Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anna, I will set you free

It's rare for the Indian National Congress party to sing songs made famous by the Beatles, and if they have now suffered this fate they have only themselves to blame. Ignoring personal beauty (this is important) today's Anna perhaps resembles the girl of the Beatles song, who was once captivated by the singer but later asks him to set her free because someone else loves her more. In the present case the new lover corresponds to many millions of Indians who have been totally won over by Anna's charms. But cleverly, Anna doesn't ask to be set free, she simply refuses to eat. The Congress is left with no option but to sing "give back the ring to me and I will set you free" and one guesses they are now collectively wailing the lines of the chorus, which goes "What am I, what am I supposed to do? Oh oh oh oh oh oh".

But this is no three-minute song. It's at the same time the most deadly serious and hilariously comical thing to happen to India in decades. Indians very correctly want to be done with corruption, after all these years of being done in by it. But the proposed remedy - creating a "magical" position with virtually unlimited powers - seems to me at first sight to be disastrous. I'm not the only one to think so. A large number of serious people have observed that there is no magic wand to eliminate corruption, and an "ultimate authority" that supercedes the democratically elected sounds suspiciously like a dictator. My cousin Cheeta points out that an all-powerful Lokpal sounds suspiciously like what General Ayub Khan promised to be when martial law was declared in Pakistan in 1958 and he made himself President through a coup. In the beginning he was supposedly disgusted by the level of corruption and promised to cleanse his country of it, but eventually he was himself mired in accusations of corruption and nepotism and ended up rigging the 1965 presidential elections in his own favour.

So when a friend recently called to ask whether I would be joining a protest at Azad Maidan, I replied "I'm not a supporter of Anna Hazare". This friend was shocked at my lack of involvement. I didn't bother to remind him that, not so long ago, he (my friend, not Anna) had paid a bribe to try and get a job in a state-run organisation in Bombay. My pleas to him not to pay the bribe had gone unheeded at the time. This reinforces my concern about the present movement: should it be so easy for people who themselves indulge in corruption at the first opportunity to go around shaking their fists at elected politicians? When the list of people jumping on to this bandwagon includes rather suspicious businessmen and shady politicians (not to mention Varun Gandhi, in a class by himself) I feel this movement, even if its leaders are sincere, is pointing in the wrong direction. An emphasis on personal transformation and incremental change would seem to me more practical and ethically correct.

And yet, after the events of yesterday and today, I find my position a little shaky. Movements cannot be tailor-made, so the one that would be to my liking as I've described above may never happen. It might be more sensible to focus on what is actually happening and see if it has a chance to make some impact. And here I begin to see some rays of hope. The arrogant behaviour of the ruling party's most arrogant leaders has backfired and the Anna Hazare movement has got them on the run (they run mostly in circles, of course). Public enthusiasm and confidence, whose absence was always the main problem, is now growing exponentially. This cannot fail to spread some fear and alarm among corrupt sections of the government, bureaucracy, police and industry. In the prevailing atmosphere, even a small-time cop trying to make 50 rupees from a traffic violator might tremble at the thought of being reported or exposed. Conversely a citizen being forced to pay a bribe for what is rightfully theirs is sure to be more courageous and resist. A few incidents in this direction are already being reported. So I begin to think some good things could come out of this movement whether or not it achieves its stated goal.

Then again, I'm not totally sure. Abundant silliness is not the sole prerogative of the Congress party, but the birthright of all Indians. One wonders what to make of the blogs, emails and texts  going round, most of them indicative of the infantile outlook of my fellow-countrymen even as these historic events play out. Here's one charming example posted in April:

Is relay news channels are supporting Anna Hazares protest and fighting against the Corruption then from tomorrow IPL matches are going to Start so ban publishing the news on this IPL matches because this may effect Nation wide protest and divert the issue of corruption. 

And another:

let us citizens of India start no tax movement & non cooperative movement as gandhiji did. than and only than this government will undeerstnad. also this way our hard earned tax money will be saved.

Who could resist such a noble idea! But the one that finds most favour with me personally is an SMS that reads as follows:

My dear frnds. If all the black money comes back to India then-
Beer 8 Rs
Vodka 20 Rs
Whisky 35 Rs
Soda 1.25 Rs
At least now support ANNA!


Vishnu said...

I feel this movement, even if its leaders are sincere, is pointing in the wrong direction.

What is surprising is that the government has completely failed in raising this issue.

An emphasis on personal transformation and incremental change would seem to me more practical and ethically correct.

I agree. The story of your friend is the reason why Jan Lokpal is going to make no difference at all. Corruption is so ingrained in our minds that we do not think of most forms of it as wrong (perhaps unless it involves tons of money).

Amitabha said...

I tried to convince some people (privately, of course) that those who are really desperate to support Anna Hazare's fast should start fasting themselves at the same time.

I also tried to perpetrate the idea (on facebook) that those who think that fasting for a cause is Good (TM) should learn a bit more about Irom Sharmila.

Nothing came of either attempt.

Do you plan to report/write on the Lepton-Photon 2011?

Nirmalya said...

A similar institution in Indonesia has actually been tremendously successful and hasn't done anything disastrous. Here's my take on this: