A believing reporter is no reporter. He is a propagandist and an apologist. He also loses the right to write the first draft of history. Ashutosh may like to look back at the 13 heady days of Ramlila Maidan and review his book himself, says Apoorvanand.
The 'apolitical' movement against corruption 'led' by Anna Hazare is now morphing into a full-fledged political party. Anna and his associates say that they cannot ignore the voice of the people who want them to transform the landscape of Indian politics by cleansing it of polluting and corrupting elements.
The voice of the people was mediated through an appeal by some eminent people, including former bureaucrats, army men, judges and academics which said that it was futile to continue the fast as it was addressed not only to the government but also to the political class as a whole and neither the former nor the latter seemed to be responding to it. It is an appeal by citizens who feel let down by the whole political class and seem to have given up on it.
Eminence is what this movement always sought, not ordinariness. So, when the 2012 fast commenced, Kiran Bedi tweeted to exhort Aamir Khan, V K Singh and other eminent personalities to join her at Jantar Mantar. She, like her associates, was convinced that once the stars assemble, crowds would follow. It did not happen this time though.
Anna and his associates have asked the people of India to show them the path ahead. They are already apprehensive that the alternative to the existing corrupt political class they are expected to become, could turn into its mirror image. There is confusion in the ranks of the 'movement' as they are fearful of losing the pristine 'apolitical' platform from which they had been pouring furies upon the political system. Is it all over then?
It is quite ironical that I am reading a book on the 2011 Ramlila Maidan Anna- Fast movement at a moment when Anna is heard saying, "Enough of fasts! Now politics!!" Anna: 13 days that awakened India is based on the eyewitness account of Ashutosh, a well- known TV personality. I think that someone will have to soon write a book titled, 'Ten Days that Transformed the Transformers'. Am I too late in reviewing this book?
Anna was written and published in the heat of the Anna movement and therefore bears the marks of the excitement of the moment. I was asked to review it more than six months back. I kept delaying it as I just did not know where to place it. Is it a journalist's account of Anna Hazare's fast last year at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi or an insider's view of the event that it was?
We expect and demand certain objectivity from journalists and generally do not like them to write like interested parties. We also know, however that it is very difficult, if not impossible for scribes to cast aside their own ideologies while describing a political movement or event. Emotions of the moment sway them and they tend to lose the critical distance from it which is necessary for them to assess and describe it dispassionately. But it is a choice each journalist makes for oneself.
To be fair to Ashutosh, he does not claim that he is writing as a dispassionate observer of the movement against corruption which was 'led' by Anna Hazare. The title of the book declares loudly his loyalty to it. It is not just, therefore to expect it to be analytical. It is a mere description of the 13 days of Anna fast that was performed at the Ramlila Maidan and played out by the TV channels for those who could not physically be present there.
One must say that Ashutosh tries his best to give you a blow by blow account of the inside drama. At times it reads like a breathless commentary of the event. To build his narrative, he depends on the actors of the movement and only restates their version faithfully for his readers. It is not surprising, therefore, that he does not feel a need even to subject them to scrutiny.
It is useful to read this book to understand the mindset that supported and sustained the Anna movement for more than a year. The initial pages tell you how this was movement crafted by Arvind Kejriwal. His association with Kiran Bedi and his experiments with Baba Ramdev proved to be very crucial to make him go for Anna Hazare. It is very interesting that an urban mind like Arvind picks first a religio-entrepreneur like Ramdev and then Anna, a village patriarch with strange feudalistic, patriarchal, puritanical ideas, not only about nation but also about how one should live one's life.
His brutal ways of disciplining a polluted body and mind convinced Arvind that he was the 'man' or the repository of the lost 'manliness' India was craving for. Ashutosh does go back to 2010 to trace the origin of the movement. He should have gone even further back, to the moment when Kejriwal and others launched a campaign to make Kiran Bedi the Chief Information Commissioner of India.
In my opinion this episode is very critical to understand the inter-personal dynamics of this movement. Pankaj Vohra, a seasoned political commentator wrote about Kiran's frustrated attempts to become the police chief of Delhi and then the campaign by Arvind, Sandeep Pandey and others to make her the CIC and explained why it was unacceptable.
Ashutosh does not delve deep into the histories of the individuals that created this movement. He also fails to explore as to how and why Anna lifted from the margins to make him the central figure of the movement. How did Prashant Bhushan become a part of a group which did not share his world-vision? Ashutosh does not discuss these issues. He also does not try to understand the face of the movement, Anna Hazare. He does not even feel the need to discuss Mukul Sharma's definitive study of Anna's village-experiment.
There are people who treat this movement as a proxy move by the RSS. Ashutosh rightly trashes them. He, however, does not explain the overtly nationalistic and patriotic semiotics of the movement. He does not feel the need to find out the sources of support which sustained this movement. It is also disappointing that he does not analyse the imagery used by Team Anna to rouse the masses. Especially because he is a member of the world of images.
To read him describe a poetaster like Kumar Vishwas as a 'well known poet" is also disquieting. That this movement took birth and was shaped in times when the very project of the Indian nation was being questioned in very many ways should have led a mind, generally skeptical on other occasions to probe the language adopted by the movement. Unfortunately he does not do anything of this kind.
Overawed by the response of the crowds, Ashutosh makes a claim for the movement which would embarrass perhaps even its leaders. Comparing it with the JP agitation of 1974-75, he says , " ...the Anna movement is remarkable and bigger than the JP movement as it did not use any political party to spread its message nor did it take their help for mobilisation... The JP movement had very limited footprint.... In this context I will... say without hesitation that Anna movement was bigger in terms of its reach and spontaneity."
Is it surprising that Ashutosh treats all political mobilisations as paid events? Disparaging them, he writes, "Most of these rallies are dependent on borrowed crowds which are paid handsomely or compensated in kind to be there. Modern means of transportation are used to ferry people. Crores of rupees are spent ..." One does not know how to react to such inanities. The book concludes with Anna breaking his fast.
Ashutosh takes some time to discuss the allegations against the members of the core committee of the movement. Again he does not examine them and feels content with the explanations of the accused. This book is, as I said earlier is an act of obeisance by a faithful. To expect it to have a critical stance towards the movement is to ask for something it never aspires to do. It reads more like an apology for Team Anna.
Ashutosh seems to recover his journalistic self in the epilogue of the book where he discusses the flip-flops on important occasions by the Team Anna after its first grand moment of glory. He discusses their failure in Mumbai. He notices that the youth was no longer enthusiastic about it. Looking for explanation, Ashutosh argues that "Anna movement had lost its novelty factor... Let us not forget that we live in the age of television and ours is a neo- consumerist society which, every minute redefines itself. Anna at the beginning of 2011 was a new product but by the end of the year, consumer fatigue was setting in..."
This is exactly what some the critics of the movement were saying all along. This is movement of a consumerist society which has been brought up on reality shows. In the first lap of the 'protest' it gleefully consumed the fast by Anna. But the same menu being offered again and again failed to stimulate it. The anger and frustration of Team Anna with the electronic media in the latest round of protests is thus understandable. It feels betrayed by it. The media had failed it by not mobilising crowds of the right size this time.
A reporter is expected to report. We want a reporter who has an eye for details on the surface but a nose which can sniff what is brewing deep within. A believing reporter is no reporter. He is a propagandist and an apologist. He also loses the right to write the first draft of history. Ashutosh may like to look back at the 13 heady days of Ramlila Maidan and review his book himself.
ANNA: 13 Days That Awakened India by Ashutosh by Harper Collins Publishers India, 2012