Gandhi topis are everywhere. There is a new face in every poster. He does not look sophisticated, urban and is definitely not young. But the headlines are constantly screaming his name. Shopkeepers are voluntarily closing down their shops in protest. The dabbawalas of Mumbai have stalled work for the first time. At the age of 73, he has captured the imagination of a nation and the young India is perhaps getting its first icon from public life after a long time. This blog is not about the pros and cons of the Lok Pal. But it is about the mood of the nation which has been propelled after a long time to this state.
Those who oppose this movement are pointing to the sanctity of the parliament, which is the symbol of democracy. But has any sanctity been left in the parliament after 64 years? The minsters purchase each other in ‘Cash for Votes’ and the country is being run like a feudal fiefdom, with all powers being vested in a few families of Indian politics. In his recent book India: A Portrait, Patrick French has pointed out that 65% of under-40 MPs come with some prior political connections. Most of the young brigade of the Congress like the Deoras, the Scindias and of course our own Gandhis have a long and strong political lineage. With democracy slowly morphing into feudal dynasty, the masses are being distanced from mainstream politics for they know that ‘It is all about loving your family’. Scams reek of stench costing lakhs of crores. Every day opens up a new Pandora’s Box in the UPA government and our PM sits like Dhritarashtra, blind to the disrobing of the nation by his own men.
Strike when the iron is hot. Perhaps that is what Anna Hazare has done. Anna Hazare is not a creation of the media. He has done some solid ground work in the hinterland all his life as a Gandhian activist. He has fasted for various causes in the past as well, with sometimes partial and at times, complete success. Even if Team Anna is using the media for its benefit, there is nothing new to it for every message needs to be carried across through a propoganda. For Mahatma Gandhi, India’s freedom movement was also a propoganda and he very cleverly used the press in his favour and ensured a heavy media presence during all his crucial movements.
But if you think the angry crowd on the streets is marching for a Lok Pal bill, you are mistaken. Most of them are not completely aware of the intricacies and implications of the bill. All they know is that this is a hammer which will beat down corruption. But more than anything, they are there becasue they want to show the government what can happen if the masses yell in unision. They want the corrupt government to stand on its knees before them and see them punished for treating the national wealth like their family property. The bosses at the centre thought that public opinion is like a poster which weathers down with every monsoon. It is this arrogance which they are protesting against. Collective forces require a face for any upheaval to succeed. Lok Pal is their tool and Anna their face.
But to compare Anna Hazare’s movement to that of Mahatma Gandhi is an overstatement. Firstly, Gandhi’s movement was not urban centric. Anna Hazare’s Lok Pal movement is yet to find voice in the rural areas, where the sound of the slogans is yet to reach. Mahatma Gandhi’s movement was not just a rally. It was Satyagraha and he led an army of Satyagrahis – people who didn’t believe in punishing someone for failings they themselves suffer from. No doubt our limits are tested when money is demanded at every turn. But we are corrupt in forms more than one. We are more than willing to push a Rs.50 note into the pockets of a traffic police to evade fine for jumping signals, we download pirated movies and music. Many among us do not declare the right figures for taxes. We easily grease the arms of the TT to get a berth in the train and pay hefty donations to get our kids a seat in the best English-medium school in the town. Within the limitations we are in, we throw money right, left and centre. A Raja or Kalmadi might be doing the same, just that their limits are far more expanded. Corruption is in the collective nature of this country, not just in a few bureaucrats or politicians. How it started, is like asking the chicken and egg question.
Lok Pal is not a sanjeevani which will cure all the ills of the nation. If the power of Parliament is at threat now, the parliamentarians are at fault for the same. When people who are voted to power fail to perform their duties, attempts will be made to usurp power at some point in time by those who have lost faith in the establishment. That time is perhaps knocking at the door. 35 years ago, the nation saw a similar hysteria when Jayprakash Narayan called for Total Revolution and asked the armed forces to lay down their weapons in protest against the anarchy that prevailed during the regime of Indira Gandhi. Many criticized him for that. Ms Gandhi responded by declaring 19 months of Emergency. But the JP movement led to the end of the monopoly of the Congress in Indian politics. It led to the formation of the Janata Party and later, the BJP. Anna is not a JP or Gandhi, nor does he intend to communicate any such idea. If nothing, he should be saluted for restoring the lost glory of the Gandhi topi and making it cool for a new generation. He should not be deified and thus defeat the cause for which he is fighting.
The arrest of Anna is a dangerous blow to the fundamental rights enshrined in the very constitution, for which the Congress politicians are shedding crocodile tears. Lok Pal should not be allowed to be a law-making or law-amending body. Elections are held every five years to get people do that job. The Lok Pal can be an efficient, independent watch-dog. Even as per Anna’s proposal, the PM, the Leader of Opposition, Chief Election Commissioner, judges of the high court and the supreme court have been given powers to nominate the Chairperson of the Lok Pal. The CBI has become a joking agency more than an investigative agency. It has to be relieved from the clenches of the central government and the Lok Pal can ensure fast tracking of pending cases. Prime Minister is a citizen of India. The anachronistic cry of his non-inclusion is a farce on democracy.
By the way, like Indira Gandhi, Manmohan Singh too believes there is a foreign hand trying to destabilise India. Paranoia can sometimes be funny.