Home Columns Books Profile Contact
Between the line

India remains a soft state
August 17, 2011


IN the fifties and the sixties, India was known to be a soft state.
The allegation was that it could not take hard decisions because of
“unfavourable environment in attitudes, cultures and institutions.”
The entire Anna Hazare phenomenon shows that we continue to be a soft state.
On the 12th day of the fast, both the government and Anna Hazare,
along with his team, were bending backwards to have parliament pass a
resolution so that the fast would end by that afternoon. The
government’s stand only 24 hours earlier was that no resolution was
possible but a discussion could be accommodated “under some rule.”
Anna Hazare’s side was adamant that the anti-corruption ombudsman
(Lokpal) bill must be passed before he could break the fast. He
himself did not insist on having his version of the bill passed, but
surprisingly wanted only a resolution enunciating his demands.
Some say it happened that way because Union Minister Vilasrao
Deskmukh, who knew Hazare personally, went straight to him with Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance on the resolution. This was how
the “stumbling block” that Hazare’s team had become was bypassed. Many
insiders maintain what weighed with Hazare was the unanimous appeal by
parliament to break the fast. Yet it turns out that Hazare wanted only
to see that Parliament would take up the Lokpal bill, even if it is
not his version.
The fact is that the members of civil society had lost stamina. I
heard in many drawing rooms that they had enough of Hazare and wanted
to “hear something else.” That was expected from a soft state. Over
the years, I have felt that the society was willing to strike but
afraid to wound. By temperament, we do not join issue. If ever it
comes to that, we try to find a compromise which would be nearer to
our demand or gives us an illusion of winning. The truth is that we do
not allow things to reach a boiling point because we are not prepared
to face the consequences.
True, we are not radicals. Nor do we favour changing the status quo.
Yet this time the movement had stirrings of a revolution. It could
have achieved something in the shape of parivartan (change). Whether
the system delivered or not was not an issue for the fast. The issue
was that people were expecting something that would change their life.
It meant different things to different people. But the common factor
was the change.
Still there is no running away from the fact that the Hazare movement
against corruption had galvanized the middle class youth for the first
time after Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan’s call for a change in 1974.
Yet both the movements did not allow the people’s anger and anguish to
concretize and saw to it that they did not go beyond “control.”
Had the JP movement lasted longer, the nation would have steeled
itself to fight against the undesirable elements, parading themselves
as votaries of change but perpetuating the status quo. They were the
beneficiaries and falsified JP’s dreams. In Hazare’s case, the
disconcerting part was the fast. Otherwise, his movement would have
ushered in a revolutionary era, the dawning of the second
independence. I wish Hazaare had separated the movement from the fast.
I am told this was initially stressed upon by some older NGOs. But the
people surrounding him wanted a dramatic step to attract attention and
made the fast an integral part of the movement. The result has been
mishmash neither fist nor foul. It promises a lot but doesn’t look
like delivering much. And there should be no surprise that it is
business is as usual. Had the movement by itself reached the
proportion which the fast did, the government would have feared
people’s threatening mood.
True, Hazare is honest when he says that he will resume his fast if
and when he finds his expectations had not been met. But I am not sure
whether the popular response some months later would be of the same
scale. I was in Mumbai when more than one lakh people marched in rains
as a victory procession. I could see that Hazare had come to symbolize
the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of people who came on the
streets to support him throughout the country. Yet it is difficult to
see whether the same number of protesters would respond if and when
the government does not meet his demands.
That parliament is supreme does not need to be repeated because it is
an apex body in the parliamentary democracy. People elect its members.
Yet what should not be forgotten is that they continue to be supreme
even when they demand circumventing of an institution like the
Standing Committee of parliament discussing the Lokpal bill.
The constitution says: “We, the people…” Therefore, their assertion
should not be an affront to parliament or state legislatures. This is
only a reminder to the elected representatives that the sovereignty
lies with the people. The Lokpal bill or other steps have to ensure
that. The right to recall may not be an ideal way but it at least
keeps the sword of public sanction hanging over the head of the
I was amused by actor Om Puri’s argument that a parliament member must
be literate. India has been served well by the earlier Lok Sabhas
which had at least one fourth of 545-members illiterate. Dr Rajendra
Prasad, chairman of the Constituent Assembly, wanted to have a
provision to lay down the minimum educational qualification for
legislators. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, opposed
the proposal. His argument was that when they were engaged in freedom
struggle, the illiterate and the backward were the ones who followed
them while the literate were toadies, on the side of the British
rulers. Should he deny the illiterate their right after winning
freedom? The proposal was dropped.
Hazare’s movement has been supported as much by the illiterate as the
literate. The effort should be to make everyone literate, not to
punish the illiterate who have had no opportunity to go to school. The
Lokayukta (state ombudsman) should see to it that everyone went to
school and ensure at the same that that there were teachers in the
schools. Their quality is another story by itself.
What does not come in the ambit of Lokpal is poverty. Electoral
reforms are essential so that the right type of people reach the Lok
Sabha and the state legislatures. Yet more important are the measures
to enable the have-nots to become the haves. Like corruption, poverty
in India is indelible. There are no soft options. EOM

© Copyright 2008, All rights reserved.