THE UN-GANDHIAN FROM RALEGAN SIDDHI
This obsessive TV brand icon is an absolute anti-thesis of all that is Gandhian. His relentlessly aggressive, crass rhetoric and body language is transparent evidence
Manoj K Jha Delhi
There have been several appalling outcomes of the orchestrated Anna movement, but not many of us have been able to perceive in its entirety the kind of impairment it has caused to the psycho-social and political health of the nation. A hyperactive media has only facilitated the movement in generating a collective sense of being under siege, wherein one is literally being coerced to feel that the rest of the world comprises cheats and crooks, and is inherently hostile.
This 'siege mentality' has engulfed a large tract of the public sphere, and this has only been helped by the incessant follies committed by the political class. This siege is being intensified with each passing day by a group of megalomaniacs who regrettably call their theatrics "Gandhian".
The central icon of this group, which loves to be referred to as "Team Anna", is Anna Hazare himself. A person clad in spotless white dhoti and kurta dawns with cut-and-dried simplicity on TV screens almost every day – an image that rolls up as a typical textbook case of how a hypnotising agent himself has got hypnotised by the very mechanism he and his associates had programmed and put in place. This first-ever political hypnosis in our times is getting further amplified by a circle of the hallucinating bunch around the icon.
Besides, Team Anna together with a section of media are profusely supplying 'mind-altering ideas' so that the spectrum of available choices remain restricted to 'for or against' Anna. One could have avoided getting dragged into this smirch and also evaded taking cognisance of this horrifying spectacle, but that is not available as an option anymore, given the near fanatical coverage by the media on a regular basis. More than anything else, one is prompted and driven to react also because this "imagined national movement" by Team Anna is being showcased as "Gandhian". Nothing could be more brazenly vulgar than this, that the manufacturers of this movement are seeking legitimacy in the name of that great crusader whose life and politics was never exclusivist.
I believe that I am only one among the millions who grew up to adore and admire Gandhi – his persona and politics – and never really cared to examine what we liked more in him. There comes a temptation in almost everyone's life at some point to emulate him, draw upon some of his principles in life, but, then, the inherent moral frailty becomes too obvious. It is probably in view of that eternal dearth of moral uprightness that not even a few have been able to come close to even the shadow image of that Mahatma.
We understand that it was Gandhi who made it possible for the ordinary masses to demonstrate courage and the strength of character so that they never had to submit to injustice and tyranny in any form anywhere. It must be recalled that while he was passionately engaged in mass awakening, his language never displayed ideas and expressions of enmity, malice or hatred. He is known to have repeatedly said that whenever you have truth on your side, it must be shared and communicated with love, otherwise the messenger as well as the message gets lost.
Now, contrast this with the new "Gandhian" of Team Anna who seems to have suddenly arrived with a bang through the sophisticated picture tubes of the electronic news channels. Unlike the Gandhi we knew, this one has gradually built on and mastered the craft of speaking a language of scorn and spite, and thrives on the same.
Lack of moral and intellectual authority and clarity in the case of this "Gandhian" from Ralegan Siddhi is compensated by an unremitting repetition of highly mediocre harangue of enmity and contempt for people who disagree with his knotted worldview. Some of his highly excited media collaborators help in making these oft-repeated one-liners get embedded in the deep regions of the unconscious of the participating masses. They believe that it is through such inceptions that their consequent actions shall be forged as and when it becomes necessary.
You don't have to know rocket science to conclude that this is, most certainly, not the Gandhian way of communication. Rather, the nearest possible resemblance that emerges is with a plethora of hypnosis and persuasion techniques employed by the propagandists of the Third Reich. Pitching in with slick precision, the times of immense anguish on account of widespread corruption and disparity has been capitalised upon by Team Anna and their media associates through the utilisation of techniques such as pacing and leading, anchoring, verbal confusion and repetition. The intended outcome of this programmed tamasha is that people switch off their rational thinking and only admire and worship Anna and his words.
It is not a Gandhian command but a totalitarian militaristic command: just fall in line! No questions need to be asked!
Through its well-designed methodology of selling hallucinatory images as reality, the Hazare camp has thrived on the vulnerability of the audience. An erudite broadcast programming has almost coerced a relatively large section of the urban middle classes to capitulate to these media-generated messages of Anna.
The Gandhi we knew gave the world satyagraha, a practical way in which victims could get redressal without hurting their oppressors, whereas this un-Gandhian from Ralegan Siddhi speaks the language of the oppressor; he emulates their mannerisms and displays the same contempt for dissent as has been the character of the political class he claims to be opposing. His uninterrupted exhortations – "hang them, send them to mental asylum and flog them" – are his regular dietary prescriptions to a class that looks for quick-fix solutions to the complex problems facing India and its people.
His verbal communication appears amusingly but flawlessly in sync with his body language, which is no less abrasive and tyrannical. For people who disagree with him, he has learnt to flaunt the same disdain through non-verbal communication. And one worries whether in these times of psycho-social 'siege', such gestures shall become the style statement for political engagement.
A recent case in point is the manner in which Hazare has chosen to convey his displeasure towards Prashant Bhushan, one of his core group members, probably the only face which had a connect with the liberal intelligentsia. An aggressive derision of Bhushan and his views, immediately after the brutish attack on him, reveals the latent violence in an otherwise seemingly non-violent posture of this un-Gandhian self-proclaimed Gandhian.
Hazare's much avowed vow of silence, too, is deafeningly loud, again media-centric, whereby anybody who has a dissenting view on his approach or methodology is projected as an enemy, a fifth columnist to the national cause. All such views and opinion are universally declared as views representative of the "corrupt" UPA regime by the Hazare-Kejriwal-Kiran Bedi movement.
A good number of concerned citizens have chosen not to react to his authoritarian and exclusivist agenda on account of the likely 'stigmatisation' by the Hazare camp and their media collaborators. This is what this movement has done to the contemporary political discourse in the country, where reasoned choices and opinions have to navigate through and invariably surrender to the preordained spectrum of what this arbitrary and authoritarian Jan Lokpal camp shall like to endorse and approve.
The prevailing lack of political will emanating from the actions and inactions of the government has only added ferocity to this genre of anti-politics performed by Hazare. Some of his less enthusiastic supporters want us only to look at the great cause he is championing and leave his rhetoric aside. That does not go down well, really, for anyone who has watched this campaign since the Jantar Mantar days would vouch for the fact that Hazare is inseparable from his rhetoric, and taking his rhetoric away leaves him as an unclothed spectacle, in an insipid and hazy frame. In reality, his rhetoric on corruption, patriotism, Kashmir and the Indian electoral system displays the most pervasive forms of ideological control and manipulation that aims to acquire the coerced and coercive consent of a class.
Under the garb of a well-crafted and pseudo 'Gandhian halo', he is carefully choosing his words; and they are in no way about discourses in the abstract as some would want us to believe. A careful analysis of the barrage of words as well as his vows of silence reveals that it is forever concerned with translating specific intentions into action towards the target audience.
His communication strategy follows the way speeches and pronouncements are often used as weapons in warfare. Going further, he and his team members are liberally distributing sugar-coated pills to all and sundry, which invariably emerge out of their narrow and constricted worldview. Lack of ideological coherence for this un-Gandhian TV icon is counterbalanced with a highly limited understanding of people's politics, and the deficiency is further reimbursed by a design – a deceptive one based on ignorance and absolute lack of fortitude.
We must recall that Hitler manoeuvred Germany's disastrous circumstances and arrived at the conclusion that the precarious situation was mono-causal: the Jews were to be blamed for everything. Anti-Semite vision was a ready replacement for nationalism and patriotism. Are we not witnessing the same mono-causal approach in the harangues of Team Anna while they explicate on matters ranging from corruption to Kashmir?
Are they not using their well-crafted rhetoric to pose as the sole curator of the nation and for the national interest?
While this rhetorical warfare by Hazare goes on, we sadly remain silent bystanders to this most perilous language manipulation in the public sphere resulting in daylight robbery of people's ability to debate and dissent. Even a cursory glance at some of the works of Gandhi, his methods and strategy in dealing with the political problems of the day, informs us that any comparison of Hazare with Gandhi is not only delusionary, but it is repulsive even to contemplate such a dangerous association.
Even the worst detractors of Gandhi maintain that in his political philosophy and worldview, he was a great assimilationist – a master craftsman who engaged with the diversity of views and opinion even under the most difficult circumstances. He also took vows of silence, but they were meant largely for self-purification and never intended to shut out opinions contrary to his – or to yet again indulge in TV grandstanding.
On the other hand, it is transparent that the Hazare brigade has further advanced in building the strategies of demonising views and opinion dissimilar to them. In fact, the sound bytes coming from Ralegan Siddhi, or Hisar, or from a distant Gorakhpur, underscore the extensive resemblance of their politics not with Gandhi, but with 'eliminationist' anti-Semitism – and that is indeed frightening.
Undoubtedly, this Un-Gandhian from Ralegan Siddhi, is enjoying his moment in the sun on account of the unprecedented media limelight. However, each euphoric moment has a life cycle. Thus once the present one settles down, ordinary citizens shall certainly ask Hazare and his aggressive team for an apology for the irreparable damage they have caused to our collective psyche by misappropriating the imagery of Gandhi. And above all, they shall have to say sorry to each one of us for making us bear all this.
The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, University of Delhi
Please also see, The Spectacle Unlimited, http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2011/09/4122