Lessons from the Mob

5 days into Anna Hazare’s fast and you could surely tell that something was abuzz. You could almost sense the fever wherever you went. Crowds congregating in corners, some distributing pamphlets while others just euphoric about being part of something historic. Some IT parks even witnessed a few of their employees taking out solidarity walks.

In the din of this unspoken frustration, age-old grievances were being raised by various strata of society concerning their plights which we are all too familiar with. It has been said that this agitation has brought the middle class to the fore. However a small promenade into the masses in Ramlila would shatter this premise immediately. The single fact that brought all classes of society together this time is an endemic problem that has plagued our nation since the time of its inception. This in my opinion was the first and most important message that resonated with one voice to the Government.

In the battle that soon ensued, both Civil Society and the Political Class (as being seen elsewhere in the world) took their own extreme positions, waiting for each other to budge. The trump card that Civil Society had was an elderly man on a hunger fast, and that put the ball directly into parliament!! The Government had to budge for this was their only way out of the predicament, they maybe smarter though the next time someone pulls a “fast” on them. There were cries from various quarters that this my-way-or-the-highway approach does not really assist in rapprochement. Nevertheless, one just needs to go through the draft of the Lokpal Bill to notice the glaring omissions it has. Exclusion of almost all the MLA’s and MP’s (the sector which accounts for much of the corruption) from the reach of the bill and even more ridiculously, accountability of the Lokpal to parliament!

Anna’s Camp on the other hand had a very idealistic view of what the Bill should look like, as the Aruna camp would soon point out. The formation of such a body would the least be gargantuan and not without its own share of difficulties.  However, Anna’s camp did not back down and what seemed like a deadlock appeared unavoidable. Although it appeared to the public at large that a middle ground was necessary, all across the world such posturing is normally seen to be part of the culture of deal-mongering. Had Anna’s team bowed out gracefully in the early days and agreed to the Governments demands, I would be surprised if the government would have even tabled the Bill in this session!!      

The key point of this agitation was the Push for the Jan Lokpal bill to be passed before a date that was soon approaching. Civil Activists should have known that Parliamentarians do not make decisions as quickly as Corporates do despite the abundance of relevant data that they possess. Maybe that was one of the other indirect messages that Civil Activists/society was trying to send to the Government. “We acknowledge that your Parliamentarian Processes make take time and that you would need to include everyone’s opinion, but you would do so with a sense of urgency and not at your own leisurely pace”.

Days into the Crisis, Aruna Roy released her version of the Lokpal Bill. To the surprise of everyone, civil society was civil enough to put their differences aside and push for a resolution. Surprisingly though, politicians were unable to play Civil groups against each other (like they do to perfection sometimes) and instead had to bear the brunt of Civil Society cheered on by the silent majority tuned in from their living rooms. This was the third lesson that the government needed to acknowledge. “The extent of corruption had reached such a zenith that almost any party/NGO or living thing could hop on to a bandwagon carrying the tri-color and take potshots at a government whose efforts at tackling corruption had till date come to naught”.  

The Fast has now ended, and all the supporters have gone home. Rather than moving forward, politicians it seems are doing what they do the best “discussing how they let the Anna Hazare debacle get totally out of control”. Civil Groups are watching keenly as the government tiptoes its way in parliament and the crowd is now on a brief vacation.

First posted on http://indiapoliticalblog.com/2011/09/05/lessons-from-the-unheard-the-anna-hazare-fast-and-campaign/

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