Even I am not Anna

From my childhood, I wanted to be a revolutionary to change the world I inhabited. And I’ve been looking through my vista for an uprising, but till now I’ve not heard any chants nor do I know the route to any “liberation” squares. But every morning my beloved newspaper brings me news about a revolution which has brought the Government to its knees. Is this a time to rejoice, or am I seeing the withering away of my beloved republic?

My twitter feed informs me that the civil society has released a decree of demands for Government’s approval and if their request turns negative, their leader will go on a fast unto death. The demand is for a Jan Lokpal Bill, which will establish an omnipotent ombudsman who will have jurisdiction over everything, from Prime-Minister to Bureaucrats. The curse of corruption has caught the Indian Republic from its infancy. Corruption has proven to be resilient and is surmounting new peaks in the last couple of years. There is no doubt that the republic must find new ways to curb this pestilence. The media and the social network revolutionaries are in an orgy celebrating the success of this movement called “India Against Corruption". The movement’s popularity is often marked as a celebration of democracy. Is this a genuine movement or are we seeing a coup d'état organized by a mob?

Trial By Mob

Indian republic is still influenced by its feudal past. Trial by fury of a mob is still practised in most parts of the country. Ochlocracy (or rule by mob) is considered as an extension of our electoral democracy. We have khap panchayats issuing death sentence to young people who break caste lines. Ancient Greeks considered ochlocracy (okhlo­kratia) as one of the three bad forms of government, together with oligarchy and tyranny. Many a times, rulers give in to the demands of mobs as a survival strategy. In need of an example from history, we can always look towards Romans. Roman republic always succeeded in undoing every progress made under Greeks. In 190 CE Rome under Emperor Commodus (or the bad guy from the movie Gladiator) was suffering from what can be called as a depression - famine was widespread and public found the ministers responsible for it. Edward Gibbon in “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” narrates the incident vividly.

“The Popular discontent, after it had long circulated in whispers, broke out in the assembled circus. The people,...., rushed in crowds towards a palace in the suburbs, one of the emperor’s retirements, and demanded,with angry clamours, the head of the public enemy. Commodus... commanded the head of Cleander should be thrown out to people. The desired spectacle instantly appeased the tumult”.

The fact remains that Cleander who at the time was a chamberlain had noting to do with grain supply. Emperor Commodus and his bad governance were the prime cause of this famine. But the demands of a mob are not governed by rationality, their rules are based on whims and fancies. The Movement led by Anna Hazare resembles the one that took the life of Cleander. This movement christened as “India Against corruption” draws its strength from an affluent urban middle class. The 24/7 media having long forgotten the difference between news and opinion, became an auxiliary unit of this campaign. The popular media houses partnered with “Team Anna” in astroturfing this ruckus as a mass uprising. Clueless anchors started getting confused between “a hundred thousand” and “hundreds and thousands”, second tier news channels started juxtaposing movie clips of superheros with images of Anna Hazare. The proactive role of media in political sphere has been found to be counter productive. Hyperbole and nonstop vitriol has taken priority over giving the viewer a better understanding about an issue in question. This attribute of news channels may not necessarily be intentional, but is an innate characteristic of 24/7 news channels. The famous host of “The Daily Show”, Jon Stewart once commented that 24/7 news channels are meant for 9/11 moments and in lack of such moments they employ hyperbole to elevate mundane issues. To quote him, “The 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator didn’t cause our problems but makes solving them harder”. Indian channels are no different and most of them derives their morals from TRP ratings. The Anna movement was the perfect cocktail they wanted for a long time, an output their clients were waiting for. Here comes a man who is the archetypal hero of the Indian middle class: someone with a hatred for politics, someone who dreams of making India in to an idyllic village, someone who can’t wait for parliamentary proceedings and finally someone who claims that his opinion is the voice of 1 billion Indians.

Such is the physiology of the protester

A naive mind may compare the Anna supporter to the original social media powered revolutionaries of Iran. The brave students from Isfahan, Tabriz, Qom, and many other cities are still fighting a hideous theocracy, shares no attributes to the ones we see in our streets. An average Indian protester is a “Rang de Basanti” inspired guy who has waited far long to see Kasab getting hanged. For many of them social media is not the means, but also an important end in itself. In our times, it is becoming harder to hold on to that precious USP tag, “unique”. DSLR photography, adventure rides, pics from foreign trips have all passed the point of being marked even as remotely interesting. This has forced many to cling on to the only activity that may fetch some likes( +1s, retweets or reshares), that is social work. Even saw someone posting that ones all the black money is regained, the prices of liquor will come down. Add to this group, the gang of celebrities who want to emulate George Clooney and Brad Pitt. I admit that even I’m resorting to hyperbole when I make such an observation. There is a genuine anger against corruption, and the life of commons are getting harder. The current economic crisis may fuel further social unrest which may help fringe movements to gain large momentum. A lot of these people, who are on streets are good people with good intentions. But times are such that, we should fear good intentions more than anything.

The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

One feels that the cruelest thing that has happened to Gandhi since he was shot by Godse has been to fall into the hands of Anna Hazare. Here we have a man claiming to be Gandhian, is busy undoing the republic Gandhi helped to create. He is currently on a hunger strike and has demanded the Government and Parliament to accept his version of the Lokpal Bill. He has given a time limit within which the Parliament has to broker the deal, and if the Government’s answer turns negative he will choose to die. People from various sections of the society, irrespective of their political beliefs, has expressed concern about the bill. I believe that the creation of an alternate unelected power center is bad democracy. What we need in India is more democracy and not less of it. The idea of bringing the Prime Minister under the Lokpal is a bad idea, and can end up being a tool for political witch-hunting. No major democracies operate with this model that Anna and his supporter envisage. And irrespective of whether the bill is good or not, the power to enact a law solely remains with the Parliament and not with a mob gathered in some gala. In an active democracy, people have every right to engage in direct actions and strikes. But bypassing the electoral process should not be the first step. Anna and his supporters are threatening our institutions, this is nothing but a blackmail to put it at its mildest. Responsible citizens must resist this coup d’état.

Democracy vs Republic

The movement's popularity is often marked as a celebration of democracy. Democracy is a catachresis imposed on a nation state. It is a rhetoric, a narrative and a fable woven and packaged for the masses. All forms of government, from authoritarian regimes to republics use the word “democracy” to christen their nation states. In this cacophony, many of us forget the fact that our state is not a mere democracy but a republic. In a republic, people do not make laws but instead choose their representatives to write laws for them. In act, elections are more like “vicarious redemption”. The recent events marks as a detour when a group of people calling themselves as civil society has decided to write laws for the nation. This is nothing but a charade organized under the pretext of fighting corruption.

For lack of a better slogan, lets say “Take Thy Lord’s name in vain: but not thy brothers”

Ours is a country where majority of our countrymen lead a tough life. Each passing day takes with it thousands of our brethren to the gaols of death. For many of them, the only friends they had in their lifetime are innumerable diseases, poverty and hunger. For them, experiments in political philosophy have amounted to nothing. Their life has remained more or less the same, both in Gandhian autarky and in the age of liberalism. All I am asking for is a much needed humility when you make claims for those millions who make the Billion.