As if talking politics and putting up candidates in the 2014 elections weren’t enough, Team Anna now admits gunning for ‘corrupt ministers’ has gained primacy over Lokpal. No wonder, our Average Joes and Jills are staying off Jantar Mantar this monsoon.
It’s not often that you imagine Renuka Chaudhary, the Congress spokesperson and harbinger of high drama on television news debates, talking sense. Cloying to the point of irritation, theatrical to the point of indigestion and repetitive and condescending to the level where she could instigate you to either throw the poor remote at the TV or bang your head with it, my guess is, even Chaudhary doesn’t take herself seriously off-camera.
The other night, though, she uttered a few words, which eventually strung themselves into a sensible sentence, something that made me sit up and take note. Countering (actually rubbishing in the most condescending way, but that’s a tale for another day) Team Anna member Shazia Ilmi on Newshour, Chaudhary said Hazare brings his troupe (I am not quoting her verbatim; the last one’s my word) on a dharna venue each time Parliament gets set for another session.
The good Gandhian is back at Jantar Mantar, as is the media.
But while Anna Hazare’s protest last year drew thousands of people to Delhi’s Ram Lila Maidan, as elsewhere across the country, this time the response has been muted thus far. And while the media, self-professed pundits and Anna Hazare experts (yes, in India we have experts mushrooming on their own to track every phenomenon mushrooming under the planet) have given a host of reasons for the thinning support, my guess is far simpler. Here we go:
- People are plain and simple bored. It’s a Herculean task as it is to keep the Indian middle class, the core of Hazare’s support base till now, and once Anna Hazare turned Dharna Hazare, fasting or protesting at the drop of a hat, it was time to kiss a big chunk of middle-class support goodbye.
- What also did not go down well with this section of the population was Hazare and company’s flirting with politics off and on. It began with supporting any candidate, never mind their affinity with or disdain for corruption or irregularities, pitted against the ruling Congress in some elections late last year. It is no secret, again, that the average Indian middle class person would much rather have nothing to do with politics, and thus the came about kissing another chunk of this section’s support to Hazare’s anti-corruption movement goodbye.
- The armyman-turned-activist can expect some more people to bid him adieu after his statement on Aaj Tak channel on Thursday: “I will travel across the country, tell people to come up with candidates and pick the best out of them. I will then campaign for the candidates in the 2014 elections… We will tell the people who is the best candidate for them after putting names up on the net [Internet].” Never mind the fact that the statement is patronizing and condescending (yeah, the poor Indians need to be “told” who the “best candidate” is), it is also extremely undemocratic (you don’t “tell” people who to vote for in a democracy, and India is nothing if not a mature democracy, as the electorate has shown over the last six decades).
- Almost committing a second hara-kiri in less than 24 hours, on Friday he told the media: “I don’t think I should launch a political party or stand in general elections… My heart does not go with it. But I will give an alternative to people.” If the first comment about telling people who to vote for was unappealing to the average middle class Joe, whose ennui with politics is well chronicled, Friday’s reiteration could backfire just as badly. Many might see the attempt to keep a clean face, by not dipping his hands in the supposed dirt and muck of politics, as merely an attempt to enjoy power without the responsibility that comes with it.
- The whole movement against corruption has become a bit circuitous for the average person. What started as a well-founded movement to get the Lokpal Bill passed by Parliament (comprehensible, thinks Average Joe Singh: a figure at the top to keep the shackles on corrupt netas and babus) has now turned into getting a special team to probe allegations of corruption against 14 Union ministers, now that the 15th, Pranab Mukherjee, has shifted home to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Admitting that the “goalpost has shifted”, Team Anna member and noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan told Tehelka magazine: “Without the removal of these ministers we won’t get the Lokpal.”
Now that’s complicated, thinks Average Jill Iyer, because we all know what happens in corruption cases against ministers and eminent personalities: they are like saas-bahu serials, where The End is never in sight.
So if we can’t get Lokpal with the removal 0f these allegedly corrupt ministers, does Hazare and group now wants to tell us that Lokpal has been postponed indefinitely?
Carrying 100 grams of curiosity, five kilos of questions and a tonne of frustration, Average Joe and Average Jill walk slowly back home from Jantar Mantar, Arvind Kejriwal and company’s fasting site where much of the crowd, incidentally, came and vanished with Baba Ramdev on Friday.