By Sudip Mazumdar
As Indians rise in protest and rally around Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption, the corrupt and the opportunist are looking for cover. The swelling resolve to birth a movement that would usher in real democracy with transparency and accountability as hallmarks is slowly assuming unprecedented levels.
And yet, there are a few voices coming up to sow dissension in this tide of popular discontent against the venal politician-bureaucrat-corporate nexus that has not only fattened itself on public money but has also perpetuated a system that carefully looks after the interests of the privileged and the powerful, often denying just basic rights to the majority.
There are, in essence, three major points in the murmur of criticism against the civil uprising sweeping the country.
First, the cause is just but the method is undemocratic and, some have suggested, fascist. These civil society leaders are not elected and thus have no locus standi to demand change. Second, if we allow such pressure groups, instead of established institutions and channels, to dictate terms to government, there would be anarchy. And third, a mere law will not be able to curb corruption.
It is understandable that the corrupt would slyly, when not brazenly, try to derail any move to tame them. But what is surprising is that some so-called liberal commentators have also raised similar “concerns”.
Let us take them one by one and see the hollowness of such arguments. If the cause is just then why have all the “democratic” methods failed to curb corruption in the last 63 years. Why is it that almost all institutions today stand tainted and their functioning mired in scams and scandals? Corruption has been institutionalised, flowing through every artery of the state. How absurd then it is to talk about an elected lawmaker, with ill-gotten wealth and criminal charges, having a better locus standi than a mass leader of impeccable integrity and transparent simplicity.
If just being elected puts that person above the rest, as it practically does an MP or an MLA with all those VIP status symbols, red-light-mounted cars, bodyguards, fantastic privileges, including high-wire fenced free homes, and turns them into masters instead of servants, then there is something terribly rotten about Indian democracy.
Also, judges, including those in the Supreme Court, are also not elected and yet they, through their judgments, change course of history, make or mar a corporation or a government and above all, take away life by handing down a death sentence.
It is true Anna Hazare is not sitting in an air-conditioned office surrounded by flunkeys but lying in this hot weather in a street corner and going without food, and thus perhaps not to be taken as seriously as the creepy elected politician. Anna Hazare has simply called upon Indians to reclaim their right, and that is to have real democracy where elected representatives are servants of the people and truly accountable, and not new masters as they have wangled to be in independent India.
The second argument is even more specious. Pressure groups or lobbies have always influenced Indian governments and continue to do so. Arms dealers to corporate entities have long entrenched themselves in every sphere of government. The Bofors gun kickback scandal and recent Niira Radia tapes are ample proof of how pressure groups operate deep inside government.
For the cynics, such pressure groups are perfectly acceptable but not Anna Hazare and his millions of ordinary Indian followers who are pressuring the government simply to do its job – and that is to protect the interests of the people rather than serve the shadowy lobbyists and corrupt politician-bureaucrat mafia.
It is already anarchy for the poor and the under-privileged in this country of 1.2 billion people. The majority feel they live in a state of lawlessness and despair. The state and its machineries are seen mainly as oppressors by the vast rural masses in India’s hinterland and urban ghettos.
That is why Anna Hazare’s call for a relentless non-violent struggle for a corruption-free society resonates with so many different sections of the society. It is one burgeoning pressure that is beginning to shake government malfeasance. And thus should be welcomed with open arms.
Lastly, when all their arguments fail to hold water, the cynics say that a mere legislation will not end corruption. Of course, not. It will take a whole new protracted freedom movement to reinstall a truly participatory democracy in India. The good news is that a beginning has now been made that is aimed at empowering common people.
There is something unique about India’s experiments with democracy. The simple Gandhian has been able to galvanise the whole nation around an emotive issue. The Anna Hazare solidarity vigils are cropping up across the country with novel ways of protest, where the youth feels energised to be agents of change. From little school children to a shy homemaker to old pensioner to outraged professionals to harassed citizenry – all are in this together. It is a giant step toward making India a true beacon of democracy. (The author can be contacted at [email protected])