Mumbai's turn for Civil Disobedience: Anna style

The biggest headache for Mumbai's civic authorities is that there is no space to host Anna Hazare in this megapolis. The 'city of dreams', a concrete jungle now, has no open ground large enough to accommodate Anna's protest fast.

Metaphorically speaking too, Mumbai's taste for Anna's style of confrontationist politics has long vanished. From its billionaires in sea-facing penthouses to the millions in chawls -- and the ten million in between -- the Jan Lok Pal is an alien entity. Having distanced itself from national level politics long ago, 'Think Local' is what now works in Mumbai.

Tough task: With estimates that more than a lakh Mumbaikars will turn 
up for Anna's fast, providing security for the event would be a 
gargantuan challenge for the Mumbai Police.

Mr Hazare's explanation that he chose Mumbai for his public protest because Delhi is too cold in December can't be taken at face value. He may appear to be simple and guileless but his team is clued up on public relations and media management. Between Anna and his team they have chosen a date his fast coincides with the date of birth of the Indian National Congress in Bombay 126 years ago.

It was also in Bombay that the Quit India movement was launched in 1942, which set off the Civil Disobedience Movement against the British Empire. Anna has already termed his Jan Lok Pal movement as the second freedom struggle for Indians. If the Jan Lok Pal Bill is not passed this week, he has called for 'Jail Bharo,' 'gherao' the homes of MPs and demand that the government "quit". These acts of Civil Disobedience, he thinks, are justified to bring the Congress government to its knees. The rich irony of trying to finish the Congress party in the city of its birth can't be lost on anyone.

Anna would prefer to hold his public fast in the August Kranti Maidan, which was once called the Gowalia Tank Maidan. It is from here that the slogan Quit India, coined by socialist leader and later Mayor of Bombay Yusuf Meharally, was raised and caught the imagination of the whole country. 

It is from here in August 1942 that Mahatma Gandhi decided that the time was ripe to channel disenchantment against the rulers to bring about a revolution; a bloodless agitation which toppled the colonial government. Anna may not call himself a Mahatma but he has cast himself in the same mould. The symbolism wouldn't be lost if he can gather four to five thousand people to fast with him at this historic venue. Their slogans would be beamed via OB vans directly into the homes of middle class Indians and connect them, although remotely, to the agitation.

With estimates that more than a lakh Mumbaikars will turn up for the fast, providing security for the event would be a gargantuan challenge for the Mumbai Police. Delhi is used to such events -- political agitation on national issues is embedded in its DNA. Mumbai has long forgotten what it is to agitate for a cause that goes beyond Mumbai and Maharashtra.

Between the MNS and the Shiv Sena, the competitive politics of intolerance has dominated Mumbai. The NCP and the Congress are also focused on parochial issues. When did Mumbai hold a candle-light vigil for anything other than 26/11? Has there ever been a vigil for Naxal-victims or for farmers? Mumbai just doesn't get agitated over national issues.

To be fair to Mumbai, other metros like Chennai and Kolkata are equally apathetic to national issues. But unlike them, Mumbai has played a glorious role in national politics. It gave us political stalwarts like Ambedkar and Mohammad Ali Jinnah (even if he went on to create Pakistan) who shaped destinies of nations.

Even today, Mumbai is home to many achievers -- from Tendulkar to Bachchan to Ambanis and Tatas. Then why does Mumbai not speak up and be a part of the political narrative of the country? What do Mumbaikars think about India's peace process with Pakistan? What does Mumbai think about farmer suicides? What is its view on nuclear safety? Where is the political activism on issues that are not Mumbai-centric?

Unless Mumbai moves beyond its urban tensions and carves out a place for itself in the national political narrative, an Anna Hazare will move in to occupy that space. The flashing 'Vacant' signboard was too obvious for him to ignore.

Smita Prakash is Editor (News) at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter@smitaprakash

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