Mallika Writes: Just Speaking

The Second Wave

Some say the nation has gone mad, taken over by jingoism. Others call it the awakening of the nation’s conscience. Yet others, including Anna himself, call it the second war of Independence. Whatever one might call it, the current wave sweeping India can not be denied – it is a unique phenomenon in recent years.

As one involved in the early backing of the idea of the Jan Lokpal, and as an early signatory to it, I have in recent weeks, stepped back to be able to take an unimpassioned view of what is happening. Here are some thoughts.

Wave 1 was heartening in that the middle classes, ever cynical and self absorbed, came out onto the roads. An urban movement of sorts was born. It caught the imagination of India’s bored but ‘seeking for purpose’ youth. But the turn out was born of frustration and anger – at corruption in the circles of power, and at such mind boggling scales. The followers themselves saw corruption at the top as something different from the corruption of convenience and impatience, the ‘greasing palms to make files move or rules changed’ in which they continued to indulge, even as they took to the streets. The government, after a struggle, set up a joint panel to discuss the bill.

So far so good. Meanwhile the National Advisory Committee, made up of some of India’s best minds (bleeding hearts according to the greedy hearts faction) came up with an alternative draft, with some very valid concerns and suggestions. The two factions couldn’t see eye to eye. Talks between Team A and the government broke down. Team A refused to talk to the NAC.

By now many vested interests, especially the far right and its many tentacles, had latched onto what they saw was a ‘good thing’, ie an opportunity to push their politics and bring down the government. Even Mohan Bhagwat blessed and endorsed the movement (had he forgotten what was happening in the efforts to save the Karnatka CM?). Rural groups started voicing concerns that they were nowhere in the movement, that urban sophisticates had as always marginalized them and left no place for them, the recipients of the grossest corruption, space. Dalits said the same.

Then came the second wave and the UPA governments idiotic and kamikaze reaction. The nation and media moved into frenzy mode. More jingoism. Then Tihar and now Ramlila. Kiran B calling India Anna and Anna India – surely not!

And team Anna looking triumphant and perhaps missing the trees for the woods.

What can be done to actualize the need for a body or bodies to fight corruption at the top? One, the government must withdraw what Prashant Bhushan rightly calls the corruption bill ie. their version of the Lokpal. Team Anna must be magnanimous, retract a bit, become inclusive and invite one member of every major party and some sensible Independents, plus the NAC’s members and lock themselves up into a room to come out only when a consensus has been arrived at. And then present it to Parliament for due processes.

Will this happen? Only the next few days will tell. Will the government see a possibility of cleaning some of the muck in its face by doing the right thing and setting up of a committee of this nature? Will the opposition parties stop braying for the fall of the UPA and show a moment of genuine concern for the reduction of corruption in their ranks? Will Team A show the largeness of spirit that can truly bring about some transformative institutions, not necessarily the very ones they had envisaged, but certainly those to get to the same goal?

And will we as citizens understand that institutions and laws are only as good as we make them? That the buck stops with each of us?

August 21st, 2011, DNA


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