Anna Hazare went on fast and brought the government to its knees. It looks like a good beginning but where does it end? By heeding to Anna’s demands, the government has set a precedent for future demands be they legitimate or otherwise. It’s fine to say it was a Gandhian way to solve a problem but in extending this argument one is obfuscating many questions that arise out of this incident.
Why did Anna Hazare get the kind of attention that he got? Could it be because of rank hypocrisy?
The issue at hand was corruption. Who was, or rather is, suffering the most from this malaise? It’s the middle class Indians, the largest demographic in India, who are soaring with the tides and times of a rising nation. What has made them out of this rapid growth story is a bunch of conceited people who know only how to trample on others to get ahead with the utmost disregard for anything that is unrelated or unprofitable to them. So naturally when someone took the initiative it made all sense for the middle class to join hands, send chain mails, start e-forums, send tweets, share views on Facebook, make public speeches, etc and be seen in this ‘hour of need’ as showing solidarity since the direct beneficiary at the end of this was the middle class, and the success of this movement required automatic precedence over all other daily chores.
There is no denying that corruption ought to be rooted out of the system, but the hypocrisy reeking beneath is also undeniable.
There is a lady in Manipur who goes by the name Irom Chanu Sharmila. While Anna fasted for four days, Irom has been on fast for eleven years. She is demanding the withdrawal of Armed Forces (Special powers) Act from Manipur and the rest of North East. Do we recollect any campaign or mass outpouring on streets for her cause? There have been, allegedly, gross violations in North East but neither celebrities nor cyberspace forums, which usually proliferate at such instances to aid intellectual debates, talk about this. The middle class doesn’t take cognizance of this issue as also it doesn’t relate with the issue of naxalism or violations in Kashmir or suicides of farmers – because at the end of it there is no benefit for the larger middle class. Only a miniscule percentage of Indians may benefit so why waste time? Issues like these merely manage to become topics for discussions over cups of coffee and tea.
The other equally worrisome issue is that what happens to the institutions of democracy if civil society becomes a part of the law making body?
The committee prescribed in the case of Lokpal bill comprises eminent members from the civil society along with government officials and ministers. But however eminent a member is, he or she is still unaccountable, unlike the elected minister, and hence cannot be punished for any act of omission. The case is almost similar to that of the pre-scam Satyam saga where the board had reputed members to oversee company proceedings. However, when the loss was discovered accountability couldn’t be fixed and the most one saw were people stepping down from the board, which hardly amounts to anything. If this experiment in democracy succeeds, which in all likelihood it will, the looming threat of this becoming a practice and not an exception would acquire a concrete shape. Seemingly paradoxical, this attacks at the very roots of democracy. People would quite literally take law in their own hands and democratic institutions would lose their meaning.
Another aspect, which might occur a bit distasteful but still relevant, is that of marketing.
In this age of din and commotion, unless the product is marketed well it fails to get its buyers. The Lokpal movement had two very engaging selling points – Anna Hazare and Jantar Mantar. The movement got its mileage from a prominent social activist in Anna and visibility from Jantar Mantar, a location at the heart of the city. Both the factors came together to give an amazing result which rivaled the hysteria of world cup win. What it re-affirms is that unless one makes a spectacle of an issue (or even a non-issue) one doesn’t stand a chance to be heard. Irom, the lady from Manipur, failed on this account. Her cry for justice took place in Manipur – a region which suffers alienation from ‘mainland’ India. There wasn’t, also, any personality associated with her cause.
But there is an inherent danger with regards to marketing a grievance. When the administration bows down before such demands people get to see a well orchestrated agitation succeed, which can only lead to an assumption that a more spectacular display of one’s resent and protestations will bound to get success. Display of placard and banner rallies have given way to highway blocking, naxalite violence, hostage dramas, twin tower blasts – and all being manifestations of the belief that ‘jinko kam sunayi deta hai, unhe dhamake ki zaroorat hoti hai.’
India does suffer from many diseases and corruption is one of them. But corruption is a two way street. We find corruption because we breed it. If probity of administration is demanded then the same honor has to be reflected by the citizen. India with its size and numbers cannot offer equal opportunity and access to everyone. It is then all the more important for everyone to become honest in their own dealings.
Apna gham leke kahin aur na jaaya jae
Ghar mein bikhri hui cheezon ko sambhala jae
~ Nida Fazli