Saturday, January 5, 2013

An unintended revolution

When Anna Hazare sat down for his anshan at Jantar Mantar, on 5 April 2011, he had an agenda on his mind. He wanted to uproot corruption from India. A nearly impossible task, corruption has mingled so beautifully into our social fabric that, that we all have a blind eye for it. When an officer gets a bundle of crisp new currency notes, it is termed as a gift for the family and children. It is never for him. When one has to cough up more money than what is legitimately payable for any government service, one never feels extorted or bribed, it is more likely to be considered as 'Suvidha Shulk' - (Convenience Fee) a small amount of money which one can afford and others cannot. It must really feel good to stamp their financial superiority on others as people cruise up the long line, get their work done while others sweat there for hours. Same goes with our administrators, politicians, representatives and other elected people of authority. When they cut their commission from the public budget, they feel it is morally justified. It is a small compensation for the years of public service, even the people running NGOs draw their livelihood from the donations don't they?

In such social atmosphere how could a person with no organizational support? How could he fight a crusade against corruption? Will people turn against themselves? Was the 'society' mature enough to introspect and clean itself from sins that the members of the society loved to commit?

Anyone with a sane mind would know that this was not even a possibility. Even Hazare must have known, because instead of aiming at corruption in society in general with a cannon, he targeted corruption in politicians and ministers with an sniper rifle.

The rifle that I'm talking about was, the Jan Lokpal Bill, he stated that, 'I will fast until Jan Lokpal Bill is passed'. Now people wouldn't have heard this statement had it not been for our sensational media, which love to blow things out of proportion. A quick background check revealed that Anna Hazare was the man, the true underdog, the real David, who was challenging the Goliath (The Central Government of India, the Parliament and all of the political class as a whole). And he also seemed to have a spot clean past with achievements worthy of note (maybe our media was too busy covering the paid news that they forgot to mention Anna Hazare for a decade, while he was encouraging and organizing the grassroots in his village). But here he was now, in New Delhi, openly challenging the most powerful of Indians. Media reacted quickly and Hazare was in the Breaking News tickers, Headlines and everywhere. Public was surely moved. This was the moment of revenge against politicians, an old man forcing the 'kids' of Congress and BJP playschool to drink a bitter tonic. His ways of fast and anshan surely reminded some of Mahatma Gandhi, within few hours, the anshan had turned into an andolan. The andolan transformed into a battle for Jan Lokpal and then into the second struggle of Independence.

When I look back, it seems like a spur of the moment thing, but in the four days that followed, every city of note in India was having protests, dharnas and marches by citizens to rally their support for Hazare. A large number of social workers and reputed personalities came openly in support for Anna and his andolan. India Against Corruption, the NGO became immensely popular.

Interestingly our Government took proactive actions that surprised everyone. They gave in to Anna's demands and formed a joint drafting committee for the bill, which included IAC's representatives. This was a huge endorsement for the entire moment and its cause.

After a few months of deliberations and discussions, the Team Anna and group of ministers fell out and couldn't find any common ground regarding the powers and purview of the proposed ombudsmen. Anna Hazare declared protests from 16 August at Jantar Mantar, government responded by not allowing any protests at that location. Anna was arrested and sent to Tihar Jail of 16th August. This was the moment which completed the plot, and infuriated the whole nation - an oppressive government, a selfless revolutionary, a team of non-violent protesters. Such instances have been too few to count after independence.

The revolution that this movement produced was not the one which its originators expected, the team broke up, a new political party has been formed and it has been about an year since Anna Hazare was in headlines. Media were quick to declare the demise of anti-corruption movement, Arvind Kejriwal, Anna's aide, tried with blitzkrieg style exposures of scam to capture popular support again but the nation has moved on. The 2014 general elections wouldn't be won or lost on the issue of corruption, because the public memory is  always limited only to 1-2 years, major issues will again be reservation, caste, religion and other similar topics. The Anna Hazare movement failed to get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed, and turn the society at large, against corruption.

Protesters in Hazare Movement
Protesters demanding Anna's release from Tihar Jail.

But even in its failure it achieved something of worth for us and our democracy. Since independence, a new middle class has been created, which lives in relative peace and prosperity, which never experiences oppression, famine or poverty. This class was so content with what it had, that people belonging to middle class didn't even bother to vote in elections. The percentage of turnout in elections in urban areas was so low in recent elections that even politicians stopped giving much attention to this chunk of population. They didn't figure in any agenda or manifesto of any political party. The young generation of this class was busy in social networking, flirting on facebook that they hardly cared to listed to news. I am also a part of this generation. I personally didn't give a damn to the protests, dharna and gherao happening all the time, it seemed like an unfruitful activity carried out by unemployed and jobless people, hired by the political parties just to be in the news. Anna's movement changed this perception. He was asking people to come out for their country, he didn't belong to any political party and didn't claim about any particular religions benefit.

Any person joining him, could feel himself as a fighter, fighting for making his country better. It was a time when the people who were more interested in movies and cricket tuned to hear more about their country. National Flags were in short supply. Gandhi Ashrams the shops that sell khadi, were getting customers who all wanted to buy something that will make them look more Indian when the go out to protest. I talked to a flag-seller who has a permanent shop near the state legislative assembly in Lucknow. He had never sold so many flags in his life. Republic Days, Independence Days came and went and there was hardly any sale, but in this particular period after 16th August, his shop was buzzing with customers. Most of them college going students. Anna has awakened a new generation, which were content to be awake in night, working in call centers and wouldn't have given a damn about who our next prime minister was.

A friend of mine an apolitical person, told me that he didn't care at all. It was a Sunday, while we were arguing, I challenged him to walk with me to the Gandhi park about 10 kilometers away. After an hour of tiresome journey when we reached Gandhi park at the heart of Lucknow city, he was astounded to see the hoards of common, apolitical people who were chanting slogans. Ten minutes later, the guy is busy lighting candles that had fallen or were blown out by the wind.
Protesters comprising of Students and Youth, who came out to express their anger against the gang-rape.

After the recent gang-rape in New Delhi, people were no longer content with updating their profile pictures and status to show solidarity with the victim. A mass protest broke-out in capital which  wasn't organized by any leader, any party or any NGO. It was just the middle class and the youth, venting their anger over the issue.

This is a positive change. People now care about how they are governed. Anna Hazare did something which had never happened in 21st century India. Educated people are on the streets. Protesters are no longer the trade union members or peasants. They include graduates, post graduates and professionals. News channels and media may support them for TRP, but surely it is better to watch a new generation demanding for change than to watch Digvijay Singh and Raj Thackeray making nonsensical comments which were then 'debated' and 'analyzed' in the prime time shows.

In the words of a knowledgeable person - 'Middle Class has emerged into being a new pressure group in Indian politics.'

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