Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Anna and the King

(Disclaimer: The article involves a lot of stereotyping. For someone marking me out as a Congress puppy, here is a small background.I have never been a huge fan of democracy, and I spent my early childhood dreaming of the day when I will become dictator of the country and set this country alright. As a young boy, I was convinced that democracy is a failed notion, and the sad state of the country can be attributed by a great deal to the electoral pleasing politics played by leaders. I was probably agitated by the Rajiv Goswami incident, despite being only seven years old, and seeing pictures of protests all over the country over the Mandal recommendations. My fertile imaginative mind worked in full swing back then - I wanted to take seize power from the useless leaders, who had sent the country to dogs, and create a new India, which would be corrupt-free and meritorious. There would be no place for reservations or minority appeasment. I would rule the country with an iron-hand, giving full chance to the deserving and rooting out the non-meritorious. Anyone disputing my calls would be severely punished. In short, I would wield absolute power, and use that power to make India what it historically was - the bird of Gold (sone ki chidiya). To put it otherwise, I was a right winger. However then I grew up and was able to argue things on my own, and come to the conclusion that democracy, while being the far-from-perfect model, is probably the best one given India’s position as a socially, culturally and religiously diversified society.)

The movie was fabulous. Or I have heard it was. The spoof, being currently played out in the aptly named Ramlila Grounds, is anything but. A 74 year old apparently senile man who plays the major part in the new spoof, playing both the title parts. On the one hand, he is a tender voice against the corruption and the evil government (Anna), and on the other, he is the king who is holding the government, and the people of India to ransom through what can at the very modest, be termed blackmail.

A lot of people not supporting Anna Hazare's movement have been doing so because they take exceptions to the method that he is taking. A lot has been written about it, and I will therefore bypass that point and discuss something else, which is probably much more far reaching with effect to India as a country and a heterogeneous society.

I have basically two objections to the Anna Hazare demand for corruption - other than the one about the method. Both of them are fairly controversial and I am ready for a debate on both: One has to do with the need for corruption, and how people are being entirely hypocritical while ganging up with Anna, while the second objection, which I am going to discuss first, is the impact of the agitation.

Issue 1 : Context: India is a truly remarkable country. Growing up,our books described India as "unity among diversity." I was not very sure about what the expression meant, and while the unity part might still be up for discussion, there is no doubting the diversity of the country. It is perhaps amazing that India is one country. There is no other country with the kind of diversity that India has, and at such different levels. Most of the states are separated on linguistic lines, and often have their own culture. No other country has the kind of linguistic and cultural diversity that India has. Spain is the only other country that comes to mind, but it has had its history of civil wars, and the peace existing in the country is very fragile, as the occasional brawls between Barcelona and Real Madrid in football often proves. The Catalans hate Madridistas, and the less said about the autonomous Basque county, the better. And in Spain, there is no divide across religious and racial lines, unlike in India. Belgium is on the verge of breaking up only because of the linguistic issue. India, moreover, also has a number of significant minority religions in different states, and within Hinduism, there is further subdivision across castes and sub-castes. All in all, the heterogeneous structure of India is a very thin fabric, and the fact that the fabric is holding up fine so far is a testimony to the strength of the country.

In every political system, there are two extremes across the political spectrum : the far right and the far left. The right wing is generally more conservative, more business-friendly, less individual freedom and more nationalistic, while the left wing is more radical, more socialist, and more individual freedom. The right wing is also more polar, and tends to create economic and social classes, while the left wing seeks to abolish them. While there are many differentiating factors that separate the two extreme positions, they can be summed up thus: The far right believe only what they do is right, while the far left is of the view that what everyone else does is wrong. Arundhiti Roy and her paranoia about everything is an example of far-left activism, while those of the temple and cocksureness about the location of the Ram Mandir is far-right. As a consequence, an extreme right government will probably do or seek to do a lot of work in its own way, but at the cost of freedom and probably subversion of certain elements, while a far left government will probably regress, unless the far left itself takes the far right position, for the two positions are not as different as they seem. Animal Farm or the USSR government would probably be good examples.

In the Indian context, far right would probably mean pushing reforms and promoting Indian nationalism and Hinduism, probably at the cost of the minority religions and/or the "lower" castes. The Gujarat government, which has ensured a Vibrant Gujarat, but is also charged with abetting the Gujarat riots and failing to ensure inclusive growth, is an example of far-right, while the erstwhile West Bengal government, which changed the face of Kolkata from that of Hema Malini to that of Jyoti Basu, is an example of far-left. The West Bengal growth, or the stagnation, has been pretty much inclusive. Everyone has come to the same level of poverty. In between, you have the different left-of-centre to right-of-centre combinations and different governments in India can possibly be mapped on the axis. In the Indian context, BJP is the right wing party, Congress is the centre party, while the Left Parties are well, left parties.

Similarly, most voters fall on either side of the centre: the far-right to far-left depending on your political ideals, and your moral and religious values. The right winged voters, who had been identifying themselves with the BJP for so long, are suddenly lost, for the BJP has regressed remarkably as a party since its 2004 loss. The loss was totally unexpected, but even its most adherent critics would not have predicted the rudderless ship it now resembles. The name of the party has been planned to be officially changed to Bhartiya Joker Party, if reports are to be believed. But I digress.

Issue 1: Impact: The failure of BJP as a party, has alienated the right wing electorate of the country. The right wing electorate generally belong to the Hindu, upper and middle classes and the non-Schedule Castes. They are generally well educated, and are active on social media. They are generally against reservations and pro-meritocracy. A large number of these right wing electorate who feel let down by the BJP do not really care about the temple, but about ensuring a transparent society, where everything works well. Most of them also support Narendra Modi, despite him being implicated in the riots, for the reason that their only concern is development, and they feel that no price is enough to achieve it. They are pro-reforms, and believe that corruption is the biggest threat to India. They do not want to understand the viewpoint of the other side, and are adamant that their demands, and wants are entirely justified. However, despite being sizable in number, the right wing voters are particularly known to skip election day as the size and heat of May sun gets to them, which probably explains why BJP lost the two elections in May.

On the other hand, the Congress government at the centre has made no overtures to them. In fact, the government has taken a decisive left-turn, and Congress has changed from a centralist party to a left-of-centre party. The Congress public motto of inclusive growth does not hold much weight with the right wing voters. Moreover, the reservation issue is another key thorn. This, and other policies of the government, has led this electorate to believe that Congress is not for them, which is probably true.

And so we come to the issue of corruption. The right wing needs an outlet to the rage at the inability of BJP to launch a proper attack on the Congress. Baba Ramdev tried to capture that space, but his pro-religious antics were never going to cut much meat with the mainly secular right wing, middle class electorate. Enter Anna Hazare, and the right wing electorate has finally found a messiah to deliver them from evil. They finally feel they have an option to partake in the decision making process, which had been taken away from them by the left and centralist leaning Congress governments. And the issue of corruption has managed to unite every right-wing voter into one under Anna Hazare, and makes them feel empowered. So this right wing electorate, in true right wing style, has made a draft believing only they can do a great job of it, and are trying to impose it on the government. Why is their version better than the government? Who says seven years imprisonment is not enough punishment? Why should ministers suffer more punishment as compared to the common man? Why shouldnot bribing be made legal? There can be many questions that can be asked from them. However, being the burning issue of corruption, which most people believe to be an illness, the movement has also found support with some of the traditional central and left-wing supporters. That it is basically a right wing movement can be made out by the fact that masses of Scheduled Castes, Muslims and many other societies have stayed away, fearing backlash.

Issue 1: Why is it bad?: Historically, whenever the right wing has emerged enmasse, it has often resulted in historical tragedies. The frenzy that is generated by such movements often prevail everything else, and creates absolute power. Moreover, right wing also means giving more power to the majority, and hence can totally alienate minority. A left wing uprising, while theoretically equally potentially damaging, has atleast equality as its basic tenet. A right wing uprising on the other hand, increases the diversity.In a country like India, this can lead to dangerous consequences. The Gujarat riots united the Hindus to vote for Modi, just like German nationalism united Germans under Hitler, and we all know how that went. I am not saying that Hazare is comparable to either of the two, but going forward, if the present movement is a success, the rejuvenated right wing can plan further uprisings, to impose their will on the government - through democratic or undemocratic means - and we never know how that will impact India. Why should a few people who are up there, and have conjured up a draft of the bill, be allowed to hold the government hostage? Who gives them the right? It is not a matter of them thinking what they are thinking is right, it has to come from the people. And the people choose the Parliament. If people like Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal really want to do anything, they should take the right path and fight elections. However, they know they will lose if they stand in elections, and hence have taken unconstitutional ways to hijack the government into accepting their demands. It does not matter if their demands are right or wrong? The thing is, who are they to decide that their demands are right? This right wing tendency of always being right needs to be stopped as soon as possible, else it can have grave consequences. As mentioned earlier, India is a great country because the social fabric is holding up. With a rejuvenated right wing, if the revolution now starts, I see the fabric stopping. Hence the revolution must fail.

Issue 2: I am not against corruption. I get my Gas connection illegally, I used to drive a car when I did not have a driving licence and I drove when drunk. I save as much tax as I can, some of it unethically. I give bribe to the ticket checker when travelling on a WL ticket in train so that I can reach home earlier. I dont like standing in lines for filling up government forms and hence bribe the government official to allow me my permits. I love corruption as it makes my life easier. I am not sure we Indians are ready for a honest government as this will mean making ourselves honest. So Mr. Hazare enjoy the limelight while people forget about lying on their CVs and putting kids through schools via bribes. In short, the Indian right winger is a hypocrite, who is always ready to blame the system for his vows. And it is exactly these people who should not be at the forefront, for it will make India another Animal Farm. Hence the revolution must fail.

Long live the revolution!


Witness said...

Wonderful analysis-totally agree with Issue 2 and that's why I didn't join the revolution:)as they say charity begins at home.

arts said...

What's it with 2 Issue 1's...maybe you should call all of them Issue 1, coz they certainly are primary concerns.
Specially Issue 2 should be definitely called Issue 1, coz you loudly claim that you like being corrupt, but then again you go and follow all the rules by the book in the US, UK, or any other country (not as corrupt?). It is just because you are scared of the govt. there, and moreover it doesn't cause any more pain than not following laws.
So if the folks in our country so strongly believe that the world without any rules and laws is a better (read comfortable) place then you are probably erring on some front.

zubin said...

@Shweta: Thanks. I know, but Indians have such a external parameter of looking at things.
@Aarti: On Issue 2, I think you are mistaken by your shortsightedness of seeing things according to your US goggles. I will tell you why such a change will not work in India. The points might seem out of the blue, but this is what it is:
a) Lack of public infrastructure and heat: The lack of suitable public infra and the heat in India makes it difficult for people to take the longer way out. Such problems as where to park, or how to walk through to the Metro station also make you reconsider taking the more difficult way out.
b) Population: Unlike US, India has four times the population and maybe four times more inefficient systems. And I am not talking about corruptly inefficient here. I just mean the technological infra and human efficiency is much less here. Which probably means that every process will probably take four times the time. I had to go to the US Security Office twice to get my SSN. I am not sure if I am ready to visit the Indian counterpart 32 times. So if there is an easier way I would take that.
c) Lack of morality structure: As a people, we have historically not been particularly honest. A part of it probably goes down to the wrongly interpreted Hindu law, which states that man can overcome all his sins through certain sacrifices, fasts and temple visits, with the effect that the most corrupt is generally the biggest devout - Khosla ka Ghosla being a case in point. Moreover, will you not save tax if you can? Why is it even corruption in the first place?
d) Public sector vs. private sector: This point itself points out that Jan Lokpal bill, being draconian, should not be used. Infact, let there be even lesser laws. Improve the system. The Lokpal bill will only make system more inefficient, and maybe, even more corrupt.

As for me supporting corruption, I just think that because it allows me to make MY life simpler, I do not think it is so much of a problem. I think there are a thousand more pertinent issues - such as the identity of the country, the economic divide between rich and the poor. Which needs more attention. Corruption is just a bandwagon everyone's latched on too. And I dont think I am that much against corruption. I think communalism and casteism are much bigger problems.

zubin said...

@Aarti: My only point in raising Issue 2 was that even it is debatable. I mean, the reason we are debating it, and that I have some pretty valid points means that corruption is not a clear cut issue as Arvind Kejriwal has made it out to be. All I am saying that corruption does offer some benefits to the common man. For example, street hawkers.who will lose their source of income in a corruption free environment. I am a) just questioning their moral standards, and b) think that the entire exercise has not been thought about completely. However, I deliberately excluded b) from the discussion as much has been written about it.
My point being, come to think of it, does the common man want a corruption free government? The issue can only be tested during elections. A few lakhs or even a crore people cannot decide for the entire country. This is why democracy rocks. Maybe, people of the country do want a corruption filled society, and hence, they vote for the Congress. Who is the civil society to decide it doesn't want a corruption free society.

Anonymous said...

you've enmeshed so many things together that you lost sight of the malaise called corruption.Anna or the lokpal bill is no panacea but things could've been better without CWG and 2G.certainly.

and "benefits to the common man"??? is plain chicanery.
common man are not all well educated or financially sound-
manu sharma can roam free on a whimsy parole,kalmadi can enjoy a brunch with jail warden and get a fluffy matress...they're common men or isolated instances ?
have you ever tasted the bitterness of impartiality,injustice or favouritism?

revolution DOES NOT NEED buggers like YOU.

dammoraes said...

Once in Tokyo, I dropped a billfold filled with cash in front of the bank ATM. I was extremely worried and was not really expecting to get it back. But nevertheless I went to the police station and found that someone had already deposited my wallet there. I told my Japanese friend how nice it was that someone returned the money to the police station. She looked at me as if I was crazy and said well what else could he do? The money wasn’t his?
The officer and people just did their job.If fear can accomplish things and create order,then why not?Here madame Mayawati orders namesake statues with your money to immortalize herself.

Anonymous said...

in the last para,is it vows or woes?

nishant said...

interesting piece!

i however, feel u have lost sight of the bigger picture, u may b rt abt far-rt n far-lt, or even modi n ramdev, but d question is can u disregard d issue in prime focus ---corruption.

u may enjoy corruption for it makes ur life easier, but u can afford it. a lot of those agitating n a lot more who r not openly agitating including sc/st or even d rural mass base suffer more than u n me , d rt of center pple, n cant afford d perks u n i manage to buy or bribe thru. n thus de survive on substandard PDS food, cant send children to decent schools for teachers r missing, dont have doctors bcoz either hospitals r missing or de r unmanned. u know which part of inida has d highest litigation, its d rural base. u cant find water to drink tho tube wells exist on paper.

so which corruption r u talking abt 1 that u can buy or d ones u dont encounter like d folks in less privileged areas??

anonymous coward said...

Looks like blogger ate my previous comment so reposting.

Your rightwing/left wing rant is totally off track. Left wing supports equality and right wing supports less individual freedom ? And you mention Animal Farm in the same post as some rightwing allegory ?! Its a small book, re-read it - All are equal but some are more equal than others.

The Nazis were "socialists", atleast in name. And the leftwingers like Stalin, Mao and Polpot butchered many more compared to WW2, so nobody has any monopoly on killing people.

And finally your pro-corruption rant. All examples you have mentioned are due to too much government and too many rules and regulations. You bribe for gas connection because PDS sucks (btw, I got mine without a single paisa in bribe). Railways sucks because the minister uses the ministry to buy votes (and left wing intellectuals in Mamtadi's case). You are old enough to remember how sarkari phones used to work ? How many people do you now have to bribe to get a broadband or mobile connection ? Education is another example where government has a monopoly and RTE will probably screw up things even more.

PS: The left-leaning worthies of NAC also have a my way or the highway approach (eg RTE, food security bill etc). The only difference is that Anna &co are not sarkari jhollowallahs hence they dont get a seat at the high table.

PPS: According to government reports, Muslims are much better off in the non-inclusive growth of Gujarat compared to the inclusive hell of West Bengal (or whatever they are calling it these days). As you openly support the congress, please dont bring riots into the picture. If you were the least bit concerned about that you wouldnt be supporting them.

zubin said...

@Anon: So the basic tenet of your argument is that educated people can make better decisions as compared to less literate ones. I hotly dispute that. I also dispute that education has anything to do with leadership quality. The greatest ruler of medieval India, Akbar was a dyslexic.As for Manu Sharma and Suresh Kalmadi, how would a strong Lokpal effect that. Infact, going by Lord Acton's statements of "Absolute Power corrupts absolutely" will probably corrupt the country further.
I dont need the revolution buggers, more like it.
@Damm: Are Japanese inherently honest, or is the fear factor that keeps them honest? The Scandivian countries have the least draconian laws, and they are also the least corrupt. Tells you something, does not it.
@Anon: Woes, I guess. Though vows also make sense, come to think of it.

zubin said...

@Nishant: I seriously do not think so. That I have lost track of the bigger picture. I am infact seeing it from a bigger picture. The present movement is a middle class movement, and is not a lower class movement. Most of the people gathered belong to affluent, or fairly decent parts. To take it further, I do not think that the really troubled by corruption person would have the time to worry about it. Those people have learnt to live with it. Do not also think they would have the courage to use the bill even when the Lokpal Bill is introduced.
@Okshat: If my "personal" corruption is due to the government, which I have elected myself, what would happen if another government layer is added. Lokpal bill then is a failure all told. I have established that there is not much difference between the far right and the far left, and I mentioned Animal Farm and USSR government under Stalin in that heading - how left revolutions tend to end up in far right. But having said that, a right wing revolution has far greater consequence, and thats how my entire argument was based. I had seriously expected you to read through it better.
PS, NAC being a government approved body has some connection with me because I elect the government. What the fuck is the civic society? Who is Arvind Kejriwal? Why should he be my leader?
As for PPS, I am sure Muslims would prefer living in West Bengal than Gujarat if given a choice. Freedom has value too, you know, and money is not everything.

Anonymous said...

bill against corruption would bring in a certain levelling of power-a thing which politicians(who hoard while their tenure last),are averse to,since i'd mean declaring their assets and its source.Men like you would want their less meritorious kids to bypass the bright ones to jump an admission line,and hence corruption fits in well in your perspective.your view maybe is right,but a myopic one that does not cater to the poor.

it's believed that swiss bank accounts are overflowing with Indian politicians' ill-begottten wealth-mainly rajiv gandhi's.for now,kiran bedi and kejriwal act as watchdogs for the masses,to bring to book such politicians.while in job,They were known for their professional honesty,and chose to resign when things went mendacious.
these people do not aspire for political power,even anna the septugenarian has no family to support and lives in a temple.only benefit he would accrue is being hailed as the second father of the nation in case revolution is successful.

Anonymous said...

it's not a middle class movement.come to think of it,a famished farmer is not going to hold such a protest.They're made and killed by the system.Middle class is aware of the constitution and their is not excluding minority communities or rustics,but it will help them too.will it not?

Anonymous said...

read this zub.

tell me your thoughts.

nishant said...

zubin i think u will atleast agree that v need an independent investigating agency bereft of any influence(gov/ or otherwise). so whats wrong in having an effective lokpal for d same?

i do not agree with d way d protest is being carried out but i share d sentiments n of course d fact that the underprivileged cant/dont find themselves interested in dis is testament enuff of the insipidity of our lopsided system n its dis paradigm of corruption that v need to tackle --voice to all n for all. n if lokpal can achieve that, whats wrong with it??


ohh..cmon man for me it's an intelligent word play without much substance..if constitutional ways have to be adopted to curb corruption u know whom u r up against..d very ppl who r d custodians of constitution..they hv made a mockery of it remember that history is full of stories of tyrant kings who hv been killed by their body guards..anna is not asking for Manmohan Singh's head and your argument that he needs to get elected doesn't qualify for being intelligent enough as he can put more pressure as a common man than a representative..

Anonymous said...

anna hazare ji is doing good for indian but the indian polticians don't want to do that but not at all we are with anna and the ana hajare ji will win the coruption fight and pass the bill...............Cheap Flights to New York|Cheap Flights to Las Vegas|Flights to Miami

partypooper said...

Whether lokpal (or CBI/CID-Plus in case of those who want it that way) is truly Orwellian (as claimed by some) depends on the following questions -

1. Can lokpal pass judgements and make courts obsolete?
2. Can lokpal veto laws passed by the legislature?
3. Can lokpal summarily remove members of the legislature?
4. Is impeaching lokpal going to be at least as difficult as amending the constitution (so that lokpal can itself be obliterated if so deemed by the legislature?)

If the answer of the above is no then why can’t it be thought of as just another agent in the complex web of checks and balance of a functioning democracy?
While, I completely agree with you that ‘undemocratic’ and ‘unconstitutional’ methods will eventually destroy a working republic, corruption in India (and boy have most of us (born in 70s and 80s) faced the brunt of it – getting passports, installing electric meters, chalans, railway reservations, permit for opening businesses, clearance for construction etc.) is threatening to destroy the very fabric of the society. It is a fast spreading septic infection. Saying that the ‘invisible hand’ of democracy would auto-correct the situation is like preaching the virtues of healthy lifestyle and exercise to a patient of cancer. Sometimes interventions are needed. If reforms happen simultaneously, the need of lokpal in essence would diminish. The debate should be one shall not come at the cost of other.

Anonymous said...

Somebody mentioned dropping wallet in Tokyo and got it back. Same incident happened with me while I dropped my wallet in an autorickshaw in Kolkata. Luckily I had my card inside it and I got a phone call. I collected from the control booth. I wanted to give 100 Rs. but I was politely told "No, that is our duty". So there are many such instances happen in Inda also.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what is funnier - the extent of typos in the post or the absolute lack of understanding of politics you show. Seriously, this is a lot more complex than some stupid graphs about Head vs Heart.