Gandhian activist and anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare couldn’t have chosen a more opportune time to return to media limelight. On a day when 15,000 farmers, landless labourers, tribals, and activists converged on Delhi to protest the anti-people Land Acquisition Ordinance, Anna also decided to stage his comeback rally. It couldn’t have been a coincidence.
While Anna’s stage on Jantar Mantar resembled a jarring collage of issues and banners: ranging from black money to corruption, the posters proclaimed “Anna Returns”. Barring a couple of farmers groups, one from Maharshtra, Anna’s native state, most of the ‘protesters’ were from the Anna camp of the now forgotten India Against Corruption movement of 2011.
To prevent any confusion they wore caps announcing that they are ‘Anna Supporters’. Loudspeakers belted out familiar patriotic dance numbers while a bunch of men dressed like Gandhi enacted them out while waiting for Anna to arrive at the stage. Meanwhile, thousands of real farmers and activists from across the length and breadth of the country, gathered at Sansad marg, a 2-minute walk from Anna’s stage where TV media crews, all ready with their mobile vans and jibs(movable long metal arms with a camera attached at the end), waited and shot the song and dance show that had become synonymous with the Anna movement. They knew that the real issue and the real protest was elsewhere, but something held them back; of course, it was the Anna factor, and the possibility of Arvind Kejriwal joining him on stage. The organisers of the people’s protest did request the journalists to move to Sansad marg as Anna was going to join that protest but the jibs kept swaying and cameras kept rolling at Anna’s stage; this time they were going to regret not moving their vans.
People’s movements have a distinct environment, one of respect towards everybody present, from the new volunteer to the leaders on the stage. There is no jingoism, their slogans are sharp and specific. Women’s groups are called on stage to sing their songs in their own way, devoid of any orchestra and fancy sound system. Activists make their speeches, taking care to attack the Land Acquisiton Ordinance in strong and unambiguous words, also taking care to thank the new groups joining them every 20-minutes. The discipline and solidarity is palpable. It isn’t TRP-grabbing but it is enduring.
Eventually Anna Hazare turned up and so did Arvind Kejriwal, but at the real rally where they were cheered by thousands of farmers and landless labourers. The media scampered, as always, and replanted their tripods and cameras, and found their perches.
Anna and Arvind Kejriwal both announced their support to the protesters against the Modi government's Land ordinance. But, the media quickly moved on to highlight the Anna-Arvind rapprochement while the platform of their reunion was sidelined. It’s baffling to see that for the media one Anna Hazare seems to be equal to 10,000 people. It is also unfortunate that an issue that affects most of India’s farmers, forest-dwellers and marginalised people can be so easily overshadowed by the Anna-Arvind reunion.
Valay Singh Rai is a journalist and photographer