ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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What 'Movement' Is This Anyway?

Jantar Mantar showed up the limitations of a popular movement that lacks a political perspective.

Now that the dust has settled on the Lokpal Bill agitation, it is time to dispassionately analyse the nature of Anna Hazare’s campaign and the potential of civil society groups to challenge the hegemony of those institutions of the Indian state that are rapidly losing credibility. The groundswell of public support for Anna Hazare’s demand for a joint committee of government and non-state representatives to draft a stringent Lokpal legislation and the victory of the campaign in forcing an arrogant State to accommodate its demands should certainly be welcomed. But the euphoria should not blind us to the limitations of the Jantar Mantar agitation – its narrow range of demands, the political naiveté of its leader, and an elitist and religious bias that flawed it from the beginning. This bias is now antagonising social activists, human rights organisations and many others who had supported the movement. It is necessary to examine the agenda and the character of the leadership and the agitators who gathered at Jantar Mantar, Mumbai, Kolkata and many other cities.

The one-point agenda of Hazare’s campaign was the issue of corruption. Sections of the urban middle class no doubt suffer from a simmering discontent with what they consider a moral humiliation in their daily need to bribe government functionaries or meet extortionate demands by local political dons. The Anna Hazare-led protest provided them with a space for giving voice to their long pent-up anger and frustration. Besides, the recent exposures of scams by the media, involving senior ministers, corporate house head honchos, apex court judges, and army top brass further emboldened them to join the agitation. They have already lost faith in the State’s willingness to punish the guilty from these upper echelons, irrespective of the party that is in power at the centre. The first Lokpal Bill was approved by the fourth Lok Sabha in 1968 but rejected by the Rajya Sabha and the eight versions of the Bill that followed thereafter were not passed by Parliament.

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