Anna Hazare’s short journey from messiah to muppet

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India abhors the corset belt of rigid morality. It breathes in fluidity, philosophy, and nuances of grey.

Which is why Krishna is forever, Gandhi for a long while. And Anna Hazare for a flash an overheated pan in time sends out.

The icon of the India Against Corruption movement is his own caricature today. Or perhaps he was always a caricature; India was too angry and restless for change in 2011-12 to notice.

Today, Anna is dusted out of oblivion at times by parties to throw some rustic morality at rivals and be promptly folded back into the box of forgetting. He has been used most famously against the Congress, and with fast-withering effectiveness against the BJP and the AAP. Funnily, the same Congress welcomed his 2015 stand against the Narendra Modi government’s Land Acquisition Bill.

His latest dung bomb is aimed at Arvind Kejriwal’s controversial liquor policy in Delhi.

Anna’s angry letter, of course, completely misses the point. It is not a critique of a policy which increasingly smells of cartelisation, loss to exchequer in order to benefit cronies, and some seriously shadowy beneficiaries. He does not question why Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia features in the CBI first information report and how one of his close associates, random event managers, and even stand-up comedians got embroiled in it?

Or why the AAP government kept a massive Rs 150 crore annual turnover as entry limit for bidding for contracts? It led to two large companies, Indo Spirit and Brindco Spirits, getting about 80 per cent of Delhi’s wholesale Indian liquor business by pushing out small traders? Or if a similar policy was being planned for Punjab, where the powerful liquor lobby is known to bankroll elections for parties?

No, Hazare’s letter does not raise any such questions of worth. It is instead a vague, moral rant with lots of dead wordplay like “drunk on power” thrown in.

Anna accuses Kejriwal of promoting the production and consumption of liquor in Delhi. “It will pave the way for liquor shops in every nook and corner and encourage rampant corruption,” he writes. In reality, the AAP’s new liquor policy has pushed smaller players out and has already put more than 100 vends across the city out of business.

Anna does show up the mirror to the Delhi chief minister’s hypocrisy. Kejriwal, in his earlier sanctimonious avatar, had suggested in his book, Swaraj, that women’s consent must be taken before opening liquor shops. Anna reminds him of that.

For a former army truck driver who would tie up village drunks and thrash them with his service belt, one does not expect an insightful deliberation on the changing liquor policy of a modern metropolis. Nor does he have the moral and intellectual bandwidth of an MK Gandhi to wing it.

Anna Hazare played an immense role in transforming India at a very critical point in history. He was the mascot thrown up by that moment. Arvind Kejriwal turned that agitation into a rising political force. He shepherded the idealistic energy of the Lokpal agitation to cynical, wily, and often megalomaniac political manoeuvres. He won Delhi, then Punjab, and has eyes on states like Assam and Gujarat. From freebies to flirting with Khalistan sympathisers to soft Hindutva, he moved with time, while Anna got cut-off and totally out-of-step.

Anna Hazare is a classic example of what happens when you want to extend your political expiry date by popping up with moral lectures every now and then. One wonders what would have happened to Gandhi if he had lived on… without actual political power, but seeking the periodic moral disruption.

Anna Hazare must sit down. As it stands now, he has nothing new to give. He has got enough love for a lifetime to not seek attention and not allow himself to be used.

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Anna Hazare’s short journey from messiah to muppet
Anna Hazare’s short journey from messiah to muppet
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