Positive signals from Anna movement
By Dr Manmohan Vaidya
Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption campaign has been an unusual experience for Indians nationwide, particularly the young. This completely non-violent movement that found support from all sections of the society throughout the country was a pleasant experience. Slogans like Bharatmata ki jai and Vande Mataram that reverberated through the campaign almost became the catch phrases for citizens filled with a sense of nationalism and patriotism. The campaign coined its own metaphor and has left its own lessons that could serve as reference points for the future.
Connect with the New Generation
Many would have believed that the young in India, often described as 3-F generation, are people only interested in the 3Fs ‘Films, Facebook and Fashion’ and bother little about the country’s politics. With Anna’s campaign that opinion stands corrected. Anna’s anti-corruption drive brought these very youngsters out on the streets, armed with the tricolour, shouting Bharatmata ki jai quietly underlining a non-violent show of their strength. With this campaign, the youth of the country proved that when thrown a challenge they are willing to stand up and show the power that a united youth commands in India.
The campaign also revealed that when a parliamentary democracy stops understanding popular sentiments and turns apathetic towards the needs of its people, people’s power can show the way, forcing an apathetic government to listen to people’s emotions and understand the sentiments of the populace.
Not just that. Anna’s campaign much like the Youth Against Corruption and Baba Ramdev’s campaign against corruption also established the fact that the people in the country are both seriously worried and agitated over the issue of corruption. It also established that people were no longer ready to sit quiet and accept rampant corruption in the country. They were willing to come out and make themselves heard.
While the country was experiencing a new found awakening, ministers in the central government were still arrogant. The government’s attitude towards both Anna Hazare’s movement and Baba Ramdev’s campaign was unbecoming, intolerant and oppressive. Yet, finally it was people’s power it forced an arrogant government to relent, reconsider its decision and chart out a compromise. And it perhaps was the greatest success of Anna’s movement. For it gave the confidence to ordinary people that if they stand united and adopt non-violent means of protest, they can actually bend an unjust government and be heard.
Sangh’s Role in the Movement
A section of people tried dragging the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) into a controversy with Anna Hazare campaign. While the attempt was mostly unsuccessful, the truth is that Anna Hazare has never been associated with the RSS at the organisational level. Given his success quotient and impressed with the developmental work done by Anna Hazare in his village Ralegan Siddhi, the RSS had only sought Anna’s guidance and help in rural development projects. As an attempt to present Anna’s successful rural development model to the country, the then RSS Sarkaryavah, HV Seshadri had penned a book titled Ek Karmayogi Ka Gaon on Anna’s own village Ralegan Siddhi back then. A number of RSS workers even travelled to Anna’s village at that time, to get a first hand experience of work done by him there.
In its national conclave (ABPS) held in March 2011, the RSS had passed a resolution on corruption and discussed various effective ways and solutions to tackle the menace of corruption in the country. In a resolution the RSS had called upon all Indians to support and participate in all anti-corruption campaigns in the country. Accordingly, the swayamsevaks throughout the country had supported and participated in all anti-graft campaigns including the one led by Anna.
Worshipping the Motherland
Another good result of the Anna campaign was the fact that slogans like Bharatmata ki jai and Vande Mataram became common anthems and found wider acceptability with people as they echoed through the campaign. An attempt was also made to malign the two slogans by calling them anti-Islam but the propaganda did not find support from either the common people or the organisers of the campaign. Calling these slogans anti-Islam is a product of communal and divisive thinking. The good part is that the thinking did not find favour even with the Muslims. Few others called Vande Mataram an RSS slogan, and thereby communal. But since when did respecting the motherland and singing praise for one’s country become communal? Worshipping the motherland is an age old tradition in India. Vande Mataram had become an anthem for the freedom struggle all across the country even before 1925 when the RSS was established. That’s the reason why the British had banned the singing of Vande Mataram in 1905. In the year1907, as a student of Class X, RSS founder Dr Hedgewar, sang Vande Mataram in school as a mark of rebellion against the British ban also proving his utter patriotism. Dr Hedgewar was duly punished for his defiance.
The Journey of Vande Mataram
Vande Mataram was written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee on November 7, 1876. It was included in the famous novel Anandmath in 1882. In 1886, Rabindranath Tagore sang Vande Mataram in the Congress convention held in Kolkata. Dakshranjan Sen got Congressmen to practice collective singing of Vande Mataram in the 1901 Congress Convention. In the Banares Congress convention held in1905, Rabindranath Tagore’s niece Sarladevi sang Vande Mataram despite the ban put by the British government on singing of the song.
The same year, when the British proposed the division of Bengal, Vande Mataram became the anthem of that movement that opposed the division. As Hindus and Muslims sang Vande Mataram together, in the face of relentless opposition, the British withdrew their proposal for the division of Bengal in 1911. After the Bengal success, Vande Mataram became the anthem for patriotism and the battle cry for freedom struggle. From 1915 onwards, the singing of Vande Mataram became a regular feature at all national conventions of the Congress. At that time, Vande Mataram was considered neither anti-Islam nor communal. At that time, Hindus-Muslims would not just sing Vande Mataram together but Vande Mataram also became the last words uttered by many freedom fighters whom the British punished by hanging to death.
However in 1921, when the Khilafat Movment found support from the Congress, hardliners amongst the Muslims gained importance and prominence. This is when hardliners started opposing Vande Mataram calling it anti-Islam and communal. In 1923, in the Kakinada national convention of the Congress, the party’s then president, Mohammad Ali overtly opposed Vande Mataram. Under pressure from the hardliners and communally inclined people within the Muslim community, the Congress stopped singing Vande Mataram at its conventions. While there are hardliners in every society, it’s best for every national representation and awakened society to ignore such hardliners. Unfortunately, since 1921, this communal and divisive approach gained strength. As a result, despite the lack of inclination from the entire national leadership of the Congress, they had to accept India’s Partition.
For vested political gains, hardliners and those with a communal mindset kept getting importance even after the Partition. After the Emergency of 1975, communal and divisive forces were allowed to become more powerful in the guise of secularism. Given that background, Anna’s movement was the first time after Independence that the society as one kept communal and divisive forces aside and maintained one national voice.
There were many who also tried to drag the RSS into a controversy over the issue of Bharatmata. The first leg of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement held at Jantar Mantar had a picture of Bharatmata in the background. The picture had not been kept there by the RSS. Yet it was said that the Bharatmata picture at Anna’s stage was a picture popularised and presented by the RSS. Does Bharatmata belong only to the swayamsewaks of the Sangh? Bharatmata belongs to every Indian. The tradition to eulogise India as one’s Maatribhoomi, Karmabhoomi and Punyabhoomi has been an old one.
In 1897, when Swami Vivkeananda came back to India from America, he got off the ship he was travelling back in and prostrated on the sea shore as a mark of respect to the motherland and sprinkled sand on his body. As he got up, the wet sand of the seashore had got stuck to his clothes, prompting the many bystanders to ask him why had he done so? To which Swami Vivekananda responded by saying, ‘‘I have stayed away from the motherland in America for four years, from 1893 to 1897. During this time if I have acquired any bad habit then this touch of the motherland will cleanse me of all that.’’ In a public speech later, he called upon all Indians, urging them to keep aside their personal Gods and Goddesses for the next 50 years and only worship one Goddess-Bharatmata. Was Swami Vivekananda communal? In fact by this he had appealed to all countrymen to rise above the petty differences of caste, creed, religion and language and unite as children of one motherland to fight for the freedom of the country as one united people.
Learn from History
It is true that even the RSS has been successful in its attempt to unite people with the common emotional thread of ‘this is our Bharatmata, all of us her children and therefore brothers’, helping them rise over their caste, creed, language and religious differences. How can it be called divisive or communal? In fact this is the only sure shot cure for communalism and divisiveness.
In the second leg of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, the picture of Bharatmata was missing. Bharatmata’s picture had been replaced by a picture of Mahatma Gandhi. Could the organisers not have placed both the pictures of Bharatmata and Mahatma Gandhi there, together? It is true that the decision to place a particular picture on the stage rests with the organisers of the movement. It is also true that even if Bharatmata’s picture was replaced by Mahatma Gandhi, the movement led by Anna Hazare does not become less important. But to remove Bharatmata’s picture over the argument that it belongs to the Sangh and therefore communal is very unfortunate and alarming. This would be against India’s age old tradition of conduct and thought and proof that we haven’t learnt our lessons from history.
(The writer is Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh of RSS and can be contacted at [email protected])