A tale of two fasts: then and now. As the anti-corruption campaign gathers more steam, it is Brand Anna that appears to have become the galvanising force behind the huge movement, backed by India’s increasingly assertive middle class. And the branding appears to be carefully crafted.
Though Anna Hazare’s close associate Prashant Bhushan said “personification of the movement is best avoided”, building Brand Anna is apparently working well for the anti-corruption protesters.
“Personification of the anti-corruption movement is best avoided,” Prashant Bhushan told IANS.
However, a comparison of Anna’s fast at Jantar Mantar in April this year, demanding the Lokpal Bill, and the current one against the government’s Lokpal Bill shows the difference.
In the April 6-9 fast, supporters like Swami Agnivesh, Baba Ramdev and other Anna Team members Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejrival and Kiran Bedi were seen sharing the dais at Jantar Mantar along with Hazare. This time, at Ramlila Maidan a conscious effort has been made by the campaigners to ensure that only Hazare occupies the podium and gets maximum focus of the TV crews.
Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Bedi come on stage to address a press conference once in a while, but at a level lower than where Hazare is sitting on fast.
As images of a fasting campaigner are beamed across the world to millions of homes, Brand Anna is catching on.
Another significant difference between the two fasts is that while earlier a poster of Bharat Mata (Mother India) formed the backdrop of the stage, inviting criticism from the Leftists that the protest had “rightist” leanings, this time Team Anna has put a giant portrait of Mahatma Gandhi as the background, to give a more “secular” face to the campaign and perhaps give credence to Hazare’s image as a “modern day Gandhi”.
In fact, so conscious were the planners of building Brand Anna that they did not allow Baba Ramdev to join the protest this time.
According to senior journalist Bhaskar Roy, the organisers behind Hazare’s protest understand the market dynamics and the role of media today. “Hence the need to build Brand Anna,” Roy told IANS.
Agreeing that they did not expect this kind of support, Bhushan said, “People feel Anna is the legitimate torchbearer of the movement.”
No wonder Brand Anna has been able to attractover the past week a wide range of supporters – right from school students to senior citizens, all waving flags and banners carrying Anna’s pictures and even sporting Gandhi caps proclaiming – “I am Anna”.
Caps and T-shirts and even umbrellas with the slogan “I am Anna” printed on them have already become popular merchandise being sold at the protest venue.
Another notable difference between the two fasts is that while the government caved in just a few days after his fast in April and agreed to set up a joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill with Team Anna, this time the government has allowed Hazare’s fast to go on as it holds back channel negotiations with the 74-year-old activist to break the Lokpal logjam.
This time, the involvement of youth, who have joined Hazare’s protest in large numbers, has given a boost to Hazare’s protest. Hazare’s declaration that he draws his strength from youth has attracted more young people to the movement. The youth element was not so pronounced during the April fast.
Apart from brand building, Hazare’s supporters were prepared this time for a prolonged protest and have even roped in poets and music composers to entertain the crowds.