4th August, 2011

Beloved diary,

It is bizarre how we manage to whole-heartedly support a cause that we know less than nothing about purely based on media hype and the leading personalities involved. Anna Hazare’s lokpal campaign is one that I have been closely following right since its advent, my constancies constantly shifting from the Congress party to Anna’s selfless struggle. Initially, I was strongly against Mr. Hazare’s methods. I’m a strong believer in democracy and all it stands for. On paper, it seems like Anna was pro-democracy and anti-corruption but appearances are often deceptive. Once I read past the headlines into the editorial pages of various newspapers, I realized that what Mr. Hazare is actually orchestrating is essentially quite anti-democracy and pro-anarchy more than anything else. I had read about Anna only as much as my textbooks from high school contained and as it turned out, it was quite sufficient. The man has to his credit one village that he managed to de-boozify. Good for him. Then I felt the need to look deeper into him. Turns out, he’s also a fan of Vivekananda’s teachings. I guess that entitles him to lead a mass agitation against the government, doesn’t it? After all, the congress party is a bunch of cockamamie, arrogant knuckle-heads, aren’t they? Manmohan Singh is just some economics graduate from a local Haryana college that was accredited barely a few months ago…

False. They’re well educated leaders. They’ve been leaders and been a part of active politics for decades. Our chief minister is an MS from the University of California. Kapil Sibal declined after having qualified for the Indian Administrative Services (IAS).  Our prime minister, who we love to poke fun at and forever delight in calling a timid, over-cautious sadhu is perhaps the most qualified prime minister there ever has been. He’s been a part of active politics for several decades now. He knows full well what he’s doing and how to go about the business of running a country.

While the congress party is not beyond criticism and is far from being perfect and immaculate, is doing well. India’s doing well. The Economy of India is the tenth largest in the world by nominal GDP and the fourth largest by purchasing power parity (PPP) Was it inevitable? Perhaps. But we still need a functioning government to make it happen and in my opinion, the Congress party is the most stable alternative we have. Corruption, while is mainly a problem of the government has its roots deeply seated in our disposition. It is we, who are in the government. India is a gerontocracy, governed by people who are quite older than the bulk of the adult population. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.

What Anna Hazare did is a form of blackmail. It’s like “Meet my demands else I’ll starve myself to death and you’ll be responsible” and as expected, it started a culture of fasting in order to get work done. Soon, we’ll have little children writing as footers in their answer sheets “if I don’t pass this paper, I shall go on an indefinite hunger strike”. Baba Ramdev, the latest one to try out the phenomenon, put forward his cause. The Congress party quickly thought of a fix – the ban on alcohol for all youngsters below 25 which they had no real intentions of actually strictly implementing. It was a masterstroke. It simultaneously distracted the youth towards a different debate and reduced the consumption of liquor by immature youngsters. While the second was obvious, the first was pure genius.

Hazare’s campaign was successful owing to the large proportion of youth it managed to attract. It hit the government hard. And coming back to the point I made in the beginning, we’ll support a cause without even knowing as much as what the Jan Lokpal is all about. Every second supporter of Anna’s movement under the age of 21 did not even know the contents of the Lokpal Bill. A friend of mine once passionately said during a conversation “This Lokpal Bill thing is a great idea; someone should’ve thought of it earlier.”  I was speechless. The Lokpal Bill was for the first time presented during the fourth Lok Sabha in 1968, and was passed there in 1969. However, while it was pending in the Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha was dissolved, and so the bill was not passed at that time. The bill was revived in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005, and most recently in 2008.

Mr. Hazare cleverly chose to not be the head of the civil society. Bloody coward. If you feel so strongly about the country and the issues that surround it and hinder our progress, if Mr. Hazare has had enough of corruption and now wishes to clean up the mess, why do it from the outside? Why is he so scared of getting his white kurta stained? Enter active politics, contest elections, and change the system by being a part of it, not by fasting and threatening. If the Congress leaders had the stones, they would’ve just bluntly said – We do not negotiate with terrorists, not even Gandhian ones.

But sadly, in our country, the underdog is highly revered and in that spirit we’ve blissfully ignored the fact that Anna’s cause is more sympathetic than convincing.

The essence of democracy lies in the fundament that the odd guy can challenge the very system that he is part of. While even anarchy provides the same privilege, it is a privilege that is exercised one too many times by one too many people. Every so often, one man conspicuously voices his agony and leads a mass movement that starts off with a few likeminded people and slowly begins to attract the youth and then, celebrities follow the suit, fashionably late and evidently bathetic. That’s our way of confirming that the democracy is still a functioning one. It’s a false sense of security that we love to be enveloped in and blanketed by.

Anna is a champion of the cause of the teetotaler and “live clean” ensemble. He’s done enough to be heard and not be pigeonholed as a phony. His contributions in the Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act and the Right to Information Movement were immense but one can’t help but feel that this time around, he’s deliberately trying to attract media attention and trying to create a legacy of social workers and a country that performs only under the pressure of fasts unto death. God forbid, ten years from now a newspaper front page headline reads “Government waiting for social worker to commence fast so they can officially declare molestation as a criminal offence”.

5th August, 2011

Beloved Diary,

Delhi Belly got me thinking. While it’s probably one of the last movies that would get me “thinking”, I can’t help but think about a few things. It was a thoroughly entertaining movie and I absolutely loved it but the content and the language and the acceptance and appreciation that it got, bothers me. Are we past the hero dancing with 50 random strangers dancing behind him as he attempts to woo the salwar kameez clad heroine who’s playing hard to get? Are we past Johnny Lever’s slapstick comedy? I went to watch the movie a couple of weeks after it release hoping to sit comfortably in the theatre without having to book tickets 4 hours in advance just to get the seats of my choice. But even on a Monday afternoon, two weeks after the movie released, the theatre was packed. I barely got a couple of tickets for me and my friend. While I had some idea about the theme and nature of the film, what I actually saw, caught me completely off guard. What was even more mind-boggling was the response it was getting. The humor was not only enjoyed without any compunction, it was openly appreciated. Until recently, national controversies have been sparked off by 3 second kissing scenes and all of a sudden, we’re watching multiple times, a film that has profanity in every alternate dialogue.

Where are we headed? As an audience, as a sensibility, as intellectuals? Why the double standards? Why is it despicable if Emraan Hashmi does it and “in good humor” if Imran Khan does it in an Aamir Khan film? The film was defended on the pretext that this is how normal people converse in their daily life. What then should keep us from accepting it if it’s shown in a movie? Well, for starters, we do a lot of things in our “daily life” that aren’t appropriate enough to be shown in films. I’m sure each one has a different thing.

Another question that I ask myself is that if we can appreciate a bold film like Delhi Belly, why can’t we accept all things like it? Many of my friends who gasp every time someone uses the f word enjoyed the movie thoroughly but they still gasp every time someone uses the f word. It doesn’t even make sense anymore. We’ll appreciate Dostana and all the gay humor that it incorporates and accept John and Abhishek as perfectly adorable and yet shudder at the thought of one of our own being homosexual. How many of our parents would be really okay with us being homosexual? But we all loved Dostana and went “oooh!” at all the homosexual entendres in Dostana.

Is it okay as long as it’s done under the pretext of humor? As long as it’s funny?

9th August, 2011

Beloved Diary,

I just read several statements from people who are part of Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal campaign claiming that they’ve all paid a bribe to get their work done. Either for college admissions or to a traffic policeman or to get a document made…

What do I think? Well diary, I think that bribery is pretty illegal even now. It’s not like someone who gets caught accepting a bribe will get away with it just because the Lokpal Bill hasn’t been passed yet. So where exactly does the root of the problem lie? It lies within us. We’re corrupt and we blame the system for not being stringent enough. In my limited experience, it’s often a choice we have to make. It’s pretty simple really – to bribe or not to bribe? When I went to the esplanade court to have my domicile certificate made, I quickly realized that there’s no way I won’t get my document. It may take a month, it may take a few unnecessary visits to the Xerox shop but I’ll get it. If however, I offer the guy a “commission” of say Rs. 200 or so, I may be able to avoid the hassle. Make no mistake about it though – it’ll still take about a month because that’s how long it takes unless you hire one of the small time lawyers standing outside the gate like hawkers.

Eventually, I got my work done without having to pay too much. Then, pleased that my work was done, I offered him a hundred buck tip. So if accepting bribes becomes somewhat more illegal than what it is now and people do actually stop accepting bribes, a new system will be formed for getting work done faster than or maybe as fast as the system permits. Say tipping. Tip big and work gets done. Either way, the fault lies not in the sum of money handed over to hasten the process, it lies within us.