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Be a part of the solution

india Updated: Oct 10, 2011 12:29 IST
Suhel Seth
Suhel Seth
Hindustan Times
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If I were to believe every TV commentator during the last week then India has had two major victories: in the cricket World Cup and the people's movement, dubbed by many a Bollywood actor as the 'peacock revolution'. I find it silly, and the tragedy is that many of my friends in the electronic media didn't have the courage to carry a contrarian view. I have been amused by the many tweets I received imploring me to be at Jantar Mantar. Ironically, I saw the same kind of group at the Gateway of India that I had seen post-26/11. Except this time they were singing Gandhian bhajans and not lighting candles. Yes, the same people who are good at cleansing their guilt-filled souls and come out on such occasions, believing they've done their bit as citizens, but perhaps never come out and vote.

So what has Anna Hazare taught me?

That there is genuine anger against the establishment and it would be unfair to target only this government. We've seen corruption everywhere, including at the state level. Hazare has captured a sentiment and spun it brilliantly. What he also taught me is the latent disenchantment among Indians, especially the youth, and their rising angst. But then just letting them vent, as Hazare did, is only a part of the solution. How do you harness this angst to work for the people? We can't, as Hazare expects, be a nation of protesters hereafter. I fear that Hazare has lit a ticking timebomb, which will haunt our democracy in the days to come.

But the most critical thing Hazare has taught me is that the civil society movement has now been hijacked by another set of people. Earlier it was the Left, which got co-opted by Sonia Gandhi in the National Advisory Council (NAC). Today, it's a different set of people and, sadly, it is a bit like the George Bush syndrome: either you're with Hazare or you are not a patriot.

Now that Hazare has so many followers singing his paeans, why doesn't he float a political party and fight elections? I will vote for him. You can't live in a democracy, take advantage of the freedom of speech and then subvert it in the manner that has happened. Many can ask who is Hazare to decide who will represent civil society in the committee that will work jointly with the government on the Lokpal Bill.

The question that begs an answer is: have we created a different form of governance model over the last one week? Will these protests stop with the adoption of the Bill? I am afraid not. This, as Hazare rightly said, is only the beginning. Does this augur well for a functioning democracy?

Why doesn't Hazare take the cause to its lowest common denominator? In my conversations with SY Qureshi, the chief election commissioner, I have come away convinced that the movement against corruption must be a deterrent to people getting a ticket from their party to contest elections. Qureshi rightly says it is better to stop corrupt people from getting into Parliament than getting them to exit. So why don't we actually create a citizen audit, which puts pressure on the leadership of various parties to deny tickets to people with criminal records?

While there is no disagreement with the cause, I have reservations over the means we've adopted. They smack in the face of institutionalised democracy. In the last week, we shifted the centre of power from Parliament to Jantar Mantar. Where does it leave our democratic process? I wish Hazare had (and still does) focused on corruption at every level, which would mean not just identifying political parties but also people outside, who we know have created business empires by fixing the system. The silence against them is baffling. It will not help us get rid of this scourge of corruption.

In sum, it is a great movement but, like anything in India, it is fuelled by hype and tokenism without a clear strategy of what's next and how best to work with governments rather than against them. We can't ever have a situation where we put governments into a corner and blackmail them into involving the citizen in either policy-formation or nation-building. That would be disastrous. And not quite cricket!

(Suhel Seth is CEO of Counselage, a Delhi- based brand and marketing consultancy. The views expressed by the author are personal.)