Sunday, August 21, 2011

ANNA AWAKENS 'WE THE PEOPLE'

Anna is everywhere. Everyone has something to say about him. And almost no one has read the anti-corruption Jan Lok Pal Bill (JLPB) they are supporting or savaging. The debate, therefore, is, for most part, along the same ideological, political, religious and social fault lines that emerge in their ugliness whenever any contentious issue comes to the fore.

This time, however, another participant has entered the arena. And he is not another op-ed writer or a member of a handpicked studio audience taking part in a motivated and tightly controlled discussion. He is -- many differ—the real “We the People.”

Why has Anna Hazare, a soldier and a Gandhian who was barely known beyond Maharashtra till April this year, so caught the imagination of the people?

We are possibly witnessing and are part of a rare moment when a core issue has got the just the right amount of Oxygen it needs, in the form of a spotless leader who can keep it aflame without burning down everything and also not let those who have successfully extinguished it in the past do so again. In such moments history is made; in such moments events occur that seemed impossible just a few days back; in such moments cynics, critics and collaborators are swept by a Tsunami in their pajamas.

Government corruption is an issue that has touched almost every one -- even the destitute -- who has had some contact with someone from the government. Yes, we have all paid bribes at some point of time; some of us have even taken them.

Is, then, this unprecedented outpouring of support for Anna’s war against corruption a reflection of our hypocrisy, as some are suggesting with naked derision? Or has Anna struck a deeper chord in the collective consciousness of India because of the kind of man he is being seen as, because of the very Spartan life he has lived, because of the energy that only a spiritually cleansed ascetic karma yogi can emit?

Is Anna awakening a set of values that we as a people had forgotten, resigned as we were to the rot of corruption because, till April this year, there was not even a ray of hope that things would ever improve? Is Anna giving vent to a primordial anger, even curse, that has been long buried in us against our elected representatives who have not only failed us but mocked us by their increasingly obscene abuse of power and a plunder, nay rape, of their motherland, the one they, for good reason, flinch from calling Bharat Mata anymore?

Never before has India so spontaneously rallied together like this against its rulers – and that includes politicians presently in opposition – since they they took on the British. Now, as then, collaborators of the regime who have benefitted from it are staying loyal to their masters, aided by vocal and visible ideologues obsessed with alien theoretic constructs that sound very impressive but work very poorly, if at all, in India's civilisational and cultural cauldron. Like then, arrogant and disconnected rulers are confident they can once again beat back the surge by deceit.

In April 2011, Congress leaders easily succeeded in diffusing the situation when they broke Anna Hazare’s protest with a last-minute personal appeal from Sonia Gandhi that led Anna and his team to believe that she was on the side of those fighting the most brazen plunder India has ever seen, under her protective eye and pallu. In June, again they managed a repeat, this time with brutal force against sleeping men, women and children, after leading Baba Ramdev up the same path and agreeing to most of his demands, only to break them with lathis, and completely forget them thereafter.

This is the third time Sonia’s lieutenants tried the same trick. But this time, the people, prepared for their deceit, have not let them get away. The old cliché about not being able to fool all the people all the time has caught up with them, and they have nowhere to hide. The sordid drama of Anna’s arrest and release has not shown the government’s ineptitude in the absence of Sonia Gandhi but the determination of a people who refused to let it suppress their voice against its arrogance and high-handedness again.

The action has since shifted to Ramlila Maidan, where Anna has continued his fast, and spread like a prairie fire to cities, towns and villages across the length and breadth of India. As the flames are leaping higher and higher, so are voices against Anna and his team, most from usual suspects and a few from most unexpected quarters. But that is only to be expected, and their fury is only going to increase. Till it is consumed in the non-violent flames that Anna has fanned or till it suppresses and extinguishing them, one more time.

Parts of the JLPB may be flawed. But all of those who have read it – and also have real experience of the working of the government – know in their hearts that, at the core, the bill attacks a significant dimension of an enormous problem with the focus and sincerity needed to deal with it. Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, the two brains behind the bill, have detailed insider information about the functioning of the well-oiled machine of government corruption and, therefore, know well the right instruments that are needed to tackle it.

On the other hand, the government’s Lok Pal Bill, drafted by the likes of Kapil Sibal – more need not be said – is, 64 years after Independence and 42 years after it was first mooted, an instrument designed to actually encourage corruption, making prosecution virtually impossible, particularly of big ticket offenders like ministers, politicians and bureaucrats. Every one knows that the real, almost unbridgeable gap between Anna's team and the Sonia's government is of intentions, not provisions of the two bills. Therefore, no one out there with any sense is buying the government’s line anymore.

Anna has undoubtedly roused the people from some sort of a deep slumber. It cannot be an accident that since he has started fasting, there has not been even one murder or rape in India’s rape capital, Delhi. A collective catharsis is taking place; people are again connecting with the Law of Karma, shaken from a Kumbhkaran-like sleep by Anna’s chants of ‘Vande Matram,’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai.’ Non-Hindus too have been similarly inspired by his Gandhian-type secularism, his motivational call ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ and his powerful evocation of the sacrifices of Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev. This is inclusive secularism at its pristine best.

The protests are growing, the crowds are swelling, the writing is on the wall. Yet, it is quite possible that those who have mastered the art of tricking and disempowering people by gaming the electoral process and converting it into a cynical game of numbers by dividing people along every conceivable and possible dimension, are not reading it right even now, and may once again succeed in suppressing this uprising, this Second War of Independence, as Anna calls it, with some justification. It is possible that some of them may again enjoy wine like they did after Baba Ramdev was bundled out of Delhi by the police.

If that happens, politicians would do well to remember that the non-violent fuse that Anna, Baba Ramdev, Kejriwal, Bedi, others and 'We The People' have lit is burning rapidly, and getting shorter. The bomb of corruption that politicians have fashioned is now simply too big to be wished away. It has to be burst. Politicians will do well to heed to Anna's fatherly warning that carries the energy of a true Gandhian and India's youth; it is not to be trifled with, and they should to do it before it blows in their face and unleashes destructive energies that may be very difficult to control. They owe at least this to India.
'