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Anna returns, but don't get your hopes up...

by Vembu  Jan 30, 2013 15:23 IST

#Anna Hazare   #Lokpal Bill   #OnOurMind  

Dear Annaji

I hear you’re back on the beat – and the media headlines – but that this time, you won’t be campaigning merely for an anti-corruption agency, but for “total revolution” - of the sorts that Jayprakash Narayan promised, but couldn’t deliver.

I don’t know what this “total revolution” entails or even whether you can deliver it when JP, who lived in a far more idealist-minded time, failed on that front. But it’s a good thing you’ve moved on beyond your monomaniacal obsession with a Jan Lokpal without so much as changing a comma – as drafted by your erstwhile Brains Trust, which too has since then moved away from you.

Anna Hazare. AFP.

Anna Hazare. AFP.

Because, honestly, much of India too has moved on beyond looking to the Jan Lokpal as a deliverance from corruption. In fact, they’ve abandoned all hope that anyone or anything can offer them deliverance from corruption. I know that sounds cynical in the extreme, and is unhelpful, but

When you launched the first of your many fasts against corruption, the timing was just so right. Much of middle India was recoiling from the horror of an avalanche of corruption scandals, each more monstrous than the next. And when you and your Sancho Panzas came along and drew up a charter for a genuinely independent anti-corruption agency, which had first been conceptualized some 40 years ago but hasn’t seen the light of day, they backed you enthusiastically.

In their excessive naivete, they fell into the error of believing that only the government of the day – by far the most corrupt in independent India – had a vested interest in stalling the establishment of the institution of the Lokpal. And that if they kept up the pressure long enough, with the support of the opposition parties, we would have our way.

It’s true that at the peak of your campaign, you enthused a whole generation of young Indians to dream an audacious dream of a corruption-free India. I know of young professionals in the financial services sector overseas, who took leave from their jobs to come to India and fast alongside you for days. One of them, a fiercely (and foolishly) idealist-minded chap who was at that time newly married, even prepared his young wife for the possibility that he might go all the way with his fast-unto-death if that’s what the kind of blood sacrifice that was needed.

They paid for their naivete with the realisation that the entire political establishment – not just the ruling party – was in on the project to sabotage the Lokpal Bill by watering it down to the point of rendering it utterly irrelevant.

Since then, much water has flowed down the dirty Ganga. Arvind Kejriwal and his supporters have entered into electoral politics, abandoning their policy advocacy project in favour of the theatrics of shock-and-awe exposure of a scandal a day. Where once it was easy to be inspired by Kejriwal’s firebrand appeal and commitment to the anti-corruption cause, his descent into electoral politics has progressively reduced him to an ultra-populist politician who is ready to promise all things to all people.

In an earlier time, as an anti-corruption activist, Kejriwal used to say that promises such as those were a way of “bribing”voters and winning votes on the cheap. But today, he himself is happy to do whatever it takes to get to power.

Perhaps he will make a difference if his Aam Aadmi Party comes to power. But, honestly, I can’t see how a man who promises the moon can deliver on that without running the economy into the ground even more than corrupt, venal politicians have already.
On top of that, the discourse over corruption today has become so perverted that a renowned socialist says at a public forum that his faith in the Indian republic remains steadfast so long as the economically and socially privileged classes too get a share of the loot that only the rich and the ‘upper castes’ hitherto enjoyed. In other words, the debate has moved away from zero-tolerance towards corruption to one of “let everyone get a share of the loot” – because that’s good for India.

But more than anything else, I’m honestly jaded by the unrealistic promise that things will be better when the affliction that India suffers from today is, as this editorial observed, a multiple-organ failure. One scarcely knows where to begin fixing the problems. Perhaps for that reason alone I should have been enthused by your promise of a ‘total revolution’ – whatever that means. But when you couldn’t get your way on just a single bill to establish an anti-corruption agency, what chance do you have of ushering in a total revolution.

I know you mean well, Annaji. But, honestly, I also know that this time I don’t want to get my hopes up, only to have them dashed again. I fought back deep-rooted cynicism once to put my faith in your efforts. But the stream of my faith has run dry today.