Taking Stock

Anyone who has seen the news recently knows all about the Anna Hazare movement and its mass appeal. Lakhs of people have come out to show their support from him. What is noteworthy is that these people are from all walks of life. Right from auto rickshaw drivers and the famed Mumbai dabba-wallahs (who I hear are breaking a 100 year old tradition by not delivering lunch to people across the city) to doctors and lawyers, have all decided not to go about doing their everyday work, but instead to come out on the streets to support Anna’s campaign against corruption.

Note that I say Anna’s campaign against corruption, and not, campaign for the Jan Lokpal bill. This is because I believe that the mass support that the movement has garnered is not because the common man wants the Jan Lokpal bill to be presented and/or passed, it is because the he is fed up of the rampant corruption in all spheres of society. Be it a passport, driving license, ration card, registration, or any other document from a governmental agency or small to large scale government funded/executed projects, corruption is rampant and brazen. From traffic constables to the staff that deals directly with the public in government offices to higher officials, every position in our system has been marred. We did not require the 2G and CWG scams to be brought into the limelight to be ‘enlightened’ on the state of affairs, a short (thanks to the numerous touts outside the office) trip to the nearest RTO would suffice. Now, there is a school of thought that believes that if bribes aren’t given, there’s no question of them being received. True, but that does not mean that all the blame can be put on the citizens.

I would even go one step further to say that given the current scenario, no blame should fall upon the citizens. Why is that so, you ask. Well, it is because we have so many people in our country in need of these services, that even if people start refusing to pay bribes, there will be always someone in the queue, willing to pay a little extra to get things done, which means that the service provider is never out of ‘customers’. So to those who refuse to pay up, the provider might always choose to ignore and harass, by not performing his official duties that is to provide the service. Thus, at the end of this, the service-seeker has no choice but to end up being a part of this horrible racket. That is the crux of my argument. The common man is of course bothered that the political and administrative class are embezzling the funds that he created and are meant for his upliftment, but what irks him more is that he is not receiving anything at the end of the day. He pays taxes, but doesn’t get proper roads, drainage, water, electricity or food. Add to that the fact that when he interacts with any part of the state machinery, it dirties him along with itself. If the common man was receiving satisfactory services and at the public end, bribes were few and far in between, it is possible that the reaction to scams at higher levels would have been different. It is not that the people are not sickened by your actions, it is that the situation is aggravated by the fact that they are forced to be a part of this act.

That is why Anna’s movement is a hit with the crowds, because here is a man who says he has this wonder-drug that will rid us of the menace. Whether it is capable of doing so or not, and whether it will be able to do so, is for time to tell. However, what is certain is that the citizens do want something that does.

Whether the means that Anna is making use of is right or not is another debate. While some argue that this is the Gandhian way to do it, others argue that our forefathers left us with the Parliamentary system in place, so we don’t have to go out of the system to course-correct. Thus, that is something that not everyone will agree upon, but what we must keep in mind is the purpose of the whole movement. It is saddening to see that ever since Anna Hazare’s arrest, all that the protesters have been protesting for has been his release, acceptance of his terms for protesting et al. Somewhere along the line the core issue of corruption has been sidelined. All that the media has been putting out too is all about his release and the negotiations regarding the same, which has resulted in the government and Team Anna sparring only about the release terms and not the Lokpal issue.

Thus, there are almost no statements regarding the bill in question at all. Add to this the fact that the opposition has clearly stated that they’re only supporting Anna’s demand to be allowed to protest and not his demand regarding the bill, and for this it has been tearing down the government. It is now just fashionable to support Anna, and many public figures have out of nowhere turned up on the streets, just to be in the limelight. I am appalled by how negotiations for the fast venue and duration were conducted. If this is how the two sides are discussing the matter of protesting, how will they ever come to common ground on the actual Lokpal matter? As someone said on an NDTV show, if one side approaches with a mine or none attitude, the other is bound to reply in kind. Thus, if no side is ready to talk it out and reach an amicable solution, that, I believe is disrespect, greater than any other, to our democratic heritage.

Rithvik Pamidi