The Sneer of Elitism

by Srikanth Mantravadi

Over the past couple of days as the India against Corruption Movement has picked up steam in various parts of the country, I have noticed a very distressing trend over various online fora and social networking platforms. There seems to be a distinct wave of anti-Anna Hazare criticism coming to surface, more clearly than ever. I do not have a problem with this per se. I would probably be one of the first to discard Anna, if not for his juvenile antics and recalcitrant behavior (The government though takes half the blame for this) but for the damage he has done to the anti-corruption movement. But my focus is not Anna. My problem rather is with the apparent elitism with which this anti-Anna movement (Considering how loosely this term is used, the word movement can be applied here also) has been operating. Let us examine their criticism and unravel the hypocrisy of it.

The accusation/criticism is about how the people/masses are being misled by Team Anna which is projecting the Jan Lokpal Bill as being a panacea for corruption, if implemented. This seems to be fair. But I have a problem with how this criticism is being sustained through examples. The usual example involves a common man who does not know anything about the provisions of the Lokpal Bill but has come out on to the streets to join the protest of Anna Hazare nevertheless. This common man who has in the last one year seen the 2G Scam, the Commonwealth Games scam, the Adarsh Society scam, the Reddy brothers’ mining scam etcetera is usually the point of ridicule for being naïve enough to join a protest he does not know anything about. He is also accused by the government of Rajas, Kanimozhis, Kapil Sibals, Digvijaya Singhs, Manish Tiwaris and Manmohan Singhs (Who as the Prime Minister with most integrity and honesty in independent India has quite paradoxically run the most corrupt regime in independent India. The same Manmohan Singh was brazen enough to say that scams were compulsions of coalition politics!) for bringing the country to a standstill. He, the common man, is derided for not being able to articulate properly the provisions of the draft Jan Lokpal Bill he is shouting slogans for. I am not sure how many people sitting in ivory towers have actually read it. But that is not the point. If all this exercise was to have a decidedly cruel snigger at the expense of a modest common man who toils for the same country he is right now holding to ransom, even then I am fine with it. Or maybe not because I have a conscience and maybe because I understand that the spate of scams have finally gotten to a generally apathetic and indifferent (towards petty corruption) populace. Perhaps I am in a better position to empathize with the plight of a common man because I am one of them and stood entire days in the sun to get a certificate or a driving license just because I did not bribe the authorities. Maybe, just maybe the people are vexed and tired at the unending, unconscionable usurpation of taxpayers’ money. Maybe just maybe, this is legitimate angst at having to pay graft to get a driver’s license (also learners license) or a passport or a gas connection or a kilogram of sugar from the ration shop or a birth certificate and even a death certificate….Maybe a Lokpal will actually lead to better, cleaner governance. Maybe it is not a favour to Anna Hazare that all these people are doing. They are doing a favour to themselves. Maybe we should identify with the cause rather than Anna Hazare (Afterall we are more intelligent than the common man who we sneer at for mixing up issues, aren’t we?) to push the curiously intractable government into tabling a Lokpal bill (Kindly note that I’m not talking of a Jan Lokpal Bill. Just a proper, workable Lokpal Bill. This is about the cause of anti-corruption and Lokpal is just one of the issues. It can also include for example the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill.). Let us then leave it to the beauty and horrors of representative democracy (And give an opportunity to the UPA MPs who have been crying hoarse about how they are the legitimate representatives of the people and that only they can legislate). What can even the civil society do if the Government comes up with a good legislation? And more importantly what can the people (who anyway do not know jack about the Lokpal Bill and cannot differentiate the Anna stir from an anti-corruption movement; so how does it matter as long as some move is taken against corruption that is tangible to their everyday life.) do when the headlines in the morning’s papers say “Government tables and passes strong Lokpal Bill to tackle corruption and graft”? Chances are they will stop holding their own country to ransom.

So for god sake think before you sneer. And remember that the government is there for the people and not the other way round as some of the UPA spokespersons would want you to believe. Also don’t expect expert lawyerly articulations from the common man about a legislation.