A Million Mutineers

By Nita Chicooree

A new citizenry has emerged in India. It is amid huge crowds that cut across India’s composite society at Ram Lila Maidan that Anna Hazare ended his fast last Sunday and two little girls, a Dalit and a Muslim, held a glass of coconut water to his lips. The Gandhian activist was acclaimed with the chanting of Ragupati ragava raja Ram rising from the people who had been converging to Delhi for days to support the fight against corruption.

According to press reports, though the government has yielded to the enforcement of a strong Jan Lokpal Bill, the fires burning in people’s bellies are unlikely to die away. People are determined to take the bull by the horn and keep up the support for Anna’s team to address the issue of corruption at all levels as well as a myriad of issues besetting society. Gone is the picture of a great country in a state of moral decay as the determination of the people to clean up the filth that has gnawed away the very fabric of society is set to remain unwavering. Mohammad Tabrez Alam, a self-taught artist, captured the event on canvas, depicting a benigh Krishna blessing Anna Hazare in an effusion of light, which merged with rays emanating from the stars and crescent symbolizing Ramzan. We can imagine the enthusiasm and solidarity that galvanized the crowds last Sunday.

Among those present at the gathering, young men threatened to stake their lives if the Bill was not accepted by the government. Actually, a woman did commit suicide in a village to show her support for the protest movement. Or should we say, a revolutionary movement. One young man, a former army officer, threatened to kill himself because he could not take it anymore. The prescribed fee for a driving licence is Rs 88, he was harassed to pay several visits a month and made to understand that he could get it in just one day if he paid Rs 1000. Others complained about being requested to pay bribes to get jobs. Lack of good educational institutes in rural areas, crooked school admission procedures in Delhi and the system of donation to schools were denounced by others. The anti-corruption movement was a unique opportunity for people to air pent-up anger and frustration.

Unfortunately, 27-year-old Shehla Masoood was shot dead as she was setting off to head a march to Ram Lila Maidan. The young lady was a strong defender of The Right to Information Act and had been exposing the crooked dealings involving the construction business-judiciary-police mafia. Some time back, a veteran journalist was murdered for similar reasons. The death of the 34-year-old swami who fasted in protest against illegal quarrying along Ganga river is under investigation as relatives and friends alleged that he had been poisoned.

Whatever arguments the detractors of the Jan Lokpal Bill may put forward and notwithstanding the fact that India is a functioning democracy, the Westminster parliamentary system with elections every five years proves to be inadequate to sustain the democratic process. India is not England. The Bill contains strong demands and it remains to be seen how the system of check by civil society will work out in every state and at the Centre. A moral issue calls for moral leadership, moral arguments, a moral perspective and a moral courage to take note of public expectations and respond to them to the extent possible. It is undeniable that the new strategy will have a judicious mix of the political and the moral, and it will restore the political and moral initiative to the Prime Minister.

* Published in print edition on 1 September 2011

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