Thursday, August 18, 2011

What is the programme Anna?

The national capital is brimming with large crowds and police personel. Lots of people from several parts of the country are congregating to Delhi to be part of the anti-corruption movement. A Jan Lokpal bill is still being sought even though the government has promised that this will be discussed in parliament. The crowd post April is still there but there are also voices of cynicism about what is happening.

What on earth is attracting people, even if it is only a cross section of people in India? Is it only the anti-corruption drive and the call asking for people to spill on to the streets that is bringing out people or is it that this has become an event and a programme which needs to be attended for several reasons? Why do people attend television talk shows and debates? Some will genuinely be interested to talk on the issues on offer, others will be there for the media exposure (part of the 15 minutes of fame) and a big number will be there for the event or the programme! Is the anti-corruption protest also something like this with thousands of people actually there to be a part of the programme?

Those who are there for the programme need not know the entire sequence of events and what are the deep rooted things which surround it. They are there for the atmosphere, the feeling and the identification with people who have something in common with them. The middle class and upper middle class will definitely be comfortable to be together and corruption is such a common affecting factor that it will in all regards bring in the numbers. This could be the reason why India has seen several protests over the years but they never had the numbers. Every state has had tribal protests, dalit protests, and women’s group’s protests which would hardly even get a passing glance from passers by. Does this mean that their concerns were not concerns and did not warrant even a glance? It rather means that the people did not identify with their problems because they did not see it as a problem. In many cases these passers by would have been the perpetrators of the problem. But corruption is different. The same people who did not bother to look when genuine protests were held have suddenly become very active protestors.

This is a programme which has the likelihood to succeed not because it is a ‘just’ protest but because it is a well staged protest. In countries like India it is strange that true protests are never taken seriously, whereas well directed, managed and staged protests will mostly succeed. In this way, this is not a protest but this is a celebration of how people can be mobilized using the media, social networking sites and other traditional media forms.

A well directed programme is like a well produced movie. One has to follow the crowd. No one will have the courage to say that the movie is not well made when those others we are in contact with will say it is excellent. The anti-corruption movement I fear is also such. We can either say that it is a super duper hit or we can risk being made out into un-patriotic, submissive, stupid and slavish people. Now who would want that? I always like off beat movies and in this case too I feel this is too mainline Bollywood style and therefore likely to be lapped up by the affordable masses.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Having a referendum for protest

Anna Hazare and his team, as the media term them, have been arrested. The government represented by a few ministers are into damage control mode to make sure that the situation does not go out of control. Anna is obviously much needed as an instrument for the media to keep things going. One man surrounded by dedicated followers is a time tested formula for success. The government cites rules and security as why this protest cannot take place in the capital of the country.

Country after country has gone back to the people to earn the right for change. Change from the top cannot be a representation of the mood and feelings of the people, be it the government position or the movement of a certain section of civil society. Many referendums have given the mandate to people representatives to go ahead with ground breaking reforms and changes.

Why not ask the people of India on what they feel about corruption in the country and what they would like to be done? This could include a variety of issues, including salaries of parliamentarians, the work they should do, how government offices should function, what action should be taken against corruption and so on. Elections should not just be to elect candidates but should also be for charting the future course of the country. Who should decide that? Some politician from the top exclusively or the people of this country for whom these policies are being charted out?

The present protest is confusing. How many are in favour and how many not? Is this what the people of this country want or is protest being imposed upon them, making it a word which the government detests and treats negatively? A referendum should of course involve seeking the opinion of each and every citizen and person in this country. The media which are quick to do opinion polls and exit polls come election time are not seeking to know the public mood in the country at this time. The public does not only include the affluent middle class, middle class and those who have access and the opportunity to travel to the national capital.

One should appreciate to an extend what is happening in Delhi. People are coming together for something. Is this right or wrong and are people practising selective protest needs to be looked at again? Is it too difficult to do a sampling of the opinions of the people across the country? If we are serious about democracy this should not be too difficult an exercise. 64 years after independence this is indeed a good thing to happen in India. But it is also something which should happen more often and for all community concerns and not just as part of small conspiracies and political equations