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Anna for his thoughts

In an attempt to dethrone the political ‘monarchy’, are we heading towards anarchy? Or in posing such a question, am I rushing in where angels fear to tread? Where mass hysteria rules, isn’t there need for a devil’s advocate? Usha Subramanian writes.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2011 21:28 IST
Usha Subramanian

In an attempt to dethrone the political ‘monarchy’, are we heading towards anarchy? Or in posing such a question, am I rushing in where angels fear to tread? Where mass hysteria rules, isn’t there need for a devil’s advocate?

The ongoing wave against corruption seems to be sweeping everything and everyone before it. Claims made for it have some truth in them but much is hyperbole.

For every citizen out on the streets sporting a Gandhi cap et al, there are, I’m sure, an equal number if not more wearing their thinking caps and trying to figure out the long-term implications of this ‘phenomenon’.

That the country needs ultra-cleansing is unquestionable. That corruption is a malaise affecting all classes in society is equally undeniable. That the present government in power at the Centre is seen to be dragging its feet over effectively stemming this rot is again obvious to all except the concerned party.

So, a clarion call to root out corruption had to and has met with a roaring reception and the result is there for all to see.

A Bernard Shaw would have had a field day dramatising the demagoguery at play here, while Swiftian satire would sport mercilessly with both sides — ‘the odious vermin’ as well as the self-righteous Houyhnhnms.

There is Orwellian doublespeak from both sides too. We hear Anna and Co being ridiculed and vilified one moment and cajoled and welcomed the next. A forked tongue operates in the other camp as well.

Not a fast unto death but an indefinite fast, a willingness to discuss; Anna’s not a messiah nor a second Gandhi… such sentiments are expressed, only to be swiftly negated by reiterating a fast unto death unless the Jan Lokpal Bill becomes law; by a ‘second war of independence’, and pictures of Anna increasingly made to echo Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

The power of Parliament is simultaneously scorned and upheld.

How many of us rooting for this movement are thinking beyond our own experiences with corruption? How many acknowledge that many among us do not even feebly resist corruption but see it as the easy, even the smart, way out?

We pose as victims; very often we are willing collaborators. Doubtless the people with power need to exercise it honestly. But if we, the people, have the power, as is claimed today, why did we wait so long before putting our individual houses in order, if we have at all?

Even now, how many of us will not hand out currency notes along with our driving licences when caught by the cops? How many parents will refuse to indulge their 16-year-olds’ desire to drive a car?

How many will refuse to pay sub-rosa to get admission into colleges? If even 25% of the Anna aficionados remain steadfast in refusing to bribe, the movement would be worth it.

Participatory democracy in the sense advocated by Team Anna is not the cure. It has worked in Switzerland but has pushed California from being one of the richest states to the bottom.

This present juggernaut could well become obstructive and threaten the very fabric of our country’s democracy. A reality check is due before the honeymoon is over.

(Usha Subramanian is a Mumbai-based social commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal)