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Jantar Mantar core group lost out last yr,struck back with Anna

Bedi,incidentally,also took the stage with Anna at Jantar Mantar

At the core of what is presented as a Jantar Mantar rainbow coalition against corruption is,in fact,a carefully orchestrated campaign that was rebuffed last year and has now struck back with a vengeance — deploying a fasting Anna Hazare to armtwist the Centre into an unprecedented agreement.

This time,from a “free missed call” on a Mumbai toll-free number (022 61550789) promising immediate participation in the “fight”,efficient tweet management to constant Facebook updates,this campaign is far more savvy than anything the government had to counter.

The key faces of the Jantar Mantar protest,Aamir Khan,Yoga guru Baba Ramdev and NGO Parivartan’s Arvind Kejriwal,had taken the stage a year and a half ago when they wrote to the Centre calling for ex-IPS officer Kiran Bedi to be “made” Chief Information Commissioner in the wake of Wajahat Habibullah’s resignation.

Bedi,incidentally,also took the stage with Anna at Jantar Mantar.

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With the demand for her as CIC being rejected by the Centre — despite a nod of approval from the main opposition party,the BJP — the same set of people formed a core group of activists under the banner of ‘India Against Corruption’ late last year.

It held rallies at Jantar Mantar and one at the Ram Lila ground,claiming to call for a “corruption-free” India.

The website of this conglomeration showcases the three most prominent faces of the group: Baba Ramdev,Art of Living’s Sri Sri Ravi Shankar,RLD MP Mahmud Madani and Archbishop of Delhi,Archbishop Vincent Concessao,apart from Bedi,Kejriwal and activist/negotiator Swami Agnivesh.

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Anna Hazare,in the initial months,was significant but by no means the most prominent face in this pantheon.

In the rally at Jantar Mantar staged on November 14,2010,for example,which found extensive space only on Aastha channel,it is Baba Ramdev and his network who are clearly at the centre of things.

Ramdev,having already declared his intention of entering public life,alongwith the Bharat Swabhiman movement which he has founded. Why did he take so long to make an appearance at Jantar Mantar after Anna started his fast?

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Ramdev’s associate and manager in Delhi,Tijarawala,who sent out SMSes on Friday about Ramdev’s arrival denies his staying away: “We were always central to the movement. Ramdev is the janak and the poshak…the father and the feeder of this movement. We had other programmes at Hardwar and so stayed away. But our network and workers have dovetailed this movement into our own Swabhimaan movement and helped it.”

Tijarawala says there was no tactical reason or pique against Anna Hazare becoming central that kept Ramdev away till after the government agreed to open a dialogue with the group. “Don’t get bhramit (misled) by photographs of just one person or other people. Ramdev was the leader and therefore is here today.”

Fellow-spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been less hesitant to take ownership of the original idea to form a conglomerate of an almost parallel self-appointed group of NGOs,with his office forwarding all relevant email and prolific letters being written as the government and Anna’s supporters have started speaking.

Says Sangeeta Anand,Sri Sri’s media coordinator,as Sri Sri is in Germany,on his way to the USA. “We are with this movement from the start and want what the people of the country want,we fully support the move to rid India of corruption.”

The only MP in the group — a category reviled so much by those who have gathered at Jantar Mantar — Mahmud Madani – is in Maharashtra at the moment and could not be contacted. His associates say he made an appearance at the Ram Lila rally and said: “Corruption is as dangerous as terrorism and should be fought.”

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Says the Archbishop of Delhi,Vincent Concessao,another of the founders: “Corruption involves injustice and robbery even from those who lack basic necessities. It is immoral. From the way it has spread,it looks like people have lost their moral sensitivity. Hence,apart from effective legal provisions against it,we need value education and formation of conscience of all citizens”.

With a strong “moral” and even spiritual slant to the corruption issue being in place,the fine legal insight provided by advocate-activist Prashant Bhushan and Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde gave the Jan Lokpal bill its wieght. A tactical retreat by the Baba Ramdev brigade made the event more acceptable as a genuine “mass” idea,not one whose politics was likely to be questioned by those who came in late.

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But it is unclear when it was decided to project Anna Hazare as the main symbol who would be able to attempt to spin the nostalgia for Gandhian austerity using symbols like the topi and even a charkha that was whipped out at Jantar Mantar. Along with a disdain and impatience for processes that fits in with the urban middle-classes. Combine all this with unquestioning TV channels and the noise got amplified to scare a diffident Centre to yield.

The Centre is now wary of not just creating a precedent but also having to deal with the ability of such “movements” to turn into vigilante movements,like the Mandal anti-reservation stir in 1990. It is watching the semantics worryingly move from Gandhian and Vivekanand-inspired imagery and costume to calls from the stage of “hanging” the corrupt and feeding the MPs to vultures. All on live TV — with even anchors and reporters proudly declaring their membership in the movement of the moment.

First published on: 09-04-2011 at 02:01:09 am
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