Thursday, August 2, 2012

Too much pointless activism all around….

I met a highly respected nominated MP (and an intellectual) yesterday and he expressed wistfully that “democracy is a romantic concept that India didn’t deserve till now” and “we should have had a benevolent dictatorship until now”. He also went on to add that “China is now 50 years ahead of us, while 20 years back, it was 5 years behind us” or some such thing. Most people will agree that China has succeeded like no other country and many opponents of the present UPA government chide it by comparing the country’s progress with China’s. If ever this argument – that India didn’t deserve a democracy – was true, it is these days and in the context of the pointless activism we are seeing.

A few months back the entire Koodankulam nuclear power plant controversy was a case of copybook pointless activism. “Thousands” of protestors sat on a strike – in fact if I remember right, they too were on a hunger strike – demanding that the Rs 14000 crores already invested over the last 20 years or so at the plant be “junked”. They had decided that nuclear power was wrong for the country and so they wanted the plant to be shifted out of TN. The protestors were organized under some or the other banner and were able to hold up the commissioning of the plant for several months. The start of the plant got delayed endlessly…..till a point was reached when it would have cost lots more to re-start an idling plant. The rest of the country probably felt really angry to this crisis, but then Koodankulam was far away, and they were not organized the same way as the protestors were. Their anger was a silent anger. The voice of a few organized men was being heard all over the country, thanks to the thankless media in the country. It mattered little to these protestors that experts, including the world-renowned former President, APJ Abdul Kalam, gave reassurances that the plant was safe. For the wayward protestors, who could see no other point of view, there were always examples of Germany and Japan to give (these countries had stopped using nuclear power), forgetting that these countries had achieved all they had to economically and had secured alternate power sources before taking their decisions. Industry in Germany did not come to a halt, as it would in India if we did the same thing.

Take also the madness called the Anna movement. This movement has zero support amongst the intelligentsia (and now the media) and yet it is allowed to blaze on on the basis of some romantic democratic concept that the right to protest is a fundamental right. Everyone in the country has heard what Anna had to say; the Parliament is already seized of the matter; but the team still wants to hold the country to ransom by holding a fast-unto-death. In a time when there are serious problems facing the world (and India), where is the time to handle the egoistic personal agendas of a few such activists. Again, these activists cannot see beyond their own noses…..refusing to learn from the experiences of other activists who adopted a different style to pass the equally difficult RTI act a few years back. Or of those who have been advising against the setting up of another mammoth bureaucratic institution in the name of the Lokpal. For the Anna brigade of activists (terrorists almost), it is their way or the highway. And the democratic republic of India has no option but to look on. The country’s progress has stopped; millions across the country are being denied their rightful quest for growth. But the government has to pay attention to a bunch of failed louts. Is this democracy? I’m still not sure if these people have decided to form a party or not, but whatever it is that they have decided, they should not be allowed to hold a country to ransom.

The problem with activists is that they are invariably political in nature. The concept of an apolitical activist is fundamentally unachievable. The Koodankulam activists had the silent backing of the AIADMK, which wanted to finger the Center. It was only after Madame’s ego was adequately pandered to by the PM and the former President that she relented and cleared the path. And once she whispered in their ears, all the protestors simply vanished. What happened to their commitment all of a sudden? In the case of Anna, it’s always been an out and out political movement. Till date, Anna has spared the BJP politicians as if they were pious saints. Till date, all protests have been against the Congress. Till now, silly arguments like “the Congress is in power, hence it has to pass the Lokpal” has been dished out to gawking followers, conveniently forgetting that the Rajya Sabha needs more than just the Congress. It’s all politics…..

In a situation like this, the government of the day owes it to the rest of the country to provide a strong response. The rest of the country is not organized the way these activists are. But the government has to hear the voice of these “rest”. These rest want the government to focus on the country’s economic woes, its social problems, and its myriad other threats and challenges, not get bogged down in meaningless demonstrations of democracy.

The real truth is that there are times when a country may have to behave like an autocratic China and not like a democratic India. That time has come for India. The government must evict the Anna activists and dump them into hospitals. The people must be urged to go back to their business with the assurance that Parliament will pass an appropriate act. The government’s failing is that it does not communicate. It has to communicate. Without communication, there is no way that the people know what the government is intending to do. The government must appoint a spokesperson who will communicate on a daily basis the goings-on in the select committee on Lokpal. That alone will satisfy the people that the government means business.

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