Monday, June 20, 2011

Indian Politics at the Crossroads

Full Version

The past few weeks have seen a saga unfold like never before. The government, the opposition, representatives of civil society, competitors to representatives of civil society, the judiciary, investigative agencies, and of course, the press - all part of a series of actions and reactions which have brought us here today. The situation today is so muddled up that people have either lost interest, or are looking at a certain part of the mosaic with such passion that the entire picture is just not visible.

Let us take a minute and look at the beginning. It started with a series of scams that shook the nation – 2G, CWG, Adarsh etc. At that time, many questioned whether the anger of the common man would result in structural changes for the betterment of the nation. The opposition called for a joint parliamentary committee on the 2G scam and ensured the parliament did not function for an entire session. The government responded with unprecedented action – asking the accused ministers to resign, and not interfering when they were put behind bars. Finally, they even conceded to the JPC demand.

Then there was the wave of civil society representation. Team Anna Hazare decided to sit on fast till their demands on the Lokpal Bill were accepted. The country rallied around Anna, a gandhian with an impeccable image, and rejoiced when the government accepted the demand for representation from civil society. There were some lone voices concerned about building an all powerful organization with draconian powers. But they were ignored. Why? Because the government bowing down to simpletons of civil society soothed the anger in the common man, and that is what mattered.

And, then, finally, there was Baba Ramdev. Baba Ramdev did almost everything right. He brought the government to its knees and played his part as the people’s champion. He had everything going for him, including the government’s actions, until he mentioned something about raising an army against the government. That made the country pause, and think. The government used the mistake to its advantage, dealt with the baba and tried to use to momentum to get back at Anna Hazare & team. Anna promptly promised to go on fast yet again.

So that was a brief synopsis of what happened in the past few weeks. There is something for everyone to learn from what has happened.

For the Common Man

This government has been caught with a number of scams since it has been elected for a second term. But we need to accept the fact that this government has done more about corruption than any other government ever has. There are many who claim to represent civil society. The main reason why they exist is because we have lost trust in our elected representatives, not because we trust these unelected ones. We need to spend more time understanding every issue they take up and what their views are, rather than rally behind them because it helps us vent our anger.

For the Government

The government has not got its due for the action it has taken against corruption, and it can only blame itself. There is absolutely no leader in the government who attempts to connect with the masses and explain its stand on issues. For example, the government today seems like a villain who wants to quash the Lokpal Bill, irrespective of whether it brings about good. They have not even attempted to explain their stand to the people. This is the main reason why the people are turning to the representatives of civil society. At least, they explain what they intend to do. The biggest strength in Baba Ramdev’s fast was that he was in front of the masses, discussing every action with them. That is something the government needs to think about.

For the Opposition

The government has made its mistakes and the opposition has benefited from them. But the opposition too suffers from the same problem that the government does. In the eyes of the people, they are no better than the government. There is no leader who actually tries to explain its party’s position on the Lokpal, or Baba Ramdev, or black money and how it seeks to reduce it. They are too busy disagreeing or agreeing with the views of the government or civil society to take the lead on issues. Also, it does not help that the only major accomplishment of the opposition in the recent past is that they ensured that no discussions were held in the parliament for an entire session, which is one of the primary reasons we are having representatives of civil society standing up today.

No one can really foretell how things will pan out, but one can say with some certainty that the next few weeks will have a strong impact on India’s history. While the optimist hopes that it may result in decisive structural reform, the pessimist can be fairly certain that it will ensure enough ammunition for numerous political battles ahead.


Abridged Version - Article on
the Free Press Journal
Sunday, 19th June 2011 on

Please feel free to comment, discuss and debate. Thanks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The rising sun

The sun had not yet risen when Vandana woke. It was the day of the month she looked forward to the most. She took the tola and walked to the cow shed silently. Her husband hardly got any sleep after the factory they sold their cotton to started offering double shifts. He now tended to the farm in the mornings and worked in the plant in the evenings.

As she milked the cow, she planned her day. First, she had to cook lunch for her husband and children, and then walk to the cooperative in the next village to buy more seeds. She would reach home only by noon.

The second half of the day was what Vandana was excited about. On the first Saturday of every month Srinivas Sahib came to the village. Srinivas Sahib was from the city, from the government bank. Every month, he would sit with the women and listen - whether the borrowers were paying money back on time, the rains, the crop, almost every other thing that happened in the village since the last meeting. A year back, when the first such meeting had taken place, none of them dared to speak. After about half an hour, finally succumbing to Srinivas Sahib’s persistence, Gayatri mentioned the lack of rains, and all of a sudden, everybody wanted to say something! Nowadays, everyone looked forward to the meetings, questions prepared and ideas thought about. If not anything, at least they could talk to someone who was from the city.

Vandana clearly remembered the time when Srinivas Sahib had first come to the village. When he suggested that families come together with their savings and lend to villagers in need, he was laughed at. What were the moneylenders there for? How patient he had been. The moneylender was looting them, he said. The bank would lend as much money as the villagers brought together, and they would charge a cost far lower than the moneylenders. Why would they want to go to the moneylenders when they could help each other? Then the second shock. Women, elected by the villagers, would be in charge of the money. They would hold meetings and decide who could borrow how much! Her husband, like many others, was livid with rage. Who will look after the house? Was Srinivas Sahib saying that the men in the village could not take care of their women and children? Vandana, like all the other women, had stared at Srinivas Sahib with
uncertainty. She had always felt she could do something more than the chores at home, but this? She was scared. Srinivas Sahib had again been patient. How will you manage this money when you are working in the factory, he asked. She manages your money at home. Let her manage money in the community.

The monthly collections were higher than the previous month yet again. The monsoon had been good. Srinivas Sahib had promised that at this rate, they could apply for more money from the bank! She looked up to see Pavithra, her eldest daughter, walking out of home, yawning. More money meant they could finally afford fertilizers for the cotton!

Vandana smiled. The sun was rising.