Tag Archives: Jan Lokpal Bill

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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Can Anna Hazare’s Movement Be Endangered?

Yeh Anna nahi, Aandhi Hai
Yeh aaj ka Gandhi hai

This SMS has been doing the rounds lately.

It started from a man living in a small village in Maharashtra. Delhi gave it shape. And now the fire is spreading from Patna to Bangalore, Mumbai to New York.

Why is the common man, the corporate type, the glib English speaking person, a housewife on the street? The simple reason is – everyone is tired of corruption and bribery. From getting your telephone line fixed to getting your passport made, chai-paani is mostly involved. Woe befall you if try buying a house or start your own little business and decide you don’t want to pay a bribe or pay some part of the money in black. So the anger of the middle classes has erupted, having been pushed to the wall for too long.

But movements like these don’t take such organic forms, spread across the country and shake people out of a stupor. For the hardened middle class, immovable by such drama, it’s perceived as just another field day for television news to go crazy. They have seen it before during the Jessica Lal case, the Aarushi case, the cash-for-votes and other scams, the nithari case. The media throws up heroes and villans everyday to sell their stories. To be seen today and forgotten tomorrow. And if it is really sensational then becoming dinner table and party conversation.

But this movement, it’s  different. Never have the dinner table conversationalists, the officer goers taken to the streets. And that is the biggest change. But in my opinion, the movement has been successful because it is, crucially, not backed by caste, religion, region or political motivation. It was people like us who were angry and decided to do something, people who cared deeply about the society. And importantly, it was started by people with both urban, semi-urban and rural connect.

And that’s where, I think, it scored the points.

Since this morning, however, I have been a bit worried. As the day is unfolding, it has become quite clear that the way the Congress government has handled the ‘situation’, it will have great difficulty in winning the next general elections. A government, which was on track to rule the country for another five years is faltering. A weak opposition and no strong leader helped its cause. The right and former partners – the left, were waiting for a chance to strike back, find that window of opportunity to undermine the Congress, to change that public opinion.

Inflation and corruption were the two main issues on which the government has been attacked. The government policies to control inflation weren’t successful but a healthy 9% growth rate and quick recovery from recession, shut up the people. However, Kalmadi, Raja and company’s dirty linen did manage to get washed in the public, forcing the government to put these individuals behind bars. And the Prime Minister said that the government was cleaning its own backyard. But they were only the fall guys in the entire chain of corrupt ministers, officials and bureaucrats. The masses have felt betrayed but as usual decided to endure what could not be cured. And hence when this movement started, it came as a breath of fresh air, or rather, the air of a revolution. The media finally did something right, by whipping up a frenzy, at the right time.

But now, alarmingly, the opposition has realized how badly the government has managed this movement. And it has taken its chance. Like any opposition, they have said that Anna Hazare should be released, the Prime Minister should give a statement in the Parliament and has decided to pledge support for the movement. By supporting the movement they may have unwittingly helped the government.

The support of the right-wing RSS will lead to the alienation of religious minorities, liberal left wingers, and the backward classes. Support of the Left would mean alienation of the cow-belters, and the hard core righties. This division and factionalism runs deep in the society. People vote those into power who speak their language, belong to their caste, region and religion. And they become pawns in the political games, a mere vote bank. A movement which was free from this has become a political game, not just for the Congress but also the opposition.

This is my main worry. Will we, the people, let politics and factionalism ruin a chance to actually change something?


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