Last week, hidden amidst the sensationalism that passes for news nowadays, was the quiet announcement of the disbanding of Team Anna. From the heady days just a year ago, when it appeared that the strong arm of Corruption had finally met a worthy foe, it was painful to see the slow but sure journey to destruction that the movement took as it blundered from mistake to mistake. Last year, when Ramlila Maidan was filled with exhilarated mobs, it appeared that our country was at last taking its destiny in her hands and making some much-needed changes. Though there were some sceptics (myself included, I'm afraid!), there was general excitement as the recalcitrant Anna Hazare and his team stood up to the behemoth of the Indian administrative and political system. Even Time Magazine counted it among the top 10 stories of 2011. Sad to say, those glory days were short-lived. And today, the revolution is dead and buried albeit amidst hope that it will rise again as a political movement.
Far be it from me to point fingers of accusation at any of the key players in this drama as I wonder why it failed. Rather, just as I did last time, the blame should rest solely on me. And my ilk. For the driving force of the revolution was and had to be the middle class. The rich were not bothered and the poor had too many other things to worry about. It was the middle class who began the revolution and it was they who should have stuck with it till the end. But unfortunately, the Indian middle class is all too comfortable with the present state of affairs. How easy it is to get things done just be greasing a few palms along the way. Why not just continue with the status quo and let the Anna Hazares of this nation shout themselves hoarse in their mistaken idea that they are doing what we want! What we want is to continue to get train tickets from the TT by slipping him an extra hundred, to be able to escape a traffic ticket by giving the cop on duty money for chai-pani, to escape the tax-man by selling our land and houses in cash (one of my friends has huge bags of cash sitting at home for the last 5 years from the land he sold!!), to be able to move any form of government machinery by bribing whichever official is involved. When things are so smooth and fine for us, why should we really bother to affect any change?
My guess is that out of every 100 citizens over the age of 30, there will be only one who has never paid a bribe. And that would be an optimistic estimate! And what has that one man gained for his honesty? Much trouble at the hands of the government - many, many visits to the officials, long delays in processing even the simplest of requests, fines for non-existent offences (recently there was a case filed against a policeman who fined a driver for not wearing a helmet...... IN A CAR!!!) and huge loss of time and money amounting to much more than the original bribe would have been. How much better to quietly pay the bribe and then rationalise it in the context of the situation.
The problem with our middle class is that there are too few who are ready to take up the gauntlet and suffer for the sake of their conscience. And that is why, at the present time, revolutions like Anna's are bound to fail. But there is hope yet. We only need to reach that critical mass of honest people. The tipping point, so to speak. Then there will be no turning back as the wheels of justice overtake all our corrupt officials and systems and the honest man will no longer be troubled but helped. So let us pray for that day. And work towards it. By being the ones who make the change and not leaving it all to the Anna Hazares. By standing for truth and honesty even in the face of severe provocation. By not considering corruption to be the norm, but rather an abomination. By standing up for the downtrodden and disenfranchised rather than allowing the corrupt system to run right over them. It will be really difficult. But it will surely be worth it.