My latest column in The Asian Age and The Deccan Chronicle
Victory march fine. Now battle begins
Aug 30, 2011
They were playing “Lose Control”, that peppy, foot-tapping track from the mega hit Rang de Basanti when we arrived at India Gate early Sunday evening.
The music turned to more sedate, patriotic songs as we got closer to the scene of action — joyous throngs waving the tricolour, ice-cream sellers, channa vendors, hawkers of Anna Hazare memorabilia and dozens of TV crews and OB (outdoor broadcasting) vans which had taken up position to capture the “victory march”. Just hours earlier, the 74-year-old Anna Hazare had sipped coconut water and honey, breaking his 12-day fast after members of Parliament had finally agreed to consider his main demands to make a strong Lokpal law in the fight against corruption.
Mr Hazare’s anti-corruption stir over the last fortnight changed many things on the ground, and in our minds. Corruption is not new. Talking about corruption is not new. What is new is the active engagement of so many more people with the subject. That was what had brought us to India Gate on Sunday evening — to see for ourselves the festival of “people power”.
At the end, will anything change? Many friends and colleagues are cynical. They argue that every man or woman who was there at Ramlila Maidan or India Gate or any of the other places to cheer Team Anna is not a saint, and has perhaps paid or taken a bribe or two at some stage of his or her life. That is entirely possible. But looking around the excited young faces at India Gate and talking to ordinary families who had gathered, something else was equally evident — the word “possible” had acquired a new meaning.
“Anna is a flawed hero. But he inspires me. Everybody in this crowd will not follow Anna at every step. Even if a small percentage pays heed to his broad message, it is progress. He has made us feel that ‘everything is possible’. An ordinary person can achieve extraordinary things if he or she has conviction and resolve. That means a lot. Every time I go to a government office and someone asks me for a bribe, the memories of this evening will come back. I think I won’t do what I might have done earlier,” said a man who worked for an investment firm. “I don’t know about others. But I have decided I will not pay a bribe again,” said another man who had come to the festival with wife and small children. He was busy buying “Main Hoon Anna” caps for his children. They may come in handy if anyone acts on the suggestion to whip out a cap and stick it on the head the moment one is confronted with a demand for a bribe, he quipped.
Do these personal resolutions mean anything? Does the experience of a few people count? Maybe, maybe not.
Mr Hazare is neither India, nor a messiah. Neither does one have to agree with every clause of his proposed Lokpal Bill. But there is no denying one thing: whatever be one’s views on Mr Hazare, credit the old man with forcing the different Indias to talk to each other. Young boys and girls who had never seen a big political rally or had associated the national flag only with stage-managed formal events were happy waving the tricolour as their friends sang and danced at India Gate that evening. Yes, they were not as erudite about the law or the Constitution as some of the experts who spoke in panel discussions on television. But they had stepped out of their comfort zone, and shown willingness to engage with one of the most important issues of the day.
The young people I met at India Gate and earlier at the Ramlila Maidan said such engagement had been a transformational experience. A part of them had changed. Perhaps, their first response in such unfamiliar terrain is “simplistic” or “naive” as some call it. India inspired, however, is not necessarily India committed, nor India responsible. “Victory marches” over, the real battle begins. In the coming weeks, the debate about the various Lokpal bills will continue. An apathetic public has been awakened, and many among them will be vigilant. Team Anna and its thousands of supporters across the country, who are pushing for a strong Lokpal law, will be held accountable to the same high standards of probity as they advocate for the political class and others. A single slip-up can dent the momentum of their mass movement.
This is no time for triumphalism either. One hungerstrike, no matter how influential, does not make for “victory” when the battle is against such entrenched interests. But as so many people said to one another at India Gate, “Should we not make a start?”
Mr Hazare has made us think. We can use what we have learnt in other areas too. After the trip to India Gate, my 13-year-old daughter said, “Imagine, what would happen if we could have a mass movement against female foeticide and dowry. Imagine, tens of thousands hitting the streets, and saying they will not give or take dowry, and actually sticking to it.”
Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.