As Anna Hazare's fast-unto-death enters the fourth day, the UPA government has shown no signs of relenting on Team Anna's main demand: the enactment of an effective Lokpal Bill to curb corruption in the top echelons of the establishment. Ironically, this is a country where millions go hungry every day without attracting public attention. But fasting voluntarily and with such frequency to press for the noblest of all causes today - prevention of corruption - has seldom been witnessed in independent India before. Not surprisingly, it has attracted unprecedented attention and adulation.However, while undertaking repeated fasts for enactment of an effective Lokpal Bill underlines the unwavering commitment and courage of Team Anna, at the same time it highlights certain other facts. It shows the agitators are not trying to build a parallel mass base on the strength of a constructive programme, as was done by Mahatma Gandhi. Fasting is the last weapon in the armoury of a non-violent movement, and its rampant use tends to blunt the edge of the weapon.While Gandhi, the creator of this weapon, used it on many occasions, he had many other weapons too in his armoury, especially his constructive social programme. Team Anna, however, lacks other tools of mass mobilisation or social reconstruction. Fasts, undertaken by whosoever, even Gandhi - have an element of drama and suspense in it, which is why they attract such a lot of public attention.But getting the nation's attention solely through this prism poses danger for Team Anna, which might ultimately in public perception be reduced to the status of a brave drama troupe. They might finally look, in nature if not in magnitude of impact, like a street-play group that has the good intention of inducing social change and awareness.To quote V S Naipaul on the JP movement in India: A Wounded Civilisation: "The revolution was an expression of rage and rejection; but it was a revolution without ideas. It was an emotional outburst, a wallow; it would not have taken India forward..." Though harsh in tone and tenor, the comment conveys a powerful message.The JP movement, which was without doubt the most powerful protest movement that took place in independent India, left important lessons for the posterity of revolutionaries and reformers wanting to bring macro-level change in the country. JP himself wrote that for a revolution to succeed it required a revolutionary leadership as well as a revolutionary organisation.
JP forgot to mention that it also required a revolutionary programme of action. In his movement, only one component was present: a revolutionary leadership. There was no attempt to build a revolutionary organisation to assist the leadership and no revolutionary programme of action, detailing a broad roadmap for change. It was not surprising that the movement finally failed.After JP's, Anna's is the second powerful pan-Indian movement that seeks to bring about macro-level change in the country in a non-violent manner. However, it needs to draw from both the Gandhi-led movement before Independence, and the JP-led movement of the 1970s. Its persistence is entirely laudable, but Anna's movement suffers from many pitfalls.If Anna's group had projected itself as a pressure group for fighting corruption, these pitfalls would not have been evident. However, Anna's hunger seems to be wider. After breaking his fast last year Anna said he was hungry for nothing less than a total revolution, which put his group in a different perspective and whetted the nation's appetite for more.Mahatma Gandhi once said that fasting might not succeed against 'tyrants'. Team Anna will do well to understand that it is up against tyrannical rulers, who subject millions of Indians to abject poverty year after year and decade after decade by siphoning off public money and making a farce of governance and development.