I was far from Tunisia when I heard about how a young man’s call for dignity rang out so loudly through not only his hometown, but also across the world. So loud, it was enough to topple firmly rooted dictators.
It was the ultimate triumph of will. A collective will that awoke from its slumber when one person said enough was enough.
Closer to home, the latest wave to shake us in India was the anti corruption movement. The Indian middle class witnessed a spate of corruption scandals involving enormous amounts of money; money that could have done so much for the underprivileged in my country.
Take, for instance, the black money stashed in Swiss banks by Indians. The media reports that the sum could be as much as $1.4 trillion. The latest scam that raised a thousand indignant fists was the 2G scam (a telecom scam involving high profile politicians and long standing corporate personalities. It relates to discounted sale of spectrum in favor of a few entities). The scam by some estimates, has cost the Indian exchequer US$39.33 billion. Then there was the spectacularly shameful CWG scam, in which the budget for infrastructure creation and management of ‘Common Wealth Games’ multiplied to astronomical figure due to unchecked corruption. Corruption is so entrenched in the Indian psyche that nobody even questions it.
It has become a way of life. But the latest events may have driven the middle class to arrive at a point where they felt it was time to do something and hence the protests and rallies calling for stronger measures to combat corruption.
There are two important things to be examined here though: first, the obsession for simplistic solutions that promise wonderous changes and second, the divided nature of the ‘Greater We’ of India.
We all want quick solutions. We want revolutions. But, when we break the rules, we would much rather just pay off the police and go scot free. We want to kill the symptoms, but we thrive on the disease. The new generation seems to have flexible morals, but we want our leaders to be squeaky clean.
Perhaps that’s the reason for the almost puritanical approach of Anna Hazare in working to galvanize popular contempt. The revolution is almost of mythical dimensions. It doesn’t ask for any major change in the status quo, but it does demand an overhaul of ‘the system’. The latest movement thrived on a strong contempt for the legislature (well, one not completely without reason). So this new self-selected ‘civil society’ wanted to thwart democratic legislature and impose the will echoed by the majority and vociferously called on by Anna Hazare. Thomas Hobbes would have agreed when I say that the will of Indians has been consistently thwarted; that the agents of our will have turned hostile; that democracy’s façade is losing its shine. Hence the very undemocratic means (of being headstrong in getting his version of bill passed through legislature) of Anna’s protest has gained popularity.
What is heartening though – is that even though the solution proposed is short sighted, the movement has galvanized some sense of moral idealism among the youth. Groups such as ‘India against corruption’ and Aid India have been working to address the systemic issues through greater engagement.
However, there is a still bigger concern that has yet to be even acknowledged: the widening of the gulf between the India of the upwardly mobile middle class and the India of non-metro, non-corporate hinterlands.
As P. Sainath writes, “civil society in India seems defined by exclusion. It is crowded with human rights lawyers and activists, NGO leaders, academics and intellectuals, high-profile journalists, celebrities and think tank-hirelings. Mass media debates never see landless labourers, displaced people, nurses, trade union workers, bus conductors being asked to speak for ‘civil society.’ Though, indeed they should.” There is indeed a strange irony in this division and the current social movement.
The people who are undermining the legislature and calling themselves members of the ‘civil society’ are largely the ones who never go out and vote. Yet the actual voters (largely rural or low income) remain invisible in the media and consequently are not party to the national imagination.
The media is divorced from this second India. Its eyes and ears are blind to the concerns and triumphs of this other India. When the other India marches in thousands through cities, to demand that their will be counted in, middle class Indians do not even acknowledge their reality. For them the spectacle of a rally is no more than a nuisance to bear until it dies down.
Unfortunately, the red corridor is expanding thanks to this neglected reality. The violent Maoist threat is jeopardizing the lives of millions while the systemic reaction amplifies the tragedy. India desperately needs to expand its consciousness to include every single Indian. We can’t afford to look at ourselves just as North Indian, South Indian, software engineers etc.
The ‘Greater We’ stand to gain if the ‘Greater We’ is more responsive to its surroundings. This is possible if we move towards a world which is comprehensible in its scope, responsive in its interactions and where there is a greater understanding of change and its effects. I have discussed this alternate world view here. I believe we can leave this world in a better state than the one we came into.