India and Bharat seem to have jumped off their parallel tracks to merge in the nationwide fury against corruption. Anna Hazare and his merry band seem to have triggered off a tidal wave of anger, beyond their imagination and beyond the issue of the government’s lokpal vs the jan lokpal.
It is rare that the upwardly mobile and village India share a platform but that is exactly what is happening today as cutting across all barriers, India seems to be giving its political class a unified message against a system where corruption is so ossified that it has become second nature to pay for things which are people’s fundamental rights.
The breaking point seems to have been one mega scam after the other in which the government acted only when push came to several shoves.
Nothing gets people’s goat in what is still a third world country as much as the thought that someone they put in power is stealing from them.
In scenes reminiscent of the Jayaprakash Narayan movement which bought a mighty prime minister like Indira Gandhi to her knees, this hitherto largely unheard of man from Ralegan Siddhi seems to have tapped a vein of dormant discontent against a system which now seems at odds with the people it is meant for.
This explains why young students, middle class housewives, the Indian diaspora and the elderly have all come out to stand up and be counted. And in these troubled waters, political sharks of different hues have begun circling sensing the big kill ahead.
What they don’t realise is that had they been in power and things had come to such a head, they would be equally vulnerable to a public which refuses to be cowed down anymore.
The era when charismatic and silver-tongued leaders could change the public mood with just one stirring sentence appears to be over. The Prime Minister, well-intentioned though he might be, was hard put to make himself heard above the din in Parliament when he tried to assert the supremacy of elected bodies as opposed to street corner rabble rousers.
He certainly had a point, the problem is that no one is willing to listen anymore.
To hope that he will rise to Churchillian oratory is Panglossian to say the least. The government can no longer put people off by promising to act after one or other committee looks into matters.
Given the numbers on the street, the government’s time starts now.
A magnificent gesture by the PM, a workable solution, a willingness to allow democratic dissent, a signal that it will engage in meaningful dialogue are just some of the things which could see people go back to business as usual.
The clock is ticking and we can only hope it is not a doomsday one.