Saturday, August 20, 2011

India Against Corruption (?)

Sitting here now in USA, it is amazing to watch the nation being swayed by the India Against Corruption movement. Annaji, and his allies, have successfully caught the attention of an entire nation, and have brought people from all walks of life, in almost every part of the country, to a common sentiment.

At the outset, the effort is to be praised. The issue is genuine, this I think we all agree over minimal debate. Almost every one of us have faces the below-the-table dealings of government (and sometimes non-government) civil servants. It is common knowledge - corruption is India's second currency, and politics is essentially a slang. It is heartening to see that there are people who believe that a change is possible. More importantly, it is heartening to see that those people are not alone, that Indians from almost all cultural, religious, economic and occupational backgrounds of all ages have raised their hands in support.

While the intentions are undoubtedly noble, history is witness that even the best of intentions have a bad habit of going awry. Let us take a moment, and for once try to understand why is it that the movement has amassed such a fan following. Of course there are people who know the cause through and through, but which I mean that they have done their homework, read through the actual Government Lokpal Bill and Annaji's version and know what is what. But lets be honest here. Do all the people who are walking the streets today, voicing their vociferous support, really know what the are supporting? If we have a show of hands for who all know precisely what the bill means, how many would come clean?

I am not hinting at some underhandedness in the design of the Jan Lokpal Bill itself. While my understanding of it, like perhaps thousands of other Indians, is only rather basic, with some coverage of who all is under it purview, what can be questioned and investigated and how it differs from the Governement version in some basic ways, for the sake of argument I am willing to trust the people who were behind its fabrication, as well as the judgement of my well-informed brethren who made efforts to put up suggestions and modifications on the websites over months. I am willing to trust them because by the way it was created, it seems that they do not represent the compartmental interests of a particular section of the populace, but has come to be a ground for the agglomeration of opinions, grievances and suggestions across a wide range of people who have long suffered under the said cause.

Neither would I venture to say that Annaji and his group are taking undue advantage of the "right to protest" which itself seems to be much in question now. Arvind Kejriwal has openly discussed the point that there can be no compromise when it comes to curbing corruption, and while the our-way-or-no-way attitude may have been intransigent on another occassion, the fact that the group is not alone in this erases the suggestion that they are trying to blackmail the Government to bend their way. If people all over the nation are trying to bend the government into accepting something, I would personally label it as representation of the opinion of the masses than blackmail. No, my concern resides elsewhere.

Why are the hundreds and thousands of people who actually do not clearly understand what they are vouching for willing to fight and protest? One must realize that this is a powerful emotional moment to many of us, the "common men", the "middle class". Forever have we been taught that "India is a great nation", that we must love our country, that we must live up to the efforts of the greats who brough freedom to our nation, and so on and so forth. Forever have we seen our freedom and rights being taken away from us, in some pretext or the other. Forever have we silently grieved and grudged those who were supposed to be out first point of defense upon desperation - the Government - and only been cheated further in return. Forever have we tried, in vain, to love our contry and be proud of Her. Today, perhaps for the first time after independece, the "common man" has an opportunity. An opportunity to shout out against those who refused him justice and his true rights. An opportunity to feel important and involved in a possible change, hopefully for the better. An opportunity to hope that all that we learned and grew up believing, only to realize that it was an empty dream, can yet be realized. Add to that the shameful and frustratingly blank-headed tactics of the government in dealing with the situation, what with banning protests, imprisoning the leaders of the movement, and people who had any rational doubts about the bill are now all the more convinced about who the villain and the hero is. The power of this psychology is perhaps what is driving thousands of those people who really know nothing about the bill per se. They are waving the banners because like their grandfathers and grandmothers 64 years before them, they feel a frenzy. A frenzy that there is hope for a better tomorrow, and not necessarily becasue they understand the pros of a legislasture inside out. A frenzy that, though well intended, is often not based on sound, concrete and well-reviewed logic.

This is where the concern lies. 64 years before today, I daresay there was a day when Gandhiji aroused the whole nation on probably a much larger scale that what we are seeing today. They too braved the sticks and bullets in the hope of a better day. And when the day came, they danced, they sang, they joyously claimed victory, and went home, thinking all was done. Little did people realize that the deed was not in overturning something that was existing, but in finding a truly rewarding alternative. And so it happened. Power passed from the British to the Indian politicians. The change that people fought and died for remained in the books and papers and the constituion and lectures at the law college. Walk into a village at some remote end of the country, and honestly, they would not know if they were still under the British Raj. For the people who gave their blood, nothing much really changed.

Why did the best of intentions of millions of people go wrong? Because we the people, who attempted to implement the prized changes, were ourselves flawed. We were blinded by the power, position, money and advantage that it offered open in front of us. And so one by one, the political landmass of India slid into debauchery, resulting in a day that we have today, when we are essentially needing to raise a hue and cry for a "second freedom movement".

Do we have a guarantee today that the same is not going to be repeated? I fear and doubt despite all hopes, because the Jan Lokpal Bill today gives the same offer of unprecedented power that some musthave seen one day 64 years ago. Supposing that today we win, and the Bill goes through, most of us will return to our own lives, thinking happily that good times are ahead. In the meanwhile, will those who come to weild the new One Ring of Power not fall prey to the same debauchaery that engulfed generations before them? Are we sure we are not risking the initiation of another landslide of corruption in the years to come? And I fear the most, because the people who are today marching in parades and shouting sloans and weilding banners are the same people who turn a blind eye, day in and day out, to child marriage, female foeticide and suppression of rights of tribal minorities. They are the same people who throw garbage on the streets, besmirch sites of Natinal Heritage, ask for dowry in marriages and go on riotous rampages after Godhra. When we are ourselves so very imperfect, will the utopian expectations of "perfect" laws sit well with us? If tomorrow the same laws for which we fought bite back against us, even if for completely genuine reasons, will we bow our head and learn, or will we go on another nation-wide rampage until our egos and personal needs are satisfied and every voice of unwanted protest silenced?

If we are imperfect, the system that we shall get will be imperfect too. If we want things to really change, then alongside fighting for the BIG issues with flamboyant demonstrations, peharps we should also look into ourselves and mould ourselves from within to try and reach a greater level of perfection.