Lest We Forget!!!

In his seminal work of 2005 – “The Argumentative Indian” Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, “argued” that the understanding and use of the argumentative tradition of Indians are critically important for the success of India’s democracy and its other ethos. However between 2005 and now, the argumentative Indian has matured into “The Outrageous Indian” I guess.  In India presently, the economy is under tremendous strain permeating pain all over. Ergo, the GDP has fallen off the cliff and not sure how low it will get by the time this fiscal year gets over. However no such problems for GDO – “Gross Domestic Outrage”!! In the last few years there has been no paucity for outrage in this country. Many opportunities have been presented to us in meticulous frequency and we have all faithfully shown our outrage whether it is on the streets, on Twitter, on Facebook or on WordPress.

Lest we forget, I wanted to do a reality check on if things have got any better post the pouring of outrage.  Here we go:

Lokpal bill: In the August of 2011, a frail Gandhian by name Anna Hazare and a group of argumentative Indians bandied as Team Anna by the media brought thousands of middle class Indians to the streets.  The cause was to get a “Lokpal bill” passed in parliament. At the peak of its movement Team Anna moved the country and was inexorable. Today, Anna has been pushed to avail VRS (voluntary retirement scheme), Team Anna on losing steam got dismantled and Lokpal bill is in cold storage.  Once again.

Delhi Gang Rape: The heinous act by a few thugs in the capital city in the Dec of 2012 ushered in Outrage 2.0. India’s political class made all the right noises (political noise i.e.) in the aftermath, Nirbhaya became omnipresent, Justice Verma was commissioned to suggest suitable amendments to the Crime Laws, he rose to the occasion and submitted his recommendations in record time, the Govt. passed a law with supposedly stiff provisions to prevent rape,… ,…So far so good.  7 long months on – the guilty have not been punished yet. If this is the situation on one of the most visible crimes in the country, I shudder to imagine what would be the state of affairs on lesser known crimes!!  Justice Verma in the meantime passed away and to me, the cause which he furthered all his life (Justice System) failed once again. And for the Govt. closure was achieved when in the Budget it set up a “Nirbhaya fund”!!! Did we hear anything on that post March???

Coalgate: Till then CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) in India was just another “babu” whose department did audits of Govt. departments and released reports, mostly harmless. But this time the then CAG Vinod Rai decided to do a “Seshan” and released a draft report which accused the Govt. of a scam of epic proportions in allotment of coal blocks to public and private enterprises arbitrarily thereby causing loss of ( I forgot ) so many lakh crores!!! The opposition duly disrupted parliament for a whole session. And where are we today? There is a power shortage in most parts of the country. Power plants need coal. Mining has been stopped in most of the states. A Congress MP and a young scion Navin Jindal has been accused to be in the thick of action in the scam. A minister does “proof reading” of the status report prepared by the CBI (He ceases to be a minister now). And frankly I’ve lost track on what’s happening in this front!!! At the end, are there now clear guidelines on allotment of coal blocks or for that matter any natural resource??

Pakistan’s dastardly act in LOC: 2 Indian soldiers were captured, killed, beheaded and their body mutilated allegedly by Pakistan army in the LOC. The outrage here in this part of LOC was spontaneous. I’m not privy to the steps our Govt. took subsequently. We hope some steps have indeed been taken to ensure this doesn’t repeat.

Blasts in Hyderabad: Yesterday, 13th July marked the 2nd Anniversary of the serial blasts that shook Mumbai. Few months from now, it will be the 1st Anniversary of the twin blasts that rocked Dlisukhnagar in Hyderabad in February. Anniversaries such as this come and go and Candles do brisk business on these days. We are yet to figure out the cause, the perpetrators of the crime or any mechanism/process to prevent such acts in the future. In fact last Sunday the Bodhi temple in Bihar was the centre of another blast!!! That Buddha in his time was considered an apostle of peace completes the tale of irony.

Match fixing: For long Indians were supposedly good at match fixing. The only way Indians got married was when their parents “fixed the match”. As things changed in that space, we turned to a different Match fixing it seems. It emerged that in IPL (Indian Premier League) cricket, players were involved in betting and fixing the outcomes. It turned out later that even owners were also in the ring. Another rage. From everyday dose of investigative revelations few months back to complete peace in that front, we find that the whole saga has been fixed and buried with no outcome!

Uttarakhand flooding: This is the recent one. We don’t know if the floods have actually receded there but the nation’s attention and mindshare already have, already. Actually now starts the act of reconstruction. If done with vision, here’s an opportunity to create a new “Chardham” experience. Will it happen? Ground evidence doesn’t provide any play for hope.

So as can be seen, for the aam admi it’s been just OSOT – Outrage Se Outrage Tak (From one outrage to another) and they have not yielded any tangible result.  In a democracy as ours, our opportunity to “materially” intervene comes once in 5 years. Post that intervention, we have no choice but just to show outrage.  At the same time is there a way by which while we keep moving on, get the attention focused on the earlier issue and obtain closure? Can the leading news channels/newspapers devote a weekly slot on re-visiting “Open issues”?  Is it too much to expect of the opposition to demand action on older issues?  Can we have constitutional amendments paving way for the President to intervene on outstanding issues? Gurcharan Das in his piece in TOI today goads us to spend 1 hour a week in the neighbourhood as an answer to our increasing political disenchantment.

This is my small attempt to keep the fire on, lest we forget.

Outrage

Tailpiece : When he was “outraged”, Bharathiyar said:

thani oru manithanukku unavu illai enil jagathinai erithiduvom” (if there is no food for a single person we will destroy the whole universe)

Today’s Govt. says:

thani oru manithanukku unavu illai enil Food Security Bill kondu varuvom” ( If there is no food for a single person we will bring the Food Security bill)!!!

Coming up – A “Yuva” moment for Team Anna???

In the final moments of Maniratnam’s movie “Yuva”, the protagonists played by Ajay Devgn and Vivek Oberoi along with couple of their friends (attired in denim!!!) are shown entering a Vidhan Sabha after winning the assembly elections. In the film Devgn is a student activist and Oberoi just another student who were taking on the local politicians and finally end up contesting the elections and also win.  I wonder if Team Anna was also dreaming of such a moment in real life when its members decided to abandon their agitation and took a call to wear political topis from now on.  For some time it was clear that Team Anna members were getting frustrated by the meek response they were getting from the common public to their agitation calls. This was a far cry from what they saw in August last year. From Jan this year when their second round of “fast” agitation met with a slow and thanda response, Team Anna was subject to a barrage of criticism and loads of advice from all and sundry.  As written nicely in his Op-Ed ( A for Anna, B for Baba, C for Camera) in “The Hindu”, columnist Biswanath Ghosh says and I quote “We feed on the frenzy whipped up by news channels; and, when caught in a verbal duel between distinguished panelists with colliding views, we are so confused that we end up adopting the voice and the demeanour of the excited news anchor”.  And most of the news anchors and famed columnists were of the view that Team Anna must stop this agitation business which has become a joke and fight elections to bring in the changes it desires to see.    These voices were amplified by the jibes the politicians were unleashing on Team Anna provoking them into taking the electoral plunge.   It looks like Team Anna got so incensed by these voices all over and decided to walk into the electoral land mine with eyes wide open.

For a moment let’s step back and look at the genesis of Team Anna’s movement.  The movement started as a calling card for a legislation for preventing corruption at high offices called the “Lokpal bill” (which incidentally holds the record for being brought up in parliament so many times without getting passed till date). Coming after the RTI (Right to Information) Act which again some of the members of Team Anna like Arvind Kejriwal effectively championed for and succeeded, this bill was to be a game changer in putting an end to corruption in India.  As I mentioned before, this bill has the illustrious history of circling the corridors of Indian parliament many times over without getting enacted.  Each time, when the bill was introduced to the House, it was referred to a committee for improvements or to a joint committee of parliament, or to a departmental standing committee of the Home Ministry. Exasperated at this attitude of the political class, a group of activists under India Against Corruption ( IAC) umbrella with Anna Hazare as their mascot embarked on an ‘Anshan’ which in no time captured the imagination of the public.

So it was a very legitimate movement which erupted purely due to the failure of the ruling class to bring a legislation that will prevent corruption at high places.  The common man who was paying the price of corruption day in and day out saw this as a menace and went all out in support of the same though he might not have understood the legalities of the Lokpal bill. There were and are legal luminaries who are of the view that we don’t need another law but proper implementation of existing laws to prevent corruption. Let’s keep that debate for another suprabhat.

It is quite obvious from the delaying tactics displayed in the past that the political class is not for a Lokpal bill.  So one didn’t expect anything else but continuous goading to stop fighting in the streets and urging Team Anna to get into parliament to fight for the bill.   By falling for this bait, Team Anna might have just ended up scoring a self goal.  While it is still very not clear what shape the political fantasy of Team Anna will take, it is very clear that whatever it might be, the writing is on the wall.  Why am I so skeptical?  Because, in our parliamentary democracy, a political formation can make laws or influence law making if it is a majority force (thereby ruling party) in parliament or in a coalition era, be like the Left in UPA1 or TMC in UPA2 with the jack in its hand.  For Team Anna’s movement to take a shape of a majority party is asking for India to win 20 Gold medals in the next Olympics!  The second option means it has to provide “outside” support or be a part of a coalition of one of the fronts which Team Anna has been castigating all the while for not enacting the Lokpal bill.   The third option is to be non-aligned to any front and with just a few MPs keep trying to push for the bill.  All this means- floating a political party, contesting the next Loksabha elections, win a few seats and try to get the Lokpal bill passed in Parliament is nothing but a non-starter.   All this, if you can muster a few seats.

Winning those few seats by itself could be a herculean task tougher than beating the Chinese in Badminton! I still remember the fate of T.N.Seshan who was once a Middle Class hero for bringing up a sea change in the way elections were conducted in India – ended up as a Middle Class Zero when he contested for Loksabha elections and lost.  There are other examples galore of eminent people biting the dust once they contested the elections and lost.  Because, in India contesting and winning an election is a matter of arithmetic and that too an expensive one by itself.  Many times in elections Indians don’t vote to elect their MP or MLA but elect their caste leader.  And there are other considerations as well – in short you need to be an expert in Game theory. ( A Shashi Tharoor is an exception – Admit, he’s doing a great job and is an inspiration )

In addition to the fact you have ended up killing the Lokpal goose, there are other issues which have been very well articulated by Swaminathan Aiyar in his weekly column in Times of India today. For those who missed that – here’s the link –  http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Swaminomics/entry/anna-s-party-would-be-a-great-blunder

A very regular argument being thrown up is that instead of fighting outside for a change in the laws of the land, Team Anna should come inside the Parliament which makes the laws and bring in those changes. This is like a film maker prodding all his critics to be filmmakers themselves before penning those critical reviews of his film!!!  One needs an outsider perspective to things and it’s good to have a movement outside the parliament constantly pushing the leaders to mend their ways when necessary. That’s what Team Anna was doing all the while.  And that’s what they should continue to do. That the Anna movement started fizzling out was mainly due to the wearing out of the novelty factor and loss of hope in people that it will succeed after that disastrous extended parliament session which ended abruptly.   Loss of hope is as much or more than a  big insinuation on the political class as much on Team Anna.

In my blog post in Jan this year after the failed Parliament session, I had humbly called for an Anti-Corruption movement Ver. 2.0.  Some of the ideas acquire more credence in today’s scenario.  As I mentioned in that post, expecting a flawless Lokpal bill first up is not realistic.  The groundswell of support for the Jan Lokpal bill rattled the politicians across the board and the ruling front in particular.  From then on till the time the fast agitation in Mumbai failed, the government was working overtime on getting a version of Lokpal bill to the parliament.  Team Anna should have shown restraint and maturity in engaging in discussions with the Government at that stage and must have gracefully agreed for the version of the bill though it might not have been the perfect bill. For that matter even the present RTI bill is not perfect yet it is already yielding results. If they had done that, we would have seen the passing of the Lokpal bill finally. Now, that seems to be distant reality.

Coming back to that climax of the film “Yuva”, the wily politician played superbly by Om Puri stops Ajay Devgn  while entering the Vidhan Sabha and says “Tum log aa to gaya idhar, Dekte hain kitna din tikta. Tumhare pahele bhi bahut log aaya idhar, duniya badalne kiliye. Kuch bhaag gaya, kuch kudh badal gaya

(Now that you have come here, let’s see how many days you survive. Before you, there were many people you came here to change the world. Some vanished. And others have changed themselves).

It will be very ironical if this happens to Team Anna!!!

Check this link to enjoy that scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fksT0VfDKj4

I’ve been seeing similar sentiments being expressed by few columnists, check these out :

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Citycitybangbang/entry/team-anna-the-need-for-strategic-clarity

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article3735258.ece

Anti Corruption Movement Ver 2.0

Team Anna confused, does not know the way forward” screamed the headlines of Times of India dt. 6th Jan.  This was after the Mumbai fast derailed ( pun intended ) and the politicians had the last laugh when after 3 days of some debate and more drama in the Parliament, the Lokpal ball was thrown back to the drawing table ( that’s what we hope !! )

Coming at the end of an eventful year for the civil society, this turn of events was unfortunate to put it mildly.  For most part of the year passed by, the civil society under the aegis of Team Anna was setting the agenda for the politicians.  There is not an iota of doubt that but for the pressure mounted by this movement, the government would not have made the MPs enjoy the Delhi chill longer to bring and discuss the bill to the parliament. So when the going was so good, what went wrong ? Gigabytes of analysis theories have already pervaded the cyberspace on this and hence I’m not going to clog that space further.  Key member of Team Anna, Arvind Kejriwal in a signed article admitted candidly that the anti-corruption movement is at the crossroads today and asked where to go from here.  He also requested people to suggest the way ahead thro e-mail to iacsuggestions@gmail.com. The genesis of this blog came from this candid admission and request.

Crossroads ??? One failed fast and another fast one pulled by the politicians – have they dented the civil society’s confidence ? My submission is that the Anti – Corruption movement needs to be launched as a ” New Improved” product in FMCG parlance or a Version 2.0 in IT lingo. My humble suggestions for Team Anna are as under :

  • The Lokpal bill is only means to the end and not the end by itself.  So what if the parliament passes a “Jokepal bill” or a toothless bill.  The agitation must continue which will expose the political class than ever before.
  • You have asked if Anna should fast again.  The Answer is Yes and No ! Yes – as it is a legitimate non violent method of protest which can galvanise people and at the same time send the right signals across but must be used as a tactical tool.   No – as Anna’s fasts have become repetitive and hence the shock value follows a graph of diminishing returns. Coming back to the question, Yes Anna must use the weapon of fasting but in proper measure and not fasting at the drop of the hat  topi !
  • How to agitate and keep up the pressure ?  Campaigning against “A” party ??? You must not forget that the main reason for Anna to succeed in hitting it off with the public at large was because he was apolitical.  So in the new avatar it is important to stay completely apolitical and not repeat Hissareous mistakes.  It’s common knowledge that as far as corruption is concerned “Hammam mein sab Nange hain” So taking side of 1 political party means playing partisan politics and losing credibility.
  • The best way to put pressure on the politicians is to hurt them electorally. From now on for any election ( Municipal/State/Central ) the moment political parties announce their candidates, IAC ( Indiaagainstcorruption) must do a thorough background check on all the candidates, their source of wealth,.. and present to the public feeds through the media on a daily basis and set corruption as one of the most important talk points in the elections. ( Remember last year’s Tamil Nadu elections )
  • You have so far done a great job in capturing the imagination of the public. One failed fast should not satiate the hunger for spirited fights in the future.  It’s certainly not right to conclude that just because people didn’t turn up, they are not concerned about corruption.  The same agitation if it was post the parliament fiasco would have perhaps yielded a different result. So if you are going for a fast again, getting the timing right is important.
  • When not in an agitation, or not in the midst of elections, your best bet in getting your views across strongly is the Media ( TV & Print ) and the internet. It’s important to understand where Key opinion leaders ( read as TV anchors/editors ) stand on the Anti Corruption Movement and get them to your side. If some of the key opinion leaders are with you, your views become their views and gets adequate air time/space.  Viralling the internet then becomes more simple. ( May be rope in Dhanush or his father in Law in to the team and watch the “Kolaviral” effect ! )
  • Rome was not built-in a day and a crucial bill that too with so much implications on the  revenue model for the politicians will not be passed in a day.  The time available now is crucial to build public opinion against the ills of the proposed bill through the media and internet.
  • Aiming for a perfect law 1st up is being idealistic.  Show maturity and pat the back of the politicians when they pass the bill even if it is not the perfect Anti corruption remedy.  There is always an opportunity to see how the remedy works and change the formulation in the future.  Garnering public opinion in that situation will be easier and if it is a different government in power that time, it presents a good enough reason for them to bring in amendments to the bill. ( though all parties are partners in crime on passing this bill )
  • In the last year, sometimes one found that Team Anna was desperately trying to outsmart the politicians and trying to beat them in their own game. Well, again the Anna factor owes its success to his sincerity of purpose.  Losing a battle is not so much a concern as long as the war is not lost.  So political brinkmanship be best avoided. Play with a straight bat, play with sincerity. Public will be with you.

Wishing all the best for a bug free Ver 2.0 !