Anna Hazare and The Argumentative Indian

What started out as a small initiative by a handful of people quickly became a massive awakening gaining thousands of supporters everyday. And, in a very unlikely response, the Government of India promptly responded with offers of compromise and promise of action.

The most revealing aspect of this whole exercise has not been the reaction of the politicians – whom we can probably assume to feel threatened by a fully functional Lokpal law – but the Pandora’s box of views and opinions that it has opened up among the public or the ‘civil society’, as the public guardians of the to-be law would like to call it.

Many among us, even those who have readily given out bribes to get favours at some point in the past, have readily given out our vocal support for the campaign. If moral qualification was a criteria for the Anti-Corruption drive, I doubt Anna Hazare would have gathered a large group in such a little time. While the overwhelming support that this man has received has made us feel proud, there have been instances of equally widespread cynicism and skeptical comments. Not to disregard them, of course, but very few people against it seem to have got a hold of the real purpose behind the movement.

It is true that Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh were demanding change from the Government. They were not trying to undermine the Government in any way or go against the Constitution as some people would have us believe. All that was asked for was the people’s version of the bill be considered, and people be given equal representation on the consitution of the Lokpal Committee. As opposed to that, the Government’s version of the bill does not enourage direct public participation in the functioning of the committee. Nor does it give enough power and scope that is expected of any decent enquiry committee. As for the argument that the representatives in the Government too are elected by the public itself, Anna Hazare himself put it beautifully in an interview today (in Hindi) – “The people whom we have elected think that the are our masters, when in fact they are our servants”. MPs may be there as our representative, theoritically, but how many of us can claim that we are truly ‘represented’?

Part of the blame for the negative wave can be passed on to the media. In their eagerness to get good ratings and improve their image, they immediately presented this as a People vs Government war. With this perspective gaining popularity, the main aim of co-operation was invisible to the eyes of many. As always, it was followed by an information (opinion!) boom across different media, which further contributed to the view that each party was pitted against the other. Questions were raised about why Anna Hazare was ‘fighting against’ the Constitution. Apparently, they don’t have a problem if the Government is free to draft laws as per it’s wish, but will they think before blaming the judiciary and legal system when the same law affects them personally? Here was a man trying to bring in a law that was fair, which is also going to be brought about by the same process as any other law i.e through Parliament. So where is the question of being against the Constitutional process?

Some even accused him of ’emotional blackmail’. Blackmail – really! Gandhiji would have turned in his grave had he known what his principle of non-violent protest has become today. Needless to say, this only complicated the understanding of what the activists were really trying to do. If a fast was the only means to get those who matter to act promptly, then so be it. Those who talk of patience should know/recall the fact that this law has been in the backburner for more than 40 years. Infact, if Anna Hazare had not started his fast, I doubt if we would have even heard of this law.

The saddest and funniest comment which I came across was that Anna Hazare was threatening and bullying the Government to accept his demands. We want the Government to bend down to terrorists and Maoists threatening them with captives, even praying for their safe return… but a 72-year-old man who makes a peaceful protest for the good of the country is spoken of like a terrorist! Nothing to say about the opinion of those who put forth such accusations – their attitude speaks words.

Another social disease that reared up it’s ugly head in this scenario was the inability to tell people and ideologies apart. Once the opinion of an anti-government war gained it’s hold, another purpose of the bill which was simply to enhance the anti-corruption process against politicians, was seen as a personal attack on MPs and MLAs. Public anger helped. The ‘Mera Neta Chor Hain’ slogan would not have been missed by many. Anna Hazare himself was a victim of such generalization recently. The moment he praised Narendra Modi and Nitish for their Government’s work in bringing about development – he was accused of supporting communalism. The new hero had to clarify that he had spoken in view of developmental measures only. We too often fall into the trap of Proof by Association. Anna Hazare appreciates Modi for development – Modi is communal – so Anna Hazare must be communal. Silly as it sounds, this is how we are.

By now, you have probably formed the opinion that I’m also a supporter of Anna Hazare. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not… But one need not be a follower or supporter of someone to appreciate their actions in bringing about change. He is not doing anything for his gain, as some ‘protesters’ do. He is doing it so that you can get basic amenities, like good clean water, enough food to eat… so that your children can go to good schools and get free and equal education… so that you may live a smooth life as a citizen of this great nation… if you are still asking questions about the validity and need for the protest… and ‘interference’ in the law making process – may God bless you – believe me you need it!

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