A few days after Anna Hazare’s now infamous April 5 Hunger strike, I saw a car, in the posh Koramangala neighborhood, with the sticker “I support Anna Hazare”. Instinctively, I wanted to run after the car, have a glimpse of the person behind the wheel and ask: Sir, how exactly do you intend to support Mr. Hazare? I didn’t do it; the thought came a few seconds too late while the car gained momentum.
In August, during the time when Hazare was in jail, various rallies were organized in the city. There was the gathering at Freedom Park. Some people decided to wear black on certain days. Some of them burnt effigies and had mashals in their hand while they carried a portrait of Hazare (with the Mahatma in the background). One evening, I witnessed one such rally in Koramangala, with people chanting slogans in the name of Hazare.
The same evening, not very far away from where I had seen this rally and strikingly close to where once I had seen this car with “I support Anna Hazare” sticker, I saw three traffic policemen manning a junction. One man, his two-wheeler parked by the side, on the broken pavement, with a bunch of notes in his fist. The officer had a firm grip on what lay inside his fist while the man was trying to free his arm, in vain. I do not know if I was alone in this but I certainly felt some irony witnessing this scene with the Hazare rally in the backdrop. That a group of Hazare supporters crossed the same busy Koramangala intersection at almost the same time must have done little to sanctify the surroundings and the scene.
A few weeks later on the same location, I saw the same policemen. This time they were preying on the two-wheeler riders that came on the wrong side of the road. 15 minutes later, I had spoken to two of their “victims”, both of them who chuckled while they told me they had just “paid up”. There was even a broker, as they told me, who helped bridge the linguistic barrier while negotiating deals.
Keeping Hazare and India’s fight against corruption in background, let me talk about a few other instances.
In one of the sub-registrar’s office, my wife had to pay a fee of Rs.200 for a stamp on a document. Until asked for, she never got any acknowledgement for the amount paid. When asked, she got frowns and was given directions to various windows across the office until someone obliged with the receipt (but not without giving a nasty glare). In another sub-registrar’s office in Bangalore, they reject your property registration if a bribe of Rs.14000 (for a standard area plot) is not paid (cash, of course) with your application fee.
Another day, on the way back from work in an auto-rickshaw, stuck in the evening traffic jam at Koramangala inner ring road, I saw an argument between a pedestrian, who had been walking on the pavement and a rider who had his two-wheeler on it. Now, Koramangala inner ring road is not the typical Bangalore road. For a 3 km stretch, there’s no shelter on either side of the road, only green bushes in an army land that encompasses both sides of the road. The road also has a slightly elevated pavement, all the way. That rainy evening and with that traffic jam that’s such a common occurrence, the rider, in a bid to outclass the lesser mortals using the road, had ventured into pedestrian territory and now wanted the pedestrian to make way for him. Only that the pedestrian was hell bent on not giving him room to pass. “This is for pedestrians. If you have to go, you hit me and go”, shouted the pedestrian, looking back, blocking the way. The rider, in return — with rage in his eyes, threatened to beat the pedestrian up.
Times like these, I end up thinking of the Koramangala car with it’s “I support Anna Hazare” sticker and my intention to ask that question. Admittedly, I have asked the same question to many of those who chose to wear black and were a part of human chains or went to Freedom Park. In most cases, the answer was simply that they planned to support Hazare by forwarding emails, giving missed calls, sharing videos. This way, many said, awareness will be increased. Many also believed that by doing this, they would be “morally” supporting Hazare.
Talking about Hazare: My problem with Hazare and his team is simply that they have projected the politicians and the people who hold state power as a completely different breed from us. It is like a giant beast that needs to be put on a leash. The lokpal bill, for now, is our projection of that leash. While creating this image, we – the citizens, have completely absolved ourselves of even, at least, trying to live our own lives in honesty and driven by moralistic values. The truth is, a society gets the Government it deserves.
In that regard, destiny has served us well.
If something in us instinctively makes us break the most simplest of laws that we can adhere to (and that includes our daily tryst with traffic signals), what right do we have to expect those who yield power in the State to be clean and models of honesty?
All these people: The policemen manning the Koramangala intersection, those who confessed that they paid bribes to the policemen, the two wheeler rider who had the audacity to drive his bike on a 3 km long pedestrian pavement and then threatning to beat up the pedestrian, those officers and clerks in various sub-registrar offices in Bangalore and the rest of us who use our own discretion while deciding to break red-signals — I am certain, all of them would say “yes” in unison if Hazare asked them their support in his movement. All of them are, afterall, fed up of a corrupt Government that runs this country.
But my question to them is – How can we claim to give moral support to a movement against corruption and be immoral at the same time?