Tihar jail was till recently, infamous for incarcerating dangerous criminals and terrorists and therefore, it was a wrong move to keep a person of Anna’s reputation in custody there. With no charges to prove, and the media and people training their eyes on the high walls, the only face-saving measure was to offer Anna the freedom to go, which he rejected straightaway. He earnestly began his fast in jail itself and the media latched on to it.
Viewed from the public eye, there is no better lopsided victory than a feeble old man taking on the government and winning it as well. This was one of the biggest mistakes committed by the government, ever since Rajiv Gandhi admonished the Andhra Congress Chief Minister in full public view, and the government was swept away by a regional wave of Telugu pride by the Telugu Desam Party. Anna relented to quit prison only after he got all the guarantees he needed.
It has been known since the days of the French Revolution that if the vast majority of people lose hope, they would get rid of the ruling dispensation. The government did not have a good idea of the anger on the streets until the fast happened – not at J.P. Park, but at the bigger Ramlila Maidan. The graph below shows that the TRP ratings of news channels increased during the Ramlila Maidan fast. The Television Audience Monitoring Agency data also showed that average viewership of Hindi news increased by 98% to 16.9 minutes and that of English news to 140% to 0.72 minutes at an all India level.
The incarceration of Anna at Tihar, however comfortable it was, took the memory of people back to the memories of British Raj. This political victory brought people on the grounds at Ramlila. Over 100,000 people assembled at the ground for the next nine days with simultaneous satellite protests happening across cities. Close to 50,000 people showed up in Mumbai alone.
The media was telecasting live from the ground for all those days which added to the pressure. This feat could not have been manufactured by the IAC alone, even with the support of RSS.
The fast of Anna in August resulted in a multi corner fight for cameras to find the best angles, to air the new ‘avatar’. He was old, a bachelor, a commoner, a Gandhian and he had a track record of sorts. The message conveyed in the media was that: Jan Lokpal alone would solve the problem; and – he had a plan of action – Gandhism.
The mix of thinkers behind this consisted of well known, eminent personalities. The so called “second freedom struggle” was on its way.
The mistakes of the government
The government appeared to be contrasting at different periods of this agitation. There were conciliatory tones and hard tones adopted by different spokesperson of the ruling party. After the discrediting campaign on Anna failed, one spokesperson was dedicated only to praise Anna and to drive a wedge between him and the remaining members of the IAC, while the other spokesperson launched tirades on the IAC members. Even though it was a prudent approach to avoid a public backlash, it was very obvious to the public eye that there was no cohesion in decision making at the highest levels.
All this while; the official response of the government was that it was working to create a stronger Lokpal. The IAC members went on an overkill to put the government on the mat to earn brownie points in every debate on television.
The government was also guilty of “Judgmental bias”, where it entered a comfort zone on the assumption that there was no real threat to representational politics, and that almost all dissenting voices were drowned out in the chaos of the tirade between the ruling and opposition party. It was for the first time that an “informal” group had thrown the gauntlet at the politicians.
It was never established that the opposition and ruling parties had ever worked together at any point of time to kill the agitation. It would have made sense that the politicians would have come together to protect their own turf.
Why it succeeded initially and then fizzled out?
It has always been a concern that interest groups that model themselves on the lines of “civil society”, internally lack accountability. The fissures started showing up when the individuals themselves were shown to be in “wrong-doing” by the media. This in turn got interpreted as promoting their self interest at the expense of the society, and conspiracy theories gained traction. That is when the public support waned.
The media acted as the eyes and ears of the public when it went all out in its support to the agitation and again the same media made a killing by running down the IAC. The slapping of Sharad Pawar, and the subsequent retort by Anna damaged his non-violent credentials. Prashant Bhushan raised his opinion on Kashmir plebiscite and his beating up on camera did not get him sympathy. Instead the majority of India was suspecting his motives. The non-committal stance to Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast for the past 12 years demanding the withdrawal of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) in Manipur, lead to loss of support from the North-east. The absence of Muslim or Dalit members in his team greatly hurt his support base. It was further aggravated when Modi was praised by Anna.
The agitation was still in the running until Swami Agnivesh was exposed as a government mole by the media, while he was talking to a prominent Congressman. Prashant Bhushan’s father Shanti Bhushan was planted in a conspiracy involving the 2G case, and a fake audio CD that reportedly taped his conversation with Samajwadi Party’s Amar Singh. He was also accused of buying undervalued property.
In the meanwhile Kiran Bedi was proved to be overbilling ticket costs to events where she was invited. As such the IAC was also under attack by the media. This showed that the agitating leaders were not “speckless white”. All of this eventually led to a public disenchantment with the Anna campaign.
The Anna factor was built and also destroyed by remaining apolitical in nature. Anna or the IAC was never proven to be backed by the opposition parties. However, even the best of intentions can fail, if the movement is not dynamic in nature. By not assuming an explicit political nature, the message conveyed was that they don’t want to indulge in politics. But it also implied that, since they don’t want to enter politics, they “claim to represent the people but are not capable of doing so where it really matters” (in the legislature or parliament).
The Jai Prakash Narayanan movement in the Emergency years succeeded because it was a political movement, had supporters at the grassroots level and had a leader with guts and firmness. But the Anna agitation always fell behind as it had none of these colors and gave the people the impression that they would not stick around for long. Ultimately “the proof of the pudding was in the eating” – even if the bill was passed, it would probably be implemented (or ignored) by the same bureaucrats.
The civil society was projected as “IAC only” by the media, which was not the case. There were other groups with their own versions of the Lokpal. National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI)’s Aruna Roy and Arundhati Roy differed with Anna’s version. The IAC could not get these groups onboard. The exercise was reduced to a joke when “Bahujan Lokpal bill” also found mention in the press whereby the new setup would have reservations for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, tribals and minorities just like any other government job. This lack of collaboration was a giveaway. These groups eventually came on television debates announcing their presence and their versions. They attacked IAC’s Lokpal provisions on national television, creating confusion in the minds of the people.
As per the Pluralism theory of Interest Group Politics, no group can become too dominant, and each one presses for its own policies. They formed centers of their own and, here in this case, with alliance with the government, against the IAC.
The table below shows the various differences between the interests groups:
SHOULD THE PM COME UNDER THE AMBIT SHOULD LOWER BUREAUCRACY BE
OF LOKPAL? UNDER AMBITOF LOKPAL?
SHOULD JUDICIARY BE BROUGHT SHOULD CENTRE LAW
UNDER LOKPAL? SETUP LOKAYUKTAS IN STATES?
SHOULD EACH DEPT HAVE A CITIZEN MERGER OF CBI WITH LOKPAL
CHARTER FOR GRIEVANCE REDRESSEL?
To Be Continued…
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