Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thanks Anna for exposing nation’s vulnerability - R Ashlesha - Vijayvaani


Thanks Anna for exposing nation’s vulnerability 
R Ashlesha

The visual impact of a young girl giving water to a septuagenarian man on fast is immense. The man finishes two thirds of it without the girl’s help and the girl is gently forced by camera-friendly Kiran Bedi to pose giving him water. The visible reluctance on the girls face poses many questions over the whole episode of fast for Lok Pal bill to the observant mind.


What struck me in particular was the pace at which events took place and sudden new nation icons were created out of little known people. Dissidence was shouted down, and the nation seemed in revolution behind a man on fast. I felt I didn’t know my nation. I didn’t know my people. Their behaviour and nature suddenly seemed alien to me. A revolution was supposed to be simmering across the nation but I could not feel it. Netizens who till a week back weren’t even aware of the Lok Pal bill were suddenly fighting for it.


But like the little girl on stage, forced to do something she didn’t understand, the ubercool, urban middle class which had disregarded the democratic process long back was forced to do things it didn’t understand and had no desire to take the effort to understand.


Let us first examine some important cornerstones of the media debate. First, Anna Hazare and his companions can’t be questioned. He is a Gandhian and like Gandhi he is of impeccable character; his words are sacrosanct. He and his cohorts represent civil society.


Can any of these ‘facts’ hold water? As a skeptic let me ask, does anyone across the nation know each and every person who was with him from the first day? Does anyone know the names of all other people who kept fast with him? If not, then were the fabulous five – Bhushan father-son duo, Hazare, Kiran Bedi, and Santosh Hegde – the only persons behind this whole movement? If yes, why haven’t they shown the same capability in any of the previous causes they fought for? Because they neither had the public standing before this event nor the resources. Someone somewhere is doing the needful.  


Anna is a Gandhian; that means he follows Gandhi’s principles. His fast seems proof of that. But Gandhi took years to build credibility. Gandhi is now being scrutinized by modern scholars – a recent book questions his sexual preferences – so why shouldn’t we investigate Anna, a mahatma of two weeks standing?


Let’s see the last two ‘Facts’ together. The trust of society is won by deeds and Anna Hazare has in the past proved his ability in an area in Maharashtra, though not across the nation. The eulogy he has received is more the trust of journalists rather than of the nation. The idea of him being of impeccable character was more because of continuous repetition rather than substantiation. The rhetorical eulogy by media and media created icons like TV and film stars is an outcome of their ignorance and opportunistic nature, rather than knowledge and trust. If someone had asked these people to speak five minutes on Anna’s past and his friends and why they were pushing him forward so much, the answer would have roused the nation.


But these are smaller questions for the issue under discussion. The institutional changes that will take place with the passing of the proposed bill, with draconian powers in the hands of a single institution surpassing the democratic principle of checks and balances, will be huge. Have this fact been duly passed on to the nation? Has the consent of the nation been taken? Why has public debate at grassroots level been done away with? I am asking this because the sovereignty of India and the authority of Constitution are enshrined in the people of India.


Taking a look at Abrahamic religions, I found these religions have a series of messiahs who rise out of the common mass and rise to prominence in a short span of time. The pre-messiah lives of these prophets are inconsequential. Their life is described in detail only when chosen by god as messenger. Why god choose them was never explained convincingly. Same is the case here. Suddenly for most of India, Anna Hazare was chosen and suddenly the government kneeled in front of him? Why did media follow so timidly?


The clue lies in the Abrahamic tradition. The masses were ignorant, ill-educated and emotionally charged; this was exploited by shrewd groups who made a messiah out of Jesus or Abraham, fooling his own tribe. The fans of Anna are also ignorant, self-serving people whose fight against corruption is not because they love the country, or because they feel anger at their tax money being looted. They exploit the anger of the common man, and have neither interest nor inclination to understand the pros and cons of such institutional change. To end corruption, they seek absolute power, which everyone knows, corrupts absolutely. I don’t expect the ‘Facebook revolutionaries’ to understand this but expect them to hear alternate views. Facebook is the ultimate in freedom of expression, isn’t it?


I wish to raise two points, one on the conduct of media and another on the government response. India television media runs on rhetoric. Its immaturity can be understood by its age, which is around 14 years. An adolescent in its field, with behaviour to match. The television channels have proved they are vulnerable by boosting the voice of Anna and his gang without question. They were “more loyal than the king”. One 20-something Hindi journalist kept spouting that post independence this is the biggest movement and like a second independence. Was he unaware about the mass movements on reservations, state reorganization, and Emergency? If he is so uninformed why was he there? This raises questions about the capability of the editor of the channel. Television media has failed to train its journalists and has been taken for a ride in this movement by the hidden hands. Why the media could not see the modest participation in Delhi, the non-existent support in small towns and the zero-response in villages? Even major cities saw very modest excitement.


The truth is that the recent Gujjar and Jat agitations spawned much bigger crowds, and were ignored by the government. The media didn’t support them either. The sheer numbers of people coming out on the streets was enormous for a democratic society. But the government choose to go slow.


So why not go slow with Anna? What was the hurry to accept a proposal by a select group of people? Baba Ramdev has been talking about corruption for years why media refused to extend any support or even fair coverage. Why do NGOs have such high support in media? Isn’t media aware about the corruption in the NGO sector? The answer lies in the media-political nexus, the kind exposed in the Nira Radia tapes. Barkha Dutt went to India Gate to cover the celebrations of Anna supporters and was booed out. The video is available at


This prompted her to turn her guns on the movement and lambast its followers in her 15 April article in The Hindustan TimesNot maggi noodles”. At last even she realized the shallowness of “facebook revolutionaries” to whom she gave so much air time. A series of articles have now begun to appear questioning the impact of this draconian bill in every daily. Sensible people have begun to see something sinister in this whole drama. A CD purportedly showing Shanti Bhushan talking to Amar Singh on fixing some judge has turned up. Is he some sort of broker who fixes cases in courts? Does he owe his success in winning cases for civil society to ‘good relations’ with judges?


I want to leave a question to everyone. Mr. Hazare went on fast for a Lok Pal bill, but did not wait for Parliament to discuss the draft of a bill prepared by government, but instead came up with his own bill. Then, he did not offer this bill to any politician or political party to adopt as their own in the next session of Parliament either. He just sat on dharna-fast and forced his agenda on the nation.


What gave him the confidence that government would call him for talks and set up a committee where he and his team would constitute one-half of it? He was clear from beginning that the Opposition would not be included, even though there is a coalition government at the Centre. It certainly all seems very preplanned.


The drama went as scripted. Just one day ahead of IPL 4 the deal was done. The fast was over. But the greatest losers besides Democracy and the people, were BJP and Baba Ramdev, who blindly and foolishly allowed Anna to walk away their year-long anti-corruption campaign. Now they have lost both horse and cart!


The best part is that Congress and DMK were campaigning together in Tamil Nadu when this fast to death drama was going on. Anna has confidence in the ministers of this corrupt government. Someone must ask him – if he trusted these ministers then why did he fast? He could have simply submitted a proposal for their consideration. Think.


The author is a research scholar