What had looked last year as a righteous movement, headed by the most saintly man the country had known since Mahatma Gandhi, seems to have lost a lot of the high moral ground. Whether they deserved it or not or whether this was the success of political establishment's dirty tricks, is a separate story, one that I wouldn't like to go into here. We, the educated middle class, who for years had expressed our disdain for all things political by painting every politically- linked entity with the same taint of corruption, finally seemed to have found a virtuous messiah who offered us some hope when all seemed lost. But then, as events unfolded, his team probably became our fallen angels. And having lost the only faint glimmer of hope we had seen after decades, we went back to our usual lives, living the great Indian dream, making money, enjoying and entertaining ourselves with obnoxiously crude reality TV and partying away our blues.
And this is where the political class won. The Lokpal debate is far from settled, and the bill may come up again in the Parliament soon, but to a casual observer, it only looks downhill from here for Team Anna, and as a direct consequence, mass-scale civil society movements for public good. This may not be how it ends, but it looks like a very distinct possibility as I write this. And as a conscientious Indian who has watched this downward spiral with the same dismay as all the people who lost hope, I wonder, why did it have to go so awry? And what next?
I suspect that it is the extremist attitude of the middle class that has probably cost us one of the rarest and best opportunities to make our presence felt and enforce some public good. Readers may wonder what I mean by our extremist attitude. It is simply this - that everyone in the existing system is a thief, and we want an absolute saint to deliver us from this cesspool. Nothing less will do. We will only support people who are "clean" beyond questioning. Of course, even as we seek such a messiah, we continue to pay bribes for getting away with our own illegal and immoral activities, cheat in examinations and on taxes, play dirty politics in office and still look to cut corners at every possible step in our lives. Even if we forget for a moment the sheer hypocrisy of it all, taking such a high moral ground when it comes to selecting our leaders is still Utopian and counter-productive.
And this is where our insulation from real politics (which has only been increasing throughout my lifetime) has dulled our intellects and placed us at a disadvantage. Have we ever analyzed dispassionately why politicians are so successful in reaching the corridors of power and staying put there for years? That too in a democracy that claims to follow the rule of law? One of the reasons is that they play politics. They lie low when they are at a position of disadvantage, gathering strength. And they use all possible means at their disposal to gather that strength. They use their followers whom they mislead, businessmen who donate money to them, gangsters who can eliminate anyone who threatens their political careers, gullible journalists, coalition partners or their own party-men, just about anybody who can help them climb the political ladder. And once these stepping stones have outlived their utility, they can discard them. And it is in this winning strategy that we, the educated middle-class, need to find our lessons from. Not in the sense of junking our conscience and using illegal or immoral means to achieve our objective, but in gaining strength from that which itself may not be perfect, and then using that strength for good.
Let's play devil's advocate here and assume that Team Anna is indeed filled with egoistic and possibly corrupt people. The point is, what are they fighting for? A strong anti-corruption legislation. If they are successful in giving the country one, they themselves would not be immune to scrutiny even if one of them is made the Lokpal, as long as the right checks and balances are in place. And apart from Parliament itself, there are plenty of other civil society groups out there who have contributed their inputs to the legislation and who can help put the right checks and balances in place.
Detractors of the proposed legislation span both the extremes - those who misguidedly claim that it will result in an unfeasible system with not enough resources to police the whole bureaucracy of the country, and those who fear it will be a draconian law that will place absolute power in the hands of very few. Not let us analyze both these eventualities.
If the Lokpal does turn out to be a resource-starved, unfeasible bureaucratic white elephant, are we really that much worse off than we are at present? Absolutely not. So even if the whole thing fails, we are looking at current status-quo at worst. The other possibility, of it placing absolute power in the hands of an unaccountable few may have been true of some of the earlier drafts proposed by Team Anna, but even if that happens, what are the consequences? Will the Lokpal and its staffers be outside of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India? Obviously not. So where is the question of absolute power? And in the event that the law, if passed, does appear draconian in hindsight, even a monumental blunder, will we still be that much worse off than what we are at present? I don't think so. And if we indeed are, then can it not be changed? Can it not be repealed, like TADA or POTA? Then why not just try it out?
Had people been so skeptical about the Right to Information Act and had it not been enacted, would we have seen so many scams being unearthed by common citizens? Any effective anti-corruption law, if made and enforced properly, can have a much more positive impact on our country than the RTI. Then why not throw all our weight behind those who are trying to bring in one? Just because they are not inscrutable saints? So what if they are not, why not use them to get closer to our actual goal of a corruption-free nation? Armed with an effective law, we can investigate and punish them as well. With the strength we can gain, we can be in a position to "discard" them and launch effective movements of our own in future.
And the ultimate realpolitik question is, what is easier - radical systemic overhaul or incremental improvements? Throwing all our weight behind Anna Hazare on the Lokpal issue is the easiest way to achieve one of the many incremental changes that we need to improve our country. If we all rally behind him now, we will gain strength for bigger and tougher battles ahead. If you discount the option of an armed revolution, beating politics with politics seems the only feasible option we have. And as long as our hearts are in the right place and we do it for the right reasons, things can only get better than the way they are right now.
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