Like everyone else, I was intrigued when I first heard of a new Gandhian going on a hunger strike to eradicate corruption.Feb 20, 2021, 18 58 | Updated: Feb 20, 2021, 18 58
Before Kejriwal, Bangaloreans celebrated Hazare.
I don't believe we knew why. I believe we still don't. But we, the middle class Bangaloreans, prefer to have superheroes do our dirty work.
Like everyone else, I was intrigued when I first heard of a new Gandhian going on a hunger strike to eradicate corruption.
It was a few years ago and thus far, I had only heard mention of him in sporadic news items.
And then one fusion rock guitar player, (who played an otherwise terrific gig at B Flat), dedicated a song to one, Anna Hazare, who had just begun a fast unto death.
The guitarist first played “Maha Ganapatim” (from "Muthuswami Dikshitar's Greatest Hits Remix"), and then another fusion tune of his own composition that he dedicated to Hazare, because, he said, "we have been raped enough by politicians".
That he stumbled quickly over the pronunciation of the "Anna" in Anna Hazare, told me that there had not yet been much cocktail conversation about him and no one quite knew how to say his name.
(As an aside, I think the confusion is because a politician named "Anna" is almost certainly a Tamil Nadu politician. “Anna” means older brother in Tamil. By similar etymology, it is an honorific for older person in Marathi. Still, I find many folks make an effort to pronounce Hazare's first name with a weird emphasis on one vowel or other consonant - to try and keep the ethnicities distinct - doubtless to keep Hazare from being mistaken for an AIADMK factotum. It's so very funny.)
Anyway, the predominantly upper middle class Bangaloreans in the audience all replaced their drinks on the table at the mention of a protest against political pillage and clapped vigorously at the song dedication.
Nothing like a bit of socio-political garnish to an evening of hijinks and Hindustani hip-hop to make one feel validated.
Hazare became legend in the last few years; and we all know that while Kejriwal first bombed about playing Robin to Hazare's Batman, he has gone on to become a superhero of his own peculiarity.
It is no surprise that there is instinctive support for people who are "taking on corruption". But in my conversations with Bangaloreans, it amazes me that we are so eager to make superheroes of men about whom we know bupkis.
I just don’t get it.
Take Anna. While it is true he served bravely in the Army and later, was awarded the Padma Bhushan for having turned the economy of his village around, there are some seemingly sorry asides to the man.
I have read that in his village, he caused local legislation to turn the village into a no-alcohol, no-tobacco zone. But the enforcement of the law was without tolerance.
Villagers who broke the law and had a drink were publicly flogged. On occasion, by Anna Hazare.
There are other indications of demagoguery, such as deciding which cable TV channels the village can and cannot watch.
A demagogue, simply explained, is one who appeals to the base emotions and illogical fears of an unquestioning people, thereby leading and often, manipulating them. Demagoguery can only flourish at the cost of democracy. Ironically, this is done in the name of democracy... where rallying a right-wing majority is done in the name of betterment for all.
And if the result is that the minority (such as those who wish to drink beer or follow the dictates of the Bah'ai faith) must subsume itself to will of the leader of the masses, it’s all in the name of public good.
In Hazare's village, I understand womenfolk are paid only 60% of what men are paid: Rs 30 per day for the women and Rs 50 for the dudes.
While many folks compare Hazare to Gandhi, Hazare has stated publicly that we should "look beyond Gandhi". (Apparently in one TV interview, he spoke longingly about hanging the corrupt and cutting the hands of perps as desirable deterrents and punishments. And Kiran Bedi tried without success to cover it up by suggesting that his references were euphemistic.)
And if you were to consider his stance in favour of forced vasectomies to control population (in the manner that we neuter dogs), I believe they are comparing him to the wrong Gandhi. Sanjay Gandhi would be more his speed.
Yet, he became a folk hero and urban youth lit candles. How come?
Well, he wears khadi and a Gandhi cap, he is Spartan and self-denying and he starves himself to force the government to eradicate corruption. What's not to like?
All this talk of how he flogged villagers and censored their TV watching is inconvenient. Give it time and it will go away. After all, he can't enforce prohibition and flog people in Bangalore, can he?
Since then, Arvind Kejriwal stopped being his BFF and started the Aam Aadmi Party.
And one Bangalorean recently told me he was signing up to become an Aam Aadmi Party member.
I asked him why.
He said because they "stood for the right things".
I asked him if he had dumped Anna Hazare.
He didn't give me a straight answer but it was clear that he had clean forgotten the once celebrated activist for the Lokpal Bill. In fact, my pal had forgotten the Lokpal Bill entirely, leave alone being able to nuance the Lokpal Bill from the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Now Bangaloreans are lighting candles for the Aam Aadmi Party.
It's not hard to understand.
We're sick of corruption, and in a time of a sustained economic crisis, we are faced with story after story about such unimaginable degrees of graft, mining scandals, 2G scandals, scandals that we don’t even understand... just that all degrees of those in public office and their contractor cronies are clogging up traffic with BMW and Porsche SUVs and making us all feel like little schmucks, keeling over with gratitude that we are allowed 12 subsidised gas cylinders a year, up from nine.
But still, in Bangalore hopelessness yields to hope at the slightest promise.
And even if men like Hazare, and his new protégé Modi, threaten the secular democracy that we have been bought up to respect - and even if Kejriwal shows no signs of being a parliamentarian of Nehruvian stature - we want to believe their promises of a better present and a more stable future.
And because they have identified the enemy - namely the government sloth and corruption - they are our superheroes, fighting for proper garbage collection and early delivery of ration cards.
For the smartest city in India, this is an intellectual dodge.
Not because Hazare (supporting Modi and the BJP) or Kejriwal (Congress) won't actually try and improve matters. Despite their shenanigans, they are not the issue.
Not because the system is a lost cause either. If the deft whistleblowing surrounding that Radia chick's phone tapping is anything to go by, the Lokpal Bill with some teeth will throw up a greater number of pesky snitches, making corruption less of the open systems of spoils it is today.
We Bangaloreans are the larger issue here.
I recently asked several people to name 5 things they would like the Aam Aadmi to achieve. For the most part, I have received blank stares in return.
Because, while we take a moral stance and, with righteous indignation, agree with their political agenda, we need to ask ourselves if we even know what the right things are.
It is easy to strike elegant postures on the issue that the government is shitty and will not clear the garbage from the streets.
It's an intellectual dodge when we won’t take the blame for littering the streets as we do blithely every day. Not to mention paying the tout at the RTO to get something to which we might not entitled or if we are, unwilling to wait for it. Or pay institutional scalping, i.e., the Tatkal rail ticket or passport-processing fee.
Do we expect the Aam Aadmi party to eradicate the corruption in Bangalore’s patronage-ridden culture, i.e., the corruption that is a part of our society’s fabric?
Or are we only asking that we should not be asked to pay bribes if it does not provide us with a quantifiable out-of-turn benefit?
Talking to a small group of thinkers recently, I asked them each to list five things about themselves or their habits they will change, that will help the new political party achieve its stated goals.
The response I received was one of surprise. The inarticulate response ran something like this: "What? We change? Why?! But we are the victims!"