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As someone who has been distrustful of Anna Hazare's rabble rousing ways from day one, it gave me immense pleasure to see his latest jamboree flop. The crowds were so thin at last week's 'anshann' that television anchors, who have been his most devoted supporters, were forced to admit that there was less support than expected. I have argued in this column, since that first fast-unto-death, that Anna's is a fraudulent agitation and the quicker it disappears into the garbage bin of dead agitations the better. But, since it brought more middle-class Indians into the streets of our cities than any other in recent memory, it is important to analyse why it had such resonance.
There is no question that Anna touched an aching chord last year when he raised the banner against corruption. No sooner did 'corruption' get mentioned than most Indians thought of the daily corrupt practices that make their life hell. The shopkeeper who charges them double for a cylinder of cooking gas. The tout who took money to admit their child to nursery school. The shady agent they paid to register property. The taxman who they regularly bribe to file their income tax returns. And, the policeman who charges them a fee to not charge them with some imaginary crime. There cannot be an Indian alive who has not been angered by this kind of daily corruption. So when people saw a little, old man from a village in Maharashtra go all the way to Delhi to fast-unto-death against corruption, they rallied to his cause.
What they did not realise, and I hope they do now, is that the solution did not lie in creating a new law and a new policing infrastructure to implement it. If the Lokpal does come into being, the institution he will preside over will need more than 40,000 officials to man it. Will they all be honest? When members of Anna's holier-than-thou team were asked this question on chat shows last year, they said that they believed that if an institution is a good one then the people who work under it are necessarily good. This is rubbish. But, because the government made the stupid mistake of arresting Anna, he became a messiah and his team members thought they were spreaders of a new gospel.