Monday, April 11, 2011

India's Tahrir Square Moment- But why the 'wise' men are sulking?

Last week we saw some extra-ordinary scenes from the Indian Capital Delhi.A frail old man named Anna Hazare started a fast on to Death demanding Central Government speed up the process of drafting a LokPal Bill in Parliament as a measure to control and reduce Corruption.He wanted some non-Governmental members in the Panel to draft the LokPal Bill.

The response to the Fast was amazing. Hundreds of people from all walks of life began visiting Jantar Mantar to express support. Social media outlets and TV news channels went on an over drive to mobilise support for Anna Hazare. Most Cities and towns held demonstrations and sit-ins in support of the anti-corruption drive. Reluctant Opposition politicians were also forced to express support for the movement.Jantar Mantar became a must go destinations for Celebrities and God men.Many started calling the place India's Tahrir square.

The Government first tried to defame the movement.Seeing the mass support Anna Hazare was getting Government started negotiating.An attempt to create another Group of Ministers for drafting the Bill was not accepted.By the end of 4 days the Government had to agree to almost all demands of Hazare.

By his fast Anna Hazare ensured that a stronger anti-corruption law will come into effect in India soon,probably with in few months.He also was able to put some of the key campaigners against Corruption in India in the panel to draft the Bill.

So far so good. I thought every one would be happy to see a such a public movement against Corruption.I thought the wise men/women writing newspaper columns,blogs and tweeting will be ecstatic as there is going to be a real big effort to reduce Corruption and prosecute and punish the Corrupt,one of their long standing demand.
Strangely I found most 'wise' men sulking. Whether it was a Right wing columnist or an extreme Left wing one or for that matter even a few Centrist voices, all were in  sulky mood.
Here are some excerpts.

We must now countenance the extra-constitutional authority with which ‘civil society’ representatives like Mr Shanti Bhushan and his son, Mr Prashant Bhushan, who between themselves passionately espouse the cause of mass killers, terrorists  and Maoists  have been vested.

We must also accept that in these terrible and terrifying times those who believe in the Constitution and constitutionalism have been abandoned to the not-so-tender mercies of the practitioners of ‘Gandhian’ blackmail disguised as ‘non-violence
 Journalist close to RSS,Kanchan Gupta in Pioneer

This kind of unison scares me. It reminds me of the happy synchronized calisthenics of the kind that totalitarian regimes love to use to produce the figure of their subjects. And all fascist regimes begin by sounding the tocsin of ‘cleansing’ society of corruption and evil...... Nothing can be more dangerous for democracy. Unrestrained debate and a fealty to accountable processes are the only means by which a democratic culture can sustain itself. The force of violence, whether it is inflicted on others, or on the self, or held out as a performance, can only act coercively. And coercion can never nourish democracy........

Shuddhabrata Sengupta a Left wing Columnist in Kafila

Sometimes a sense of unbridled virtue can also subvert democracy. The agitation by civil society activists over the Jan Lokpal Bill is a reminder of this uncomfortable truth........   the movement behind the Jan Lokpal Bill is crossing the lines of reasonableness. It is premised on an institutional imagination that is at best naïve; at worst subversive of representative democracy.

The morality of fasting unto death for a political cause in a constitutional democracy has always been a tricky issue. There is something deeply coercive about fasting unto death........ it amounts to blackmail.                                          
 Pratap Bhanu Mehta in Indian Express     

Anna Hazare and his movement has been called 'fascist',subverting democracy,black mailing the Government etc etc.
Oh........  and I thought that frail old man was just trying the least he can do to reduce Corruption.
Fascist?????   He was leading a most non-violent agitation.
Subversion of Democracy????? He was trying to push the Government to pass a Bill in the most democratic way inside the Parliament.

Black Mail?
 If the Government had credibility and people's support and if it was brave,it should have just ignored the Fast  or arrest Anna Hazare and force feed him as being done for Irom Sharmilla.
What stopped the Government from doing that?
Lack of credibility as UPA is neck deep in corruption scams.
The Govt knew that hundreds of others were ready to carry on the fast.
The fact that an insensitive Government lacking credibility was forced to obey the wishes of vast majority of people reminds us of the famous Fasts of Gandhiji during British regime.You can call it emotional black mail but many a time ordinary citizens of the country is left with only that legitimate weapon to get attention of insensitive Governments.
How can I be sure that vast majority of people supported Hazare?
From the way the movement was attracting supporters in a huge scale increasing hour to hour.
Good Politicians knows the people's mind.Vast majority of them sensing the mood of the people began supporting Hazare. With Assembly elections around the corner the Govt had to back track from earlier position and agree to Hazare's demand.

It was strange to see Commentators from across the political spectrum unite in condemning Hazare using similar words. They all were so critical of status quo,but when someone began an agitation to change it,they became insecure and confused. Most of these 'wise' men and the Government was caught by surprise by Hazare's Fast and the response it got.

Instead of respecting the people's sentiment they are trying to belittle its sincerity and importance. The people's response was  even called  "tele-evangelised pop agitation of Page 3 elite".

Both the Left and Right wing Commentators agreed on the theory that whole agitation was 'stage-managed' by the Government to prevent a real agitation taking roots.This claim of theirs is with no proof  while all the  circumstantial evidence and logical thinking easily allow us to reach the conclusion that it was a spontaneous and genuine movement,the response of which far exceeded the expectations of the organizers.

Is Lokpal Bill the panacea of all evils in the system?

No. It is just a short step of a long journey the country has to take.
As many pointed out the Jan Lokpal Bill has several controversial clauses needing modification.Even if a good law is passed it has to be implemented properly.

More than the Bill,constant Public questioning and pressure on Corrupt officials/politicians can help in cleansing the Polity.The Public sentiment in coming out in large numbers for a peaceful agitation against Corruption augurs well for Indian Society.It gives us hope about future of our Country.

Any movement which brings out ordinarily selfish and inert people out into the streets for a peaceful agitation for the betterment of the Society should always be hailed.



  1. You seriously dont think that the media did not have a role to play in orchestrating a 'movement' type of frenzy, knowing very well that a crusade against corruption would sell truly well.
    Secondly, dont you have trouble with the people associated with the movement? There was a hue and cry on how Uma Bharti was now allowed in, but Ram Jethmalani was? Most importantly, this is no Tahrir Square. By saying so, we are undermining the revolution in Egypt which saw the sacrifices of many people. Admit that it did bring out many on the ground, but they did not even have to sacrifice a cricket match. It was great to have everyone come out, but let us not call it a revolution. And even when Gandhi was doing his Satyagraha methodologies, we had Ambedkar and SC Bose debating his methods. Thats the power of our constitution too. Where is the debate here? The TV media which should have played that role just thought about their TRPs. The few "sulker" are the ones who are playing the devil's advocate. A democracy needs them too.

  2. Let me give an example. Let us say I want a strong bill against communal violence, especially against politicians. But I would also want the bill passed using legitimate/constitutional means, with integrity/ethics, without fraud, without undermining democracy/constitution etc. The civil society can give all their inputs, make agitations, protests etc. But now, let us say a small group starts a fast for the bill and immediately all the media descends and starts giving 24X7 media, going into a hyperbole, calling it as greatest mass revolution since independence etc without journalistic ethics in reporting, I would not like that. It looks like some match-fixing by some vested interests (even if those vested interests will actually help in what I also want - it is a matter of integrity/ethics of process). This kind of fraud may be in favor of what I also like today, but it will backfire someday, so I will oppose the fraud.
    Secondly, there may be a view by some others, that a strong bill on communal violence has a potential to be misused against certain ideological political opponents and that the bill itself is a ploy against certain political parties etc. That view has to be respected as well. This adds another dimension. That is why a natural legitimate/constitutional/democratic process needs to be allowed its course, even if slow. Just because I think it is good, I cannot support a media scam to hype the mobilization and blackmail way into panels in drafting the bill etc. Besides media ethics, that is unfair to those who have a different take on the bill. One version/perspective has got an unfair advantage. And it also undermines the whole legal/constitutional/democratic process. I would oppose the drama, even if I support the cause. I will rather want a REAL mass revolution (which can be tested in polls) and then want the legislators to do their job and be answerable/accountable for it.

  3. I find a problem with the movement because even a small, elite movement is made out to be a national revolution by the media, creating a spiraling support for the movement. So it depends on the media to select what's good and what's bad,and their choices are extremely and wrongly biased. Also, I feel that the urban elite getting such exclusive, disproportionate biased exposure in the 'national' media is wrong, because there politics is nothing about equality and democracy, but mostly about punishing the 'corrupt' Mayawati, Lalu and Raja, while not caring about and even feeling happy about the support they get from Ambani, Tata, Lalit Modi, Tharoor, Sibal, Manmohan etc, or any other problem in the country. Many of them have no problems with the anti-democratic, nature of the new draft, and think that nobel winners and magsaysay winners cannot be political and corrupt. What will be their next cause? what if it is thoroughly anti-democratic? and yet the media would again create a frenzy and make a revolution?

  4. I am also extremely skeptical about Baba Ramdev's, Sri Sri Ravi Sankar's, the RSS and the like's involvement in the whole thing. The campaign materials (videos, pamphlets, etc) had wrong content, and even childish assumptions and conclusions. How can the media support everything just like that, without asking any critical question?

  5. Bombay Dosti, Thank you for reading and commenting.
    Yes media had a big role, both mass media and the new social media. I mentioned that in the beginning of the post. They took up that issue because anger against Corruption is universal regardless of social status and religion. But media was only a catalyst for the reaction,and not the reason for the reaction.
    Seeing the popularity everyone wanted to share the limelight but the organisers was selective so as not to dilute the impact of the movement. That is their choice and most people will agree to it.
    I only described it as India's Tahrir Square moment ,as Jantar Mantar witnessed at least for a few hours somewhat similar anger and defiance towards the Rulers. I agree that comparison is very superficial but the Egyptian movement was the first thing that came to mine and many others mind. I do not want to belittle the Egyptian movement about which I had ecstatically blogged about.
    It is good that Debate about Lokpal Bill and Corruption is taking place everywhere in India with renewed vigour and we should all be thankful to Anna Hazare and Co for creating such an atmosphere. I will be happy if the sulking wise men/women will at least concede the credit for the debate to Anna Hazare.

  6. Vijayakumar,welcome here and thank you for commenting.
    A bill against communal violence will not get universal support as the one against corruption. As the Govt is not viewed as the primary instigator of communal violence there wont be this much mistrust in Govt. So no one will dare to go for fast unto death on that issue and if anyone did so Govt will deal with him/her as they are doing with Iron Sharmilla.
    There is nothing unusual in TV News Channels way of coverage as sensationalism sells and they have to make some profits to live. No need to take those channels so seriously.
    The Bill is going to be drafted and discussed and it will be discussed all over India unlike any other bill thanks to Anna Hazare. Finally the elected representatives have to pass it in a true democratic manner.

  7. Arun, welcome here and thank you for reading and commenting.
    Mass Media is part of Corporate Business and will have their own biases.At the same time they will have to try to be neutral if they want to be credible and there by profitable.It is a sort of balancing act. English news channels audience are more elite. So they cover elitist topics more than others.
    24/7 for profit news channels are not designed to critically analyse anything. They want some new sound bytes and visuals every hour to keep the audience interested.Print media is more likely to critically analyse things and this time also they did their job.
    There are several controversial provisions in the Lokpal bill.Let us discuss them and try to reach a amicable solution

  8. There are many many more civil society activists who would want action on Modi. On what basis can you say that it has lesser support than Anna-Hazare IAC? There can be thousands more than be gathered against Modi for communal violence or against Chhattisgarh govt for its Salwa Judum etc. Bottom line is this: The objection is to a) media fraud in unethical/false reporting b) possible match-fix c)small group given all the voice and unfair advantage. Many disagree with janlokpal idea itself, some have different take than IAC and some have concerns that a body is being formed that can conveniently be misused for witch-hunt against political opponents like leaders of dalits/obcs.
    So legitimate/constitutional/democratic processes should be allowed (and not fraud/hype/bias/blackmail/match-fixing).

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  10. Vijayakumar,
    "There are many many more civil society activists who would want action on Modi"
    True but many will be against it too.So it becomes a divisive issue.Let the Campaigns against Modi go on both in the courts and civil society.
    Corruption is an issue in which most people can come together,a lowest common denominator.It is an important issue that needs serious discussion and action.Hazare's fast could do something in that direction.
    Was there a media fraud? If so is it also a fraud to cover cricket and Bollywood as the most important topics Indian TV viewers need to see? Or is it a fraud to cover a murder in Delhi as the most important crime that took place in India in last decade? Your answer may be Yes to all the above questions.
    I wont say it is media fraud.I will say it is sensationalism to get maximum viewers and TRPs.

    These media depend on Ads which depend on TRPs.Understand it in such a way and not as a conspiracy against Congress.Do not take 24/7 TV channels too seriously.It may harm your mental balance and physical health.
    The movement in my view is a legitimate constitutional democratic movement. Fasting to death is a legitimate way of protest,same as squatting in front of a train or blocking the functioning of an office.Govt can use all the powers in its hand to force feed or remove and arrest all agitators. A democratically elected popular Government who has high credibility in the eyes of the people can easily do that especially if the issue in question is divisive or not an universal issue [AFSPA].If the credibility of Govt is low [especially if a large number of its members are believed to be involved in covering up the issue] any forceful action by Govt will ensure its defeat in next elections.
    So it was not the fast itself,but the universality and genuineness of the issue of corruption,lack of credibility of UPA in that issue and need to face elections that made the Govt agree to the demands.
    Your allegations of match fixing is unclear.Are you saying it was stage managed by the Govt to help itself? Or you mean it is arranged by the media? What are the evidences direct or circumstantial to prove that?

  11. Although I supported the Bill, and signed the petition too, I had some concerns, mainly related to articles in magazines, including the one by Kanchan Gupta. So loved the clarity in this post. I also feel, it's not about Anna Hazare but about Jan Lokpal Bill and Corruption.

  12. IHM,
    The issue is much more important than the persons involved.The leaders will have to live upto the movement or perish

  13. Thanks for your "take" on Anna Hazare. I am sure even Anna never imagined he would get this kind of a support and he said this too. This man was doing what he has been doing since many years and he did it with all sincerity. While reading every negative comment on him, I continue to remember his sincerity and hence let me continue to blv him. Even he knows that this bill is not going to solve everything, but the agitation brought to the front the mood of the ordinary people. They had enough of the govt. and it's way of dealing with corruption. There was nothing to look forward to; not even a strong opposition party.

  14. Happy Kitten,
    "There was nothing to look forward to; not even a strong opposition party."
    Well said.
    Actually I was surprised at the number articles written against Anna Hazare's methods.I thought even with some reservations, everyone would hail the protest movement.

  15. we appreciate to anna hazare and if you wants non corrupted city then stand with him not against him.

  16. what has Team Anna been doing since April, if not publicly abusing the Prime Minister, the Parliament, Indian elections and even Indian democracy? And yes, I do agree that many should be abused in the government; but at the end of the day, there has to be a democratic way to it. It can’t be imposed through the dictatorial will of one group just because they are able to rake up popular frenzy. There is a Constitution; there is a court; there is an elected Parliament, and things have to happen as per its guidelines. Anna must protest. But he can’t be adamant about imposing it. Protests have their own effect and change does happen. But it can’t happen without the support of our Constitution and democratic machinery.


Comments are welcome especially if you do not think like me. But anonymous comments behind masks and those not relevant to the post are not encouraged.