How an ordinary man, basking in the glory of cleverly designed “people’s movements”, started believing he was a saint, like the hero of the movie Guide
In the 1965 classic Guide, Raju, the protagonist played by Dev Anand, is a boy-next-door with a fair share of ethical confusion. He gets into a relationship with an unhappily married woman Rosie (Waheeda Rehman), commits forgery, gets caught and is jailed. The fraud was committed to retain Rosie’s love and keep her from returning to her husband. Clearly, Raju had a heart.
On release, Raju wanders about in search of some meaning of life. He is miserable, starving and lonely until he runs into a wandering group of hermits with whom he spends a night at a derelict village temple.
Through some turn of events, the villagers become convinced he is a holy man. He takes this accidental image seriously and starts a fast unto death in the hope—or rather belief—that the penance would bring rains to the drought-hit area.
Coincidentally, the very year Guide was released, during the Indo-Pak war, Kisan Baburao “Anna” Hazare was posted at the border in the Khem Karan sector in Punjab. He was the sole survivor of an enemy attack—variously claimed to have been a bomb, an aerial assault and an exchange of fire—while driving a truck.
[This piece appeared in the March 2015 issue of our magazine. Subscribe now to get your copy!]
Forty six years later, 5 April 2011, Jantar Mantar. New Delhi’s designated spot for demonstrations by activists. The place was abuzz with an anticipated arrival. The crowd was thin, but television crews armed with 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 define the role and powers of a national ombudsman (as if they knew that much of a demand could be easily met by the then government).
We were told Hazare was at Rajghat, offering prayers to Mahatma Gandhi and, to maintain the mood, every other minute, it would be announced that the “saint” was reaching in a few minutes. 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, strumming a Spanish guitar.
When Hazare arrived, he related his transformation from an army driver to a satyagrahi. He claimed that his miraculous escape at Khem Karan had given him the idea that God had other plans for him. And so, he said, he dedicated his life thereafter to the service of the people.
The story does have some truth in it, but it was adequately spiced up to add the halo of a self-sacrificing saintly leader to his persona.
Meanwhile, the organisers were spreading the word around that Anna was the new Mahatma Gandhi and the demonstrations at Jantar Mantar were part of “the second Independence movement”.
Actually, Hazare did not quit the army voluntarily in response to a call of conscience or from God, as claimed by him. He retired in the normal course after completing 12 years of service. This was in 1975, and 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 or the other. Be it against Shashikant Sutar, Babanrao Gholap or Sureshdada Jain, or during the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) reign or even now,” an activist from Maharashtra wrote on his Facebook wall.
Sutar was Agriculture Minister in the Manohar Joshi-led Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra. Hazare accused him of misusing his post to favour his sons’ hospitality business. It turned out that the two restaurants owned by his sons were set up with a loan from the Rupee Cooperative Bank. Sutar was absolved of all corruption charges by the inquiry commission set up by the government.
Gholap was Maharashtra’s Social Welfare Minister at that time. Hazare wrote to 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. In response, 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, Hazare was imprisoned in the Yerawada Jail to serve a three-month sentence after he refused to furnish the bond and give an assurance that he would not make irresponsible statements for a period of two years.
Hazare’s adventures misfired on other occasions too. The P.B. Sawant Commission of Inquiry, for example, while indicting Anna’s targets Sureshdada 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 11 acres of its land in favour of the Zila Parishad without obtaining requisite permissions 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 to date, many have wondered why Anna allowed Congress leader Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil to meet him during his hunger strike in his village Ralegan Siddhi demanding the passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament. Others question why the crusader never protested the alleged scams by Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar.
There have been persistent allegations of politicians, especially of the Pawar-led NCP, amassing huge wealth through the Lavasa Housing Project in Maharashtra. Former IPS officer-turned-activist Yogesh Pratap Singh accused Ajit Pawar of awarding 348 acres of land at throwaway prices to the Lake City Corporation (since renamed Lavasa Corporation), in which Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule and her husband held a 20.81 per cent stake. The Sules sold their stake in 2004, but there have been many other accusations against the Pawar family, of granting concessions, bending laws and rewriting policies to benefit Lavasa. But in all the hue and cry, the one activist who never raised his voice was Anna.
Finally, the silence of a satyagrahi that is most deafening and ironical—given his latest protest meetings at Delhi for farmer rights and against the Land Acquisition Ordinance—is on the issue of farmers committing suicide in his native county of Ahmednagar and all over Maharashtra for years on end, and 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 committed suicide. Nothing could have been more urgent than this horrifying trend to make Anna lead a nationwide stir to pressure government to address their plight. He did nothing of the sort.
Of course, the satyagrahi from Ralegan Siddhi is not evil by any stretch of the 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.
In August 2011, when Hazare broke his fast at Delhi’s Ramlila Ground following a request by Union Minister 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 were not aware of Hazare’s antecedents till then. When he became a poster boy in April, political observers pointed to his chequered past. The late Deshmukh, accused in the Adarsh Housing Society scam, had 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.
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 who 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 of 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.
Somewhat like the wandering sadhus of Guide, it was Kejriwal who ran into St Anna. As has been reported on Swarajya’s web portal, the AAP’s national convener, then an RTI activist much smaller in stature than the National Advisory Council’s Aruna Roy or Lok Satta Party’s N. Jayaprakash Narayan, was looking for a ladder to climb to fame. After short stints with social workers ranging from Mother Teresa to Rajendra “Waterman” Singh, and following appearances in the RSS’ Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the BJP’s Intellectual Cell, in all of which the media focused only on the bigger names than him, Kejriwal hit upon the “Gandhian” as the mascot of a new “revolution”.
Kejriwal had also met with BJP patriarch L.K. Advani. The meeting was arranged by theatre personality Lovleen Thadani, whose family knew the Advanis since their years in Sindh of undivided India. Advani told Kejriwal, as narrated by Thadani to me, that his party could not 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 which now rules the capital city.
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 Jan Lokpal movement was meticulously designed by IAC’s leaders (who today make up the AAP’s highest decision-making body, the political affairs committee), in connivance with a section of the media. It’s an open secret in Delhi journalistic circles how Kejriwal dictated the projection of the group via television and newspapers.
Raju Parulekar, former blogger for Anna, was asked by Open magazine in November 2011 what the compulsions of the “Gandhian” were 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.”
But does Hazare understand the game? He strays from the Gandhian path every now and then, but the media does not highlight these follies, and the “Second Gandhi” image sustains.
That image stokes Anna’s megalomania. He wrote a letter to Home Minister Rajnath Singh on 29 December 2014 asking why his disciples were not being allowed to install his statue in a town of Haryana. To be fair, he did write he was against self-aggrandizement. “Though I am against installing my own statue, an activist with me, P.L. Kataria, and his team, was keen to install the statue at a crossing in Gurgaon. I request you to help Kataria.”
And what he does miss is the sort of media attention he commanded in Delhi in 2011. So on 23 February, he came back to seek the lost limelight. The next day, among the ragtag alliance of foreign-funded NGOs and activist groups gathered at Jantar Mantar to protest the Modi government’s Land Acquisition Ordinance, when I went around asking the farmers what the flaws with UPA’s law and the NDA’s amendment were, they were as clueless as the villagers in Guide were about Raju’s credentials.
No big head has ever rolled in Maharashtra due to 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 Narendra 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 fasted for in Guide. One can only wish that the story of Anna, the real-life false god, does not end as sadly as that of the film’s poor muddled tragic hero.
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