Sunday, 4 September 2011

India's Fascination with Anna lies Deeper than the issue he fights for.

Human beings love sequels. It is in our nature to always want a repeat of something we have enjoyed and often of things we haven't(ask Tobey Maguire's Spiderman). Sport has numerous examples of our search for encores. Sachin Tendulkar has not even retired and yet we are already searching for "the next Tendulkar", Pele retired nearly 40 years ago and for as long as my memory serves every Brazilian who has touched a football has been touted as the next Pele. Indeed every Argentinian forward in the last 15 years has at some time been branded Diego Maradona's successor. An interesting point to note is that today when Lionel Messi has come closer to matching Maradona than anybody else the comparisons with Maradona seem to have become less frequent as Messi forges himself an identity outside Maradona's shadow.
In the last month, the fair (and not so fair) people of this nation have been subjected to constant stream of Anna news. I used subjected to and not a kinder adjective because there is only so much yours truly can take of an old man who refuses to eat. Yet Anna's aura seemed to grow as my patience with him and his "team" dwindled. My belief is Anna's exponential growth in popularity was not purely because there are a lots of people who want to be rid of corruption. I believe Anna's popularity also stemmed from the media's portrayal of him.
These first two paragraphs might seem wholly disconnected to anyone not granted access to my mind but I do have a point. As I said, I am of the opinion that Anna's popularity had as much(if not more) to do with his portrayal by the media. When Anna first hit the big time headlines earlier this year any news item about him involved at least one mention of his Gandhian ideologies. This continued into the start of his most recent tryst with the big time. I would also like to point at this time how any time we heard of Anna we also heard of all the young Indians who had joined his movement and vociferously supported all that Anna fought for. This is the point where the connection between the first two paragraphs will be made clear. My belief is that Anna is as popular as he is not because all of India wants to be rid of corruption but because the media regularly painted him as a modern day Gandhi. He was Gandhi 2.0, Gandhi for generation X(or are we Y now?). Every segment of his life was analysed and each day he was put up on a pedestal  for the rest of us mere mortals to aspire to. I think this idea of today's Gandhi particularly appealed to India's youth because in my opinion we are, with economic growth and globalization, being distanced from our "Indian" past. The freedom struggle is more a chapter in history books than a movement and idea we can relate to. This dichotomy between what we expect of ourselves, i.e., feeling strongly about the freedom struggle and what we actually feel is I believe one of the principle motivators for India's youth in the Anna movement. Anna's movement has allowed the youth to feel strongly about an ideal and thus allow them to feel they can relate to the freedom struggle hence allowing them to feel a little more pride in being Indian.
The obvious hole in this argument is of course that this most recent voicing of dissatisfaction pales in significance and reach to the freedom struggle that I have alluded to and so to even compare the two is ludicrous. However, I would counter the point by saying this is not a modern day "freedom struggle" but an attempt by society to better understand the need for a  freedom struggle in the first place. This is not a momentous period in our history that will be defined by Anna's fast, this is quite simply urban society attempting to better understand Indian history.
The final point I would like to address is the shift in the media's rendition of the facts after the first few days of Anna's fast. Once the widespread support for Anna had been harnessed, Anna the Gandhian became less important and Annaji, our saviour assumed centre stage. Of course this could simply be because of a perceived familiarity of Anna and his beliefs. I wonder, though, if this is analogical to the Messi-Maradona situation mentioned earlier. Anna was now strong enough that he did not require Gandhiji as an invisible support. Anna had done enough( in the short term).  People now had enough belief in the goodness of Anna that he could forge an identity for himself outside Gandhiji's shadow.
I would like to clarify that I do not believe the media did any of this consciously. The media is at its most basic, a mirror of society. The mirror has, rather than give a superficial image, reflected the sub-conscious of society.