HUM HINDUSTANI: Waiting to celebrate India —J Sri Raman - Friday, April 22, 2011

Many less known individuals have done India proud. In July 2010, it was reported that eight ‘right to information’ activists or whistleblowers, who had demanded the citizens’ due under a recently enacted law, had been killed in seven months 

This columnist would like to write a celebratory piece this time: his baby daughter has grown big and is getting married! This is no space, however, for private rejoicings. Can the joy of the occasion be combined with any cause for public jubilation?

It can indeed be, to go by the media headlines of the past several days. The television channels and newspapers, along with an assortment of personalities (both distinguished and dubious), have found their latest idol in a Gandhian with a reputation for rural development work in the state of Maharashtra. They have chosen for their current hype an anti-corruption ‘movement’ launched by Kisan Baburao Hazare, popularly known as Anna Hazare.

On April 5, he started a ‘fast unto death’ to demand a Lokpal Bill, in order to set up Lokpal (an ombudsman) with effective powers to curb corruption in public offices. The fast in New Delhi soon became a festival of primarily middle-class protest against ‘politicians’, first and foremost. The fast ended on April 9, after the government conceded the demand. The storm in the columns and channels, however, has shown no signs of abating.

Warts and all, the ‘war on graft’, as it is billed, deserves to be welcomed, in principle. But uneasy memories of mega anti-corruption campaigns of the past prevent many from rushing to hail the proclaimed new dawn. The most hyped of these crusades, in fact, ended only in a party-political change in New Delhi, particularly favouring the far right and giving it more than a fig leaf to cover its core agenda of communalism. The holy wars made hardly a difference to the corruption-breeding system.

There are indications that the Hazare ‘revolution’ may go the same counter-productive way. One does wish some success to the many evidently sincere people showing solidarity with the ‘movement’. But one also wishes that they showed greater awareness of the forces, especially of the far right, waiting in the flanks to appropriate and abuse the campaign with significant middle-class support.

Comparisons of the Hazare episode with the Egyptian uprising — just because Anna’s admirers communicated through SMS and social network — already sound extremely exaggerated and even comical. How about jubilating over Jaitapur then?

Popular anger has erupted against plans to install nuclear reactors of an untested variety, imported from France, at this site in Maharashtra. The nuclear and political establishments, which had thus far dismissed concerns voiced by others with a contempt they did not deserve, now feel constrained to make conciliatory utterances. Should this not occasion smiles?

I am not breaking ranks in the movement against the nuclear madness that has seized India’s mandarins, if I cannot readily join the rejoicing. I cannot because the campaign is being spearheaded now, believe it not, by the Shiv Sena of Bal Thackeray. There are two very good reasons why this should cause grave concern.

In the first place, far from fanciful is the idea of the Sena hijacking the campaign and eventually harming the cause grievously. The Enron affair provides an example.

The Sena, along with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led a campaign to stop the multinational corporation of murky antecedents to set shop in the state. The campaign helped the far-right combine in the run up to a state assembly election, as the call to ‘throw Enron into the Arabian Sea’ (to India’s west) caught on. The Sena-BJP front wrested power in 1995 and announced in August a decision to scrap the project. In just three months, however, something happened to transform the situation.

Rebecca Mark, then chairperson of Enron International, came down to Mumbai and called upon Thackeray, who boasted of running the state government by “remote control”. Within a week, ‘re-negotiations’ with Enron resumed. And, in a mere 12 days, the government entered into a new agreement with Enron for a project thrice as large as the one the original MoU had envisaged after months of preparation.

Secondly, what if official propaganda suggests that Jaitapur will bring a bright future for Indian bombs? Will Thackeray and his nephew Raj Thackeray, who have always been for nuking a particular neighbour, still demur?

A better cause for jubilation is provided by eminent physician and activist Binayak Sen’s release on bail on April 19. Earlier, the Supreme Court suspended the life sentence awarded to him by a trial court in the BJP-ruled state of Chhattisgarh on charges of sedition and alleged links with Maoists.

The sense of triumph needs to be tempered in this instance as well. Pressures from various quarters, including Nobel Laureates, have prevailed. But the patent injustice meted out to Sen did not trigger off mass protests, even under political leadership, in the tribal-dominated state or elsewhere.

The case has caused a debate on the colonial law of sedition. While this is very welcome, there is a danger of the discourse helping to shift the focus from what Sen has been trying to tell an unhearing elite audience about: the horrifying socio-economic reality in India’s hidden hinterlands.

Many less known individuals have done India proud, of course. In July 2010, it was reported that eight ‘right to information’ activists or whistleblowers, who had demanded the citizens’ due under a recently enacted law, had been killed in seven months. The new category of crime has continued to be committed across states. The country has cause to be proud also of Sonu Sinha, a 23-year-old national-level football and volleyball player, who lost a leg after being thrown out of a train while resisting a robbery attempt on April 13. She has donated all the money she has received so far for medical aid and support to her sports academy.

India should be proud also of those fighting for rights in fields and factories against formidable odds. It must prize, above all, the common people, carrying on with their lives heroically and peacefully, displaying infinite patience in preserving the democratic system despite all the provocations. But the results of all this have yet to yield a reason for collective rejoicing.

This columnist and other Indians will continue to have their private festivities. But we will have to wait for occasions to warrant public celebrations by the people as a whole. We must wait, in other words, for a celebration of India.

The writer is a journalist based in Chennai, India. A peace activist, he is also the author of a sheaf of poems titled At Gunpoint

Source :\04\22\story_22-4-2011_pg3_6

No comments:

Post a Comment