Modi and the BJP shot from the shoulders of Kejriwal-Hazare, blissfully overcoming serious corruption charges.
It is four years since MS Dhoni lofted the ball into the Wankhede stadium stands for a mammoth six to make India win the World Cup cricket championships after a 28-year-long wait. It is also four years since Anna Hazare-Arvind Kejriwal launched the Jan Lokpal bill agitation and effectively torpedoed the UPA-II. Till then the government was well ensconced with a stable majority; the Congress party leading the coalition as the principal partner with 206 seats, a significant accretion to its 145 seats in 2004. UPA-II at the time looked stable if not sturdy, the Indian economy had remained largely insulated from the aftershocks of the great recession unleashed on unsuspecting nations on account of the mortgage crisis in the US. India had registered more than 8.5 per cent GDP growth rate the year before and all looked hunky-dory. China and India were considered ” emerging market darling’s”. The BJP looked emaciated and enervated, and almost resigned to hand over fist political irrelevance. But then suddenly protests at Jantar Mantar and Ramlila Maidan happened.
Anna Hazare, a social crusader who was relatively anonymous outside of his state of Maharashtra, where he was famous for his novel experimentations to create a model village, including some bizarre trials such as personally whipping people tied to a lamppost for consuming alcohol, took the capital by storm. What started as a mild dust storm, a typical civil society remonstrance, turned into a gigantic tornado at Ramlila Maidan. The same people of Delhi who had voted Congress in all seven parliamentary seats exactly 24 moons ago, now seemed so disenchanted, they made vociferous demands for the government’s resignation. The electronic media set up a near-factory warehouse of OB vans when Hazare went into a fast following a clumsy attempt to arrest him. Cursorily, he was branded as the modern Mahatma as everyone frantically searched for symbolic apparitions. The chatterati invoked the Arab Spring. The agitation was purely Delhi-centric and hardly collected crowds elsewhere, but sustained media onslaught had converted the anti-corruption agitation into a leitmotif. Kejriwal had delusions of grandeur such that he became insufferably arrogant. The BJP, till then somnambulant and looking at superannuation paychecks in 2014, sniffed a chance.
The UPA, which magnanimously offered the protesters equal say in the drafting of the bill, compounded its predicament by giving the dubious Baba Ramdev a ceremonial entry into the capital’s airport terminal. Murphy’s Law was playing to the hilt; if anything can go wrong, it will. Hazare’s arrest made him into a public hero, famous TV anchors left their coveted armchairs in Lutyens’ Delhi and paratrooped in synchronised tandem for back-to-back interviews with Hazare in his native village-turned-tourist Gandhian haven called Ralegan Siddhi. TV channels had set up make-shift studios or permanently stationed OB vans there for Hazare’s treasured sermonising which came often peppered with something sanctimonious or outlandish. Either ways, TRP skyrocketed faster than Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
The UPA in essence lost the elections in 2010-11 itself. Corruption is an emotive tool, and affects not just the poor labourer, aam aadmi, middle class, SME entrepreneur, professionals or corporate India. It is a systemic malaise, and like the rising menace of rape, requires a paradigm shift in our mental construct. Mere tough laws and even clinical enforcement of them can at best be a deterrent, but the core problem needs an attitudinal change, particularly in public services delivery and crony capitalism business dealings.
The UPA unfortunately, by the mere fact that it occupied power at the centre, became the visible, symbolic manifestation of all that the people saw wrong in the government apparatus. Ironically, it was the same Congress party that had introduced the path-breaking RTI (Right to information), a lodestar of transparency, and had even conceived the Lokpal bill, creating the first draft for an open debate. Public anger assumed epic proportions, reflected in the abrupt rise of hate messages on the emerging platform of social media. In effect, the JLP agitation was the singular trigger that set off the avalanche under which UPA would find itself buried under in May 2014, three years later. This despite the fact that the Congress-led UPA ended up passing the historic anti-corruption lokpal bill in Dec 2013 after ensuring political consensus. Incidentally, its efforts to pass Judicial Accountability, Citizen Grievance, Whistleblowers’ Bill etc to further augment an anti-graft infrastructure was thwarted , by none other than the BJP itself.
I write this article because it has been seven long months since Modi sarkar assumed charge, ostensibly to transform India under their promised panacea for “governance”. Yet today, India does not have a Chief Information Commissioner or Chief Vigilance Commissioner, institutions critical to show the red flag to the gravy train. Of course, no one even mentions the Lokpal anymore, the same passionate raison d’être that literally derailed the UPA, is conspicuously dumped by the BJP. This is what is called as waiting for Godot. The gargantuan media circus over, OB vans moved on to greener pastures. Arvind Kejriwal, now a thoroughbred politician, despite an occasional lament seems essentially disinterested. Hazare has disappeared into complete obscurity, while retired police chief Kiran Bedi, who gave the agitation some comic relief through patented dance steps has done little to pressurise the Modi sarkar, other than some self-righteous grandiose sound-bites. The CBI is far from independent, as evidenced in the way it has allowed BJP president Amit Shah to escape trial in a fake encounter case recently. All is not well.
In India we are periodically afflicted by the famous Baskin Robbins ice-cream flavor-of-the-season promotional bug. There are unique special flavours which after a spellbinding launch and all the accompanying PR paraphernalia, suddenly abates into nothingness, until the next big double-decker sundae arrives. We willingly get caught in a frenzied whirlwind, thanks to some holier-than-thou balderdash and extended breathless footage. Everyone is into a ” system needs a cleansing” binge. The hangover is transitory.
Modi and the BJP shot from the shoulders of Kejriwal-Hazare, blissfully overcoming serious corruption charges, not just against their own CM of Karnataka BS Yeddyurappa, but also in the BJP-ruled states such as Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, amongst others. They won. They were fortuitous.
If Modi needed to send a thank you card to anyone on May 16, 2014, it had to be Arvind Kejriwal. But India’s fleeting romance with wannabe revolutionaries is long over. As for the Lokpal, who cares now? Ice-cream, anyone? Choose your flavour.