[First published in my column OBVIOUSLY OPAQUE in UTS Voice Sept 1-15, 2011]
I am not Anna. I do not even want to be. Yet I feel a little uncomfortable, if not scared, to say this aloud. For, almost everyone else does claim to, if not want to, be ANNA! Of course, this everyone else is not actually everyone but only those who matter, only those who have the rights of passage to our bedrooms, peeping out of the television sets! But then, those who do not matter do not exist as well, do they? Clearly, in my wish of remaining who I am and not being Anna, I am a minority and like any minorities of our country, I am destined to feel scared.
The fear is not something unsubstantiated. There is something brewing in the air, something very close to madness. Yet, quite unlike madness, this one seems to be endearing and intoxicating for many! It has engulfed the whole Indian nation, or so the electronic media says! Having said that, the media invites the presiding deities of the frenzy who then start delivering sermons with all the might they could extract out of their lungs. One note of discord in my eyes, and these benign messiahs first pause, and then their gaze turns into a menacing stare.
The stare unnerves me, labels me as a traitor, and condemns me to be exiled from the nation, their nation. Being excluded from this ‘nation’, just because I do not want to be someone else is scary, even more so because it labels one as the other, the enemy. The project of manufacturing madness is complete.
The madness has a certain method to it, well orchestrated and complete with down to the last minute detailing of performative aspects. The performance has been, till now at least, par excellence as well. Suddenly, Anna caps have given even the sexiest head gears a run for their money, and a quite burial, perhaps, to the Gandhi topi, that powerful symbol of the Indian freedom struggle. I wonder, though, if it is time to edit all the history books and add FIRST to the phrase Indian freedom struggle!
This madness should ensure that. For a fact, that one was not fought with 24*7 media coverage, nor was being a Gandhian a ‘cool’ thing to do. Wearing a Gandhi cap, then, exposed one to the dangers of inviting police on a hot pursuit. Quite unlike our times, when wearing an Anna one gives one a license to do away with the helmets , perform stunts on public roads and then laugh scornfully on the hapless (and ‘definitely corrupt’) cops watching you!
Neither was it possible to be a Gandhian and ask for ‘beating’ the corrupt ones with shoes! What a new form of Ahimsa, or non-violence this is! A section of Indian political spectrum have practiced and championed this ‘ahimsa’ for a while, not imagining even in their wildest dreams that someday ‘Gandhi’ himself would come to legitimize it. They had never identified with that Gandhi. He was so unmanly, so timid for them, one known for trembling at the very mention of violence and withdrawing movements if any Chauri Chaura happens anywhere! They eventually had to bump him off the scene even.
They are quite happy with this Gandhi though. What else could have suited them more than a Gandhi brandishing swords, calling upon his people to take recourse to Shivaji’s methods, and asking for capital punishment for the corrupt ones? They must be finding it hard to conceal their grins even when compelled by media cameras to present a calm and composed demeanour.
And, was that Gandhi a dim-wit as well? How could he not see corruption being limited to the dirty species names as the politicians and the bureaucrats as the new one does? He found it everywhere, in the actions and deeds of his enemies, his followers and even within himself. Remember all the fasts he went for to seek repentance and purify himself? What a poor, fallible mortal he was! How could we survive with his real self as the father of the nation?
Giving that Gandhi an image makeover was so long overdue! Thank heavens; they have this brand new one, pure, flawless, devoid of any human weaknesses, almost god-like and therefore both more suitable and susceptible to their designs!
Maybe this is the time to edit all the history books and add ‘THAT’ to differentiate that uncool Gandhi from the new, ‘hep and happening’ one!
Just as a clarification, I have never been much fond of Gandhi. I have rather been very uncomfortable with many things he did, forcing Babasaheb Ambedkar to accept his conditions during Poona Pact for example. Further, he should have done far much more for the Dalits, the minorities and the tribals. I believe that He could!
But then, I have never doubted his integrity. I could never. Whatever Gandhi did, he did that out in the open. In not doing much for the downtrodden, in my view, he was a victim of his idea of political independence being far more important than social justice at best and a prisoner of his times with no access to the vocabulary of social revolution at worst. Yet, he was open to dialogues. Even if not self-critically, he engaged with Babasaheb. He was, at least, ready to listen to views contrary to his. Even when faced with seemingly irreconcilable stands, he tried to find a path accommodating as many as possible.
This is what makes that Gandhi so unappealing to those behind this bout of mass hysteria. They are not for conciliation. They would rubbish the demand of a Dalit chief minister not belonging to the party in power at the centre. Rather they would mock at her just demand of inclusion of dalits in their leadership by redirecting it to the same central government they are so skeptical of!
They would let the opponents of reservations in employment and education run the show from behind and would give space to demands for scrapping this constitutionally guaranteed mechanism for ensuring social justice. They would actually target only those institutions of modern India which have gave a little space to communities erstwhile excluded from all seats of power. Unlike Gandhi’s ‘chavanniya’(25 paise) membership model to fund his movements, the lieutenants of this new model would get the movement funded and sponsored by the corporations. In return, they would ensure that the anti-corruption bill proposed by them does not even mention corporations forget providing for mechanisms to investigate into corruptions so rampant within them.
They would ask for the right to recall, but would never ever think of getting elected themselves. They would talk of right to information for everyone else, but would ensure that they do never declare the sources of their funding, their expenditures and so on! And then, they would jump on the high pedestals of morality and would denounce everyone who is not with them. And for them, everything would reduce to what their newfound Gandhi says! Whatever happened to the idea of consensus, of debates, of dissent and democracy!
Even when this Gandhi, seething with anger against corruption does not have much to say on many other issues, at least equally, if not more pressing than corruption. This Gandhi did not open his mouth when tens of thousands of farmers committed suicide, many of them in his own state. For him, the fact that more than half of the children of our country are severally malnourished is not an issue! And even when inviting Irom Sharmila to join his protest, he seemed to have forgotten that this is a country where thousands get killed in fake encounters even in ‘normal’ states like Maharashtra, Andhra and Uttar Pradesh! For him the only issue is corruption, even when the Planning Commission of India proposed fixing poverty line at 15 rupees in rural and 20 rupees in urban areas, confirming in the process that more than 80 per cent of our people earn less than 20 rupees a day, and thus have nothing to bribe anyone.
They would not here any of this. Raise any of these issues and these self-appointed crusaders against corruption get angry, really angry at you. For the simple fact that they are ‘everyone’ and they are speaking for everyone. Rather now everyone is Anna, Anna is everyone and he alone has the right to speak for everyone. The rest of Indian citizenry, it seems, is erased from the public consciousness.
All this when these self-designated guardians of the nation command the respect and allegiance of less than a million Indians on Facebook and even lesser on the streets? The thing that matters is that these are the people who matter, led by a small coterie of urban, elite English-speaking self-designated messiahs of the middle classes. And when they claim to represent ‘everyone’, only prudent thing to do is to silently accept that because they are also the leaders of the ‘civil society’. Now, who would want to be at odds with them and getting marked as ‘uncivil’ and corrupt! Barbaric is the antonym of civil, remember?
Let me be a traitor then. Not merely for the fact that being Anna challenges all the notions that define rational modernity, the quest for individuality and the need for having a clean break from the times one was never an independent human being, but also for the fact that being Anna is bartering the idea of a diverse but equal India for an India which is perhaps less corrupt but increasingly dictatorial and undemocratic India led by a benevolent patriarch! I shiver at the thought. Isn’t even a deficient democracy preferable to dictatorship? I am not ready to march back into the regressive and repressive era of feudalism, even if the feudal is Gandhi, the second, himself!
And I am sure that I am not alone in this quest, for I do not see many of these Annas once the television set is switched off.