have built up the financial and publicity backend of the movement. So far the challenge of conducting a movement of national proportions while still staying true to grassroots activism has been innovatively met building on the earlier experiences of the NBA and the National Campaign for the People's Right to Information. Let us hope that in future too this movement will continue to build on its positives.
This post is an attempt to get over the cynicism that naturally pervades our minds when confronted with such spontaneous mobilisations. A cynicism based on an understanding that state power is in the hands of the capitalists both global and national and it will not easily bow to such populist demands. However, the reality is that the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has been operating as a reformist organisation within the liberal democratic framework regardless of its detailed critique of the system. Thus, in the interim, all that can be achieved is that this reformist agenda will be advanced a little bit further with the adoption of a strong Lokpal Act and nothing more.