Tag Archives: Hunger strike

Maybe the People Have Spoken

The people have spoken. Actions, words and more. In my last post, I had expressed a concern that the movement would be hijacked by political parties and Team Anna’s issue would be sidelined.

Since then, I have seen a steady growth of people joining the movement. Each passing day, more and more people have gathered on the streets, sloganeered, waved the Indian flag and demanded that government address the issue of corruption.

Note, that I say, corruption and not the lokpal bill.

To get a sense of what the man on the street was thinking, I decided to head to the Ramlila ground (the site of hunger strike) and spent a day photographing and talking to people.

Madam, yeh (Anna) jo kar rahe hain naa, bahut aacha hai,” said the auto rickshaw driver to me as he took me to the ground. When I asked him why, he said that he was fed up of corruption. That he wanted the Transport authority to not ask for a bribe when someone purchased a rickshaw. According to him, buying a rick costs around Rs. 150,000 and then getting it registered (there is a cap of 50,000 ricks on Delhi streets), the transport authority has a going rate of Rs. 450,000. And because he had already participated in the protests, he decided that he would take me by the meter, not overcharge and drop me off to the nearest point.

I entered the Ramlila ground with some trepidation. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to see a cross section of the society at the grounds. There were people from villages rubbing shoulders with CEOs, women who had brought small children in prams, wizened old men,conservative women with their heads covered in pallu,  office going men and women, urban young and rural young. To see all these people together in one place, supporting the same cause has been unparalleled in the last twenty years.

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India faces many challenges. With its diversity come various different issues. These small battles are fought at a local level with local support. In fact, I living in Delhi, would not even care about the Telangana issue or someone in Maharashtra would even bother if AFSPA was affecting people in Kashmir or North East. That’s the level of disconnect in one single country. So yes, to see a mass of humanity (out of this 1.2 billion population), coming together for a cause, is unprecedented.

The people that I spoke to, necessarily did not understand the nitty-gritties of the lokpal bill, they only understood that this was a ‘fight against corruption’.  For them the simple message was that there is a civil group which has asked the government to pass a certain bill called lokpal which will deter corruption and the government is opposed to it.

To most people it is unclear how the bill will solve the problem but since everyone has had to deal with corruption or bribery, they know that they are supposed to support Anna’s movement.

But how did the Anna Team (henceforth called the A-Team) achieve this? And why are alternative voices angry?

There are two main reasons for that. The A-Team consists of people who have been part of the system, who have seen blatant corruption, some who have stayed in the system and innovatively circumvented situations presented to them, some who have stayed in the system and handled tricky situations for the government. The illustrious list includes a motley crew of  civil rights activists, former civil servant,  law minister, top police official, a former media man and spiritual leaders. People not connected to the cause because of language, region or religion. Fighting for something which every Indian understands.

The core group understands how a government functions. I can assume that each member has pitched in with his or her area of expertise, a map detailing how to proceed and which pitfalls to look out for, working in tandem with each other. Almost like a corporate sector project. And very much unlike how the ‘system’ works.

The second key factor for the success of the group is a well formulated communication strategy. I have been amazed to see their foresight in planning the media campaign. A swanky website which gives all the information in the most precise manner and use of social media for the urban i-phone toting masses. They even have an official song on you tube! They organize rallies online, use the TV to make these announcements. The group has milked the broadcast media to get their point across. Members of this group tirelessly do the rounds of all national Hindi and English language channels every night. They hold press conferences at the Ramlila ground in the evening, so the juicy sound bytes are ready for the prime time news. They hold processions in open top caravans. Provide the best pictures for broadcast and print media. The 24X7 channels, the screaming newspaper headlines, the social media have built up such a frenzy that people can’t ignore the message. Or the re-enforcement of the message again and again.

And so, the ‘war’ is being fought not just behind the camera, in negotiations with the government but also in front of the camera.

So it doesn’t matter what the  jan lokpal bill or the govenment lokpal bill says. The people think that 1. The jan lokpal bill will reduce corruption 2. The government has no will to solve the problem 3. Anna Hazare, hailed as the new Gandhi was put into jail because the government thinks it can get away with anything 4. His fast and the people pressure will lead to passing of the bill 5. It has suddenly become very ‘cool’ go out for a protest and it’s very ‘in’ to hold the tricolour and shout anti-government slogans.

The alternative voices have been extremely unhappy that the A-Team has taken the government hostage. But I suspect, they are more upset because the Indian masses never came out of their own free will to support the causes of these men and women, as someone just said to me – “a case of sour grapes”.

The policewala that I was speaking to last evening, stood with me as we watched hundreds and thousands of men, women and children pour into the Ramlila ground. We were discussing if either one of us had even seen so many people come together. The answer was no. He pointed out that political rallies did have around 50,000 people. But sheepishly added, Madam woh toh baadhe key log hote hain. Yahan toh log apni families lekar aaye hain. Look at the number of women and children. And they are all marching so purposefully and peacefully. I could only nod in agreement. With a silent hope that this might be the start of a new India.

My balloon of optimism was pricked a few hours later when the auto rickshaw wala on my back back yesterday wanted to charge me double of what it costs. I angrily told him, yahan log brashtachar key khilaf lad rahe hain aur aap manmaani kar rahe ho. He shrugged his shoulders.  I walked a kilometer to where my car was parked.

Realistically speaking, one bill can’t change the situation. It can help facilitate the process but can’t change it entirely. The change has to come in the attitude of the people who think bribing is the easiest way out of the situation, from the government servant who is willing to push files without the extra chai paani, for the cop who is willing to solve a crime even if there is no monetary incentive and importantly, the corporate sector and the top bureaucrats who should pledge to close deals without kickbacks.

Afterall, India has lived too long with the pessimism that things won’t change.

Maybe this time, the people really have spoken.

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