Coimbatore, a city that’s quite different from Chennai, my hometown is apparently destined to witness a student upsurge in a bid to join Anna Hazare and a dozen other talking heads on TV in their fight against corruption. I am yet to reach a consensus characterised by clarity on this issue; I am still oblivious and confused about a lot of things in pertinence to the whole saga. I have been a silent spectator of the thousands of debates that have been happening on Facebook.
The members of the civil society themselves seem to have different stances on the nature of Lokpal that should make the final cut. The opposition, as usual is busy uniting the “majority” on the issue with secessionist forces working overtime to paint the town orange. The ruling party meanwhile is craving for the support of the minorities urging them to call the movement undemocratic. The Netas meanwhile have been equivocating and contributing to the rich, old tradition of the Congress by spouting nonsense 24*7. The media is hyperactive as ever, discovering and rediscovering various angles to the protests, inventing or even creating a few occasionally. The “experts” have been quite cynical and haven’t minced words by calling it an undemocratic movement. The general public, on the other hand, are at their garrulous best: clichés are omnipresent. Some call it India’s second war of independence, some are equating Anna to Gandhi or JP, and some are associating the scenario with the ones in Tunisia and Egypt. Some people sincerely believe that the inception of the Lokpal is gonna bring about a radical change and that its members possess magic wands that are likely to completely wipe out corruption. Few people understand that Anna Hazare is Anna Hazare and not Harry Potter!
I personally feel that it’s plain absurd to call it India’s second war of independence and refer to Anna as the contemporary version of Gandhi simply because the ground rules are different. Back then, we were fighting an alien imperialist force that was dictating terms and hell bent on keeping us on a lower plane; the convenience of an established system of representative governance was not available at our disposal. With a democracy in place, there is no need for us to take up an aggressive anti-establishment stance; atleast for the enlightened middle class that knows nothing about the struggles of the oppressed that are fighting a charged up capitalist class. There is no term in English to describe or abuse the comparisons of this movement to the ones in Egypt and Libya. It’s a blatant insult that’s been designed to hurt and abuse the concept of logical thinking and rationalism.
The biggest joke, however, is the belief system that the mere passing of the bill will lead to the eradication of corruption. I have my own reservations and queries about the constituent members of the Lokpal:
1. How can we afford to select the members purely on the basis of faith and past records? What’s the guarantee that power won’t corrupt the committee after the bill is legitimised?
2. Isn’t there a high probability that certain communities may remain unrepresented in the Lokpal and hence, feel insecure? When I talk about communities, there are infinite grounds of classification to complicate things. Classification can be based on geographical, religious, casteist, political and ideological basis.
3. How can there possibly be a proper system of selection wherein a team that satiates most of the people, other than a plebiscite? And in case a plebiscite is arrived upon as the method of selection, how can we even dream of a team devoid of political leanings?
I also feel that it’s unfair to bring the PM under the ambit of the Lokpal. Any minor reference or a trivial allegation by the Lokpal against the PM may initiate a nationwide upheaval which in turn will initiate a domino effect on the opposition and the media. So the PM will be forced to put all his responsibilities including that as the leader of the ministry on hold; nationwide calls for his resignation will become inevitable and a person of supreme national importance will be reduced to a position of helpless self-defence.
Calling it a totally undemocratic movement is an argument that doesn’t hold water though. 65 years post-independence, we are still being ruled by the same family that took over the reins as soon as the clock struck twelve on the 15th of August 1947 though they have been far from efficient in terms of alleviation of the various problems that plague the country. It says a lot of things: about the lack of options (a proper opposition that is), about the high-handedness and oppressive tendency of the ruling party (though that’s an issue that’s definitely not beyond debate) and the general tendency of the Indian public to constantly ignore the power of democracy and the serious issues that result when one chooses to neglect the duties of a citizen of a democratic regime. So the whole concept of democracy and its functionality in a country known for its diversities needs a re-think. I think we need to be quite liberal about its definition. The people have taken to the streets to fight corruption today simply because the popular definition of democracy seems to have failed them. Since the outcry against corruption is unanimous, peaceful and doesn’t marginalise anyone at the moment, I think it’s ok to take the liberty to call it a neo-democratic movement that places people’s views at the forefront. But the point is, if and when we dedicate one-tenth of the time and effort we have put in to make this movement a resounding success to our democratic duty, won’t the world be a much better place to live in? Do Anna and gang have the guts to take it to the next level and educate people about their responsibilities as citizens of a democracy? Do they have it in them to contest the next general elections and win it on the basis of good faith? Will the ever hypocritical middle class keep their casteist, religious preferences aside and vote for them?
Another critical point put forth by cynics with respect to middle class hypocrisy and media preferences is the constant snubbing of fasts orchestrated by Medha Patkar, Irom Sharmila and others for significant causes that demand attention. I think it’s not reasonable to expect the middle class to join the struggle against a cause that they can hardly relate to. On the hindsight, the media should take the blame for not sensationalising non-glamorous issues. At the end of the day, I think nothing’s gonna change unless we evolve from species longing for spicy news on the arrest of a high profile minister to responsible citizens willing to contribute whole heartedly to the functioning of the democracy.