By Murli Dhar
“There has been a time in the political history of Mauritius when selfless politicians rose from among the ranks of down-to-earth families having a deep sense of values. They stalked their hour on the stage to defend causes they held dear to their heart at their own risk and peril… We need a few of such archetypes to emerge if only to give politics its golden credentials once again. Even if they be non-politicians like Anna Hazare, they can overhaul the stage and give citizens a good reason to live a life of non-equivocation…”
There is a sudden awakening nearly all over the world to negative factors in public life. A wave of protests has been sweeping over the Arab world the past six months against dictatorships of all hues and colours. In Britain, riots sparked off recently from London to several parts of the country, putting to shame the high standards of discipline and tolerance for which British society is usually known. The volcano has not erupted in Africa yet but there are rumblings against the corrupt abusers who have kept their peoples stifled up in straightjackets for years. In other places, people are on the lookout for a major stumble by those in authority to stand up against the established order on the first occasion.
In India, it is one man, a simple civilian, who has spearheaded a mass movement of protest against the government for failing to act decisively against widespread corruption and graft. He is Anna Hazare, a 70-year old Gandhian Maharashtrian whose agitation on the subject reached the shores of New Delhi about four months ago for the first time. He was promised by the government that it will deal effectively with the issue by adopting a comprehensive Jan Lokpal Bill. This Bill was to tackle the problem of corruption at all levels the more so as it was Anna’s team of civil society supporters who had produced a draft version of the Bill for presentation to Parliament.
This promise persuaded Anna Hazare to stop the hunger strike he had undertaken in the heart of New Delhi some four months ago. For the first time in 64 years in the modern history of India, this old man had dared stand up single-handedly at the risk of his life against the proliferation of corruption and graft for which India was becoming better known in the world than for becoming champion of the world in cricket or for its new status as an Emerging Economy. Needless to say that this movement gained instant momentum right from day one because every Indian is in one way or other a regular victim of the corrupt system from the highest to the lowest levels. A wave of anger and frustration was already mounting across the population for some months before when certain high-profile acts of corruption came out in the open, the most prominent of which were the scams associated with the organisation of the Commonwealth games in New Delhi, India, the allocation of Telecoms licences in what is known as the 2G scandal whereby corrupt Ministers would have walked away with an estimated $40 billion dollar of revenue forgone by the government and a major housing scandal in Mumbai in which high-ranking military officials would have appropriated to themselves apartments meant for war victims, which they were not.
Anna’s movement became the crowning moment against widespread and systematic abuse by politicians and corporations but equally as well by petty functionaries on the least occasion to milk away all they could. This system had crossed all boundaries of decency. This is why he was able to mobilise a powerful and cohesive national movement against corruption, sending politicians fully on the defensive for aiding and abetting a self-enriching process of abuse of power. The ordinary Indian citizen was no longer in a mind to accept corruption as an inevitable fatality. The political class felt discomfited at the nation-wide endorsement a non-elected individual had secured from all parts of the country and chose to bow down in a first instance, if only to bring the movement to a standstill until they found out ways to go round it and fail the nation once again as it had been done during the past decades.
They resorted to their devices soon after. They claimed that Anna’s movement was trespassing on Parliamentary privilege and that an unelected citizen had no right to insist that the Ombudspersons to be appointed at the Federal and State levels under the Bill should be empowered to include under its charge all office holders of the land, be it the Prime Minister or the Judiciary. Politicians’ attempts at circumventing the issue brought Anna Hazare back to Delhi the week before last on another indefinite hunger strike. He was taken in and jailed. Like Gandhi, he stated being unafraid of death or punishment because others would rise after him to defend a cause that had now stuck in the very heart of every one of India’s humblest and honest citizens who had to bribe their way into getting a birth, death and various other day-to-day existential permits as a matter of routine. His courage had successfully ignited in the hearts of his fellow citizens the fight for a cause which they had accepted before as being so pervasive as to be insuperable so that one had to live with it. There exists a risk today that the current UPA-II government is unlikely to survive at the next elections on account of the sincerity and conviction and guilelessness Anna’s fight against corruption now evokes in the population at large. Only someone having very deep internal strength, faith and conviction in the cause he had set out to fight for could have made it to this point and not have been tainted by a smear campaign that Indian politicians are so adept at against their adversaries!
This situation shows that no amount of entrenched corruption and graft will remain unpunished or unearthed for ever where the people may be prepared to turn their back on their own Parliamentary representatives when the latter take sides with perpetrators of scourges undermining the fabric of society. Anna Hazare has shown that will and determination to uproot corruption and graft are more important than all the rest. He has shown that a mass movement which believes in a just cause and is led by even one single honest individual devoid of self-seeking can move mountains. No longer can India’s politicians enrich themselves as brazenly as some of them have been doing at the cost of the public so long the role models can emerge and rise up to the occasion even if that involved the risk of losing their life. From the days of Mahatma Gandhi, India has been giving to the world lessons in steadfastness to fight against evils. Anna Hazare is the latest example to show that a single (courageous) citizen can rise against the entire hierarchy of politicians to re-establish values for which India has been historically known.
There has been a time in the political history of Mauritius as well when selfless politicians rose from among the ranks of down-to-earth families having a deep sense of values. They stalked their hour on the stage to defend causes they held dear to their heart at their own risk and peril. In the process, friends, family and supporters made untold sacrifices unknown to the wider public. We need a few of such archetypes to emerge if only to give politics its golden credentials once again. Even if they be non-politicians like Anna Hazare, they can overhaul the stage and give citizens a good reason to live a life of non-equivocation. Hail that day which is yet to come again for that moment of glory and splendour in our own national life as well!
* Published in print edition on 26 August 2011