Anti-corruption crusade: Battle hots up between reality of hafta and the ‘experts’; Baba Ramdev joins protestors
It is easy to be swayed by the candle lights at Jantar Mantar or the patronizing attitude of the media. But the reality is that a large number of people are coming out to be counted and spotted on television, because they are simply tired of being hit by corruption at every step they take
South Indian Snack Centre (SISC) was a little hole in the wall behind the Jantar Mantar bus stop, when political demonstrations were held at the Boat Club Lawns, off Rajpath, till Mahendra Singh Tikait's followers changed the rules of the game as far as political rallies in Delhi is concerned, forever, 23 years ago. Political rallies had always held the city to ranson, trashing the pristine lawns off Rajpath was par for the course, but there were bigger issues-long satyagrahas could endanger the planning for the Republic Day Parade, winter afternoon siestas on the lawns were sacred for many who hung around in the Bhavans in those days, and most of all the music played at these functions was off-key and disliked by the swish set.
This evolved into the famous episode when Deep Purple, as well as other rock music was played more loudly as a response to the motivational songs played by the BKU Chaudhary. All political and other rallies, as well as protests, were subsequently banished to the faraway, sylvan area between Jantar Mantar and Ashoka Road, a very quiet and cosy part of town, with the traffic organised in such a way that it simply did not disturb any route, except those buses parked nearby, waiting to pick up passengers from Connaught Place and Central Secretariat, in the pre-Metro days.
With Kerala House next to it, Bible Bhavan behind it, assorted Socialist party offices in front, SISC could not but do well. About the best value for money in terms of basic southie veggie, it is now the second most popular place visited at the Anna Hazare "India against Corruption" protest, though you may not notice it on television. Its roof is used by television crew and photographers for top angle shots, and the repertoire served has been enhanced to include paneer dosa and capsicum utthapam, to augment the basic idli-dosa-vada-upma fare.
At a modest estimate the hafta paid to a variety of 'authorities' to continue business for a small stall like this would run into lakhs of rupees a month, and it is as simple as that. We can say what we want a few metres away, but the day we can stop corruption even a few metres away from this spot, is when it really starts showing results on the ground. Even the ragpickers present, for whom this is a bonanza as they go about picking up everything on the ground that has been thrown away or discarded, have never had it so good-even they have to pay a little something to be allowed to wander around inside.
And that is the simple truth from Jantar Mantar, where it is currently very easy to get swayed by the two main players present-the upbeat middle-class energy being best motivated to walk around with candles that are eventually placed on the ground; and the patronizing as well as supercilious attitude of the media, who are the heroes in a reality show situation, where everybody else besides them, in any sort of power scenario, is a villain. That is, other than the old man fasting on a platform and his group, who also are being pushed into corners by smarter and less tired adversaries, who have the power of the State behind them. Every time Arvind Kejriwal tries to get some rest, he is called to answer another bunch of questions, and then participate in intense strategy sessions before and after.
On Friday, yog guru Baba Ramdev joined the campaign, with a demand to hang the corrupt. Addressing the protestors he challenged the government, saying that if those running the system were clean, they should not hesitate to give capital punishment to those who are corrupt. He said the government was indifferent to the issue of corruption as the rulers were not affected by it. He also challenged the government on the constitution of the committee to work on the Lokpal Bill, saying it must ensure that the five representatives from the government side must be absolutely taint-free or else they would not be accepted.
Yes, the issue is simple and drills down to a simple point-corruption. How the corruption will go away is not important, since the people believe that all existing tools are as good as useless, so anything else new would be better. So up comes the Lokpal Bill, now part of a trendy song, also. That this momentum is because people want a Lokpal Bill in a particular format is something easy to believe in, if all we do is sit and watch the talking heads go into gabfest mode on television. The reality on the ground is that a large number of people are coming out to be counted and spotted on television, because they are simply tired of being hit by corruption at every step they take, or a drive they make. Large corruption cases like the 2G scam, the CWG scam and other multi-thousand crore scams merge seamlessly into the smaller 5-and-10 rupee corruption scams going on everywhere. All will vanish thanks to the Lokpal Bill.
But if the Lokpal Bill is diluted so it does not work, then what?
That the politicians and public servants are easily identifiable and perceived reasons for this anti-people step is clear, if and when it happens. However, this will be taking a very simple view of the larger intelligence that the people on the ground possess, and this is where the electronic media has lost touch. Nobody is forgetting the Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi episodes, for example. Incidentally, neither of these two worthies have come to Jantar Mantar as yet. As of now the television media is making the correct sounds as far as the crowds are concerned, by lending support to the movement. This, however, appears to be changing in ever so subtle ways, with the specialists and experts expressing views that are divergent from the popular sentiment.
On Day 4, the euphoria of possible "victory" may shift to stark realities, as Anna asks candle-holding marchers to start filling jails. And if this does not pan out the way it should, the villain in line will be the media. Especially the television media, whose 'experts' are being seen as pushing views that are divergent from what the people believe is the truth. This is the ground level observation in a movement that spans all sorts of ideologies from the Left to the Right and in between. Which makes it more dangerous, as this group will look for the next villain who killed their truths.
And their truth is simple. A vast number of laws have been used to push the public down, like the big pigs did on Animal Farm. Here is a chance for a single law for the masses, to try and equalize things against the big pigs in our society; but if this does not happen, the guilty will have to be found. And that, if you look carefully through the history of mass movements of this sort, often means the Fifth Estate.
Meanwhile, what is not lost on many in the crowd is that the price of energy is shooting up, the availability of water is going down, and the environment is getting increasingly polluted. It is therefore, also felt that a reduction in corruption could somehow ease things there, too. And if a Lokpal Bill is not introduced the way Anna Hazare wants it, then the politicians and their henchmen/women will, once again, be responsible for this. And that this was caused by the media, who are perceived and currently strutting around at Jantar Mantar, pretending to be the solution providers and opinion makers, rather than the mirrors.