For the past two weeks a silent revolution has taken place in front of our eyes culminating with a day long debate in Parliament that resulted in a victory for the people of India, the very people who are embodied in the opening sentence of our Constitution. For the first time in our independent history the will of the people was truly heard. For the first time in our independent history the faceless millions found their voice and used it. Democracy was reinterpreted and revisited as the people of India till date only seen once in five years at election booths took centre stage.
These voices were galvanised and aroused by one diminutive man whose main claim to fame was his honesty that he wears as proudly as his cap and who has come to represent the David that could slay the Goliath called corruption. Till date the silent majority suffered the stranglehold of the demon that strangulated all and robbed mercilessly. Till date these battles were fought in intellectual clubs and drawing rooms and ended in remote essays written to satisfy cerebral and not real needs. The very people who have always decried the passive behaviour of our collective mind are now busy writing more essays about the lurking dangers of the over enthusiasm whipped by Anna Hazare!
Today no one is in the mood to hear them. Today India celebrates!
But what are we celebrating. The answer is complex as many firsts happened in the last fifteen days. The obvious is the ending of a 13 day fast by a Anna and of course the resolution adopted by acclamation by our Parliament agreeing to the three points of contention till date. But that is for me just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to celebrate.
The first step to freedom is the articulation and identification of the cause of repression in clear terms. And this is what happened last fortnight. Corruption an ailment that plagued us all but was often referred to in hushed tones within the four walls of our homes was out in the open. And what that did was bring India together. Here was a cause we could all openly espouse and agree to fight against together. The anger and outrage that we all felt and had repressed for too long had found a way to be released and addressed. The catalyst was a man who wore his honesty with pride and honour and could thus become a rallying force. For the first time India came out on the streets without fear. What we saw in every corner of the land was crowds that had not been paid or intimidated, but who came out of their own sweet will. Strange but true corruption was the great leveller, it affected one and all: the rag picker, the slum dweller, the harried housewife, the aspiring professional, the small businessman, the retired official. No one was safe from its stranglehold. It almost seemed as if we were all waiting for the right moment and it had finally dawned.
And to add fuel to the raging fire, the unbecoming attitude of the government in dealing with a man who simply wished to assert his constitutional right to protest brought to the fore another cause to embrace. It goes without saying that everyone in this land was fed up with arrogance bordering on hubris of the powers that be. Here too India was one. Be it the slum dweller whose daily brush with an arrogant official or the retired professional who needs to renew a passport, everyone had to bear the supercilious and dismissive attitude of officialdom. This reality was amply vindicated as we watched the comings and goings of the government. The impossible conditions laid out for the protest, the arrest, the empty and inane explanations proffered, the carrot and stick and condescending attitude, the arguments on form and practise, and so on. And above all the refusal to accept that the adversary was at par if not greater. We the people had never been a force to contend with. We the people were only meant to appear every five years when the powers that be shed their arrogance for a few weeks and sought a mandate renewal. We the people were those who could be cajoled by empty promises, pouches of hooch and a few coins. This time however we the people said enough is enough: no more corruption, no more arrogance. We will not fall for semantics and dialectics. So let us celebrate our freedom from fear and cynicism.
Another first that happened was the coming together of India in all its diversity. Even the cynics will have to concede that the crowds that gathered spontaneously be it in front of Tihar Jail or in the Ramlila grounds, in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and umpteen other cities had one thing in common: they were all Indians. All barriers were broken be it caste, religion, gender, age or social background. The rich rubbed shoulders with the poor, the literate with the illiterate, the old with the young all shouting in unison: Vande Mataram! So should we not celebrate the coming together of India as one!
For the past days we have been privy to heated debates on the supremacy of Parliament. The cudgels being of course taken up by state representatives and elitist intellectuals trying to smother the vox populi whose role was conveniently cut down to a single act every quinquennial. This being the definition of democracy acceptable to those in power. True one must concede that the chosen ones do also climb down from their mount Olympus a few days prior and put on a real act. I have seen with my own bewildered eyes how the chameleons shed their arrogance and almost grovel in front of their potential electors. Excuse a small aside but this was one of the things that shocked me most when I lived the first municipal elections in a slum. Posses of white clad men, their candidate in the lead, walked the street with their hands folded stopping to caress the cheek of a young child or touch the feet of an elder woman. That in their eyes sufficed to get people to elect them. The parade, for want of a better word, always heralded by the beating of drums to ensure that people come out of their homes, was finely orchestrated. An advance party always came along distributing garlands to some trusted persons with the express directive to place it on the candidate at the appropriate time. I once tried to get the candidate to stop as I wanted to apprise him of some of the problems that the people faced, but needless to say a bunch of acolytes were quick to steer him away. The experience was galling to say the least as the same people become inaccessible once elected. To the people who advocate the supremacy of Parliament and the minute role of its members vis-a-vis the people, the last days should become an eye opener. The people will not accept such a diminished role. Their vote is precious and entails a responsibility that they are now ready to assert. So let us celebrate the true meaning of democracy.
In the smiles and sloganeering of the people one could sense hope. The hope of being finally delivered from the clutches of corruption. True that people felt somewhat naively that the proposed Bill would be a panacea for all ills. Simple people felt they would be rid of greasing palms on day-today basis and they were ready to lend their voice to the cause loud and clear. Yes they were credulous but can one blame them. This seemed the only ray of hope in their otherwise dark world. The Cassandras and doubting Thomas were back to the attack pointing out the flaws but people were too charged to hear. They just wanted to see hope so can we also celebrate the revival of hope.
There has been a lot to celebrate indeed. But there is more. One of the most amazing things to me personally was the vindication of the Gandhian principles of non-violence. It was breathtaking to see so many people protest in a peaceful manner for such an extended period of time, particularly when one is used to seeing violence erupt at the drop of a hat. Critics will again say that many Gandhian principles were subverted, but would not Gandhi himself have adapted his methods to the need of the hour. So we also celebrate the power of non-violence.
As the dust settles and we slowly emerged from our euphoria, it is time to take stock of all that happened and draw the lessons needed. The most important is undoubtedly to define our roles in the fight against corruption. True one man showed us the way. It is now time we learn to walk on it.