EPIC BATTLE AT JANTAR MANTAR
Anna Hazare’s hunger strike, reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi’s mass Satyagrahas, has truly awakened the citizenry of this country. A moribund citizenry has at last come alive to fight corruption and venality in public life. The groundswell of public anger against corruption that fueled the movement ensured Hazare’s self-less Satyagraha has not gone in vain.
At first the ruling dispensation tried to deflect the issue hoping public attention would move on to other issues. The ‘Adarsh Society’ 2G, CWG et al. don’t evoke the kind of emotional responses now as they did only a few months ago. Who remembers Bofors’? It was anyway minuscule in scale compared to the twenty-first century scams. The spokes-persons of UPA were so cock-sure of the ‘public-memory-is-short’ dictum, that they now claim they have initiated all the criminal action in the 2G scam – who is Dr. Subramanian Swami and what has the Supreme Court to do with it? Diggy Raja huffed and hawed and saw in Hazare’s movement an RSS conspiracy. Kapil Sibal smirked and called it an anti-democratic movement. In the end when it became clear that instead of petering out, the movement was spreading from cities to small towns and was likely to irretrievably bury its political fortunes, the UPA government agreed to Hazare’s demand to constitute a joint committee to draft the (Jan) Lok Pal Bill. If Hazare and his cohorts thought that they had scored a hit they were to have another think coming. Their troubles were in the offing as UPA’s the marionettes and mercenaries were yet to be unleashed on the scene.
A coalition of motley individuals calling themselves, ‘Indians Against Corruption’ (IAC) jumped on the bandwagon to bask in Hazare’s after-glow. Hazare’s naïveté and inability to converse in English was godsend for some of these gadflies, ranging saffron commies to socialite butterflies, to have their moments under the sun (or strobe lights if you will); to appear on 24×7 news channels to air their worldview and to pontificate on the evils of corruption.
For the 24×7 news channels the movement was manna from heaven. They instituted round the clock coverage delivering ‘every-hour-on-the-hour’ bulletins on Hazare’s health. They insisted that for once the ‘middle classes’ shed their stoicism (euphemism for ‘why should I care; it’s not happening in my house but next door’ attitude) and joined the movement. From cities to small towns, from Jammu to Kanyakumari, IAC chapters have sprung up overnight to conduct dawn-to-dusk (in most places ‘dawn’ begins at about 10 AM; in Hyderabad there is a saying that ‘subeh-subeh is gyara baze!’) hunger-strikes and candle light vigils.
CYNICS AND INTELLIGENTSIA Vs CIVIL SOCIETY
Cynics wondered whether any member of the IAC can truthfully claim that he/she never paid a bribe (say for a berth in a train or for jumping a traffic light), never submitted inflated travel bills to their employers, never claimed anything but a genuine mediclaim, never under-valued property to pay reduced stamp duty while purchasing it or did not indulge in any of a myriad modes of corruption that a citizen of this country is compelled to resort to just to survive. And according to the received wisdom of OUTLOOK magazine the new pall-bearer of secularism, corruption has been ingrained in the Hindu way of life. No, there were no nazaranas in the composite culture. Sample this gem from Sheela Reddy:
“Corruption, after all, has been a way of life since ancient Hindu times, gradually evolving from the gifts offered to those in power in return, hopefully, for favours, to this passive-aggressive beast, which demands without actually asking.” (Corruption: Blind Men Of Hindostan. OUTLOOK. April 25, 2011.)
Another objection to the movement came from a section of the nebulous entity called intelligentsia, to the manner in which legislative business is sought to be hijacked by a nebulous entity called civil society. In fact a tweeter on the tweepledom wondered whether ‘civil society’ in India meant just people inhabiting South Delhi! They too have a point. If a motley crowd of ‘civil society’ activists today demand that legislative business be outsourced to them what will stop another motley crowd of ‘civil society’ activists from demanding the judicial system be outsourced to them tomorrow? The ‘president-of-the-one-woman-republic’s tirade against the Supreme Court could indeed be a subliminal if camouflaged demand for closing down the all criminal courts (from trial courts to the Supreme Court) and outsourcing the justice system to her. She would name her team with the possible inclusion of Teesta Setalvad and some comrades like Binayak Sen. Similarly there could be a demand for closing down central investigation agencies and outsource all their work to Tehelka. Shoma Choudary who speaks in non-stop paragraph-long sentences could be appointed ‘Chief’ of the agency with her invisible team-mates continuing their role as invisible investigators. The government could save a lot of tax rupees in the process. Besides, both of them seem to doing the same work – fixing Congress party’s political opponents – anyway. All these appointments would also fulfill the necessary and sufficient conditions of secularism and gender justice.
However the most redeeming feature of Hazare’s movement is that the youth of our county have been at its vanguard giving the lie to the popular perception that today’s youth are self-centred and uninterested in political movements. Taking a cue from Hazare’s campsite in New Delhi, hunger-strike camps across the nation displayed pictures of Bharat-Mata in the background. This is because today’s youth is proud of our rich and ancient culture, history, philosophy and spirituality? Unlike their counterparts of a few generations ago they are not burdened by the tugs and challenges of ‘intellectual fashions’ – which demanded disavowal, denial, denigration and negation of anything remotely connected to India’s glorious past. This was where the first sign of discord in the coalition against corruption surfaced. A news channel pithily wondered whether the bonhomie was over. The naïve Gandhian that Hazare was, he did not understand the importance of symbolism and nuances in India’s secular political discourse. Hazare was advised by the secular members (it is needless to point out that the secular members in any ‘civil society’ group are ‘more equal’ than others) of his entourage that displaying Bharat-Mata at the camp-site would offend the secular ethic of the nation as it amounted to – crass majoritarianism. He meekly obeyed and banished Bharat-Mata.
It would be unwise to assume that corruption, so deeply ingrained in the body politic could be excised with a single movement of a few days – howsoever popular the movement might have been. A small battle has been won but the major war is still ahead. The demon of corruption, so long used to feasting on the common weal of the populace like a gigantic parasite, is not going to give in easily. It is going to fight back with magnified virulence, which can take many shapes and forms. We can already see the ‘dogs-of-war’ let loose by the principal opposition – in this case, the ruling dispensation – attacking the fight against corruption on many fronts, including smear campaigns against its principal protagonists and dilatory tactics. We must remember, with its unlimited resources and vast arsenal, it hopes to weary the warriors in the fight against corruption, in a Fabian strategy and in the end win the war. Time is on its side.
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