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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

2011: The year of Anna Hazare

What a year it has been. For students and observers of politics, 2011 has been a remarkable year - a year when we saw multiple scams unfolding and top politicians being punished for their roles in those scams. A year when a less-known man from the village of Ralegaon Siddhi became the modern day "Mahatma", a year when the credibility of the elected class took such a heavy beating that it will take a long time for them to recover from it, a year which will go down perhaps as the worst "governed" year.

The year of 2011 began with plenty of heat being generated over the 2G scam. A Raja, the former telecom minister, was the first real big fish to be sent to jail. He was followed by several other high profile corporates, bureaucrats and finally the daughter of Karunanidhi, Kanimozhi. The impact of all these arrests is still being felt, but more on that later. After the first cache of arrests, it was the turn of Suresh Kalmadi, the czar of sporting administration, to be sent to jail for his role in the CWG scam. He, too, was followed by other high profile individuals associated with management of athletics in the country.

Just about the time when the country was hailing the powers of our investigating agencies for cracking high profile cases, raising a toast to CAG Vinod Rai for confirming what we always thought was true, came Anna Hazaare. The month of April in the national capital is known for soaring mercury. This time the temperature was rising more because of the Anna phenomenon. He came, he saw and he did conquer. For a full week, Anna Hazaare sat on a fast at Jantar Mantar demanding the passage of the Lokpal Bill. He himself hadn't realised that he will end up becoming the voice of the oppressed, of those who thought the system was against them. There was singing of patriotic songs, dancing, flag waving. This was India's Tahrir Square. We were in the midst of an Arab Spring of our own in the heat of April. From Jantar Mantar, Anna and Co. went to Ramlila Maidan in August. In between, Baba Ramdev attempted a revolution of his own, yogis taking to an anti-corruption battle but he had to face tear gas shells instead. Baba running away in the guise of a woman was one of the TV moments of the year. But Ramdev was almost like a side show in comparison to what was being done by Anna hazare.

As Anna hazare launched a no-holds-barred battle against the government, it was almost as if the Centre had run out of ideas. So a day after Independence Day, Anna was first arrested and sent to Tihar jail along with his main strategists Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. If Team Anna was looking for an opportunity to capture the nation's imagination, then this was it. As the government blinked under immense public pressure, Anna turned the tables on the government. He refused to accept bail. His plan was clear. Either the govt would bend entirely and let him have his protest at Ram Lila Maidan for as long as he wanted or he would stay in jail.
The ensuing fortnight also created history. A special session of Parliament was called with all parties coming together to appeal to Anna to call off his fast. As Parliament remained paralysed, Anna grew in popularity. For over a week, thousands from all over the country came to Ram Lila Maidan to have a darshan of the modern day Mahatma. From April to December, we now have a rough outline of what the Lokpal Bill could be like.

Due to the sustained pressure that was created by Team Anna, it seemed as if the nation was in war mode. For months, there was no bail for the high profile accused in scams worth thousands of crores of rupees. An agitation that was started by the media was now itself coming under the scanner. Senior most lawyers in the country couldn't manage bail for any of the accused for almost six months.

So what's the big picture looking like now? Where are we as a nation, as a polity after the kind of turmoil that we have seen? For the incumbent UPA, this has been a nightmarish year. For the Opposition, it's been a year of godsend opportunities but not all of them well used. But a combination of paralysed govt and destructive Opposition doesn't augur well for us as a nation. A country with over a billion stomachs to feed needs constant governance and sometimes innovative governance.

The year of 2012 will begin with a round of Assembly elections in key political states. It's here in the electoral battlegrounds that we will get to see the real impact of Anna's campaign. Can an anti-corruption crusade be converted into a electoral campaign? Will voters vote on the basis of events at Ram Lila Maidan or is "Bijli Sadak Paani" still the main issue? It's the answer to these two questions which will determine 2011's place in history books.


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