Thursday, September 1, 2011

Anna Hazare’s Anti Corruption Movement

Anna’s fast is over, the common man has returned home, Ramlila ground is empty, TV channels have started covering mundane events and the government is back in business. Our generation is fortunate to have witnessed a very spontaneous and peaceful ‘People’s Movement’ against corruption. As the Secretary of JVV Apartment Owners association, I sent out a circular requesting the Navy and Air force veterans to join the ‘Anti Corruption March’ on 25 August 2011 from RSI, MG Road to Freedom Park in Bangalore – in support of Anna Hazare. The response was satisfactory. Sena Vihar which houses the army veterans also joined us. There were a few from Jal Vayu Towers also. We marched a distance of 4.1KMs and joined the ocean of protesters in the Freedom Park.

Figure 1 - At the RSI

Figure 2 - On the way - Cubbon Park

Figure 3 - Nearing Freedom Park

Figure 4 - Course mate - Govindrajan with a white Anna cap joins the march

The atmosphere in the park was absolutely electrifying; we were automatically sucked into the charged environment. The fervor with which the people had identified themselves with the movement was really inspiring. The people in the park represented a vast cross section of our society –children, students, factory workers, office goers, trade union members from various organizations and many more were there, standing shoulder to shoulder registering their protest against rampant and unchecked corruption in the country.

Figure 5 - At the park

Figure 6 All the veterans

Corruption has entered all aspects of our life. It has so strongly entrenched itself in our polity, that the citizens have started to accept it as a necessary evil. In some places it has been legitimized by referring to bribery as ‘administrative charges’ and ’miscellaneous expenses’. The common man has become helpless and extremely vulnerable.

Figure 7 - Inside the protest area

I remember a very powerful movie ‘Nishant’ by Shyam Benegal. The film explores the corrupt world of landowners and local bureaucracy in India on the cusp of independence; In a feudal village in the 1940s, the village’s new schoolmaster’s wife, Sushila (Shabana Azmi), is abducted for the enjoyment of the zamindar’s cruel, depraved younger brothers. The schoolmaster (Girish Karnad) tries to recover her through official channels, including the local police official (Kulbushan Kharbanda), but meets everything from indifference to abject fear of the powerful zamindar (Amrish Puri). What follows is something very similar to the Anna movement – when there is nobody to listen and correct the injustice around you – people rebel and take their resentment to the streets – fortunately for India the Anna protest was extraordinarily peaceful and did not end up with unprecedented violence against the zamindar's tyranny, with indiscriminately tragic results like in Nishant.

Figure 8 - Total participation – Generals, ladies and all

Some of the issues related to the movement needs mention here.

Anna is not an intellectual.

Some commentators went to town lamenting, how this ordinary sepoy could understand the complex nature of corruption, economy, ordinance, law enforcement etc. To their utter surprise and shock, Anna was not one of them. How dare a common man set off such far reaching ripples with such a huge (and successful) protest against corruption, when none of their ilk had done it? The reason was simple – Anna did not belong to their club. ‘No membership – No entry’ was their war cry. How come Dr Manmohan Singh with all his super qualifications has done so little to curb corruption? You don’t need degrees and post graduations to realize that there is unbridled corruption in the country.

Anna has moral courage, personal integrity and the spirit of sacrifice.

To be able to go on a fast for a cause is not impossible, but to galvanize lakhs of Indians to follow suit is something bordering on a miracle. Nothing of this scale has ever happened in India since Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan. Anna was able to achieve this because of his moral authority and personal example. He came prepared to sacrifice his life for this cause and the people truly believed in him. He had no other hidden agenda.

Anna movement is against parliamentary process.

When there is so much of corruption and all avenues to redress the issue have failed for the common man, when government promises have not been honoured, when people in power do not share the concern of the common man and when corruption continues to be the biggest problem facing the nation – where does the common man go? To the streets, of course. What is undemocratic about a movement launched by the people of India to fight against corruption? Just because the government has not witnessed such a huge movement before - it does not become unparliamentary.

Anna supporters do not represent the entire nation.

How foolish can one get? Mr Karan Thapar unpleasantly grilled Mr Kejriwal and Shanti Bhushan saying Anna’s movement did not represent India. He said “One Lakh protestors in Ramlila ground do not represent 1.3 billion Indians”. I wonder how many people, the TV channels interview in their exit poll to pronounce their finding and predictions. National Council of Public Poll says “Interviews with a scientific sample of 1,000 adults can accurately reflect the opinions of nearly 210 million American adults. That means interviews attempted with all 210 million adults – if such were possible – would give approximately the same results as a well-conducted survey based on 1,000 interviews”.

Please permit me a harmless aside. When we were at school, we used to call the ‘extra smart – know it all’ guy in the class, ‘Ameen Sayani’, a popular radio announcer and quiz master. Mr Karan Thapar is the new age ‘Ameen Sayani’. I humbly request Mr Karan Thapar to set aside his CNN IBN script and walk on the streets of Delhi and muster 10 people – he will find it extremely difficult to muster even 5 who will tolerate his superciliousness and disdainful arrogance.

Arrogance of the people in power.

It was really disheartening to see people in power treating this entire movement as a joke. The government was far from being helpless – on the contrary there was a premeditated contempt shown to the popular uprising. Down the line, one of their strategies was to delay, confuse and break the ranks to wear down the public support over a period of time. Mr Kapil Sibal, Manish Tiwari and Chidambaram symbolized the worst of the government. Some questioned the rights of the people to oppose the government – how dare ordinary citizens disagree with the elected body – what do they know about running a government – we know what is correct and good for the people. The divide between the electorate and the elected was so deep and visible; it led even the fence sitters to jump onto Anna’s bandwagon.

The Anna camp was holding the government to ransom, blackmail etc.

This is very far from the truth. The public has been waiting for nearly 41 years to see the Lokpal bill being passed by the parliament. Every time they have delayed, misled and misrepresented the sentiments of the nation. Anna’s camp was operating in an atmosphere of total distrust and had no other recourse than to demand total acceptance.

It was a sad spectacle of a rudderless government finding its way in a huge ocean. Thank God better sense prevailed and the government did not run aground.

Finally Mr Jug Suraiya wrote in TOI saying “Perhaps the single most important thing that the Anna movement has taught us is that politics is too important to be left only to professional politicians , echoing George Clemenceau’s ( French Prime Minister from 1906 – 09) famous statement, ” War is too serious a business to be left to the generals”. Jug Suraiya further adds, “India has been like a house owned by a householder who leaves the day-to-day running of the house — keeping the place clean, buying provisions for the kitchen, maintaining a daily hisaab — to the servants. Left unregulated — except for a check on their activities every five years — the servants inevitably come to feel that the house belongs to them and not to the householder. As time goes by, they become increasingly lazy and corrupt and treat the householder with contempt. The house becomes rundown with no money to pay for upkeep”.

Good bye until the next fast which seems likely to take place in the not so distant future. After all, we do have ‘miles to go before we sleep.’

One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. - Martin Luther King