Monday, 22 August 2011

I Witness - A Revolution Brewing

I am just returning from a protest at IISc. This by itself is a highly unusual phenomena. IISc invariably lives on periphery of real life, impervious to events regional, national or global. Only cricket warrants a more engaged response with soft conversations over lunch at Faculty Club or over filter coffee at Prakruti.

Instead, today's candle light vigil in support of India Aginst Corruption, and a more viable Jan Lokpal rang out with shouts of 'Vande Matram', ' Jai Hind', ' Anna - Hum Tumahre Sath Hai'. A couple of hundred members of the IISc community participated in a strong show of solidarity and support to a movement that has, over last many months, grasped the imagination of the educated, comfortable, upwardly mobile middle class.

Corruption in India is all encompassing and also deeply entrenched into the very fabric of our socio-political life, and our very bureaucratised governance.  It affects life at all socio-economic levels and from individual to societal, from micro to a very macro level, driving everything from small sums shelved out to the police by  homeless, to be allowed to sleep on streets... to the well publicised 2G scam and the CWG in Delhi 2011. It is one systemic societal ill that is truly all pervasive, irrespective of class, caste, religion, gender, region...I think I have it all covered. Corruption directs our development, and governs our goals and priorities - at all levels from individual to state to national.

Anna Hazare brought the issue to the centre stage of our national life, in sharp focus, and under scrutiny of a brilliant limelight. People woke up and responded to the call for India Against Corruption and poured out into streets and central spaces - like at IISc today.

Yet the story is not this simple - no story in India is ever simple. To a wave of euphoric, increasing and resolute movement behind Anna Hazare, or really just the idea of a Corruption Free India, there is a swelling tide of clamoring voices - against this whole movement and its validity, value and its authority to represent all the varied factions, hues, colors, communities of this mela, that we call India. It is an opposition to largest protests seen in recent history; directed not against the concept of a Corrupt-Free India - but against the mere mortals who have chosen to take up this battle. No one in India is saying today " Corruption is good for this country, lets keep it.." What people are saying in a variety of ways is a combination of true/untrue, relevant/irrelevant, and trivial to deeply derogatory and definitely uncalled for.

" Anna is RSS and the movement is prominently Hindutva, and right winged;
"Kiran Bedi advertises fairness creams";
"IAC movement is Upper Caste, Upper Class, Urban People, corporate media, religious right wing etc."
"Is Anna with Irom? and what about all those other equally or more relevant fast-unto-deaths?"

There is great suspicion and nervousness around the Jan Lokpal and its short coming. So to all the detractors of Jan Lokpal bill in its current form, or to critics of Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi or real questionables like Ramdev or Sri is my take on all of this:

The question is not whether Anna has done wrong in his long past, or whether Kiran Bedi has made some lucrative choices - none of these are even relevant. When a fool like Ramdev grasps an opportunity or Shri Shri rushes to Ramlila grounds - it is unnecessary to focus on these people or their histories. The primary question is whether this particular battle needs to be fought and should it have all our support, if not active participation.

Further, Anna did not create the movement - the support his cause garnered did. It found resonance within a certain class/caste/types of people. Anna chose the cause - if this had not struck a sympathetic chord with our  public, Anna could have himself fasted unto death and no one would have cared. So we can only blame ourselves, the citizens of this nation, for letting Irom Sharmila fast this long or for the fasting-to-death of Swami Nigamananda in trying to save Ganga.

We have become very adept at 'othering' in India - the question is usually not what others or the government do or not do, the question is what did we do when witnessing a wrong, a fight against wrong, or a fight for right ? fight for justice? Did we stand up in solidarity, re-prioritise our individual comforts and responsibilities? did we step out into the streets?

On the issue of Jan Lokpal, in a recent talk by Prashant Bhushan in Bangalore, I got a distinct feeling that all was not yet cast in stone with the proposed bill. The only way to change it for a better, more secular, democratic Jan Lokpal would be for all diverse communities, that are avoiding the movement because of its present constituency, to jump in, join, entrench, interfere and demand that their concerns (legitimate or otherwise) be addressed. Being Anti-Corruption is not proprietorial to either Anna Hazare, his current set of supporters or to any other set of people who choose to appropriate this cause...[just like the anti-nuclear movement at Jaitapur did not become BJP despite strong RSS backing for the people's cause]. However, like any movement, its nature will be shaped by those that participate, appropriate and formulate it. Thus it would make most sense for Dalit movements, slum organisations, Christian, Muslim and other minority relegious outfits, left leaning political parties and a variety of organisations to join and add variety, chaos, diversity to this movement and by doing so, change its course.

Finally, it occurs to me that, as in all other commentaries or issues, " What is without is also within". We as a nation are corrupt, corruptible or envious of others' opportunities to be corrupt. Lets face it guys - our politicians, bureaucrats, police, legal systems, administrators are all a subset of this set that we call us - and our nation. An immoral govt. would not arise from a pure and moral society nor a moral governance last in an immoral nation. So we are it! Lets not constantly shy from taking responsibility, become stone pelters at others' blames and faults - lets just seek to view who we are and join a revolution which is long overdue - both within and without.