(By Mridula Garg, The Hindu, August 27, 2011)
What can explain the upsurge of support from the youth for Anna Hazare's movement? A sense of being part of history-in-the-making.
I must be one of the few survivors who were present at Gandhiji's daily evening prayer meetings in Birla Bhawan. I was there, exactly 10 years old, when the bomb blast took place in the meeting, a week before the assassination on January 30, 1948.
I also had the rare opportunity of filing past his cot, when he undertook his last fast unto death. It happened when India had already gained Independence. Yet the thrill was unmistakable and inimitable. I can still feel the hair-raising prickle of being part of something as unique, overwhelming and empowering as history in the making.
Empowerment! That was the key word. It magnified the thrill of being part of a crowd on the move; made it more intense and meaningful than the usual frenzy of participating in a rally or a mela. It is thrilling enough to be a part of the tumultuous festivities of Ganesh or Durga visarjan. (How cold the English translation, immersion, sounds in comparison.) Indians love festivals, crowds, noise, communal singing, dancing, eating or not eating, for that matter.
Whet the moral appetite
A fast can be thrilling too. Why else do so many of our festivals require fasting before gorging on the goodies? What can whet an appetite more than a moral fast before an equally moral feasting. It is no less breathtaking to be part of a rampaging mob, up against authority. But imagine how much more overpowering it would be to be part of a movement, neither frivolous like a mela nor unethical like a rioting mob.
There lies the answer to the riddle of the appeal of Anna Hazare's movement against corruption for the youth. Of course anyone and everyone from all walks of life is a victim of corruption in our country at many points of time; of course they have all learnt not only to grin and bear it but also allowed themselves to become part of the system and indulged in corrupt practices themselves; some in petty, others in hefty ways. And of course each and every one, from all rungs of the non-homogenous middle class to the multitude of the deprived mass hates it. One would much rather live in a corruption-free environment, where everyday things get done as a matter of course without petty humiliations and greasing of palms.
But the mass disapproval of corruption does not explain the mass convergence of a notoriously apathetic youth to a movement spearheaded by someone totally devoid of glamour and religious sanctity. It can be explained only by the sense of empowerment coupled with the thrill of being part of history-in-the-making bequeathed by it.
It is the second time since India became independent that the youth have had a chance to feel empowered in an ethical, moral and righteous manner. The first call came from Jayaprakash Narayan's total revolution in 1974-75. The declaration of Emergency sealed its fate. Though the country limped back to its pseudo democratic state a couple of years later, we never fully recovered from the warped psyche that had been moulded by cowardice, shame and humiliation of those fateful years of failure.
Now after a gap of 36 years, we feel empowered again as we partake of the thrill of being a participant in a fervent crowd rather than a vociferous or mute spectator. An added excitement comes from the sense of being righteous, moral and austere without the danger of being denounced as a fundamentalist or religious demagogue or of being beaten up or peppered with bullets.
Power and thrill
Who would want to forgo such a magnificent thrill! Certainly not the youth of India brought up for decades on extensive footage of Gandhi's mass non-violent movement, forcing the arrogant and exploitative Empire to its knees. The young have read about it, heard of it and seen it on the screen ad infinitum but never tasted its power and thrill, first hand. Now they can. What exquisite power something as simple as a Dandi March can bestow. A fasting Anna Hazare galloping ahead of the cops at Raj Ghat brought back memories of Gandhi scampering ahead of much younger men and women on the Dandi march; alas, seen only on the screen.
I was only nine when India became Independent but the memory of 1942 Quit India Movement and Bose's call, “Give me blood and I'll give you freedom” can still give me goose bumps as nothing has ever since. I had seen it, I had been part of it, in however small a way. But not they. Never they. Till now. How can you expect them to let this opportunity pass by?
With my first-hand experience of the bomb blast at Gandhi's prayer meeting and his last fast, not to say the earlier Quit India call, I had known the reason behind Anna's appeal from the first day.
But the full confirmation came this morning via the usually polite guard of my building. I requested him not to talk quite so loudly at four in the morning on his mobile under my bedroom window and he snapped back, “I am going for an-shun at Ramlila Maidan and that's that!” What sweet empowerment. “Go savour it as long as it lasts,” I said and withdrew.