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Intelligentsia fretted at the comparisons drawn between Gandhi and Hazare and justifiably so. Any effort on anyone’s part to draw parallels between Gandhi and Hazare, a septuagenarian social activist, would not only be simply incorrect as two men stand apart on the cerebral spectrum but also ignoble for the sheer range and courage that Gandhi displayed in his personal as well as public life. Hazare, though a veteran of many fights against corruption, is yet to show his leadership at national stage, an honour those twelve days endowed him with and he almost failed.
Intelligentsia seemed in the fit at their fears of Indian democracy at the risk of being compromised or in some cases now set on the slippery path with no recourse in sight. Tenets from the Constitution were adduced to drive home how near were we to a state of anarchy, sayings of great visionaries were doled out to press the anachronism of these protests in a great democracy like India, parliament procedures and their complexities were harangued. Subtleties were used as shield. Some of them were also peeved, beneath the sulk, at not being made party to the negotiations to weed out the flaws from Jan Lokpal Bill, the version floated by Anna Hazare and his now disbanded team.
Anna Hazare’s fast was unequivocally loathed as nothing but a blackmail tactic, vehemently undemocratic and unconstitutional. The categorical wagging with which they gave Hazare a taste of their mouth at his obstinate insistence that only Jan Lokpal Bill be passed before August 30 was justified, sensible and yet ironically shorn of senses. They shed tears when parliament, the supreme authority, acquiesced though only ‘in principle’ to Hazare’s three demands of citizen’s charter, bringing the lower bureaucracy under Lokpal and setting up Lokayuktas in all states thereby purportedly setting a dangerous precedent for the future of stability.
One of the major factors of intelligentsia’s whinging was Hazare’s obstinacy. To them it seemed undermining of democracy and parliament. What Hazare was obstinate about? Jan Lokpal Bill!. The common consensus was that Hazare had no right to impose his views on the country. Who he is? Who gave him this right? At any level it was a superficial and acutely theoretical reading of the situation. As things stood in 2011 Hazare and his team had only succeeded in putting their Bill on contemplative table of Standing Committee of parliament. Hazare and his team turned out to be shrewd hagglers. The fact they were acting in the national interest as common citizens irrespective of their particularities against those who were custodians of national interest as officially obliged but perceived most often otherwise gave them their righteous footing. Hazare is no intellectual. Thereby anyone who took his words literally was not seeing but only squinting at the movement. What was important was not Hazare, the individual but Hazare, the consciousness of the mass of the nation, at least for those twelve days.
If we take holistic view of the things as they splayed out there were three players influencing each other: the prime movers, the responders and the lenders of the weight on each side. The prime movers’ scale lowered down to the ground because of the mass weight they amassed in its weighing pan thence hefting up the weighing pan of responders. That left the prime movers with the golden choice of striking equilibrium. Though major chunk of intelligentsia did not side with the government the utter theoretical nature of their arguments though valid and plausible on surface ended up echoing opportunistic and technical platitudes of parliamentarians.
Why intelligentsia failed to comprehend even the theoretical plane on which these twelve days rested. Though superficially the phrase Jan Lokpal Bill reverberated through out those twelve days we had better we put this phrase aside to find a proper vantage view. First thing: Indian government however clumsy and humbug in its handling of the movement was certainly not a pushover. Second thing: Anna Hazare and his team however particularized were certainly not anti democratic once the layers of this word are mantled out of the folds. These two facts were completely overlooked by an intelligentsia so keen to bandy about the basics of constitution and democracy. The very basics which without spirited political and social life in them are nothing but weapons in the hands of exploiters with which Indian nation and democracy both are gashed every moment.
Indian constitution allows mending but prohibits tinkering with its basic architecture. Our flawed democracy very curiously in contrast to its very essence owes its survival to contradiction of a sense of resignation and orientation and at the same time enthusiasm for electioneering especially in first two decades after independence which at least gave the idea of electoral democracy its root. The unquestioning attitude of Indian people assured those with power of their victory in democracy. The earlier ruling class retained more or less its status. Maharajas and princes got elected to parliament. Indians even today are attuned to sticking out. In other words security is far more preferable to stirring. Once the roots struck even those who were far removed from any sense of democracy knew this was the only way to get around whatever seemed getable without any fuss. This explains the presence of gangsters and criminals in Indian parliament. Democracy! When people began to get angry with government, once delusional enthusiasm of independence was over, this rage sprouted from their miseries rather than the incipient deviousness of polity. People gradually began to sense what they were doing (after all they themselves send them) and hence started the general cribbing which to some extent was outside of their own miseries. This cribbing was the result of among other things abasement of polity. The state when things are far too obvious. The state when abnormality begins to wear the garb of normality. (Whatever hope one can have of change lies between these two states. For change before obvious we have to have an awakened nation and after abnormality turned normality we have to have a miracle.) Politicians ceased to be leaders. They lost respect. So much so that if a middle class father heard his son was leaning to politics at college or any other level he was worried. Unfortunately intelligentsia treaded the broad ground of these twelve days wearing the same old shoes of dull and settled skepticism rather than new shoes of pinching skepticism. While on one hand they overestimated Anna Hazare’s alleged anarchism on the other hand they underestimated the gluing power of Indian Constitution.
Did this movement undermine democracy as has been alleged? Certainly not. Movement was a well coordinated effort of some intelligent personals (as was amply exhibited in their dealing with the government) whose past speaks well of them. On the contrary they had served democracy by not only forcing the government to at least do something about a bill that hung in balance for more than forty years but also, and this is even greater service, by stirring up the people and their power. Intellectuals played into hands of the government and political class by refusing to acknowledge a moment in Indian history when political feudalism was being challenged by middle class (on whose back India stood to stick its newfound but transient neck out and which is infamous for its crude selfishness) which very rightly and to some extent wrongly has long been a subject of animus emanated from intellectuals. It was the face of middle class I never expected to see. It should have been a moment of triumph not for what it might have brought about but for its own sake. Anna Hazare’s obstinacy displayed in ample measure which earned much flak from intellectuals could have been seen as a rebuke to politicians not to democracy. His insistence on passing only and only Jan Lokpal Bill within a certain deadline, which made many see in him a dictator, too harsh a word, (do dictators feel a need to offer explanations as Hazare did regarding his Narender Modi statement) was nowhere near posing a threat to democracy in India as it was trumpeted. There is no denying that peaceful protests always the run the risk of degenerating into riots. The protests in Lhasa in Tibet in 2008 in defense of Buddhist monks turned into race riots against Han Chinese and Hui Muslims. But fortunately these protest remained peaceful and credit must be given to organizers as well as those who participated in them on this front.
Anyone who says all is not lost in Indian polity on account of some honest and hardworking politicians is an upholder of status quo. Just like the teacher who doesn’t encourage inquisition in class and abets one way teaching does no harm to status quo a polity in the habit of averting accountability increasingly becomes ruler class, a phenomenon which is antidote to democracy. I don’t need to regurgitate here all the statistical data which show our parliamentarians as well as legislators in shameful poor light as any reasonably read person is well aware. Nor do I need to comment on our election canvassing. What emerged in Wikileaks last year alluding to morphing of democracy into monarchy with miraculous success by a particular Indian politician and data illustrated in Patrick French’s India: An Intimate Biography of 1.2 Billion People about dynasty politics tears into our smug sense of democracy which we thought was in danger by Hazare led protests.
Any change in monotonous life brings off excitement. So does any change at national level. People get a new topic to chatter about and participants feel themselves to be at the cusp of history. It is nothing short of intoxication. And intoxication befogs the rationality and perspicacity. Very few are able to be intoxicated and yet solemn and rational. Much of the people’s support can be owed to a sense of intoxication though with reason interspersed here and there and that something sneaked in. But intoxication by its very nature is transitory. The revolutions which fail to come out of the closet of intoxication die out. Those which do are often long lasting and succeed. Those twelve days did have their share of intoxication as we saw on television screens but it was something that couldn’t have been averted. Every movement has to pass this stage. Neither progress nor evolution proceeds direct. Twirls and swirls are inevitable. In India thanks to myriad factors like passivity of people, interests of those who get around electioneering, massive diversity and general dislike for despots parliamentary democracy has too strong a root to be deracinated or even loosened. Elections will happen. People will vote. Perhaps with the passage of time more rationally. The movement of 2011 was not a regressive step but a step towards realizing this awareness. Anna Hazare may have demanded his bill to be passed which in one form or any another, provided it is strong, though not panacea but might be instrumental in at least sending out a message that corruption doesn’t pay vindicating that those twelve days were needed by Indian democracy. Much of the intelligentsia’s response as they debated, very rightly, the subtleties of Jan Lokpal Bill as well as others in the realm was from so close quarters that big picture eluded them. We are well aware that corruption is not a problem to be solved by mathematical formulae; it is a disease that needs cure on multifarious levels.
Some adduced Dr. Ambedkar’s describing unconstitutional methods like civil disobedience, non cooperation, satyagraha (a word needing a tome in its own right) and fast as ‘nothing less than the Grammar of Anarchy’ in the speech delivered after the submission of drafted Constitution on November 25, 1949. But did he also not register his solicitude for democracy so long as social and economic inequality prevailed? He entwined his own agitations with litigious proceeding to satisfactory results but weren’t those causes community centric. Constitutional methods (read access to kingpins in government, currently enjoyed by well meaning NAC) employed by some civil society members have borne fruits in the form of some laws like NREGA, RTI, Forest Act, the right to education but save RTI which too had its own governmental version rejected by civil society members none of the above mentioned laws could have come in conflict with polity as the anti corruption law does. In fact abovementioned laws utterly necessary and integral to good governance despite their practical glitches thanks to normal and as usual corruption are good cries, politically. Ironically some later amendments in RTI Act to buttress its penetration were consented to be repealed by government after Hazare went on fast. The antidemocratic ‘hero worship’ that Ambedkar registered his solicitude about so rightly especially in context of India and was pretty much at display during these twelve days can only be taken care of primarily in short term by great leadership and secondarily but permanently by good education. But ‘hero-worship’ need not always necessarily arise outside of the democratic process. The personal fiefdoms of politicians may not seem hero worship at first sight but are equally dangerous in terms of the fanaticism and illicit functioning they conjure up well within the frameworks of operative democracy. Paradox of the wings. Sky within the rings.
Our democracy as envisaged and sculpted by founding fathers is one of the best systems to ensure noble governance, societal coherence and individual empowerment though somewhat sapped of its full potential by universal suffrage and universal candidature. Herd voting and wealth rule overrode democratic spirits. The key lies with good education and intelligent parenting. Religion whose origin lay more in the sense of right and wrong than in blind traditionalism seems to have lost its mending value thus becoming a relic to be simply clung on to. It is not our constitutional system which has failed us but our sense of society. As Vinit Haksar argues in his essay Satyagraha and the right to Civil Disobedience in the Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi for the Twenty First Century edited by Douglas Allen that Civil Disobedience is far better than even a speck of violence for its absence would be filled by violence. In a country like ours we shall never be, not in the foreseeing future, not in the need of protests having their roots outside of politics. Democracy is a process (always inching its way towards improvement) laden with corruption and many other potholes, including filled with violence (more often than not politically incited) to be covered or at least warned of for a smooth passage by such timely recalls as peaceful and genuine mass movements weaned off any shred of politics led by able, intelligent and honest leaders. This movement may not have been what I just alluded to but it was a voice worth reverberations for the mere sake of it. The intelligentsia’s fears were right but unfounded. They failed those twelve days for their lack of courage to say the truth stuck between righteousness and reality. When we expected them to hover around those twelve days and give us an original view they slumped in fluffy couches in one corner and ladled in the cauldron of noise a ready made and boring spiel. They ended up being de facto advocates of those who needed theory to override practical when their job was to reduce theory to the description of practical. Instead of seeing beneath that transcended what players were capable of effecting they focused their attention on the surface and instead of reducing theory to the description of practical they robbed even practical of its maximum possible description. They told us their eyes were not independent but influenced in the same way the leader of the movement was not independent, leading to its dismal run. They spoke before they spoke. They spoke after they spoke. If only they had spoken when they spoke. In the nutshell most of Indian intelligentsia reacted to the sound of those twelve days but failed to take notice of canvases it formed and impressionistic painting it made. Their voice would have made an important difference to the country if they had not fallen prey to the disease of sounding overbearingly and banally correct. They reasoned with raisins. Their sanity was unaffordably sanitized. And they did not tell us what we didn’t know already. It is not criticism. Only sadness. We walk not run, most often. But spasmodic running in the right way so as not to harm body rejuvenates more and exhausts less, eventually. There were few like Amartya Sen who welcomed the hip stirring of an otherwise lumbering elephant to impel its mahout to sit at a good angle.
Precisely a year after, those twelve days thundered again. But this time around, only to be forgotten. The architect of those twelve days Kejriwal himself went on fast along with Hazare but only to be ignored. The people and the media did throng the venue but only to remain untouched by the wind that blew last year. What shall we make of it? Was it all a lie what those twelve days tried to tell us? Was August 2011 just an emboldening confirmation to status quo suitors of their invincibility? What about social activists as watchdogs with Hazare’s increasingly becoming ineffective? Was what seemed a fist-push on the almost closed doors of Indian politics only a give away of whatever inadequate strength it contained and thus an expose? Was August 2011 only a bubble destined to be popped not a tributary carving a new direction for the old water to be cleansed somewhat of the dirt. Will it become normal for CAG to tell us of whopping murky deals? Will it become normal for us to react to them pokerfaced while sipping a cup of tea? Will the abnormality of socioethical and political life become extinct pouring everything gnawing in the lap of the word ‘normal.’? It is not that we always need a movement or a bill to combat India’s unabashed corruption but Indian polity’s shamelessness can’t go on forever without ensuring a naked future, for its people.