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The Trouble With Anna's Gang

The Trouble With Anna's Gang

August 21, 2011

The hypocrisy of India’s middle class uprising.

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. 


  • Milind Kher
    Milind Kher
    28.12.11 10:06 AM
    What Nikhil says is absolutely right. Corruption needs to be tackled at every level and deeply.

    The middle class of any nation is supposed to be its conscience keeper and that is equally true of our middle class. As a member of the middle class, I believe that I need to be in the forefront in setting an example.
  • edunetsys
    16.11.11 08:46 PM
    Bribe in any form is unacceptable. India is not alone. Bribe giving and taking is prevalent in many other countries. To eradicate this menace, we must ensure that the education is imparted right down to the poorest of poor in the country and chapter on morality are added to the curriculum.
  • Akshay Marathe
    Akshay Marathe
    12.11.11 04:01 PM
    Hey NRI, you just might be right. However, I think hypocrisy might not be the right word. I agree with you that it may be possible that bribe-givers are a part of the movement. I do not see what is wrong in that. In fact that is the ebst thing that could ever have happened right? They understood that what they did was wrong and they could have done without doing it. The lokpal can help them live without paying bribes. Also, I have a different view regarding Anna Hazare. You think he is a symbol of the movement. I have written an article on exactly that last week on my blog. Read if you can!
  • Joseph James
    Joseph James
    11.09.11 10:57 AM
    No arguments with Nikhil over his views. But as he rightly says, Anna's Anshan (sounds far better in Hindi, doesn't it) is all about middle class anger against the widely prevalent corruption. There are no ready-made solutions to end the menace of corruption, because the prtoesters themselves indulge in it when it suits them. The fact is that none of us are saints. Does that mean that we shouldn't raise our voices against corruption? Perhaps, taking part in a movement is our way of saying Mea culpa...The solution that Nikhil hints at will not be found overnight. It is through blind gropings such as Anna's movements that we make the society a little better, that we give a gentle jolt to a brazen and complacent government. Anna's movement is the beginning; certainly not the end. There is more to come. Let the middle class take up the cudgels first. And let them awaken the large dormant masses in the Indian heartland. The soltuion will come when they wake up, because they have the numbers to decide the fate of political parties. Nikhil talks about middle classes boycotting the electoral process. It isn't because they don't care. They know that their 'informed vote' will be hopelessly overwhelmed by the millions of impoverished and illiterate voters in the rural India, who encash their vote for a square meal.
    06.09.11 10:15 AM
    U are an NRI, u cant understand tipical indian mentality. We the people of middleclass only can think of corruption, neither the great buisinessmen nor the poor people.
  • Nitin
    05.09.11 01:18 AM
    Well, I dont agree that the movement went futile or represents some kind of hipocrasy on anybody's part. The buyers and Sellers of bribe are to be blamed but the real reason behind the existence of buyers and sellers of bribe is not innate desire or some cultural thing. Same middle class happily does not give bribe when they are in west or far east. Same Americans happily give bribe when they are in South East. Then there's a perennial problem of demand supply gap, bad policies, loose laws, fractured vigilance and law enforcement agencies, ruptured judicary etc. All of this has to be corrected slowly and over a period of time and it will happen by more participation of the ever venerated middle class only. Soon they will learn to vote and bring in necessary changes.
  • bemoneyaware
    04.09.11 04:37 AM
    Middle class who has been caught up in daily life for "Roti, Kapda, Makaan" was busy trying to adjust with typical "Chalta hai attitude" but one after the other scams came woke them up and made them ask "Till when..will we take all this". Hence they poured out in large numbers supporting a non-political 74 year old man Anna.
  • liberalcynic
    31.08.11 10:54 PM
    Nicely written. It is true how we have always bribed our way out of punishment.
  • Arch
    29.08.11 12:57 PM
    Your article focuses on 2 different issues and both are chichen-and-egg-eque in nature-

    1. The fact that the apathetic middle class who covertly initiates corruption and
    2. Whether this Bill can help curb corruption?

    My views are
    1. Most midle class Indians do not have a choice but to bribe people to get work done on time. Simple things like a birth/ death / marriage certificate take ages despite computerisation. Even if one submits all records correctly and on time, there is inordinate delay from the other side. Does anyone have the luxury of waitling endliessly?

    As for being apathetic towards infradtructure, in 2007 a group of Volunteers in Chennai took it upon thmeselves to repair roads (mainly close potholes) using the help of civil engineers and by buying materials with their own money. 1 week later they were arrested for tampering/ damaging public property.

    RTIs filed in the courts do not yield results unless followed by another request.

    Does the middle class with limited means have a choice in matters of bribery?

    2. Theoretically the Bill seems adequate to counter some type of corruption. Practically one has to test it to fine tune. A start has to be made some where. For a change if the govt employees make a start, it would set a good example to the rest of the public to follow suit and also chanmge the brand image we have of govt employees.
  • Kiran
    24.08.11 09:25 PM
    Dont compare Anna with Ramdev. Ramdev did for advertise him as well wisher. Anna is really fighting against corruption.
  • umashankar
    24.08.11 10:26 AM
    Nikhil, That is just about the finest analysis of the Anna phenomenon I have come across.
  • Shaan Haider
    Shaan Haider
    23.08.11 04:01 PM
    There are people who dont pay their tax properly, travel without tickets, try to give bribes when any authority catches them. . . And all those are participating in Anna Hazare's movement. . . . This movement is nothing but a big joke and drama until you people dont change yourself first instead of pointing fingers to politicians
  • Amit
    23.08.11 12:17 AM
    There's a difference in giving a bribe willingly and being forced to give one. Most cases of bribery fall in the latter category with the service seeker having no recourse but to pay a bribe to get his/her work done. Don't see where hypocrisy fits in here. Agreed the long-term goals of this 'movement' are suspect but its a start.
  • Sudha
    22.08.11 01:36 PM
    Very well said. I feel that a bribe giver is more corrupt than a bribe taker.
  • Bharat
    21.08.11 09:19 PM
    probably the author could reflect on a hypocritic, middle-class 'Benjamin Martin' from 'The Patriot' fame -

    "I am a parent and I do not have the luxury of principles. And since I will not fight, I will not let others to fight in my stead.''

    However, contrary to the famed Mr.Martin, not only is the parent on the ground, they've brought their children too - to teach them civil disobedience.

    Not something possible in the 'violent tribal unrests' that seem so dear to the writer. I think Thoreau would be pleased.
  • Alka verma
    Alka verma
    21.08.11 08:50 PM
    Support Anna but agree with what you are saying!
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    21.08.11 04:39 PM
    Agreed. Corruption is corruption, whatever the scale.

    Good to see you back writing again, Nikhil :)

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