Verdict on Anna Hazare: R.I.P. or Really Important Plunge?
R.I.P. or Really Important Plunge?
My instinct is to say, “Anna Hazare, you are done! Team Anna, R.I.P.,” and then sign off.
[NB: The headline of an earlier column, at the height of the pro-Anna hysteria, was “Anna No Manna.”]
But, despite this succinct world of twitter, serious political epitaphs still needn’t be compressed in 140 characters. Thankfully!
So I think again. There’s a flash frame of Prof John H Hala, St Stephen’s College’s answer to Boris Johnson if you will, ordained by the Lord to replace a series of great principals, but remembered just as well, for this one sentence:
“1857 was a turning point in the history of India,” he would declare, while the class, some of whom today run the present government, waited in pregnant expectation!
“1857 was a turning point in the history of India….but India refused to turn!”
Now, is that a way of describing the dilemma before Kisan Baburao Hazare? Will India turn?
I think it needn’t. It’s for Anna and his team to do that.
The man is not a Gandhi or a Nehru, but a son of the soil, a humble army truck driver. His intellectual bandwidth, his critics say, leaves him much to be humble about. Delighted merely to be on TV every day, his solution to most problems on Planet Earth is pretty simple. Tie the guilty to the nearest lamp post and flog him hard, he tells us, nostrils contorted and the right forefinger raised at the exact angle of those diminutive Ambedkar statues in funny blue suits.
That’s until a Jan Lok Pal, my equivalent of an Amitabh Bachchan in Shahenshah, emerges from nowhere, to…err, flog these corrupt netas and babus.
Such an interesting entrant into the rough and tumble of India’s electoral politics, albeit indirectly, upsets those who want to lead predictable lives. Mahatma Gandhi understood their fault line of the Indian. Now it is Anna and his Team (or TA, as the abbreviation I see the very corporate Menaka Doshi of CNBC use, assuming that sarkari babus dreading the Lok Pal won’t confuse it with travel allowance!) to do that: How can we rock the boat without raising fears of anarchy.
The mainstream neta is complacent. He or she sees Anna and his motley crew of naiks and hawaldars like the soldiers in 1857, marching from their barracks in Meerut Cantonment to make history, no more than mere punctuation marks, sufferers of a grand delusion. The dismissiveness is to be expected. Until yesterday, the common taunt was, “let the man fight an election…tak dekhenge.”
With Anna aiming to float a political party, the middle class has quickly re-scripted the discourse. They continue to hate the Raj today as exemplified by our Brown Sahebs and a not-so-brown Family. They get angry that in every parliamentary constituency or assembly segment, there’s a clone of the noveau Raj. “Hereditary MPs,” as commentator Patrick French described them in his book, “India, A Portrait”. Why are Ministers still called “Raja sahib” because their GrandPa sucked up land grants from the British, and Papa was the ruling MLA, a picture of Nehru and the Mahatma still around somewhere in token affiliation.
This middle class often says: “Sab ek jaise hain.” The Raj, somewhat paradoxically, is also exemplified by the Opposition. The only thing the Opposition doesn’t have is easy money to throw around. But there’s enough of that if you agree to engage with the “system” on terms of trade enshrined in a first-past-the-post election.
Together, to the middle class’s helplessness, the netas carve the cheese, leaving little else for 1.2 billion who don’t matter. When the next election comes, the choice more often than not is between a thief and a dacoit. Considering that there’s nearly nobody else to choose, the craftier voter trades her vote for entitlements: power-free or stolen for the middling’s in the food chain, road contracts or tolling booths and petrol stations -- for those at a tier just below the hereditary MLA, and saris and TV sets -- for the scoundrels at the rock bottom.
To run such a system down is an act of national duty. The question is whether TA has the energy, the stamina and the capacity to do that at a pan-India level. Will their selection system eschew the temptation of fielding “winnable” candidates, neither an under-employed Anna-ite nor the city’s wannabe fed up of just running a local cable network? Will there be a way to freeze a candidate on the basis of her moral halo?
All this is easier said. The naysays will tell you how running for elections entails serious money. So, the big question: can TA create a revenue model that sets them apart? (I know of folks who were sweet-talked by Arvind Kejriwal to cut a cheque for his NGO, but I hope after a reincarnation as Anna’s Jawahar Lal Nehru, Kejriwal is a little wiser!)
If Anna’s selection system is fair, he must also appear to be fair. If he can stop the infighting, he must also stop well short of group-think. If his present appeal is with the middle class, can he take it deeper? Must he splinter the plank of corruption that everyone already understands? Does he have a one-line strategy to tell the people that TA 2.0 isn’t a mob? Can they, in turn, convert their social media and television skills into popular mobilizations relevant for an organized electoral process?
The people of India would be happy to say, “Hell, we aren’t going to fall for the regulars this time, let a good TA nominee win, so long as a Congress-BJP dinosaur falls.” India can turn. But is TA ready for a V2.0?