MADNESS IS THE METHOD
By Sanjay Jha
“ If you had the freedom of choice to invite whoever you wished for dinner home, who would be your first guest ?”. My answer was instantaneous : “Mahatma Gandhi”. This was during those nerve-wracking campus interviews in business school when your energy levels were kinetic. Ergo, imagine my dismay, acute discomfiture, anger even when bombarded by grotesque comparisons of the great Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi with other pretenders to his brilliant, impeccable legacy. But I felt rather foolish, like a singular isolated character with a flawed sense of history. I prefer the serene solitude to the unbearable cacophony though.
Anna Hazare’s advisors have missed the woods for the trees . Besides inspiring us with their sizzling PR skills and media management strategies, they have done tragically nothing to get the anti-corruption debate forward, embroiled as they are in an entrenched egotistical war with the government. The real issues lie obfuscated amidst trite sound bytes and much gobbledygook. His movement has slipped from the once sublime to the sub prime. Ram Lila grounds manifests a dangerous intransigence.
I am pointing out two glaring loopholes in the Jan Lokpal Bill, given that the latter pre-supposes immaculate perfection:
1) Are public servants in the government sector the only sleazy lot? If yes, who ensnares them with monstrous financial blandishments? The needle of suspicion will invariably move to large business corporations who spend fortunes ostensibly in political lobbying to grease palms. But surprisingly, the much vaunted Jan Lok Pal Bill is conspicuously silent on what ought to have been it’s raison detre; the largest influencer of public policy and spectacular corruption is the formidable industry lobby. But Kejriwal & Co have studiously given a charitable concession to big fat sugar daddies. Without providing for coverage of large corporations which use India’s natural resources ( land, oil-reserves, mines, minerals, water, forests etc ) either directly or in public-private partnerships the Jan Lokpal Bill is a sham. Public assets need careful protection. Bhatta Parsaul, Lavasa, Vedanta/Posco in Orissa, may have received national limelight but that needs to be addressed beyond the RTI Act. How can one be mysteriously silent on that ? These significant omissions , it is crystal –clear are cases of willful oversight that raises serious questions on the comprehensiveness of the Jan Lok pal Bill. We need answers.
2) Why is there such a great reluctance to have NGO’s receiving private funding to be included in the Jan Lok Pal Bill? The grave corruption levels in NGO’s is well-documented, and often, their large donors have their own suspicious agendas, which are assiduously promoted using sophisticated stealthy operations. How can anyone take Team Anna seriously when they pretend to be so sanctimonious and above-board when their own backyard stinks of filthy stench? Anyone has a viewpoint?
Whenever a social movement has a sudden preponderance of Bollywood fraternity, fashion jet-set , Page 3 mascara tribe endorsing it, I get prodigiously nervous. Since then some dubious elements have attempted self-purification; BS Yeddyurappa, Lalit Modi, Mayawati , — an eclectic crowd in an electric cocktail. Of course, the omnipresent trouble-shooters who preach the Art of Living and one-bearded proponent of complex yoga completes this august gathering. India has reasons to get profusely perturbed.
If after five months of insane, relentless media consumption , which would have even made Ram Gopal Verma’s Aag into a super-hit like Sholay, if Kiran Bedi has to resort to Tarantino-style hand-held video shoots in Tihar Jail to hit the You Tube, you know we are talking of desperate measures. Over-sold euphoria on synthetic foundations is unsustainable. But it was positioned as a master-stroke in social media marketing. Nobody remonstrated against an act, remarkably tacky, if not, totally unwarranted. After a transitory applause, the law of diminishing returns sets in rather quickly.
The obdurate stand of IAC has clearly created a perceptible divide; paradoxically enough, almost every Indian citizen is actually united on anti-corruption. This I believe has been the greatest blunder made by Hazare’s team. Sure, they have rounded up an impressive Sunday picnic gathering at Ram Lila Ground, but there has been a serious erosion of balanced thinking population from their constituency. The irrational obstinacy of Hazare & Co has not gone unnoticed; frankly if there is going to be such bitter contentiousness now, imagine the insurmountable obstacles that might come up when bruised egos negotiate its actual implementation? God bless us! Electoral, police and judicial reforms need to happen concurrently too, right? Polarization, remember is a double-edged weapon, its razor sharp edges can often lead to an inadvertent deep incision on oneself.. For the thousands on Delhi’s streets, there are millions who are tight-lipped, taciturn, watching a great TV spectacle with a poker-faced countenance. The ballot-box moment is two years away in a distant future. Even if earlier, they will act. They will vote.
Large sections of the media are indulgently back-slapping each other in gratuitous self-congratulations, as if they have been party to a great social revolution. That might be a trifle premature. They may have actually also contributed to an early demise of stimulating animated intellectual debate on real issues that never got mentioned. In a country of a billion people with multiple challenges, it is not difficult to instigate mass popular discontent on a core, central issue such as corruption. The media has merely played along with the self-righteous crusaders like a handy accessory with insouciant ease. Anti-government tirade always creates both high-pitched decibel levels and dizzying velocity.. Some myopic, pseudo liberals even dream of a Tahrir Square! I guess we are entitled to our obtuse hallucinations.
Many political commentators have berated UPA for being incommunicado with the urban middle-class. The hard fact is that India’s middle-class is a nebulous fraction , as it has far too over-stretched a definition. It includes that well-paid urban driver , a modestly compensated TV mechanic, a government clerk as well as the corporate whiz-kid, , well-heeled professionals and affluent businessmen. Are their daily grievances the same? Does the skilled worker from Rae Bareli watch Kiran Bedi’s You Tube? Whatever, this notional middle class as is popularly understood , is in reality the first beneficiary of UPA’s economic reforms. The malls, multiplexes, mobile phone changing generation of the new rich is the social media segment that everyone believes is the new game-changer. Really? These are the same shouting brigade that lionized MS Dhoni on April 2nd 2011, but now wants his head chopped off after the England wash-out. It’s the nature of the beast. They are easily dissatisfied; hence politically maneuverable. The UPA has not failed the real middle-class; but it may have the disenchanted hard-to-please upper middle class.
For Team Anna, the You Tube generation is their “ target segment”, because they are constantly wired, reading text, retweeting them, creating corny limericks. The English-speaking internet savvy crowd is ideal to also provide further fodder to all media outlets. Thus, Anna’s team rumoredly has several ex-media professionals providing off-the-shelf cheesy sound bytes which are reproduced with rehearsed panache by its vociferous proponents. Sure, it helps to have the mighty Fourth Estate on your side, but its over-reliance on vitriolic anti-UPA abuse has begun to boomerang. Symptoms of delusions of grandeur have begun to set in. Thus, belligerence and bellicosity; Jan Lokpal Bill or nothing! Lassitude has crept up on many as human sensibilities cannot endure mindless incongruous assaults. Team Anna actually believe that they can overthrow a democratically elected government of the Indian republic. And several editors have quietly chickened out on the “ great maturity of the Indian voter” line that they magnanimously mouth post-elections. Because the Anna agitation is not about the disaffected tribal , the landless labor, unemployed Muslim, or the immigrant in Mumbai. For the Indian media too there is a lesson, you may be the watch- dog, but even you are being watched.
There is a simple way forward:
1) Anna Hazare should stop his fast forthwith ( after all, no one wants his life to be endangered, and he has already succeeded in drawing attention to the corruption virus).
2) The Government should introduce all the three versions of the Lok Pal Bill ( including that of Aruna Roy ) before the Standing Committee
3) The Standing Committee must engage with other NGO’s and the public at large by taking their feedback on the website for the purpose ( already done) as well as direct dialogue.
4) Parliament ( including all opposition parties) must declare that the Bill we be passed latest by the winter session of Parliament.
5) Once passed, they will outline milestones for its implementation
India is witnessing a sudden outpouring of opportunities, a near gold-rush syndrome. In a country which is work-in progress , imperfect and inchoate , battling hostile contradictions in various stages of its growth , the fissures which are uncovered become coveted spots. Suddenly everyone wants to dominate its shape, its destiny, its character; some for power in the state, others for commerce, and some for societal reasons. Thus, what India needs now is the classic cliché, method in the madness. But currently , the only method is madness.