Waking Up a Nation’s Conscience

Eleven days ago, activist Anna Hazare, in the heart of India’s capital, started a fast unto death until the Government agreed to an anti-corruption bill that had been lying around for 42 years. Governments had come and gone without giving it a serious thought. The Jan Lokpal bill was what one could call the second automatic step a democracy like India was supposed to take after the Right to Information Act (RTI). That a 72 year old man had to stay empty stomach for 90 hours, in Delhi’s harsh sun to make it happen was a shame. The legislation should have been serious about it. The opposition should have taken note of it. As expected, the moment Hazare went on strike, Advani and the likes came out in support. Question: Why was this not taken up by the opposition in the parliament earlier? If BJP was serious about a bill of this stature and believed in the merits of it, why was this not taken up when NDA was in power? After all, a draft, open for discussion, existed then, too. But then it is a party based on an ideology that can be explained in a single, four letter word frowned upon by Computer Programmers: Null.

Now about Hazare but a bit of history first. Ambedkar, after India’s independence, had called upon the nation to reject Gandhian methods like Civil Disobedience and non-cooperation, simply because those methods do not have a place in a land ruled by a constitution. But here we had a bill that the politicians, combined across those in opposition and those in power, had a, sort of, silent consensus on not bringing it up even in a draft-form. And it is that unsaid pact that made Anna Hazare do what he did. Maybe Ambedkar would have approved of that? Now that Hazare’s 90 hour fast has accomplished what 42 years could not, let us allow the Constitution to take it from here.

The day when the agitation was at it’s peak, I had the good fortune of sitting at home and doing nothing except be on twitter all day. I saw “Anna Hazare” climb up and become a “Trend” in twitter. At it’s peak, there were about 60 tweets about Anna in 20 seconds. That is phenomenal. Then there was this email circulated with a phone number where you could give a missed call to, if you supported Anna Hazare’s fasting. I do not know what happened next. How and where did that call, a missed call at that, made a difference, I have absolutely no idea. But is this all what we ever wanted to do against corruption?

It is true that the citizens of this country have been subjected to corruption of the highest magnitude. In the long list of scams, the scandals can only be differentiated by the sheer amount of money involved. In that, let us not stay oblivious to the sins we have ourselves committed: Paying that little extra money for the electricity connection, that bribe for getting a gas connection, the monies we end up paying, at various traffic signals to various traffic cops, the thinking that a crime is not a crime until we are caught — Those lines only look good on T-Shirts. The moment we pay a bribe of Rs.200 to a traffic cop for a crime that attracts a fine of Rs.500, we lose the right to complain and be dismayed about the system and the corruption rampant in our Government. In that light, I ask you this — How many of those tweeters that day who made up for the “Anna Hazare” trend would not pay a bribe to the traffic cop? How many of those who swore by Anna Hazare that day would actually make a conscious attempt to follow the law of the Indian Union? Here’s the thing: Unless those who constitute what Nandan Nilekani calls the Demographic Dividend, those who are educated and literate, those who are driving the GDP of the nation to new heights, do their bit by educating themselves of their duty as citizens, I am afraid, posting status messages at Facebook, holding hands at Jantar Mantar and lighting candles at India Gate would be of no avail.

And accomplishing that, after being used to the petty crimes we all audaciously commit or have committed in the past, would not be an easy task or a stroll in the park. It would drive us way out of our comfort zone (as it rightly should) but until we do that, very less can be accomplished and guess what, we may be left out of this all, expecting people like Anna Hazare to fight for us.

Hidden inside a 72-year old man’s revolt is an attempt to wake up our conscience. Please don’t expect him to fight our battles, really. Start with yourself.

8 thoughts on “Waking Up a Nation’s Conscience

  1. In the categories, section here, why does the word india, does not start with a capital letter? !!

  2. AK, my feeling is that the real message of Hazare’s efforts is the wake up call to us all. Not even a strong LokPal bill will end corruption if we are unable to stop the petty ways in which we break laws/pay bribes/behave unethically every day. So in that sense I think your article makes exactly the right point: this is an attempt to wake up our conscience.

  3. Ady, I sincerely feel you have hit the right note. This is the call of our times and the only way forward along with the laws to punish the culprit even at highest level.

    Thanks for writing and sharing this piece. I just hope this is not just another fade which gets confined to Lokpal bill but become a catalyst for things to come and help us become a nation which we think we can become.
    And as you rightly said, please don’t expect our leaders or someone like Anna Hazare to fight for us, we need to stand up, get counted and fight our own battles.

  4. Aditya, you’ve summed it up beautifully, “..an attempt to wake up our conscience..”
    Excuse my cynicism but most of what we saw was about jumping on the bandwagon: the ‘prime time’ fixation with the ‘Anna Hazare show’, a few ‘likes’ on FB and the consequent ‘feel good’ factor.
    I even heard someone saying it feels like the 70’s are back :)
    As you’ve pointed out, this can only mean something if we ‘start with ourselves’.

  5. I admire Anna Hazare and I’m proud for what she has done for India. She is one model to emulate, an inspiration for many. While passage and implementation of laws that touches on corruption are what a corrupt government/state need, each citizen must be vigilant and willing to sacrifice like Anna Hazare so that the nation will live in justice and righteousness.

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