I’ve had strong words to write against the methods used by Anna Hazare (AH) in the recent anti-corruption movement; never against the causes he has taken up. Corruption is rampant and it’s good that AH has managed to not only draw attention to it, but also force the government to concede a specific timeline for enacting an appropriate law. Can we now turn our attention to ourselves – we middle-class urbanites....who backed him up to the hilt, but don’t back the democratic set-up to the same passionate extent? Because if we don’t attend to it, we will never be able to succeed as a democracy.....and I think the alternative is far worse.
I am talking of the full scale demonstration of middle-class irresponsibility at the time of elections. In spite of all the efforts made by media, NGOs and the government itself, middle-class voters simply refuse to come out and vote. The more posh the area, the less the voting %. I am told Bandra in
Bombay and Jor Bagh in have amongst the lowest voting % amongst all metros. Not participating in elections makes us “armchair critics”......cribbing about the many ills in the society, but not doing even the basic thing that we must do in a democracy. It also rids our support to AH of morality.....what would we say if AH were to ask us if we voted or not? Delhi
From the kind of support that AH got from the urban middle-class, I can only conclude that there is a huge disdain for politicians. It’s always been there, but it’s never manifested itself so clearly. People hate politicians of all parties. They could be MPs or MLAs or municipal corporators or even village panchayat members. They could be Lok Sabha members or Rajya Sabha. They hate them for corruption; nepotism; poverty; and everything under the sun. If the middle class has so much angst inside them against politicians, then why doesn’t it come out and express itself during the elections? Does the middle class believe that its numbers are so small that their votes won’t count in any case (in which case, they should ask themselves if their support for AH really represents the majority view)? Or do they believe that since all politicians are equally bad, where is the choice really? Are these real issues, or are they just excuses for excusing ones personal irresponsibility?
It’s important for us as a society to answer these questions. Because the process of elections and voting is the very foundation of a democratic system. If all of us feel this way, then what we are basically saying is that we are disenchanted with democracy. If we are disenchanted with our politicians, we are disenchanted with democracy itself. It would be extremely unfashionable for us to admit to this, but we do leave a trail here and there which indicates that in reality, maybe we prefer a slightly more totalitarian system. We rave about
......and its ability to execute projects at superfast speeds. We are appreciative of the China in spite of its very bully-like attitude around the world. Even in the stock markets, we give a huge thumbs-up to an economic bully like Mukesh Ambani, making RIL the most valuable company in the country. We are aware of the many ills that accompany these names, but we seem to be ok with them. We ignore the humanitarian violations in US , the failure of its banking and legal systems, and its overt exertion of military pressure on its neighbors. We ignore the double-barreled commando-like conduct of the China government internationally (including on institutions like the UN) and we ignore the brazen “up-yours” attitude that an Ambani often shows to the authorities. So somewhere inside of us, we yearn for a utopic world ruled by a strong but benevolent-to-us ruler. Somewhere inside of us, we are starting to give up on democracy itself. US
Most of the criticism to my position on AH has been that the politicians themselves are responsible for this agitation. They asked for it to happen. They did nothing to clean up the system on their own. They are corrupt. They deserved to be targeted. Very few have disagreed with my views on the proposed Jan Lokpal bill itself. Its various flaws. People have said “of course it has flaws, but without AH, nothing would have happened”. Bang on. Without AH, nothing would indeed have happened. But who’s responsible for this state of affairs?
It’s time for us to look inwards. It’s time for us to make up our minds whether we want and value our democracy or not. Many in the younger generation (and I still include myself in it!) have not personally seen the downsides of a totalitarian regime. The closest we came to it was during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency period in 1973. There are a few romanticists who still talk about how emergency brought efficiency to the government machinery. However, it also put strict restrictions on public indiscipline. In reality, this totalitarian power reduced even further any semblance of accountability to the people. Eventually, it made her despotic and the people voted her out in the elections that followed. Even then, it was the process of voting that rid the country of this huge blot. Democracy give us many wonderful fruits to enjoy; but it also demands that we do our bit in making it sustain.
I have voted and I can assure everyone that the process is a highly efficient one. It takes about 30 minutes (lesser in Bandra!). The electronic voting system has made it rather foolproof (some will complain all the time). Trust me, there is not much “stuffing” of ballot boxes any more. Yes, people still vote on false names.....but that alone is a relatively small % of overall votes. In the last elections in 2008, there was also a bit of a glam value associated with showing the black mark on the finger. In fact, it would be so much better to show the black mark on the finger rather than the finger itself!
The real truth is that AH’s movement is as much a criticism of us arm-chair critics as it is about the politicians. If we had been more responsible, change would have come many decades back. Today, it’s taken AH to attempt a clean-up and remind us about our failings. We may point fingers at others; but the truth is that the fingers are equally pointing at us.....