(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
Looking through the small window of his cottage, as he saw the sun set, he couldn’t help but think of it as a metaphor for his own career. He turned to look at the Gandhi Topi on his dresser and sighed wistfully. A year ago at this time, he was the most popular man in the country. People couldn’t have enough of him! Everyone wanted to talk to him, touch him, seek his blessings, and name their children after him. Now they sneer at him when they pass him on the street. Last year, every self-important news anchor hung on his every word. They flew hundreds of miles and then waited for hours in the unforgiving heat without any of the creature comforts they were used to, just to interview him for ten minutes. Now they don’t even pick up his call. This country will rue the day they stopped supporting him. Until then, he will not let anyone know how heartbroken he really is. He will not let them have the satisfaction of knowing that these days, instead of surveying the village to find people to beat up, he spends his mornings curled up in the corner of his hut listening to Adele on his iPod and his nights curled up on his bed watching re-runs of Gilmore Girls, while binging on large gallons of ice-cream. Public display of emotion is an acceptable course of action only for women or people from weaker castes. Not for people of his stature.
For a large part of last year, India was forced to pay attention to lessons on how to practice democracy from a tiny, Gollum-shaped tyrant - who lorded over his village like it was his personal fiefdom - called Anna Hazare. As he rode the Let’s Do Something Express to his first fast at Jantar Mantar, Hazare captured the nation’s imagination. If there is one thing India loves, its leaders who promise to bring about change without us having to lift a finger. You can clean up a mess without getting your hands dirty! Anybody who agrees with our totally unbiased assessment - that the main problem in this country is other people - is fit to lead us onto the light. Remember when our favourite mode of protest was sending people ‘get well soon’ cards because we saw some guy doing that in a movie? Yeah, good times! I bet our freedom fighters feel really stupid for sacrificing their lives when, instead of participating in a sustained, peaceful campaign spanning decades they could have driven the British out by simply liking the ‘Free India’ page on Facebook or sending abusive tweets to British leaders on Twitter. What a bunch of amateurs!
The Anna Hazare led anti-corruption movement reached its peak last August when for about two weeks everything in the country seemed to revolve around its leader. People were forced into ‘spontaneous’ protests of solidarity all over the country in which they took to the streets wearing official Anna-themed swag. No one appeared to be bothered by the fact that passing a law to create a bloated bureaucracy to keep a check on another bloated bureaucracy seemed a tad wasteful. Who has time for nuance when you’re promised that all you have to do to help eradicate corruption from the country is to spend a couple of days participating in a procession whose only task is to arbitrarily march to the nearest television camera while shouting slogans proclaiming the superiority of ‘Bharat Mata’ over other lesser countries who do not have the privilege to be born of such divine parentage. Some cities even saw people dressed as famous freedom fighters of yore proclaiming that this nation full of pure, incorruptible people being made to suffer because of a few dozen bad apples who also happen to be our elected representatives. Like most politicians being investigated by the CBI, the people of this country gave themselves a ‘clean chit.’
The government responded in the same way it reacts to every situation: doing something rash after the initial panic sets in, then denying that anything is wrong at all and that they were not responsible for any steps taken by the so called ‘independent agencies.’ Afterwards, as slow acceptance creeps in that a problem really exists, they go ahead and suddenly capitulate to the demands of whoever is holding them hostage. The opposition parties ceded their space to the crypto-fascist from Ralegan Siddhi and then tried to hijack the issue with such hilarious shamelessness that it made them even less relevant.
However, with great popularity comes even greater scrutiny. A few days after his ascension as the India’s newest saviour, the country watched in horror as Hazare revealed himself to be less the ‘new Gandhi’ and more of ‘an embarrassing cranky old family member who always says inappropriate, bigoted things in front of dinner guests.’ As the country was exposed to Hazare’s gratuitous opinions - Childless women are barren! People who drink should be beaten up within an inch of their life! Vigilante justice is probably the best thing since sliced bread! – it began to fall out of love with him. Of course, the people around him knew exactly what sort of a person he was (them and everybody else with basic Google skills), but that didn’t stop them from fostering this fossil on all of us. Team Anna doesn’t want to stop corruption. They’re more interested in promoting themselves and selling their books and other official merchandise like Hazare’s patented beat-a-drunk genuine leather belt. Which is why now they’re launching their “political party,” which will tell you which candidates you should vote for in the next general election. It’ll be like Yelp, but even less useful.
As Hazare’s public image deteriorated, so did the attendance and popularity of his subsequent ‘road shows.’ They flopped more miserably than a Harman Baweja movie. His latest protest was such a non-event that Kiran Bedi took to twitter to literally beg celebrities and/or ‘senior’ television journalists to show up. The best they could get was Indian television’s laughs-a-lot-lady and her husband, Whatishisname. Shockingly, no one really wants to hitch a ride on a sinking ship.
As Hazare aimlessly walks around his small hut, he feels like a defeated man. Played like a piano by forces superior to him. Abandoned and desolate, constantly wearing a forlorn expression. Then, suddenly, he hears a knock on the door. He ignores it. What’s the point, anyway? But the persistent knocking continues. “Anna,” says the person behind the door, “I’m from Magazine X. And I have a few questions.” He wipes the tears off his face and runs to the door. When he opens it, he sees nothing but an empty wasteland. Another hallucination! He’d been having a lot of them these days. Then, he walked outside into the darkness, letting it engulf him.