A Thousand Lost Voices

Suma Nagaraj
Box Populi

An almost toothless man from a small village in Maharashtra, clad in pristine white, espousing Gandhian principles and with a Nehru topi, sitting against a backdrop of white, folds his hands into a namaste and launches a salvo to the ruling party that the party just can't ignore. In what is another brazen challenge to the UPA government that's been stung  by scandals and scams galore, soaring inflation, inability to deal with internal and external security threats and what not in the last few years, this man with his campaign for a corruption-free India is (or at least seems to be) today our country's symbol (last, probably) of hope for a better tomorrow.

Anna Hazare's fast-unto-death to sound the death knell on corruption in India is picking up momentum as I write this, and youth all over the country and the world are getting ready to experience their RDB moment in real life. A Facebook page on India Against Corruption is growing by thousands and eminent stars and personalities have lent their support to the 72-year-old crusader as he enters the 4th day of his fast.

With RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal touting Jantar Mantar, the epicentre of the revolution (at least till now), as the Tahrir Square of India (others have followed suit, of course) and Anna himself proclaiming that this is the "second freedom struggle", it's tough to not give in to our jingoistic sensibilities. After the scams we've seen erupt over the last year or so and the Prime Minister's hemming and hawing about his "unawareness" of the things that unfold around him, Anna's fast, on the surface, seems to be the lone mast we can cling on to till we're out of the murky waters that is corruption (also known as politics) in India.

But hold on - what exactly is he fasting for? Yes, a corruption-free India when you look at the larger picture, but the text is not so fine that one thinks it is the be-all and end-all of his fast. It's to get the current government-drafted Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen Ombudsman's Bill) to include ordinary citizens like you and me and members from the Opposition Party in the governing body that makes up the Lokayukta. In short, a governing body for the governing body made up of members of not just the governing body but from outside of it. Watchdog for watchdog, if you will.

The government shot down the septuagenarian's demand of being made the chairman of the Lokayukta, but agreed to a joint committee. Considering the Gandhian is known to hold fasts and can self-confessedly keep the fast on for 15 days at a stretch, how will he chair a governing body on little or no sustenance, all respect to him? But then, this is the very government that gives in to every demand provided it's accompanied by a fast-unto-death threat, so we'll take whatever is being reported with a generous pinch of salt.

Reality Check does an impressive job with deciphering certain salient points of the Bill. Read here.

The Lokpal Bill and its implications aside, TV channels have jumped on the activism wagon, egging on candlelit vigils and under 10-year-olds to speak out against corruption. This yet-to-be-revolution has already been christened an 'uprising' and Jantar Mantar is being prepped to become the holy land on which an impossible coup (they hope) will be staged. But as Indians join hands to "weed out corruption", there's one burning question that not many are asking - what exactly will Anna's fast accomplish? The UPA government still has a long way to go before it faces elections. Anna, with his staunch principles, has never contested before - why is that? Whether we like it or not, the Indian judicial system has never come out of the stone age. And whatever the party president has to say in support to Anna Hazare, criminals and murderers still continue to rule the country.

Manu Joseph of Open has labelled the Gandhian and his campaign obsolete. Is this fast/revolution a mere veneer for the epic war that the ruling and the opposition parties have been waging against one another ever since we became an independent nation? Or is it a media-fueled frenzy to get impressionable youth, thousands lending their voice to this 'uprising', who may not be fully aware of what they're getting into, to serve its own purpose? How in the world will missed calls help in rooting out corruption? (This one stumped me completely.) And if the Bill is passed, how will it serve the voting, tax-paying, average citizen of the country if a candidate with a criminal record can still contest the elections?