Hazare’s final fast of 2011 attracted just a few thousand supporters and was abandoned after only a day. The legislation he had campaigned for, meant to establish a powerful anti-corruption investigating agency, was watered down by the government and then delayed indefinitely as politicians from all factions attacked it with a mass of competing amendments.
Like many movements that harness popular frustration — from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street — it proved much more difficult to maintain the unity and momentum of Hazare’s movement once anger with the system was replaced by specific recommendations on how to change it. Although millions of people were prepared to turn out to decry corruption, far fewer wanted to argue the finer points of a specific anti-graft bill.
But the movement’s troubles also reflect the fact that the endemic corruption in India was never going to be as easy to eliminate as Hazare sometimes made it sound, and that the activist was never as infallible as some of his most fervent supporters made him out to be.
The 74-year-old, who models himself on Indian independence hero Mohandas Gandhi, had been labeled “Newsmaker of 2011” by a leading magazine. But in recent days, he has been called a flop and a failure. In a cruel twist, he ended the year in a hospital with bronchitis, with his doctor advising him to “respect the aging process.”
“The fear of Anna Hazare has gone, and so has the bill, into an uncertain time zone,” reporter Sheela Bhatt observed, echoing the prevailing sentiment.
The cracks had been appearing for months, since the heady days of August, when the government briefly jailed Hazare, Delhi’s middle class turned out en masse to support his 12-day fast, and the most fashionable headgear in the country was a white Gandhi cap bearing the words “I am Anna.”
First came the questions about the integrity of leading members of Hazare’s team, with the most damaging being perhaps the allegation that respected policewoman-turned-activist Kiran Bedi had falsified her travel expense invoices.
Hazare’s fall from grace, though, seemed even more pronounced. In a country increasingly sick of a corrupt, preening and self-satisfied political class, his strength had been his Gandhian aura of honesty, humility and simplicity.
But as the media turned him into a national hero, the attention seemed to go to his head, critics said. It was understandable for Hazare to insist that India’s 1.2 billion people were the country’s real rulers, but when he proclaimed himself the voice of those 1.2 billion people, he perhaps sounded less humble than some might have liked.
Nor did he stick very closely to the Gandhian script of nonviolence, proclaiming first that corrupt politicians should be hanged and then that anyone consuming alcohol should be flogged. When an anti-corruption demonstrator slapped a leading Indian politician in the face, Hazare hastily tweeted, “Just one slap?” before quickly retracting his words.