Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Need for citizens to rethink role

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By Srinivasan K. Rangachary

In his latest sideswipe at Anna Hazare, Digvijay Singh has warned the Lokpal icon that he is being made a scapegoat by those surrounding him. Since the famous fast on the Ramlila Maidan ended in late August, the rumour mills of Delhi have been in overdrive not so much about the merits of the Lokpal Bill as the individuals in Team Anna and their internal dynamics.

Some of the members have done themselves significant publicity disfavours by justifying the use of unconventional billing practices or advocating secession for Kashmir.

Their relationship with Anna has also been the subject of speculation by the authorised (and now reportedly sacked) blogger of the Anna Hazare blogsite, Raju Parulekar. On this blog, Anna Hazare himself writes: ” Many a time people ( even those who are closer (sic) to me) make statements that do not collaborate with my thinking. Henceforth through the medium of internet I will personally make sure that my thoughts and views reach over to the people.”

The blog is yet to be sanitised of Parulekar’s claims about Anna being upset that Kejriwal, Bedi and Bhushan were “so undemocratic, fascist and disrespect Annaji’s thought.” As of November 7, the site still carries a copy of the handwritten letter from Anna Hazare that fuels Parulekar’s claim.

These rumours of a disconnect between Anna and his Team members are deeply ironical, for word has it that the Team that came to prefix the name of Anna had done some icon- shopping before fixing on the man who could be projected as the leader of India’s second freedom struggle.

Today, the speculation about who is and is not a kosher member of the Team triggers the question: will the Leviathan really devour its creators? Is Anna’s threat of Fast Three as much a strategy for putting pressure on Parliament as for unifying his generals to stay in battle mode or mobilising a popular army? For beyond their anger about corruption and their apparently univocal commitment to one particular version of the Lokpal Bill, there was little evidence to suggest a coherent shared political agenda amongst members of Team Anna. Even on their core demand, they appear to have now agreed that constitutionalising the Lokpal, or at least incorporating some declaratory principles to this effect into the Constitution, would be a good idea.

In the midst of all this confusion about both the substantive aspects of the Bill and its campaigners, it is worth reflecting on what this saga says about us as citizens of a democratic polity. Three questions were uppermost in people’s minds through this particular August Kranti: Who was there? How Many People were there? And who were its backers? Against the sceptics, Anna sympathisers typically argued that they went to Ramlila Maidan expecting to find middleclass people like themselves, but were astonished to meet auto- rickshaw drivers and daily wage labourers ( never mind that there were also caste associations like the All India Kshatriya Association).

Pictures of Arvind Kejriwal sleeping on a railway platform morphed or not, circulated feverishly on the internet as proof of Team Anna’s unpretentious oneness with the people. Left- wing intellectuals saw this as an opportunity for penitence for all the previous missed opportunities of being one with the people, though less romantic progressives expressed disquiet about the possible involvement of the RSS. The banner on Anna Hazare’s blogsite declares “Long Live Revolution!!!” and exhorts us to “Join this fight for New Vibrant India… Jai Hind.” The new vibrant India is not however defined; all we know is that a corruption- free government, guaranteed by a strong Lokpal, would lie at the heart of it.

The point of this recapitulation is to invite a comparison with the occupy Wall Street and occupy London campaigns.

The central questions in these locations are not who is/ was there, much less were only people like us there. If the question of how many people are there had been asked, the campaigns would have been dismissed out of hand for having too few participants. In India, two thousand people would be worth thinking about only if they were two thousand persons of economic or political consequence.

The occupations across the US and the UK point fingers at the Robber Barons of Wall Street and the city of London who have rewarded themselves with huge bonuses and extraordinary salaries in a time of widespread recession and joblessness, and the failure of the regulatory state to prevent this.

Fundamental questions are being asked about the unsustainability of the present model of capitalism, and about whether there is a need to think about alternative forms of capitalism, or alternatives to capitalism itself. It is acknowledged that these questions would be properly and most effectively addressed through dialogue and debate with both government and economic players. There are also moral questions being raised about the ethical imperative of improving the quality of life of the 99 per cent through a restoration of social services, instead of holding it to ransom to the greed of the 1 per cent.

The Indian middle classes refuse to join the obvious dots. They are beneficiaries of and therefore quite content with the fruits of economic liberalisation. Their discontent is limited to political corruption and they choose not to recognise that political and bureaucratic corruption cannot thrive without the complicity of corporates, who are not helpless elderly pensioners subjected to harassment by greedy clerks, or lower middle class parents bullied into making payoffs for school admissions.

As citizens, we are quite happy for a seventy- four year old man to fast while we eat, sing, dance and generally enjoy the picnic. We may be educationally qualified, professionally successful and technologically adept members of the new Indian middle class, but we are happy to infantilise ourselves and worship one leader who is all- knowing and will deliver us from evil. When the leader or a member of his core group is found to have feet of clay, we are thrown into confusion and despair. We want the corrupt politicians to be fixed without troubling ourselves to intellectualise the complex political economy of corruption.

We just want someone to wave a magic wand that will make it disappear and restore our innocent childlike faith in bedtime stories with happy endings.

Finally, we are happy for our religious gurus like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to sanctify and endorse the campaign, so that a nice convergence is accomplished between our spiritual and political lives. After all, the majority religious community in this country is used to worshipping pantheons, so a congruence of divinities, encompassing both the secular and spiritual domains, is just the ticket.

What the story of the Lokpal Bill and the continuing saga of team Anna tell us about ourselves is far more disconcerting than what is to be learnt about the indiscretions committed by its individual members or speculation about the internal fissures within the group or even the Gotcha! Moments they provide when they participate in election campaigns.

Were we even interested in the substance of the legislation/ constitutional amendment we would do ourselves more credit as citizens. INAV

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