Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Hazare in Delhi

I was doing monthly grocery shopping in Star Bazaar today. Star Bazaar is a Tata-Tesco JV. Malls like this and all other symbols of modern-day capitalism came up thanks to the vision of a group led by our current PM in the early nineties. [May be more out of necessity, than vision.] Out of the blue, the audio system in the mall suddenly started playing Vande Matharam. I was stunned. Why now, why here? Was it a sad attempt to cash in on the nationalistic fervor? Has the long-forgotten symbols of Indian statehood, the national flag, the anthem, and the song, suddenly become powerful enough? May be yes, but we do not know if it is something along the lines of a fad, quick to vanish. 

Driving back through the Bangalore outer ring road, I saw the speed gun of the traffic cops in the distance. I saw a traffic cop trying to get a motorcyclist to stop, but he veered around and sped –and the cop actually tried to hit him from behind. The fellow could have fallen to the ground, or in the worst-case even died, but the cop was unmindful of such consequences in his law enforcement jingoism. Thankfully, the biker sped away and the cop started looking for other cash cows.

In Delhi, 4 hours before this minor event happened, Kizan Baburao Hazare a.k.a Anna Hazare, broke his fast, after giving teeth to the people to fight corruption. The media reported that two Dalit [inclusive hint] girls provided him with the ammo to break his 13 day crusade against lawmakers insisting on doing their version of corruption control.

In the last 12 days, India saw mayhem (by India’s standards) as Anna inspired hundreds of thousands of otherwise office-going men and women and college-going youth to come out on streets and protest against the corruption endemic in our system. TV crews went berserk covering these protests, TV anchors looked overworked discussing the issue. There is no instance in my 34 year life that have I seen the national flag being flown in such quantities and with such gusto. A staunch nationalist that I am, I should have been overwhelmingly proud. Thoroughly disenchanted with the corrupt political and administrative mechanism, I should have felt powerful finally. I should have been in every rally that was taken out in my neighborhood. But I did not lift a finger. Well may be yes I did once, but that was to click the photo of a rally in CMH Road. I kept asking myself, why I was not in it.

There are a few answers. 

One, it reminded me of the message from ex-US President Bush in his war against terror. If you’re not with us, you’re with them. I dislike the tenor, but that was what I got from the self-styled second Indian independence struggle. The tone of the messages changed to authoritarian over the days, possibly emboldened by the lakhs of people who showed up in support.

Two, who is Anna Hazare? I know Arundhati Roy asked this question in an uncharitable manner a few days back, but then again, uncharitable could have been her middle name. I have been following the national print media for the last two and a half decades, but his name never registered, except in the last one year. Sundar lal Bahuguna, Medha Patkar, Kiran Bedi, Irom Sharmila, yes! But the name Anna didn’t ring a bell. I could discount my knowledge of him previously, as long as his message is valid, but it didn’t quite sit well. Additionally, Anna has this huge image of Gandhi behind him, but he differs from Gandhi because he supports violence for a just cause. There is no problem with putting Gandhi up there, but the problem is who defines this just cause. As per Anna, drinking alcohol or smoking is a reason enough for flogging. And I’m sure he can find millions of women in rural India to support him. But, I just don’t like it. Not because I smoke and drink, but because it reminds me of Taliban. What if Anna wakes up one day and thinks girls can’t wear denims? He will find support for that too in you-know-who.

Three, who drives this well-orchestrated India Against Corruption campaign, and who makes decisions, like the final deal with the government? The Kejrivals, the Bhushans, Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh, and Anna? Firstly, the mobilization and the clockwork of the operation is too astounding. Second, in the words of Swami Agnivesh who was part of the core group, “Even decisions emanate without discussions. We don’t know which are the decisions of the core group and which are independent decisions.” Agnivesh was practically shunted out of the core group with aspersions cast on his integrity – suspected of being an agent of the administration. He added, "Collective decision making was not there. When it comes to taking a crucial decision the members say ‘we leave it to Anna.’ And Anna has already been told what his decision should be.” Very dangerous indeed if his allegations are true – how do we know who makes these decisions? Even if we assume it is Anna, how do we trust one man to make these?

Four, what will come out of this? Another piece of legislation and a huge Lok Pal/Ayukta army to settle corruption cases, again at the taxpayer’s expense. They will punish the wrong-doers. Now wait a minute, isn’t that what the judiciary was supposed to do? Oh, ok, I forgot, the judiciary is partly corrupt and remember the unheard cases piled up in the courts. This new and amazing mechanism will be different. Instead of cleaning up the judiciary and making it more efficient with fast-track measures, we will set up this army of individuals who will settle corruption cases ranging from a few thousands to crores of Rupees. They presumably will never be corrupt. Hahaha. Talk about one more layer of corruption.

Sorry to sound so negative, but that’s the bottom line. The administrative mechanism will swell with these new people, and they will feed on our taxes. A good number of corruption concerns may get settled, but for the major part, you know how India runs.

We were having this discussion about Lokpal one of these days and one of the participants strongly supported Hazare’s movement. Then the conversation somehow turned to real estate, and the same staunch supporter mentioned buying a plot of land recently at a bargain. But then I asked him about the registration because property registrations have been stopped in Bangalore. And his response was classic “push some money here, some there, you know how it works, Sajish”. Yes I know how it works, which is why I’m skeptical.

Sarjapur in Bangalore saw a lot of rallies these days. It is a relatively up-market area, and the residents of these apartments came out quite frequently in support. Dads with their kids, youth, women - pregnant and otherwise, armed with wristbands and flags showed that the urbane can get on the streets, if the calling is right. Great! But wait a minute to check the records. You will find that almost all of them would have shown Rs. 10-20 lakh as apartment value for registration, while shelling out 40-60 lakhs to the builder.  The lower value shown on the records help save a small fortune in registration taxes. You can blame the system as the problem, but the problem is also you, and you feel guilty. It’s possibly the guilt which feeds this mobilization, which makes you come down from the high rises. And India found a release for this collective guilt in the last few days. 

As far as the system goes, Dhananjay’s words ring out loud. Dhananjay works in my office and this was his definition of Jan Lokpal. “If you have to stand in a queue for a day and get something done, stand in the queue. Do not pay someone to get it done.” I disagree with him. I do not understand why I should stand in a queue for a day to get something inane done. I may rather pay up and live with that guilt.

The traffic cop on the outer ring road should have merely marked the details of the biker and send a notice. Or put a red mark against his license. The need to lash out at him ripping at 80 kmph is not law enforcement - it’s greed. As a society, I guess we became too Wall Street for our own good. 

I have supported Hazare in a previous post, I have talked about corrupt cops in Sudan (Kaggadasapura), I have spoken about voting in Sudan(Guntur, AP), but this time I disagree. The real need is not more policing, but a more efficient system. Till then, I will be guilty. I would wait for a day when the chant of Vande Matharam is more heartfelt.


  1. Liked the idea of giving vent to the collective guilt. There is anger as well of being victimized.

    Anna H.. pullikku oru chance kodokkoo Sajish. Ithrayum kaalam marangirunnu ennu parangu thalli kalayaan aarkkanu avakaasham. I liked his PR and political skills, he could be learning material for the booker winning conspiracy theorists who have been fighting similar battles.

  2. Ameen, I'm more worried he is a tool(chattukam) for some one else. I don't deny his cause, I support it, but I find it difficult to support him. How do I know who calls the shots? The millions who supported him were not consulted in the end when the concessions/decisions were made. Despite that, the millions cheered for Anna and his fast being broken. And that disturbs me.

    One day, the people on CMH Road would suddenly feel that they are irreparably on the other side of the fence.