Not a flop show: Anna Hazare’s fast is over but people's fight is on

Movement has taken the roots of democracy deeper


Ashish Mehta | December 29, 2011

Cynicism is like love. It means never having to say you’re sorry. Sooner or later, reality proves your predictions right in nine out of ten cases. Those who predicted little will come out the anti-corruption campaign can give a smug smile now. Those who predicted Anna will lose steam have got their I-told-you-so moment.

The Lokpal bill has cleared the first hurdle, but the second one looks tougher. Even if the bill is passed, what we will get will be a toothless tiger, not different from the central vigilance commission (CVC), only worse in that it will add to the multiplicity of agencies supposedly at work to punish the corrupt. Nothing will change.

Cynics have had a grand time in 2011, and guaranteed to have more in the years to come.

But if you are not a cynic, if you belong to a sub-species, Homo optimisticus – you know, the type who looks at a maidan and says it is half full – then there is little to feel sorry about it. “Anna’s Flop Show” (as one headline put it) is just an occasional dip, but look at the other side.

At the beginning of 2011, the Commonwealth Games had continued to make headlines, more details were coming out on the 2G scandal, the Adarsh housing society scam was about to unfold afresh. But all the shenanigans were smirking.

A group of concerned citizens, the activist-intellectual types, carried out a rally from the Rajghat to the Ramlila Maidan on the occasion of January 30, demanding some action on corruption front. No traffic diversions were needed, the rally was so thin. A couple of months later the redoubtable Baba Ramdev also had a do at the Ramlila Grounds, and passengers in the buses looked at the modest gathering and gave a yawn.

Cynics were surely having an upper hand. Corruption is worth fighting against, and if somebody else is fighting the fight, so much the better.

Thus, it was no surprise that on April 5, newspapers devoted a single-column item to a social activist’s proposed protest at the Jantar Mantar. Little did they know they were going to be forced to devote many more columns to the man little known outside western India.

Read the full coverage since April 5, news, views and more. Click here.

It has been about nine months, a decent gestation period, and what has been achieved to counter cynics?

• People like Aatar Singh, a 64-year-old farmer, have realized that they actually have a voice in democracy. (This village pradhan went all the way from Rohtak to Mumbai to participate in the latest round of Anna’s protest fast. You can see his photograph above.) Professors and policemen, housewives and havildars, geeks and garbage collectors, they all have kept fast or given time to show solidarity. Nobody had counted on the youngsters to take up a cause like this. Instead of silly jokes, they started forwarding in emails suggestions to fight graft. [Read more about Anna’s curious connect with the youth here]

If you ask cynics, this was not supposed to happen.

• The UPA government has been embarrassed, that early 2011 smirk is gone. There is no longer any comfort in the hope that corruption (and the deeper malaise of which it is a symptom – misgovernance) is a non-issue and the usual identity politics of caste and religion will deliver them victory in 2014.

• The Lokpal, toothless or not, is getting off the ground. Unlike CVC which few people other than bureaucrats and journalists had heard of when it came up, folks like Aatar Singh will be watching the Lokpal (if and when it comes up).

• Above all, a foundation or a platform has been prepared once again, a way has been shown once again, for taking the roots of our democracy deeper. Hissar, for all its debates of politicisation, was the only logical way for a civil society movement to make inroads into the vote-centric democracy.

We are sure the movement so far has more achievements (please write them in the comment box below if you have any other points in mind), but the point is: In 2011 a man (or his team, or the people who responded to him) have shown there is a way.

Which incidentally is the headline of our cover story for the next issue, which will hit the stands on January 1. Don't forget to pick it up, there's much more there.



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