Low-key in Mumbai

Published : Jan 27, 2012 00:00 IST

Anna Hazare's supporters at the MMRDA grounds in Mumbai on December 28.-VIVEK BENDRE

Anna Hazare's supporters at the MMRDA grounds in Mumbai on December 28.-VIVEK BENDRE

AT least in some quarters, it was likened to the non-violent movement in pre-Independence India. However, Anna Hazare's campaign seemed to lack the solid fundamentals that a movement like the Dandi March of 1930 had.

The failure of Anna Hazare's three-day fast in Mumbai from December 27 in effect exposed the flawed strategy of the campaign and its fundamentals, say several commentators in the city. Professor H.M. Desarda, an economist and one-time supporter of Anna Hazare, put it like this: In retrospect, it was a virtual movement that could never address the genesis of corruption. The agitation was limited to demanding a law. A law is necessary, but you also need to carry out systemic reforms.

What went wrong in Mumbai after the campaign's huge success in New Delhi in August 2011? Some attribute the weak response to the location of the fast in suburban Mumbai, while others cite the weather and the holiday season. Yet others blame the apathetic Mumbai middle class and the lack of transportation to the venue. On a more serious note, many say it was because of the confusion in the average citizen's mind over what the campaign was all about.

Avinash Bhede, a bank official, said he used to wear the Anna topi' to work in August. But this ardent Anna Hazare supporter could not understand why Anna Hazare was still carrying on his protest when the Bill had reached Parliament. I had no interest to leave work and go to the MMRDA grounds for a cause I was no longer convinced about, he said.

Anna Hazare's timing in Delhi worked exceptionally well for the success of his campaign. The scams relating to the Commonwealth Games and 2G spectrum allocation had just been exposed. But in Mumbai the movement had lost its topicality.

Even Mahatma Gandhi maintained a gap of several years before he renewed his freedom movement, an observer said. Whereas Anna Hazare did not wait even for a year before attempting to stir the pot again.

In today's world, people cannot keep taking time off to attend dharnas, says Usha Thacker, a real estate broker in Mumbai who participated in the earlier campaign.

The other thing I was not happy about was his holding the country hostage. Anna Hazare was unwilling to meet negotiators midway. That is not very mature. Compromise is a great thing, and he could have done that instead of saying he would die rather than give in, said Usha Thacker.

Shankar Kamble's concern was more mundane. The daily wage worker at a shop in Churchgate said: I would lose a day's salary if I went for Anna Hazare's dharna. I thought the issue was resolved in Delhi. I could not understand what he was doing again in Mumbai.

Another strategic error made by Anna Hazare is said to be his direct combat with the Congress. While the campaign targeted the Congress, it could not project a viable solution to the issues he raised. The ruling government hit back by pointing out that Team Anna had no Dalits, Adivasis, Other Backward Classes or minorities in it, effectively saying that only the upper and middle classes were involved in the campaign. Anna Hazare, therefore, lost a huge base.

Further, the Congress in Maharashtra refused to let him use the historical Azad Maidan as the venue of his protest. Instead, the State government offered the MMRDA grounds at Bandra as a better location to accommodate large numbers of protesters such as those seen in Delhi. This, it is said, was done purposely because of the perception that Mumbaikars (particularly Anna Hazare's profile of supporters) would not make the trip to a suburban location.

Also, Anna Hazare does not enjoy as much support in Maharashtra as he does elsewhere. His campaigns are not new for the Marathi and local media. Basically, the media helped draw crowds to the Ramlila grounds [in Delhi], said Vishwambar Choudhari, Anna Hazare's aide. Mumbai had no build-up as in Delhi. Anna Hazare had spent three days in Tihar jail before his dharna at the Ramlila grounds. Support for him had been building up and that got people coming to see or hear him, he said.

Anupama Katakam

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