Tuesday, August 30, 2011

See no politics, hear no politics

Recent developments have strengthened my sense that Anna's movement is making a positive impact in the fight against corruption, even as I continue to have strong reservations about both the anti-democratic tone and the immediate goal (a strong unelected official). In particular I find myself agreeing with Aamir Khan, someone I've always respected, that there's nothing wrong with peaceful protest in a democracy. His suggestion to peacefully picket houses of MP's will also, I believe, cause the latter to appreciate the second word in "elected representatives". In this direction, I'm also strongly supporting the current demands of Team Anna to have a right to recall as well as a right to reject. These are both well within the ambit of democracy. Not surprisingly, the government is squirming at the thought while the opposition senses an opportunity.

Now for my worries. There has been an article circulating to the effect that Anna Hazare's methodology as applied by him in his "model village" Ralegaon Siddhi is heavy handed and undemocratic, as well as excessively tolerant towards caste-based discrimination. (Some of these accusations were also made about Mahatma Gandhi and in both cases they have a ring of truth.)

I'm particularly disturbed by Anna's reported view that it's OK to publicly flog drunkards in the village (according to the report he did the flogging himself) because, in his words "If you want change, it's sometimes necessary to be tough." Many including myself feel tough action is called for when men regularly get drunk and beat their wives and children instead of supporting them. However -- and this is one important way in which Gandhi differs from Hazare -- beating these men back simply cannot be the solution. 

There are two more aspects of the Hazare agitation, more due to his supporters than himself, that worry me today. I think people need to take them seriously. One comes to mind in the light of actor Om Puri's recent rant describing politicians as "ganwars" (loosely translated as "village idiots"). A large proportion of urban India despises the rural base of politicians which they see as the root of the problem. If only we smart city people could run the country, goes the thinking, everything would be fine (in reality, I fear it would only be as fine as Satyam under Ramalinga Raju).

This urban-rural divide has occurred in recent memory in  Thailand and torn it apart, for substantially similar reasons. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was popular with the rural poor and widely reputed to be corrupt, and the country saw violent confrontation on the streets between his supporters and those of businessman Sondhi Limthongkul. In the end elections were held and Shinawatra's daughter (note added later: I meant to say "sister") is in power. The analogy is incomplete because the Shinawatras are not any kind of villagers themselves, unlike the Laloo Prasad types at whom the Om Puri barb was presumably addressed. Clear the real issue is about the rural/urban origin not of the politician but of the people he or she represents. (Om Puri has repented and he's sensitive enough to understand he shouldn't have said it, but I'm sure the statement has already resonated with many).

I'll end by describing the second worrying aspect of the movement. This too is embodied by a superstar, none other than Lata Mangeshkar. Recently, India's current nightingale emitted the following tuneless tweet:  "I don`t understand politics nor do I have an interest in it. But I feel, our country should be free from corruption, so I lend my support to the cause Anna Hazareji is fighting for". Anyone who claims to be uninterested in  politics is deluded or lying -- politics permeates our life. And I wonder why it should be permissible to support a major national movement without understanding the basics of it. Thankfully, this lazy lady is counterbalanced by the energetic Aamir Khan who tells us he studied the different versions of the Lokpal Bill in detail before offering his opinion.

1 comment:

Cheeta said...

A small correction. It's not Thaksin Shinawatra's daughter who is now in power in Thailand, it's his sister, Yingluck "Pu" Shinawatra.