13 days when the country starved with a Gandhian (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT 20th May
Anna Hazare during his fast and death at Jantar Mantar in April, 2011
elhi is not a city for those with an obsession with being natural. The weaves and twists of policymakers forces even the reluctant to reach for the greasepaint, daub psychic mascara so as to accentuate the sight of opportunities, and coats of transformative rouge to win over the powerful. The nation's capital does indeed have a place for those who refuse to playact, those who insist on being just themselves, and this is the railway platform. The glitzy homes and tony addresses are reserved for those who enact multiple roles each day, and cheat more people in a morning than a Rome pickpocket.
In such a city, Ashutosh is noticeable for his lack of affectation and his refusal to be other than what he is. A dreamer who still believes in the vision of a just country, where people will get what they deserve rather than the opposite. His book on another uncut diamond, Anna Hazare, reflects the down-to-earth style of this journalist, as he gives us a Press Enclosure peep into the 13 days when the Anna phenomenon filled television screens, including that edited by him.
Television has left print far behind in the grabbing of public attention, and Ashutosh gives the reader an hourly account of the atmosphere in the newsroom as well as the Editor's cabin as the Hazare drama moved towards its climax. Those anticipating revelations of secret meetings or clandestine deals will be disappointed, but to others less voyeuristic, the book gives a fact-filled account of what took place during those 13 days when Anna Hazare came to Delhi, was arrested, then released and was finally silenced with a promise which was overturned when Vice-President Hamid Ansari went by the playbook of those eager to ensure that the Lokpal Bill not get morphed into law, and overruled the objections of the majority in the Rajya Sabha, which wanted an all-night discussion followed by a vote. Had Ansari obliged, history would have been made.
Ashutosh seems to believe that the UPA Chairperson is sincere in her protestations that she wishes to battle graft, and that if only Manmohan Singh and his team had had the benefit of her presence, the Anna situation would have been handled with far more tact.
Ashutosh has an eye for detail and a flair for analysis that fuse to ensure interesting copy. Not for him the flattering presentations that some others of his profession are known for. Instead, he shows up the clay that today fills not just the feet but even the torsos of so many politicians. In this disreputable crew, he has an idol, Rajiv Gandhi, who he was convinced had learnt the lessons of 1984-89 and who would therefore have been an outstanding leader had he been given a second chance as PM. We will never know, as Dhanu ensured that such a chance was denied to the youngest PM India has had. This affection for Rajiv extends to Sonia Gandhi as well. Ashutosh seems to believe that the UPA Chairperson is sincere in her protestations that she wishes to battle graft, and that if only Manmohan Singh and his team had had the benefit of her presence (during the days that she was ill), the Anna situation would have been handled with far more tact.
thers may say that neither Manmohan Singh nor P. Chidambaram are likely to move a muscle without consulting the "Congress High Command, and that there must have been instructions from The Family to take a hard line on the former jawan from Ralegan Siddhi. That the "High Command" was not amused by Hazare's presumptious behaviour was transparent from the statements of loyal soldiers such as Manish Tewari and Digvijay Singh, but Ashutosh seems to believe that they act on their own. Perhaps he has been briefed so by unknown sources. If so, these need to be identified.
However, what cannot be denied is that Ashutosh has written a fast-paced book that hopefully will serve as a model for future excursions into the world of politics and policy in India. Those hiding behind the dense fog of a professorial approach to truth-telling need to emulate Ashutosh in turning out prose that is stark yet substantive. He believes — in common with most of us — that a better India is very possible. He tells the story of another such individual, having the same belief, who was determined enough to not stand by the wayside but leap into the arena.
The honesty of purpose of Anna Hazare comes out in every page of Ashutosh's book. Would that there were more such!