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We, The Feeble

August 17, 2011 13:53 IST

Hazare is not the issue, says Saisuresh Sivaswamy, and the government should not make him into one.

Rather, it should focus on the issue he has voiced: Corruption that is depriving people of the mind-boggling welfare funds but for which India would already be a member of the Comity of Nations the prime minister often speaks about.

At the best of times India appears ungovernable, its Oriental chaos, a metaphor for its vibrancy, often shrouded by unfair comparisons with the orderly Occident. Alas, we are clearly not living in the best of the nation's times, so the chaos appears even more uncontrollable.

The economy, touted as the toast of the world (or at least that part of the world that matters to the articulate, middle class, affluent Indian), is not on a roll anymore it seems. It is no coincidence that social activist Anna Hazare's campaign targets, and in turn appeals to, this burgeoning section of India that is concerned as much with the decimal points in the GDP growth and the dollar-rupee tango as by the aam aadmi's railway coach being left behind by the chugging engine of growth.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his statement in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, too directly appealed to this segment of the population, perhaps knowing well its fickleness. Why else would he slip in this paragraph in a speech devoted to Hazare's campaign: 'India is an emerging economy. We are now emerging as one of the important players on the world stage. There are many forces that would not like to see India realise its true place in the Comity of Nations. We must not play into their hands. We must not create an environment in which our economic progress is hijacked by internal dissension. We must keep our mind focused on the need to push ahead with economic progress for the upliftment of the aam aadmi.'

This middle class beast everyone courts is a strange one. Its prosperity since 1991, when the Pearly Gates to prosperity were thrown open by Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, is accompanied by a gnawing sense of guilt over the ones left behind. It seeks affirmation it is neither responsible for nor unconcerned about the mind-numbing poverty around its towers of wealth.

Twenty years later, in a cruel twist of irony combined with fate, the chicken from that liberalisation have come home to roost when its chief architect has been elevated to the post of prime minister.

The middle class that benefited from 1991 is very different from the one that existed previously. Then the Indian felt himself to be in a position of disadvantage vis-a-vis the world outside and was happier looking inside. Heck, even Pakistan was better off than us!

But the Indian since then is a different creature. Thanks to the freeing up of controls across the board he has seen the world (if not entirely, at least the parts of it that matter to him), he follows international events across media, and realises that with purchasing power the world is indeed flat.

Thanks to his global perspective, or looking outside, it has not taken him long to realise that he has been short-changed, the miasma of prosperity that is around him has lulled him as the elected representatives were on a looting spree.

It can be no one's case, least of all mine, that corruption is an offshoot of 1991. And it certainly is not my case that corruption can be eradicated. It can be contained, yes. So I am all in agreement with Prime Minister Dr Singh when he says there is no magic wand to deal with the issue.

The only problem I have with that statement is, just what were you up to, Mr Prime Minister, for seven years in office? Did it need an old man in a not-in-use-anymore Gandhi cap for your government to realise that middle India was fast losing its fascination with meaningless homilies?

The Congress party, that grand old party of India's freedom movement spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi, has moved so far away from the Father of the Nation's ideals that anyone laying claim to Gandhiji's legacy strikes terror deep in its heart, petrifying it, rendering it incapable of coherent thought and action.

It happened in the mid-1970s when a zephyr called Jayaprakash Narayan turned into the tempest for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Against brute State force, Loknayak crystallised the change that Indians then sought: True democracy.

With the benefit of hindsight we now know that the Congress could have dealt with him differently, but power often robs you of one critical faculty needed to retain it: Clarity of thought.

More than a generation has passed since then, and kids who grew up in the shadow of that revolution, probably watching their parents wax eloquent about JP (mine did, for sure), are at the forefront of a new revolution.

The Congress government then had unleashed its howitzers against people's power, and paid the price in the elections that followed. As of Wednesday, there has been little evidence that this Congress government has learnt from history -- its leading lights of today all had a ringside view of events as they unfolded then, surely they know better?

Critics argue that Hazare is no JP, and they are probably right. But even they cannot deny that a raging conflagration is set off by a trifling spark. Unlike JP's revolution, Hazare doesn't enjoy the undivided Opposition's trust, nor is he a unifying force behind the non-UPA political spectrum. But what he lacks in numbers, Hazare has made up in terms of reach thanks to media, social and otherwise.

But Hazare is not the issue, and the government should not make him into one. Rather, it should focus on the issue he has voiced: Corruption that is depriving people of the mind-boggling welfare funds but for which India would already be a member of the Comity of Nations the prime minister often speaks about. The articulation may have middle class voice, but it is a cry about the deprived millions. The aam-aadmi, as the Congress refers to them.

You can argue that a mere few thousands are chanting Hazare's mantra of change, and be right. But ignore it, dismiss it, brush it aside as inconsequential -- as this government's spokespersons have been doing all along, just as they belittled JP all those years ago -- and you will be guilty of turning a blind eye to an incendiary spark.

The government needs to come out of its splendid isolation and smell the coffee. I am told the flavour of the season is jasmine.

Saisuresh Sivaswamy