Anna Hazare as pictured 2 days ago (a week into the 'fast')
I was in Delhi recently after Anna Hazare's latest round of fasting began. There was a charged feeling in the air with young people in Nehru caps, headbands and armbands congregating in corners on the streets and in the Delhi Metro and shouting slogans. I seriously considered going to Ramlila Maidan, the ground where Anna is fasting against corruption. He is protesting the bill the government has proposed to set up an ombudsman organisation to monitor and deter corruption. He feels the bill is not strong enough and has put forward his own version - the Jan Lokpal bill. (Those of you who would like a little more info on the issue can check here. A video on the issue is here). On a side note, I am not very sure of what this 'fast' means since apparently, liquids are allowed. I know patients who go on happily for many months on a purely liquid diet..... But I digress. (Update: I have since clarified that he has been taking only water and no calories)
As some of the long-term readers of this blog will be aware, corruption is an issue I return to often. (You can read some of those posts by clicking here). So when I witnessed all the activity and excitement, you can be sure that my pulse too began to race, as I saw first-hand the mass-movement that was being awakened against the demon of corruption that rules over our lives with such an iron hand. But time and circumstance prevented me from going to Ramlila myself to witness first-hand the 'revolution' that had begun. But as I returned to Ludhiana in the comfort of the Shatabdi express, I did not really feel too bad that I did not make it after all. And here is why.
I was interested to see that the vast majority of the protesters whom I saw were obviously from a middle or upper-middle class background. Since I come from this background myself, I can speak freely about the contradictions that are our birthright without really being judgemental. You see, we are the ones who keep corruption running in society. I recently travelled in the second AC compartment of a train where I was the only one of 4 passengers who had obtained my ticket legally. All the other three had paid from 1000 to 3000 Rupees extra for the berth! In the general compartment the going rate is 300-1000. It's the same thing everywhere - the ration card office, the public distribution system, the passport office, the land office, the birth and registry office. Everywhere you go, things get done faster if a little money is slipped under the table. And the culprits are you and me. The middle class. Who cannot be bothered to wait for the due course of events to roll out. Who want everything now. We would all be ready to stand up and rant against corruption from any and every platform. But when it comes to our own lives and the things that affect us and our family, we quietly pay up and try to forget about it. I only wish every one of the people gathered there at Ramlila would take an oath never to pay a bribe again. Then we would actually have made some headway against corruption. But as long as there is a burgeoning middle class, for whom time is often more precious than a few thousand rupees, corruption is likely to remain part of our everyday lives, however many people decide to fast against it. And the losers are not the middle-class youth who are raising their voices at Ramlila and who will probably bribe their way to a berth in the train on the way back home. The real losers are the 830 million people in our country living on Rs.20 a day or less. The people for whom every little sop that the government provides comes at a huge price in the form of a bribe.
Of course, the big fish like Raja, Kalmadi, the Anbanis and others are involved in the huge rackets. But those scams don't really affect the common man except that there is less money in the exchequer to plan more paper schemes that are unlikely to reach him anyway. Corruption in India has its slimy tentacles in every area of life in our country thanks to you and me. So that is why I am not too disappointed that I did not make it to Ramlila. For I would only have joined many other hypocritical people who feel very strongly against corruption but cannot take a stand against it in our personal lives. I hope Anna Hazare and his team succeed in bringing in concrete safeguard measures. I hope our government which seems to be working really hard to make every wrong move possible, begins to address the issues that the country is facing with some resolve and passion. I hope the individuals who make up the government and the bureaucracy will supernaturally become aware of their responsibilities and turn from their wicked ways. I hope that all the people there at Ramlila and throughout the country who are raising their voices in support of Anna will make this protest more practical in their own lives when they are faced with corruption. And most of all, I pray that if the occasion comes where I or my family are caught in this web, I will be given the grace and strength to make the right choice....