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Anna horribilis

columns Updated: Aug 20, 2011 22:42 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times
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Frankly, whatever be your opinion on the Jan Lokpal Bill and on the radical tactics used by Anna Hazare, the sheer popular support for the agitation against the government's attempt to introduce a diluted anti-corruption law is astounding. That by itself has left cynical smarty-pants like myself, never mind arrogant dumby-pants in the ruling party, dumbstruck.

The power of the mob - an abbreviation of the Latin 'mobile vulgus' or 'excitable crowd' - has also made many of us squirm with different levels of disapproval. For those who conflate the idea of a nation with the State, Hazare's mega agit-prop is an act that smacks of anti-nationalism, even if it leaves these fuming folks confused, considering the protests are impeccably patriotic in tone and content.

For many others, the aesthetics is all wrong: a hyperactive fool with narcissistic qualities is leading a hyperbolic cause that may be just but is overwhelmingly ridiculous and pigheaded (and is causing traffic disruptions). And smart folks hate self-righteous fools even if the latter seem to be getting the results that the former never managed to get however much they wanted them.

Despite some Congressmen like Manish 'Look, he's on NDTV, CNN-IBN, Times Now and Cartoon Network!' Tewari seeing this surge of popular agitation as a cunning conglomeration of "armchair fascists, overground Maoists, closet anarchists" (he missed out 'neighbourhood paedophiles'!), this mob is ideologically blind. To term the agitation as "lurking behind forces of right reaction and funded by invisible donors whose links may go back a long way abroad" is like dubbing vegetarianism a Nazi conspiracy simply because Hitler chose to be an avowed vegetarian.

I've earlier written why the Jan Lokpal Bill, despite the genuine questions that hang over some of its aspects, is the one that should be tabled in Parliament. The government draft - without a sitting prime minister and all of the bureaucracy in the lokpal's ambit - is like serving a raw fish for dinner. (I don't think the lokpal is the right body to scrutinise members of the judiciary accused of corruption.) The Jan Lokpal Bill may not be the finest fish dish set on the table, but it's helluva lot better than the draft now sitting with the Parliamentary Standing Committee. It's certainly not as biased in favour of an accused as the government's version. And if Parliament can debate and finetune the government's bogus draft, why can't it debate and finetune Hazare's 'impractical' one?

Sure, the Lokpal law alone won't wipe out corruption from the face of India. It's not supposed to. When Moses passed the law, 'You will not covet your neighbour's wife', he wasn't expecting it to restrain you from murdering someone or stealing something - or even restrain you from sleeping with other members of your neighbour's family. To tackle the cop pocketing a bribe or corporate corruption or schools accepting 'donations' for admissions, other laws may have to be framed and existing laws implemented. But the State - stern Freudian ma-baap to so many of us in till-now civil society-less India - is a good place to start.

As a nation, we don't like mobs and mass agitations, associated as they usually are with rightwing nutcases who want to tear down the secular fabric of the nation or with leftwing loonies who want to bring the Indian Success Story to a grinding halt. The mob with Anna falls in neither camp. Even some liberal folks who aren't fond of an arrogant government are worrying about a Jacobin revolution spearheaded by a 74-year-old silly man letting loose a bunch of piggybacking Robespierres and Madame Guillotines. The truth is much less scary (and romantic).

The Anna Gang isn't undertaking a Tahrir Square-type uprising bent on bringing down the government, demolishing Parliament and destroying the nation in that order. It just wants the government to stop treating its citizens like a bunch of retards by forcining them to bring about a stringent law when actually it's just making a show of it. These so-called 'anarchists' don't want to destroy laws or remove lawmakers. They just want Parliament to bring about a strong, specific law. Silly, self-righteous but effective Anna isn't storming the Bastille. He just walked out of Tihar.