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I’M HALF A ANNA [October, 2011]

Shashidhar S. Kapur

The recent agitations by an ex-armyman turned tele–Gandhi(an) and a celebrity yoga guru has exposed the limitations of the Indian state and pushed the limits of its middle class . While the former lacked rigour , the latter was based on misguided vigour. Baba Ramdev’s was misguided vigour in the sense that he wanted to push political agenda through emotions and Anna’s entire approach was too simplistic. Both tried to get their way by a sort of “ reverse agitation” by the name of Satyagraha – one successfully and the other not so successfully. ( It is “reverse” in more senses than one since you don’t actually agitate – you in fact stop all agitation by parking yourself on your haunches /squatting and in the process leaving your adversaries madly agitated).The present government comprising bureaucrats and professionals turned politicians acted true to its form – by getting paralysed . It was made worse by the media – social media in particular which midwifed dissent ( Just as mainstream media had tried to manufacture consent in case of Indo-U.S. nuclear deal ). Somehow things sorted themselves out – as they always do in India – and a temporary peace has been achieved. The interregnum is the best time to analyse and realize. To try and figure out the past mistakes and chalk a course for the future.

Though these middle class movements focused on the single issue of corruption, it is clear that they are a consequence of a wider malaise over a period of time. Broadly speaking , there is an undercurrent of unhealthy stress in India which can be linked , howsoever tenuously to churnings in the economy. A major reason can be traced to the economic reforms of the 19990s – they’ve created unrealistic aspirations. It has resulted in a divide between aspirations and ability –a lot of which can be attributed to implementing the economic reforms exclusively – by not carrying out matching reforms in other sectors simultaneously. The Lokpal has been agreed to two decades down the line .Going by the dictum that “those who cannot compete will cheat” has resulted in all pervasive corruption( since Indians cannot compete – at least not in pure math-science , world sport and military/futuristic economy ). Moreover , even if India were to become corruption free ,its efficiency/delivery will improve but not its productivity without which quantum growth is impossible.( That comes with improvement in math-science, sport & economy).

As things stand now , neither “I am Anna” nor am I “not Anna”- I’m “half a Anna” Chaubees Ghante Chaukanna ( vigilant round the clock ). In simple terms, while supporting Anna and others for trying to cleanse the collective public sphere , I’ll continuously monitor my own character lest it gets eroded.

Now that the mother of all Indian reality shows – the Anna agitation media coverage – has taken a break , it is advisible that the polity takes care of the housekeeping activities to be able to hold its own after the break.

To begin with, let it be clear that there is no danger of India ever having a revolution – for ,that happens in countries which have fought wars. However, India runs the danger of being paralysed by Satyagrahas and such struggles more than any other country in the world. If the government sits smug thinking that they’ve taken the steam out of the undercurrent of public discontent , at least for the time being or till next elections , they’d be doing the nation a great disservice besides committing harakiri .With the next set of economic reforms on the horizon , matching proposals for all other sectors of public sphere – media, judiciary et al- have to be planned simultaneously. The two major players who created a disconnect between government and the masses – NGO’s & corporates – have to be made accountable to public through the public representatives. At the same time , without casting aspersions on the Satyagrahis , it must be conveyed to them and the public at large that their role is to educate the society about issues , create an informed citizenry , work for the decentralization of populist aspects – to align the government to people’s needs ( and not armtwist it to align it to the unaligned – leave that to the opposition parties ). This event could be taken as an exception since the opposition failed to perform its role. Now that the point has been made, the youth brigade should get back to their stations and detente should prevail till the next elections . If the government opts to snooze again , this energy can easily be diverted to show them the door.

Likewise , without using government machinery to harass them , the message must be communicated to the yoga guru and his ilk as also to society in general that their role is to build national character , to check individual greed – to finetune the government to the feelings of society ( and not to afflict the comforted using frenzied crowds to sing to their tune – leave that to the press and judiciary ). This time out ,the press and judiciary joined the chorus too late and then sang too loud and too long. Since the message has been announced loud and clear ,the emotional army must retreat till the next elections .By which time, if the state doesn’t recover from the hangover , rug can be pulled from under its feet.

At the moment ,our news & entertainment media – is both dumb and numb in that it caters to the lowest collective intellect and panders to the basest common emotions. Like everything else in India , it also follows a reverse trajectory- wherein enhanced competition instead of improving quality ( as it does in the west) actually degrades it. As it stands today Indian TV is not only an Idiot box but also a crude tube ( Buddhu Baksa aur Bhonda tube ). Going by the trends , the Private media will get worse before it gets better. Hence , without losing any time the public service media ( Doordarshan , AIR , Field publicity etc.) ought to be rejuvenated , revived and expanded. Of course this time the model has to be opposite of the existing one – grassroots up instead of top down. If instead, the public service media gets further sidelined -as it has in the west -we could be staring at a generation of intellectually dumb and emotionally numb young people. Which is exactly what the media – entertainment giants dominating the mainstream global media (viz. Time-Warner ) and the transnational Infocom megaliths( viz. Google-Facebook ) want so that they can manufacture consent easily and midwife dissent at a short notice. This could happen sooner than later – in the mid term- within the next decade or two..

In the long run -if India chooses to take the pronouncements in American media of this being the Asian century , it would be advised to have a look at the assertion of two leading U.S. defense strategists that “ American dominance of the internet and all realms of global media and communications ensure that it is the twenty first century, not the twentieth , that will turn out to the period of America’s greatest preeminence’.

Likewise , if we opt to trust the middle term quiet on the Chinese front and their polite compliments that India with the biggest young population will be the next global manufacturing hub by the middle of this century , we can do so at our own peril. However , it would do no harm to be reminded of their avowed mission that “ The route to world domination passes through Kolkatta , Ankara and Havana”. The danger is that all the hype about Indian youth and Asian age will be turned on its head. It is a sort of gambit – the real aim being to even further strengthen the hegemony. We could end up as Infocoolies of the Americans and backroom boys of the Chinese .By the end of this century , India could well be a nation of the intellectually dumb and emotionally numb- a country of robotic morons. However, if we go in for informed engagement ( particularly in media) and enlightened seclusion ( esp. in entertainment) , we have half a chance .That’s why I’ve chosen to be half a Anna.