The Anna revolution: Victory or defeat?

Last Updated: Mon, Aug 29, 2011 03:08 hrs

So the fasting social activist Anna Hazare seems to have scored a major victory in his fight against corruption when he got three of his key demands to be noticed by Parliament for inclusion in the final version of the Lokpal Bill.

So is it a victory or defeat? Has the whole movement been a big success or has it come good just symbolically?

While all this will be debated for quite some time, there is a larger question to be asked.

Is this just the end of a short and intense agitation which one news channel dubbed an "August Kranti"?

Or is it merely the beginning of a new phase in Indian democracy?

The Congress party may have learnt its lesson. The Lokpal Bill might yet become a tough Act quickly. Judicial, land and electoral reforms may be put on the fast track.

Congress dynasty heir apparent Rahul Gandhi talked of making the Lokpal something like an Election Commission and more tough measures required to uplift the nation. If all that really starts happening, then the people's anger could be calmed somewhat.

Or the grand old party of India could simply go back to its arrogant ways in turn fueling a new wave of people's anger which could be more unpredictable than the current one.

A history of movements...

That's the thing about movements, agitations and revolutions. You never know how long they will last. Some come and go. Others merely herald the beginning of much bigger things.

The biggest example is the Russian Revolution. Russia saw many revolutions in the first quarter of the twentieth century, not just one.  

The first was the 1905 revolution, which resulted in constitutional monarchy, the State Duma and the Russian Constitution of 1906. Then there was the February 1917 revolution, which led to the abdication of the Tsar and the formation of a provisional government.

Of course the most famous of all is the October 1917 revolution which brought Lenin and Communism to power.

There is also another movement which followed soon after that has been called the Third Revolution by some and less grandly as "Left-wing uprisings" by others. Either way, there was a Russian Civil War from 1917-23. Had the anti-Bolshevists won that, it could well have been called "the" Russian Revolution.

The Arab Spring has also been a long-term movement which has spread across many countries and is still going on.

Of course India 2011 is so much different from Russia and the Arab world because we have been a flourishing democracy for more than six decades.

Nevertheless, India has had its fair share of movements, mostly violent.

They have shaped India in many different ways.

The longest running battle with the State has been the Leftist armed struggle which began right after Independence, but which is called the Naxalite movement today. Studies have shown Naxalites to be active in a whopping 180 districts in India. This is one problem which the State by and large ignores and has been virtually swept under the carpet.

Another long-standing movement has been the discontent of the Kashmiris, fed up of bearing the brunt of umpteen Indo-Pak conflicts coupled with militancy in the state.

Do you believe Anna Hazare has scored a big victory?

But the first organized movement that really rattled Delhi directly was the one led by Jayaprakash Narayan which ultimately led to the Emergency of 1975. That's a huge turning point because it ended India's single party rule and led to things like the Public Interest Litigations and subsequent judicial activism.

In the Mandal agitation of 1990, student protests rocked the nation and there were rasta rokos, bandhs and self-immolation attempts. That was also effective because it resulted in the implementation of the Mandal Commission and the reservations for OBCs surpassed that of the SC/STs.

The Ramjanmabhoomi movement at around the same time was another game-changer. It forever changed the secular fabric of the nation.

It brought the BJP to power in 1998. The BJP even after 20 years from that time remains the main Opposition party and has not disintegrated like the Janata Party and Janata Dal in the past.

What's different about this one?

Of course the current August Kranti led by Anna Hazare in terms of results is nowhere near any of the movements as mentioned as above. (Yet!)

The game changer is that this could be a sign of things to come. A winning formula, which brought the Parliament to its knees (no matter what the final result now), can be summed up as follows...

One Strong Personality + One Strong Cause + Thousands of Passionate People + 24 Hour TV + Social Networking Frenzy = One Mass Movement

A lot of people must be itching to try out something similar? Right now India has all the ingredients.

Till 1991, we lived in a socialist economy where there were not that many stark differences as compared to today.

Liberalization changed everything.

Today the wealth of billionaires in India stands in grim contrast to the starving millions.

The sheer size of scams has still left most shell-shocked. What will happen when we have a few more mega scams?

No matter how much the agricultural economy grows, farmer suicides continue.

With each mega project, more and more of the poor are being displaced from their lands without enough compensation to sustain a decent livelihood.

Corruption is not the only issue that has unanimous support in this country. There are many others.

Let's face it. We have millions of disenchanted people and the means for sustaining an agitation in this TV and Internet age.

All that is required is a strong leader.

If everyone takes this "Main bhi Anna, tu bhi Anna, saara desh Anna" business seriously then you might inspire a few dozen leaders who will yearn for big changes.

Just pick a topic…

Corruption. Electoral reforms. Farmer rights. Land rights. Telangana...

Another big factor is that after the mandate of 1984, no single party has been voted to power with 51% seats on its own. For all its bluster, the Congress in 2009 got just 206 seats.

It is an era of coalition politics where we have a strong judiciary and strong offices like that of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

Now the people too want their share of the pie (outside of merely voting in and out governments).

The people have tasted first blood in 2011. Whether this will whet their appetites remains to be seen.

Of course all this may be good. All this may be bad. Time will tell. But our democracy does appear to be entering into a new phase.

Either way, a non-violent movement is a refreshing change compared to violent agitations of the past which succeeded thanks to a political establishment that did not have the will to take them head on.

Also Read:  Let's challenge politicians' 'Right to Corruption'

Viva Anna! Long live the revolution!

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs at