In August 2011, at the height of the India Against Corruption movement, I travelled to the birthplace of what was being described breathlessly as the second freedom struggle, Ralegan Siddhi. You could stand anywhere in Ralegan in those days and shout Vande, and a few dozen Matarams would ricochet, loud and enthusiastic.
There were villagers with faces painted in the tricolour, there were 'prabhat pheris' and there were scores, possibly hundreds, of villagers fasting. I saw a snake charmer hawking his little show, folk singers, a bhajan mandali, curious foreigners, firecrackers, women clanging home utensils, a dramatic "last-rites" of the Union government complete with a faux funeral pyre and, all the time, a maddening chorus singing. One woman told me it was like a mela, a carnival.
Performance and protest make for a messy marriage, I wrote when I returned to Mumbai.
Two-and-a-half years later, the venue has changed, the snake charmer may be missing but it's tamasha time all over again.
If the single-point agenda of the India Against Corruption movement, the passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill, vexed reporters and commentators trying to make sense of the unprecedented outpouring of public support, it's now Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's singularly inexplicable stubborn stand that officers who dared to disagree with his ministers must be suspended. (He also made some unwise comments about how this drugs-and-sex racket is where "rape tendencies" begin, but we're now weary of explaining that there is no evidentiary backing to these statements.)
The original India Against Corruption performance-meets-protest is back on our streets, joined now by a group of protestors wearing saffron Gandhi tops, the BAAP, apparently, protesting the protest. The redoubtable Delhi Police have water cannons on stand-by, reportedly even a traffic crane to move that blue WagonR. Even as a law-and order situation grows in the city that voted him to power, the chief minister of Delhi and his band of men will dig their heels in and refuse to budge.
Somnath Bharti, the law minister, has declared that Delhi Police's "barbarism" must be met with a firm hand, they need to be told that "it is the chief minister who runs Delhi". Hundreds of riot police force personnel are on the roads.
The people of Delhi deserve better, Kejriwal and Co keep saying. Is today better for Delhiites trying to get to work, use the Metro, make a living? Traffic in central Delhi has been hit badly, all roads to and surrounding India Gate are jammed. Point this out to AAP's online supporters and suddenly it's about an "elitist" establishment refusing to enter a dialogue with those who challenge the status quo.
The resolution to a 'standoff' between the Delhi Police and four ministers of the Aam Aadmi Party can hardly constitute the greater public good. Shouting Inquilab Zindabad amid a law and order situation is not greater public good. The 'drug and sex racket' will end neither with the suspension Kejriwal is fixated upon nor with the dharna and certainly not with the possible detention of a popularly elected chief minister.
"Tell me, have I done anything wrong in demanding the suspension?" Kejriwal asked a crowd of AAP supporters wielding brooms. "No!" went up the response. Rapes are happening in Delhi every other day, one woman was burnt by her parents-in-law, a policeman refused to raid or arrest people when we pointed out there was a sex racket there, Kejriwal continued. "Mantri bechara kahaan jaaye?" he asked. Apparently, the answer to trafficking, narcotics trade, dowry deaths, etc is the suspension of policemen.
But theatrics and dharnas have got them results until now, so a self-absorbed Aam Aadmi Party government can hardly be expected to give up that weapon.
Who's to say if the everyday lives of the aam aadmi going to work by public transport are somehow less relevant to him than a group of residents who undertook a sting operation codenamed 'Black Beauty' and forcibly detained women who they believed were prostitutes and drug peddlers with scant regard for legal process? Both sets of Delhiites are Kejriwal's voters, aam aadmis, but then the former is simply not an evocative enough picture.
The everyday lives of working people don't match up. It's show time folks.
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Updated Date: Jan 20, 2014 12:47:46 IST