The snobbery of intellectual writers and insensitivity of the political class comes as a shame at this defining moment in our country’s history. Let’s show some respect to this mass awakening, so essential for a vibrant democracy and a pro-active citizenry
Propagators of mass hysteria and mobocracy have one thing in common-they refuse to get out of their mindset and understand the new wave of mass participation, so essential for a vibrant democracy, that is now sweeping across the country. They have to realise that the printed word in newspapers or the debates on TV channels, are not longer bible truths for people, who have begun to examine the facts and reject untruth. This is evident from the comments on articles about the movement available through a random check on the Internet.
Clearly, the ruling political and intellectual class (at least most of it) is in disconnect with people's sentiments and the untiring efforts being made to get the government to work for the people and not for a privileged few. In fact, these privileged classes have themselves completely forgotten the fundamentals of governance in a democracy-first, information dissemination and second, participation in governance.
The movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill may be largely a campaign against corruption, but to say that most of the participants involved in this peaceful social revolution know nothing about the Bill is an insult to what is probably the biggest people's movement since Independence.
Everyone need not know every detail of the Bill like a scholar, academician or an activist would, but they have sensed that the government was trying to push down the throats of millions of people, an absolutely weak and draconian bill that would ultimately protect the corrupt. This attempt by the government to try and fool the people and numb them into submission, should have been reason enough for intellectual writers, newspaper editors and activists across the country, no matter what their differences over the alternative Jan Lokpal Bill, to unite and pull up the government over its sinister plan. Or, they ought to have tried to work out ways to strengthen the Lokpal Bill with a sense of urgency since the issue came into the public domain instead of criticisms and new drafts that have come a bit late in the day. This is no time for prolonged debates anymore-the nation is outraged; what is necessary is swift action.
The government says it requires time-an excuse that has been supported by several high-profile columnists. Don't they realize the uniqueness of the situation, when lakhs of people have come out onto the streets in the cities, towns and villages, to peacefully agitate, and many more are supporting the movement from their homes and share this spirit in their hearts. It's an extraordinary situation, when citizens in such massive numbers are demanding a quick decision. If something extraordinary came up in our day-to-day lives, say a marriage that is to be organised within 48 hours as the bridegroom has to return to his job abroad, or a lucrative project that has been awarded with a challenging deadline, what would we do? Obviously, we would work round-the-clock, if this is necessary, to complete the task. Is the government so insensitive, so callous, as to not be able to work 20 hours a day if required, to debate and reach a conclusion during the ongoing parliament session itself? It is outrageous that ministers continue to buy time when all that the protestors are peacefully and humbly saying is "please do it with immediate effect". Even Lord Meghnad Desai told a television channel that the issue could be debated and decided in 60 hours.
By criticising the movement at this defining moment in the country's history, we are encouraging the government to close its eyes and ears to the foremost demand for a strong anti-corruption law, which is unarguably the urgent need of the hour.
As a journalist who has watched Anna Hazare's crusades from close quarters, over the past two and a half decades, the government should have known that Anna never takes up an issue he does not believe in and that once he takes it up he is not known to give up easily. Also, the government should collect intelligence from among the crowds to understand that the young generation will not be victims of mobocracy or mass hysteria. They will not join a movement that they are not convinced about.
I have worked with students in Pune who have been a part of this movement and it is a pride and passion for them to be part of the process to cleanse the country of corruption, which they believe is the single biggest factor that has tarnished its image, and this is admirable. Anna might be a rustic villager and may not have studied law as Gandhiji did, but his knowledge of the laws by which our democracy functions is better than many of us who are educated. Hence, there is no dismissing him as some "instant saint" trying to play God or turn into a legend.
This is an example of a pro-active democracy and the powers that be and the celebrity columnists must see it in this new perspective, by dropping the conditioned mindset to look down on the "middle class fraternity" (one columnist had the gall of calling it the "chattering class".) It is evident that Anna Hazare's movement is cutting across many classes-whether it is the poor, the lower middle class, the upper middle class and now even the rich-are represented in the movement. It is the yearning of every Indian that corruption should be rooted out, and now. Why then are some intellectuals playing into the hands of those who sow and breed corruption?
Having said this, one must admit that the film fraternity, barring a few exceptions, has shown sensitivity to the people's sentiments and to Anna Hazare's selfless crusade. It, too, is a privileged class in that sense, but it has heard the heartbeat of millions of Indians. It only goes to prove that if your heart is in the right place, you can read the pulse of the people. Otherwise, you are simply convenient spokespersons of scamsters who are a hindrance to the tremendous movement for change that we are witnessing now.
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Peter Theobald shares his experiences from the protest at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan, in support of a strong anti-corruption law
So, yesterday (Friday, 19 August) I decided that if a 74-year-old Gandhian had already fasted for four days, for all of us, what is my excuse, particularly given my past history in this matter? Also, I had been putting off my scheduled three-day fast for quite a while, this is as good a reason as any to re-start this practice that was any way good for my health. Only I was thinking, given the long break, would my body still respond the same way? Only one way to find out - Try!
So as usual, I told-or rather requested-my body, that I am going to begin a three-day fast tomorrow, so please adjust to being without food for three days. I had found in the past that this ensured that the three-day fast passed without a single hunger pang-something amazing, since normally I get severe hunger pangs even if I delay one meal. But this little request resulted that during the three days, I might feel tired, sleepy, a bit weak, headache, dry throat etc, in fact a lot of feelings-but anything but hunger!
And so it was, that in the morning, suitably armed with two bottles of water, a change of clothes and a thin sheet if I had to spend the night, I left for Azad Maidan. This time I did not lie to my son. After an initial protest, he accepted it, gave me a hug, and went back to play. Good, at least I got that right this time.
I reached the venue to find a small army of TV and police vans parked outside, and a contingent of about 50 policemen and women scattered around. I went to the stage, where about 50 people were quietly sitting, some reclining, assuming that they were fasting. I was politely told, with folded hands, "Yes, but you see, the stage is full, you are on day one of your fast; many of these people are fasting for five days and need to stretch out a bit, there is no room for more people now, so please sit in the front row of the audience. You can join on the stage tomorrow."
So I sat there, watching with increasing amazement as a series of people, as motley a group as you can imagine, continuously took the stage one after the other... and echoed almost the same thing. It did not matter if it is was an illiterate farmer from Ralegan Siddhi, or an IT engineer from TCS, or a banker from Nomura Financial Services, or a housewife, if you removed their external identity, it was as if it was one person speaking. They looked the same, in simple clothes, an Anna cap, and a black armband. And they spoke the same language. And it was clear to see that they were speaking from their heart. Patriotic songs, couplets, slogans, and they were saying the most incredible things... I made a few notes...
A municipal teacher-transferred 12 times in 18 years for opposing corruption-now on her fifth day of fast. "By fasting I am not doing an upkar (favour) to anybody; it is for myself."
The 65-year-old event co-ordinator with indefatigable energy. "We want no violent words, no negativity. Nothing against any person. We are not fighting to change the government, but to change the system."
A five-year-old child, sang a patriotic song that brought tears to my eyes.
Indian Spiderman Gaurav Sharma, who climbed a 16-storey building in the rain in eight minutes, to hoist the Indian flag, to protest against corruption: "I did not take permission to do this, since I do not need permission to fight for my independence."
An MBA on his fifth day of the fast waxed eloquent. "Lathi/bullet khayenge, Jan Lokpal le ayenge" (We will brave batons and bullets, but get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed.)
An advocate: "Khoon ki Holi khelenge - lekein apni khoon ka. Ahimsak doosron ka khoon nahin bahate". (We will play Holi with blood if required-but our blood. Non-violent people do not shed other's blood.)
An event organiser called another person on stage, to share his slogan, saying "Taking credit for another person's idea is also corruption."
Many of these persons spoke so fluently, with so much passion, energy, without a trace of fatigue that it was difficult to believe they had not had a morsel to eat for five days. I was beginning to understand what Anna Hazare meant when he said, "I get my energy from all of you".
A retired police inspector. A housewife. "Fasting increases your atma-shakti. Strength of the soul."
A 11-year-old who was fasting for a day. Many youngsters from schools and colleges were given the mike and they spoke with a clarity and wisdom and understanding of the situation that belied their years.
It was getting more crowded now. Groups of people kept pouring in from everywhere. Cuffe Parade Residents Association-who says the rich don't care? Passengers on the Jan Lokpal Express. A group from this company, this bank, that IT company, who had left their laptops behind and were carrying a flag instead. A school child whose father was a Congress party leader. One youngster who ran 14 km from Wadala to Azad Maidan, waving the Indian Tricolour, all the way, and then came on stage to say his piece, that he was fasting for the day. An illiterate farmer from Anna Hazare's hometown, who in chaste Marathi, told us about Anna Hazare's background, cheerfully admitting that it was the first time he was holding a mike in his hand, and addressing any kind of audience.
Parivartan laney key like samay aur samaj chahiye. Ab hamare paas dono hain. Agar abhi nahin to kabhi nahin. (To usher in change, we need understanding and time. Now we have both. If not now, then never.)
"I got tired of reading the number of zeros in the amount of money swindled, but these guys did not get tired eating up this amount of money."
A blind man was helped to his seat.
A sixth standard girl: "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Anna Hazare is the Super Star."
And finally the one casualty of the day. Dipesh, an 18-year-old student, on the fifth day of his fast, who collapsed on stage while addressing the audience. "Sorry I don't have the energy to share my poem, but ..." A collective gasp rose from the participants. Dipesh was promptly attended to by volunteer doctors who have been available 24x7 to care for the fasters. Another person took the mike and said calmly, "He is being taken care of, do not worry." And the next person came on stage, exhorting the audience with the cry: "Vande Mataram. Don't worry, I too am fasting. Nothing will happen to me."
Another speaker said: "See how much these people are going through. How much more does the government want to torment them?" Torment indeed. The police have not given permission for the fasters to sleep on the site. So every day, they have to go to a dormitory a few km away, kindly provided by a Jain Association, rest there and come back the next day. Think about doing that on the fifth day of a fast.
The rest of the day went off in a blur. Speaker after speaker, slogan after slogan. Fifty more in line to speak. The atmosphere was electric. I too felt no hunger. I stopped taking notes. It was clear that history is in the making. The genie is out of the bottle. And it can't be put back.
Some citizens are disturbed that Team Anna will not listen to other viewpoints on a strong anti-corruption law. There is also concern about who a powerful Lokpal will be accountable to
While Anna Hazare's call for strong ombudsmen against corruption has gone from strength to strength, his ultimatum to the government on tabling his Jan Lokpal Bill by 31st August does not seem to have gone down well with many. At the same time, some citizens think that Anna must also consider suggestions offered by other groups and individuals-like Ms Aruna Roy and her group-instead of being rigid about his draft.
The National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) activist Ms Roy recently presented an alternate version of the Lokpal Bill, which is quite different from those proposed by the government or Anna Hazare. However, Team Anna has apparently cold-shouldered the proposal.
Noted RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu says, "Setting aside the NCPRI'sdraft is something I consider erroneous." He has also expressed scepticism over the shape the movement has taken and he thinks that it should go beyond the popular uproar and manifest itself in concrete forms. The idea that corruption will vanish after the Lokpal is set up is too simplistic.
One of the troubling aspects of Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill is the question of accountability. There is confusion about who this immensely powerful body should be answerable to. The NCPRI version has sought to fill up this lacuna. "The Joint Committee was to hear suggestions from all as to how the prime minister or the judiciary should be brought under the Lokpal. They did not hear the NCPRI and so it is NCPRI's right to suggest their deferred version," Mr Prabhu said.
The NCPRI version suggests that there should be three nodal bodies, instead of one. Also, there are suggestions on strengthening the existing bodies, the Judicial Accountability Bill, and something for the protection of whistleblower.
However, Team Anna has been unwilling to accept any changes to its draft or to discuss its contents.
Ms Roy said, "There have been public meetings, but few consultations on the content of the Act in detail. Every critique was attributed to wrong intent and viewed with suspicion and mistrust by the civil society members of the Joint Committee. A critique of the Bill has evoked sharp reactions, and statements have been made that disagreement with the draft was tantamount to promoting corruption. We were baffled by such statements."
EAS Sarma, former power and finance secretary now turned activist says, "It is not an easy task for any one to come up with a fool-proof behemoth of a system that will eliminate corruption. The strength of civil society lies in its ability to sort out its internal differences and develop a healthy consensus."
Some other citizens, too, have voiced there concerns about the Lokpal as envisioned by Team Anna which appears too powerful. Rajaram Bojji, former managing director of the Konkan Railways, said, "If thousands of inspectors of Lokpal, spread out and start descending on every office, even routine work gets dislocated."
He thinks that in most cases vigilance bodies have victimised more innocent people than culprits. The proposed Lokpal with its vast powers can abuse its authority; considering that its functioning will be the same as others. Moreover, the scope of the Lokpal, as suggested, is too broad. In that case, there will be an overload, and cases/files will soon start to pile up like it has happened with the judiciary.
But Hazare's movement condemns the entire system, which many citizens feel is pushing the envelope too far. "We are one nation and it is unfair to treat the entire group of public servants to be useless and dishonest. That includes the politicians. It does not mean we condemn the entire system. We have done well in spite of some bad guys," says Mr Bojji.