Manu Joseph, Editor of Open Magazine, who recently took on the media elite in India over the Nira Radia scandal, ends his New York Times article on the Anna Hazare movement saying ‘They (Indians) want their home to be a better place — where bribe-takers are punished and bribe-payers live happily ever after.’
Joseph’s precise articulation of the public outpouring over Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption stir, pretty much sums up my own feeling of distrust over this agitation, which is more a representation of what the mood among the middle classes in India is like at this moment, and less a real solution to solving the menace of corruption.
The political establishment in this country has been rocked by one scandal after another in the past one year – the 2G scam, the CWG scam, the government dragging its feet over the black money issue and so on. Public trust in politicians is at an all time low and the weak sentiment has been exacerbated by high inflation, high interest rates and an angry middle class that pays its taxes regularly, but doesn’t see any material improvement in its standard of living. The infrastructure is crumbling, roads are bad and the general feeling is that tax payer money is simply being pocketed by corrupt politicians. And so, driven to the brink, they’ve latched onto the Lokpal bandwagon, demanding an anti-corruption bill with overarching powers, something they think would eradicate the nuisance once and for all, like a magic wand.
Anna Hazare – the chief architect of this protest is nothing but a symbol of this outrage. I have no problem with his desire to dissent, or for that matter his hunger strike, which many think is unconstitutional, and bordering on to blackmail. In fact I admire him for waking up an apathetic middle class out of its slumber, for bringing the Gandhian means of protest back into popular imagination. I like him despite the many questions raised over the merits of the very bill he is fighting for, and his long term vision, (or lack of it) for the country’s future.
I do have a problem though with his followers – constituting largely of the supposedly outraged middle classes residing in India’s metropolitan cities. It is all very good that they’ve chosen to step out and protest in dusty maidens across India. But do they think corruption is some vague phenomenon that resonates solely at the mention of the word politician, and disappears at other times?
Corruption is deeply entrenched in India at every level. This newly protesting middle class is the very middle class that doesn’t vote, that is hopelessly disengaged with the politics of this country, pays bribes on pretty much a day-to-day basis and if not salaried, pays little or no tax. Crony capitalism thrives in their business communities and local netas and government officials are always kept ‘happy’ guaranteeing that there is never a clean interface when business meets officialdom.
There is a great degree of hypocrisy in this agitation. I would think tribal uprisings despite being more violent, are far more honest. Because they usually happen as measure of last resort, after the state has failed a section of society completely and entirely. They happen out of hunger and desperation.
Not out of a confused resentment against poor infrastructure that is almost entirely a result of years of middle class apathy.
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