Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jan lok pal movement - The Poster boy of middle class India

In a country as diverse as India, with a political class that has till date deftly managed to evade any accountability whatsoever, the middle class has bore the major brunt of all its failings. The rich have been able to bulldoze their way by dint of their wealth, flouting it to negotiate any hurdle on their way to more riches. The poor have always had to grapple with something more basic than corruption. Corruption begins to affect one when the basics are in place - food, clothing, shelter and water in Maslow's hierarchy. The shrewd political class realizing this, has successfully orchestrated a subsidy culture to give illusory and momentary happiness to the poor. By playing on their emotions and sentiments, they have also nurtured vote-bank politics, thereby bidding accountability goodbye. 

Alas, now the real backbone behind India's growth stories - the IT engineers, the bio-technologists, the research scholars and the parents who toil hard to make sure that their sons and daughters make it to the IITs and the IIMs - they have woken up and are demanding accountability. The real taxpayer is finally standing up! This would not have been possible without an able leadership - a  person who stands for middle class values - in Anna Hazare and his team. 

Let us look at what is now core team Anna - 

Arvind Kejriwal - Business today calls him a clean-up crusader and fittingly so! His life, his brainchild - Parivartan - the locality he lives in, exemplify a middle class upbringing, values and lifestyle. With an IIT background and a Raman Magsaysay award against his name, his experiments with grassroot level local governance models gives him a lot of credibility among the middle class. 

Kiran Bedi - "Kiran's father, a talented tennis player, and her mother, a brilliant student whose schooling had been curtailed by early marriage, were determined that their daughters would have every opportunity to achieve their own life goals. One inspired her and her sisters to be tennis champions and, more importantly, to be people who had dreams and sought to achieve them. The other ensured that they would be healthy and fit to achieve those dreams."  - led a life that is inspirational to this day for all middle class Indians, one in which she grabbed every opportunity to become the person she is now. 

Prashant Bhushan - "On the rights of minorities and the dispossessed, on judicial accountability, on civil freedoms, on environmental concerns, he has prised open new spaces where earlier there was only opacity. He has helped keep democratic institutions responsive." - through his impeccable conduct in public life has endeared himself to the middle class by standing for what they hold dear, ethical conduct. 

 The middle class see themselves in these fellow citizens and are no doubt drawn into the movement in large numbers because of this fact. Anna Hazare is that figure, the middle class would love as a leader. By donning the Gandhian cap, what Anna has made possible in today's age and pace is that, practices that are deemed impractical and ineffective - peaceful protest, fasting - can actually yield results. These practices, curiously, are not ones in which action is immediately tangible. Paradoxically, in making the youth rally behind these, what Anna and team have demonstrated is the resilience of Gandhian methods. 

Democracy - really?

As Santosh Desai points out in his book, Mother Pious lady (replete with insightful analysis on every attribute of India's middle class) - "It can be successfully argued that India is an election-o-cracy more than it is a democracy, in that the primary quest of the democratic process is to allocate power. The exercise of that power, once gained, is subject to much looser standards of performance. The key idea of elections in India revolves around power and not mandate, patronage not policy." He actually asks the question: "Instead of seeing ourselves as a democracy, what if we really are a distorted form of elective and distributive monarchy?" When self anointed intellectuals talk of Indian democracy and constitutional methods, they should perhaps reflect a bit more on these. 

Given that we are not really a democracy in the true sense of the term and that the middle class has been ignored by the political class, the fact that have come together in staggering numbers to rally behind a cause that matters most to them, is something that should be taken notice of. Whether all the clauses of the civil society's Jan Lok Pal get accepted or not, what the movement has very successfully done is unite middle class India across caste, community and regional identities. The weight of their numbers has for once been made obvious to the political fraternity.

As the middle class gains more and more clout thanks to the opportunities that are expanding, in a globalized world, they will continue to draw inspiration from other movements and revolutions world over. A political change that is radical can only be brought by a revolution at the grassroots level. Be it the one that swept the streets of Cairo not long back or the one that is sweeping the small towns of India currently, both share a common thread - the people who ignited them are serious about it and will keep at it until they see their wants realized. If the political class cannot read the signs staring at their face, no amount of sloganeering can save them when they stand at the altar!

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