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Three-Anna Opera

Early last week, independent entity Anna Hazare went on a fast in Delhi to force the government to stop playing footsie with the Lokpal Bill. Indrajit Hazra writes.

columns Updated: Oct 10, 2011 12:14 IST
Indrajit Hazra

One of the beauties of not joining politics is that you're nobody's man.

Let me rephrase that. One of the beauties of not being affiliated to any political party is that you're nobody's man. I know that sounds dire. How on earth are you going to change the world if you're not a green bird perched on somebody's shoulder? But being a monkey on a back can also mark you as having a hidden agenda.

Early last week, independent entity Anna Hazare went on a fast in Delhi to force the government to stop playing footsie with the Lokpal Bill. The tags of Gandhian and socialist don't sound too impressive these days when Gandhigiri and pressing the 'Like' button on Facebook offer far trendier forms of engaging in radical chic. So when a 72-year-old gummy man wearing a Gandhi cap decided to take on GoI, he may have come across, at best, as a nutter, at worst, as a self-righteous self-promoter.

And yet, Hazare's neither a nutter nor self-righteous. (As for self-promotion, like Steve Jobs, Hazare is integral to what he's selling) Not because he's become the unlikely poster boy of the Fab India set or celebs with a conscience, but because he is a man invested with a rare moral authority, who, by dint of being nobody's man, has shamed a government.

Shaming a government is as easy as making a stripper blush. The usual forms of wagging a finger at government — through good old-fashioned parliamentary democracy and politics — have shamed the UPA dispensation so much in the recent past that it didn't know where to look, while chuckling. Hazare's belief in investing the lokpal with superpowers doesn't mean the end of corruption as we know it. But it certainly doesn't sound the death knell of democratic institutions, as some are making it out to be, either.

Hazare is a politician in the true sense of the word. He understands the power of the media, by which I mean the power of being observed. His fast and his fury picked up momentum among the gentrified mob not because of the gravity of the issue — powers-that-be protecting corrupt powers-that-be don't really make you toss and turn at night — but because a ninja blow landed on an unyielding, self-righteous government from an outer space uninhabited by the political class.

The object of Hazare's protest, unlike those placarded as 'End communal hatred' or 'Stop corruption', was specific: the draft of the Lokpal Bill earlier proposed by the government. The draft had said that complaints of corruption can be received by the lokpal — the statutory umpire on matters related to corruption — only from Parliament. With parliamentarians not the byword for the incorruptible, such a draft would have been as daft as making a man with a dodgy reputation the central vigilance commissioner. Oh... But I guess the logic applied by the government to appoint PJ Thomas as CVC may have been: set a thief to catch a thief.

The draft also proposed that the lokpal restrict himself to being a sort of op-ed writer, pointing out a hera here a pheri there and hoping that someone within the system takes action against the rotters. With no powers to charge an accused, lokpals would have been better off manufacturing candles for vigils.

Hazare's demand was that, to prepare the draft of the Lokpal Bill, the government form a committee with government officials making up half its members, while the other half is from the citizenry outside officialdom — the last wrangle being over both sides getting equal weightage, although there is nothing in any book that says that 'recent Magsaysay award winners' can't be crooked.

For many, this andolan wasn't so much ludicrous as frightening (and perhaps unaesthetic) — a slew of anti-politicians threatening to fast themselves to death, jump off roofs, put their heads in gas ovens, until their hare-brained demands are met. And you know who those anti-parliamentary lot always are: the inflammable Rajiv Goswami, gnashers from the Bajrang Dal, murderous Maoists, Sanjay Gandhi... the list of bogeymen is long.

Even prior to the chhoo mantar at Jantar Mantar going viral, Hazare had been presented as the passive-aggressive enemy of a political class gone to seed, the anarchic Guy Fawkes in chachaji glasses. But the performance artist knew all along that by shaming a government he wasn't destroying the system. The system's sturdier than that. What he showed was a hyperbolic, ridiculous and yet effective way in which parliamentary-democracy can be made to resist 'compulsions', whether these compulsions are created by coalition politics or not: by outsourcing its repair job. And sure enough, this government, whose faith in the unelected aam aadmi knows no bounds, gulped. Watch out for more such snap polls.