Of a few, By a few, For the few
I am distinctly uncomfortable with predictions – using either scientific or unscientific tools. For me it smacks of charlatanry – from astrology to psephology to stock market speculation. But with the charade that was unleashed for the past few days on news television by the mainstream media and of course at Jantar Mantar and a few other town squares across the “mainstream” Indian political landscape by Anna Hazare’s fast – I did dare to make an attempt – both at prediction and more comfortably with dissent. I foretold the outcome of the fast tableau at an emergency meeting that was convened by some co-travellers at the Salem Citizen’s Forum to debate on whether and how to show solidarity to Anna Hazare.
For a cricket obsessed national psyche reeling in the inebriation of the recent world cup victory – Anna Hazare was pitted to win this match comfortably – I was willing to place my bet on my prediction. And here I am trying to reckon the how and why of this prediction for me and the numerous friends and acquaintances who have been trying to rope me into joining facebook groups and sign electronic petitions in support of Anna Hazare’s crusade (or is it revolution?). And others who were indignant at my facebook post of Manu Joseph’s irreverent article or at Sudeep’s post in his diary.
Well, it is not just Anna Hazare and his team who won this match comfortably. All actors who joined the show have won the match. Everyone – the “civil society” that sat on fast at Jantar Mantar and other places, the Corporate media, the glamour world, the Government, political establishment of all hues and shades – everyone who bothered to join the game. It was like bathing in the Ganges during the Maha Kumbh – everyone’s sins were washed away. And of course nobody in their right minds regardless of political affiliations or ideologies could take a position “for corruption”!!! A veritable Bush-ian position — either you are with Anna Hazare or you are with corruption. And yes, India Incorporated has won the match and it is time for celebrations!
The timing of course was impeccable. The drama was enacted exactly for five days in the interregnum between the cricket World Cup finals and the first Indian Premier League match leaving no scope for other infotainment distractions!
The timing also seems to be impeccable for reasons apart from TRP. India Inc. was facing a credibility crisis and the crisis had managed to drag the office of the most iconic representative of the lot – Dr. Manmohan Singh into every dreadful business. And then every representative of India Inc. seemed to be at the receiving end of the crisis – corporate houses to media icons. From Kashmir to Tamil Nadu – Manipur to Chattisgarh – people in the margins seemed to be mobilizing themselves trying to take their fights into their own hands. Mere cricket was not enough. A more serious national diversion was required – a diversion that would also help in subverting the multiple simmering discourses on democracy.
So what happened?
Anna Hazare announced a fast-unto-death – hold your horses – demanding that “the government agrees to form a joint committee comprising 50 per cent officials and the remaining citizens and intellectuals to draft the Jan Lokpal Bill,” – nothing less, nothing more. In other words Anna Hazare announced a fast unto death till people he thinks are qualified for the job are included in the group that is responsible for a legislation that is within the incumbent Government’s agenda. And going by the tenor of his letter to the Prime Minister dated 6th April 2011 is anything to go by, he would also like to have a say in the composition of the committee/Group of Ministers that has oversight over the process of this particular legislation.
So, what Mr. Hazare is praying for is a corruption free India and he hopes to get there through his version of an Ombudsman Legislation and he is on a hunger strike to ensure the composition of the team in charge of setting this legislation in place. Well, this throws up more disturbing concerns. Physically he conducted this prayer in the backdrop of a buxom picture of Bharat Mata bejeweled to the hilt including the proverbial crown standing on a white flex board Indian map!
So, Mr. Hazare and his friends went on hunger strike to realize this prayer with the blessings of the likes of Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravishankar. This was one particular dais that was truly homogenous in its caste-community-class composition. I was reminded of the historian Bipin Chandra’s analysis attributing the onus of thrusting the Hindutva Right on the Indian political mainstream on Jayaprakash Narayan and his anti-emergency coalition.
What was the response?
Obviously the Prime Minister expressed his dissatisfaction over Anna Hazare’s decision to go on a fast without forgetting to assert his profound respect for the man. Others soon joined the bandwagon. From the ruling United Progressive Alliance allies to the opposition National Democratic Alliance all of them joined the Anna Hazare choir and aptly expressed disgust over the prevailing state of (corruption) affairs. Left parties — mainstream as well as others, could not resist it either. Team Anna Hazare got its first wicket when Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar quietly resigned from the Lokpal bill related group of ministers (there has to be at least one resignation in the recipe for revolution). And once everyone had their fair bit of airtime at the crease – the Government threw in the towel. It accepted almost every demand that team Anna Hazare made and celebrations are afoot with India Inc. on that glorious road to that exhilarating freedom from corruption. At the end of five days of high drama everyone is happy with this victory to democracy and ready to live happily ever after.
So, what am I cribbing about in this hunky dory script of universal happiness?
What qualifies as corruption?
Firstly, the notion of corruption itself in the imaginations of both Anna Hazare’s version of the Lok Pal Bill and that of the Government’s seems to be in tandem – very simplistic and all that it would require to set things in correctional mode would be a school”master”ish cane – oops legislation. In other words, given the quantum of punishment and stringency of the legislation, the Lok Pal will ensure that from the Union Telecom Minister to the lowly Train Ticket Examiner will desist from taking bribes and more importantly everyone from the greedy telecom companies to the eager railway passenger will forthwith stop trying to bribe them regardless of their greed or need. This imagination of corruption somehow seemed to suit everyone who joined the Anna Hazare bandwagon from Lalit Modi to Barkha Dutt to Rahul Bajaj. Because this imagination would effectively prosecute Madhu Koda & Raja, while Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram would remain the knights in shining armour. Somehow the forces or agencies that facilitate structural spaces in which corruption thrives represented for me by the present composition of the Union Cabinet seems to be outside the ambit of these collective imaginations of corruption.
The freedom fighters
Next, the question of agency. Anna Hazare himself dubbed his hunger strike as the second freedom struggle – and of course – his corporate media promoters sold the idea to all like-minded wannabe freedom fighters. Though I am not sure of the numbers, a few hundred or even thousand people expressing solidarity was projected as the entire nation on the road to revolution and this was repeated over and over again reminding one of the adage that a lie repeated often enough becomes truth.
In what can only be described as complete lack of imagination and an insult to both the peoples of Egypt and India – the hunger strike was dubbed as India’s Tahrir Square! The joke is that one of the Anna Hazare acolytes who turned up for the Salem Citizen’s Forum meeting wanted the forum to take up the cause because the local Tamil media had totally ignored the hunger strike!! So much for the national character of the strike.
But Barkha Dutt did one better. She did a special show of The Buck Stops Here on Anna Hazare at Chennai and her voiced reason for the choice of location being 2G scam having become the buzzword for corruption. To add insult to injury – she declared her profound love to the Tamil people! If only she had done a little bit of homework or watched her own channel, she would have realized that the 2G scam hardly plays any role in the Tamil Nadu voters’ choice. Though, corruption does figure in the priority list of the Tamil Nadu voter – but a corruption that neither she nor her colleagues in Corporate Television media would acknowledge and rather would gloss over.
The fences that feed on the crops
Now, at the culmination of the hunger strike drama – a committee has been notified to draft the Lokpal bill. The composition of the committee itself reveals the seriousness of the drama. The government representatives include P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal – lawyers who have represented the interests of Corporate India as individuals (board members) and lawyers in and out of power. The lesser said about the process in which the civil society representatives were arrived the better – for there was hardly a process and all of them are all active participants in the Anna Hazare drama.
In 2003, as the editorial coordinator of the Citizen’s Report on Govrnance and Development (a full-time civil society position), we celebrated the marked shift in the social composition of the Parliament which many of us saw as deepening of democracy. In 2011, a motley bunch of homogenous people claim to be the sole representatives civil society and the Government of the day conveniently recognizes them – it smacks of a shift towards an oligarchic dispensation swinging between a Prime Minister who prefers not to face direct electoral challenges and a self-appointed civil society messiah.
What is even more bizarre and insulting is the repeated argument that there is no one else in the country more eligible to take on corruption than Anna Hazare. The argument insults the multitudes that have been carrying on their struggles in various parts of India.
Overriding the Constitution
More than that the drama insults Constitutional mechanisms and processes thereunder – thereby insulting the very notion of “We, the People”. The need for a Constitutional process is to ensure institutional transparency and accountability. Whatever might be the pitfalls of political culture of transparency in India – the only institutional mechanism of making day to day governance accountable are the Constitutional processes. For instance the Right to Information Act is applicable only to State actors – so regardless of the Government notification and the bona fides of the actors concerned – how do Citizens ensure accountability from the self-appointed civil society guardians – or are they so sacred as to remain outside the scope and need for accountability.
In what can be termed an ironic twist – the draft Jan Lokpal Bill brings in newer categories of eligibility to the selection committee for appointment of Lokpal – Magsaysay Award winners and Nobel laureates of Indian origin. I keep wondering why these awards and why the insistence on “Indian” origin (I hope Sonia Gandhi reads this). Maybe it is mere coincidence that many of the faces that have appeared in this drama have a Magsaysay award tucked under their belt (and a sacred thread over their shoulder).
Meanwhile in its enthusiasm for a corruption free India and prescriptions for stringent punishment and easier prosecution– Anna Hazare and team seem to have no qualms in sacrificing precious civil liberty provisions inbuilt into the criminal justice system and prescribed by the Indian Constitution. While Baba Ramdev, one of the mentors of Anna Hazare’s crusade advocates capital punishment for the corrupt, the draft bill itself blurs the line between investigation and adjudication. It makes the Lokpal a super cop with adjudicatory and delegated legislative powers.
If the Jan Lokpal bill is accepted – it would achieve what the Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System could not – subversion of the Criminal Justice system. At the risk of repetition, I would point out that the bulldozing by Malimath Committee could be stopped because that committee and the implementation of its recommendations were subject to Constitutional procedures. What would emerge would be another draconian legislation which would be used to hound and prosecute political dissent – this time “corruption” would replace “terrorism” and “Maoism”. And this time the law would be presumed to have the sanction of a purported civil society.
Of a lesser concern is the fact that Republic India’s record at social reforms through criminal legislations has been abysmal – if in doubt – look at the implementation of the Dowry Prohibition Act or the SC/ST Atrocities Act. Dowry is as prevalent as ever while India Inc. continues to lynch Dalits and dispossess Adivasi
The major casualty in this whole drama was democracy itself. Through short cuts and “royal avenues”, the power goes back into the hands of a select few, undoing a process of over sixty years of democratization of the country. Those few decide what is in the best interest of the country, and what is not. No prizes for guessing the class and caste composition of this select few.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is in for stiff competition for the next Bharat Ratna from Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare – a very difficult choice indeed between before the nation. Or are we looking at two awardees next season? That could be a fitting “double climax” for the viewers of live Indian English Television!
cross posted @ kafila