While the world’s attention was held by scenes of violence in Libya and elsewhere, it completely missed one of the most significant movements in a Democratic governance any where in the world. An experiment, if it works will be a model for the rest of the world to follow. An experiment in which Civil Society has an active say over governance above the Parliament not just once every 5 years, but continuously over the term of a government in power.
It may be an experiment that is just too complex to handle given the bureaucratic tangles of the Indian Political and Administrative system. Or it may just work. The Jan Lokpal Bill as it is called has still to be passed by Parliament. Has a Parliament anywhere in the world voted for strong strictures on it’s own functioning?
It might just. Why ?
Because the Bill, or at least a more lenient version of it has been outstanding for over 40 years with no Government in power actually havig the gumption to push it through. But right now there is a chance of it being pushed through not because the Indian Politicians have had a sudden change of heart. But because one 74 year old activist took up a revered method of protest in India and galvanized large populations all over India in protest s that spilled over into the streets.
He went on a hunger strike for 12 days. And while the Government thought they would solve the problem by throwing him and his core team into prison, all they were effective in doing was galvanizing even more popular support for him. For 12 days it was a ‘see who blinks first’ contest between the Government and 74 year old Anna Hazare. And fearing large scale violence in the event of Anna Hazare’s death the Government blinked first. And the people rejoiced.
And while hunger strikes are not an uncommon method of protest in India, ( ‘Iron’ Sharmila Chanu has been on one for 11 years, being force fed http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irom_Chanu_Sharmila ) , Anna Hazare’s tool was a simple, effective and hit the depths of almost every Indian’s consciousness. Like Gandhi’s simple message to the British of ‘Quit India’, Anna Hazare’s message was an ‘anti corruption movement’.
Corruption has been at the heart of Indian Political, Administrative, Police and Judicial system, certainly since Independence 65 years ago, maybe before. The presence of which has been resented by those that are victims of it (almost 90% of India) , and celebrated by those that manage to benefit from it. But its the sheer size of it that has suddenly brought it into focus, with amounts moving into Billions of Dollars and arising from a vast network of Political/ Business alliances.
Some say it is a cultural trait. I have different reasons.
The Indian Constitution was written for a population at that time of 350 million people. For a largely middle aged, and mostly rural demographic. In a world which did not change much over the five year tenure that a Government had. It was also written at a time where the general perception was of a populations resistant to change, that lacked mobility, and one where the Founding Fathers assumed would need to be led and nudged into modernity.
If some one had told the Founding Fathers that time that India would head towards a population of 1.3 Billion with 65% under the age of 25, aspiring to modernize, urbanize and partake of a world that was constantly changing on a dime, perhaps they would have thought differently.
Though it was not the principles laid down in India’s constitution that were wrong. In fact it is reputed to be one of the fairest, most just and precise Constitutional document’s in any Democracy. The problem lay in the Political, Administrative and Judicial systems that were set up to support that constitution. Systems that were reflective of the Inertia of those times. An Inertia that over time has come into increasing conflict with modern India. Overloaded, unresponsive and uwilling to change, the people responded with the only way they had to overcome the wall of Inertia they faced in their every day lives. Bribing their way to either survive, to get justice , or to gain vast favors for themselves.
We must wait to see if Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill manages to control corrupt practices or just adds another layer to a large inert bureaucratic machine. But even of the bill does not go through Parliament, Anna Hazare’s movement has achieved huge success. It has brought notice to the Members of the Parliament that their decisions are not just unto themselves. That however effective or ineffective the final Bill maybe it has put all members of the Political Class on notice. But more…
The movement has raised the people of India from their slumber. Not just the disenfranchised, the poor and the hungry, the hopeless. But the vast middle classes of India who took to the streets. The educated, the students, the ones with jobs to lose, the ones with hope in their future. Who walked together with their domestic help, with the people they would normally bypass without a glance
And that woke the vast Indian Political system from it’s slumber. Because the urban and semi urban middle classes of India that usually are the bulwark of stability in any Democracy, were screaming on the streets asking almost to overthrow the political system. No Government, current or the future, could be safe if that happened. Howls of protest from within the walls of the parliament shouted hoarse that to strike at the Parliament meant a strike at Democracy. That Anna Hazare’s movement was undemocratic. They were wrong.
The Parliament is a political system designed to serve the principles of Democracy laid down in the Indian Constitution. It is not Democracy in itself. And the Founding Fathers got this one completely right. The first words in the Indian Constitution are ‘ We the People of India’, and the rest followed. Anna Hazare’s movement had used protest as a tool to make the largest Democracy in the world far far more vibrant,
And the World did not notice that this was done with not shot fired, not an ounce of violence. India’s second coming was completely peaceful.