Bang on schedule, a few hours before the CSK took on KKR, word leaked out that the UPA would give in to Anna Hazare. Hordes, by which i mean dozens, celebrated at India Gate, by which I mean that they held icecream in one hand and candles in the other. The Leaders of the Revolution- Hazare, Baba Ramdev, and Anupam Kher- could no doubt reflect on a job well done.
Except it wasn’t a revolution, Jantar Mantar was not our Tahrir Square, The Jan Lokpal draft bill is very definitely not the Constitution. In fact, pretty much everything about what played out at Jantar Mantar and on our TV screens last week undermined the principle that those who went on to frame the constitution believed in.
Means, end and tone: all were problematic.
Look first at the means. What could be less objectionable than a fast? Isn’t it sanctified as the method by which Gandhiji won our freedom, after all? Except it wasn’t the method, and the equivalence just doesn’t apply. Gandhiji used his fasts against several different adversaries; the British, for example in 1942; political opponents like Ambedkar in 1932; and to turn around sentiment in general, such as during Hindu-Muslim tension in 1924 and 1948. Each has a different moral value; using the threat of your death to ensure that separate electorates for Dalits aren’t brought into being is not the same, in my opinion and in Dr. Ambedkar’s, as pushing a colonial state into compromise, or bringing mobs to bay. And pushing for your preferred draft of bill through fast-unto-death is more like Gandhi vs. Ambedkar than the Gandhi vs Empire. Except, in this case, your opponent certainly have far more democratic legitimacy than you have. We are left with an act that loses much of its moral value because the means just don’t fit the ends.
And what about the ends? The Jan Lokpal Bill is an abomination, a chaotic combination of bad, meaningless and disastrous ideas. The ‘institution’ to which it intends to give birth should terrify us, a super-prosecutor subject to no checks on it’s power, capable of investigating and judging pretty much anything and anybody it wants. Today the threat of investigation slows down and stalls almost anything useful the state could do- the bridges,the roads, the investment which all those candle-holders in urban India grouse don’t get made on time. Even a Jan Lokpal that doesn’t go rogue would paralyse a state already doing far too little.
And the Jan Lokpal would go rogue. Why wouldn’t she? Power corrupts, and this bill would grant her absolute power, without a check or balance in sight. Ah, say the bill’s short-sighted drafters, even if the person in the office is so powerful, she would at least be selected by a person of irreproachable integrity. Well, forgive me, but i don’t think a Nobel or a Magsaysay confers on you the right to decide who rules me.
But perhaps the most shocking and depressing aspect of what we witnessed was the tone of the protests. One, of course, was the obvious RSS tilt. Anna Hazare sat in front of the Bharat Mata icon that anyone who has nightmares about the Sangh will instantly recognise. The only genuinely popular leader on stage with him was Baba Ramdev, currently being used by the RSS as a stick with which to prod the BJP furthur to the right in UP. Ramdev turned up at Jantar Mantar on Friday with the RSS’s Ram Madhav; Sanghis were around everywhere, performing havans.
And, for me at least, the sight of all sorts of spiritual leaders of other denominations hanging around did not help at all; I trust that i am still allowed, as an Indian citizen, to feel that the spiritual component of Gandhi’s politics was dangerous and misguided, confusing our definiton of the secular- and having Swami Agnivesh, Deoband’s Mahmood Madani, and the Archbishop of Delhi lend their names and presence to Hazare and Ramdev disturbs me even more than if they have not been there.
But even more than the havans and the chanting, the contemptuous, elitist nature of the anger should infuriate you. Jantar Mantar sees demonstrations most days of the week. Why was this one lauded? Because these aren’t safai karmcharis of kisan from western UP. They were People Like Us, dissatisfied citywallahs. I agree that India’s politics has ignored urban India’s needs. But let us not glorify middle-class anger when it is expressed as an antipathy to where democracy’s gotten us, as fury at not having more power than is gifted by the vote you share with a villager. That way lies the pain and disillusionment of a dozen cuddly dictators, of juntas and committees of national salvation, of Musharrafs, and Pinochets and the blood on the streets of Bangkok and Barcelona. That way lies the Emergency.
“Civil society”, a term I have come to deterst, is unrepresentative and unaccountable. There is a danger here, something supposed to work for the powerless can wind up working, as in this case, for itself. It didn’t launch an attempt to push our politics to consider reform that made corruption less probable. It tried to create a position of itself at the top, a Gandhian coup d’etat, so it can order the messiness of our democracy, the “coalition compulsion” we’ve all come to dread. The congress gave in. But i won’t. At the price of being uncivil, ladies and gentlemen with candles, give me democratic society over civil society any time.
All first person usages are Mr. Mihir Sharma’s.
I personally think the article was more than awesome, and needed to wake up the masses from their “so-called-revolution”-induced euphoria. Upto now i was quite undecided at this issue, as i didn’t know a zilch about Jan Lokpal Bill. But seeing the fanaticism of Facebook users, in posting all and everything about Anna Hazare and “India against corruption”, i was very uneasy, at how a big farce of a thing was made, even before deciding whether the thing was correct or not. I guess they should go and read a thing about Jan Lokpal bill before jumping on the bandwagon, but i know they won’t.
PS: Also an article on similar theme was written by Tavleen Singh in 10th April’s Indian Express, which was also awesome. I had initially planned to reproduce both of them, but i see i have eaten more than my usual share of space.