If there is anyone in today’s India that would receive more scorn than the pedophile and the baby-murderer, it is he who does not provide the fullest support to Anna Hazare and his Jan Lok Pal campaign. So much as express a smidgen of doubt about the “Second Independence Struggle” and be prepared to be digitally and socially mauled, unfriended, unfollowed, drawn, quartered and subject to death by a thousand cuts. “Congress agent” “Traitor” “Jealous of Anna Hazare’s success” “I cannot believe you are the same person I once respected” and “What have you done for the country? I am bunking work and sending SMS and have you done that?” are just some of the more polite responses you should expect to encounter should you not be a member of “100000 Indians in support of Anna Hazare”. This invective is ironic considering that Team Anna and its supporters, being so zealously possessive of their rights of dissent (and rightfully too), would be expected to give others the right to disagree without making them run the gauntlet.
For many, I believe the Jan Lok Pal movement has taken an almost religious turn. Bhajans are sung on India TV in praise of the new Gandhi Anna-sahab as he looks indulgently on and “Anna is India” hashtags trend on Twitter (reminiscent of the India is Indira of many decades ago). The movement has a very simple message—-“They” (i.e. politicians) are bad. “We” (aka Anna since we are all Anna) are good. We, the good, will bring the bad to justice. And Jan Lok Pal is our Holy Book and Anna the messiah”. Given that the reign of the UPA government has been marked by corruption on an epic scale, the very simple solution to this problem that the Jan Lok Pal suggests (“We will fix these devils”) is definitely a very attractive one. It is no wonder that people show an almost religious reverence to its basic principle and are confounded as to how anyone with even a speck of decency could not be wholly enthused by this idea.
Here is the thing, respected Team Anna members. The people who oppose the Anna movement aren’t all homogenous in their evil-ness. There is quite a bit of variance in their perspectives and many of these people come from vastly different, even inimical, ideological positions.
In this camp of anti-Annists are definitely UPA supporters. They hate the Anna movement because they find it difficult to control. Of course you will find them taking the principled high road shouting “This is not constitutional” and “Civil society cannot take the role of elected representatives” but as most of us know, these “protectors of parliamentary democracy” are quite fine if the empowered “civil society” consists of their yes-men and sock puppets. Yes I am talking about the travesty that is the National Advisory Council. You will also find a section of the right wing opposing the movement in a very muted fashion. These people find nothing wrong in the aims or the modus operandi of the Jon Lok Pal movement but are not exactly enthusiastic about Anna Hazare as its leader—-they would prefer someone more definitely in their camp like Baba Ramdev. However now since Anna Hazare has become the definite spearhead of the anti-UPA government, they are forced to lie low.
Then there are the Marxists like Arundhati Roy. While they are firmly supportive of Naxals and other dispossessed (including minorities) classes using extra-constitutional means to seize control of a democracy, they are opposed to middle-class, flag-waving Vande-Mataram-chanting urbanites adopting the same means, even though they be non-violent. This is because in classical Marxist doctrine while the former is the revolution of the proletariat (i.e. good) the latter is the counter-revolution of the petty bourgeois, the privileged upper crust that uses nationalism/patriotism (a concept that Marxists hate) as their rallying call. Hence bad. Closely aligned with this viewpoint are those that see the Anna movement as a manifestation of class warfare. The privileged, largely urban Anna-supporters with their cell-phone and twitter accounts and their worship of Magsaysay winners, are seen as representatives of an elite class that is trying to push back against a democracy which they believe has been taken over by the unwashed masses.
And then there are those who come not so much from ideology but from pragmatics. They wonder how corruption, principally a problem of large government, can be solved by adding yet another layer to government. What, they wonder, is the guarantee that the Lok Pal itself cannot be compromised and how many supervisory bodies do we keep needing to add to ensure that the one below that is pristine pure?
Some of these even agree with a few the ideas of the Jan Lok Pal, namely the need to free investigative agencies of the stranglehold that politicians and bureaucrats exercise over their functioning but do not agree for the need to dismantle the existing structure and replace it with another. They believe that unless the root enablers of corruption are dealt with, merely adding layers of enforcement mechanisms will not only not solve the problem but make it worse. They want independence of investigative agencies but they want, even more, transparency and openness. As an example, currently much of government procurement is hidden behind a thick screen of smoke inside which the wizards of graft cast their spells. Among other first steps, they want to mandate a publicly accessible database which has to carry all government contracting opportunities, including notices of proposed government procurement actions, contract awards, sales of government assets. If such a thing could be made to exist, then we may see on what declared criteria treadmills are rented from Germany or when limousines are requisitioned for the luxurious conveyance of politicians or how many contracts the minister’s nephew’s company gets. They want administrative reforms and a reduction of bureaucracy, which they would like us to believe would serve the cause of reducing corruption more effectively than replacing the CBI with a Jan Lok Pal.
And they believe all this can be done through the normal democratic process if only the middle class was unified, at poll time, in making corruption the over-riding issue. To the standard “All parties are equally corrupt” line they say that the reason they are is because corruption in India has never been made to become an electoral deal-breaker. While there is often heat and a lot of light, come election day, the voting masses (i.e. the very few who even bother) put more weight on issues of religion, caste, language and personality. In contests that pit a tainted leader against a so-far-untainted politician, many times it is the former that wins. Corrupt politicians make triumphant comebacks. As one famous politician, accused of multiple graft cases of mind-boggling scales once said “The fact that I am elected time and again proves the people know I am innocent.”
Has fundamental change ever been wrought at the polling station? They point out that it has. After Emergency, the whole country united under the banner of democracy and threw out a government which had never lost an election since Independence. Defeating Indira Gandhi and the might of the Congress party in those days was considered unthinkable. But it happened. And it served its purpose. Since that time, no one has dared to impose the kind of blatant, all-pervasive authoritarian control that the Congress tried to in those days. So yes the system can still be made to work. It is difficult. It requires sustained effort. It is not glamorous and does not carry with it “I am part of the second freedom struggle” feel-good. Most importantly, the solutions that come out are not perfect. But some things, important things, can still be done inside the defined boundaries of the democratic process. If only we let it.
At least that’s what they say.
And why do I say all this? It is to show that not all who oppose do for the same reason and the knowledge of these subtle distinctions may be useful knowledge for those Anna-supporters who want to engage in debate and discussion.
For those not interested, there is always the unfriend-unfollow, “We good you bad” option.