Friday, August 19, 2011

Shaanth Gadaa-dhaari Bheem..

Dear Sender,

Thank you for your photos, SMSes and Facebook messages. As you said, there is indeed a widespread fervour and nervous enthusiasm that this time we will be able to get a realistic change. There are people from my office, young and and old, who are actively participating in this movement, and Mr. Hazare is truly championing a movement that is bound to bring about change. Needless to say, if we didn’t have corruption, we’d be a better place to live.

However, I must be true to myself and admit to you that this movement is not one that I would like to be associated with. Not that it is not arguing for the right thing - I am not the person to judge that. People believe that someone is taking advantage of them, and they have every right to protest. However, deep inside this protest smacks of usual human hypocrisy.

In the last five and some years that we have been back in India, I must admit, I have paid bribes. I have paid bribes to public prosecutors, to police inspectors, sub-inspectors and havaldars, to traffic policemen and RTO bureaucrats. In each of these cases however, the bribe paid was to help me (or someone I know) get out of something that could be perceived as wrong on our part. In these 5 years, I have not had a single instance where someone has asked me for a bribe when I am in the right. Even the bribes we give when we need something that is our right, at some level it is to help us jump the queue. That someone asks for a bribe, is one thing, in which I am complicit too. In light of this, who am I to protest against corruption, when it has helped me achieve my ultimate end?

However, this is not the corruption which bothers me.

This morning, as I was on my way to work, I approached a traffic light at Mobo chowk. As I approached it, the light turned red, so I slowed down. However, before I reached the junction, along came a gleaming, golden Honda City cutting across me. It was coming from the cross street, however given that their signal was red, decided to take the free left turn, then take the U-Turn (to come to my way), and then take the free left turn available to us. Since the divider wasn’t quite the biggest, it pretty much amounted to a straight road for him. However I reached there before him. And I stopped my car since I was to wait for the red light.

I was definitely in the right of way. I was well within my rights to stop for the right turn. But my action was deliberate. I didn’t want this suit wearing, goggle totting gentleman to take advantage of this loophole, while I was doing what is right. But this gentleman didn’t quite see it that way. He thought I was being a smart Alec. Swearing at me, my mother, my sisters, and everyone else, he went from behind my car, and carried on, while all the way making me aware of my incestuous relationships with all my female relatives.

It sounds funny, but it’s not.

Corruption, is not only monetary. Corruption is (as I read from the Webster Dictionary website) "an impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle". The monetary portion is, if anything, the most easily retrievable impairment. And on this count, I must say that it is not just the politicians, government machinery or the bureaucrats who are corrupt. This morning, on my way to work, I encountered at least 3 instances where someone failed this so-called corruption test. Whether it is people riding on the wrong side of the road, breaking a traffic light or even for that matter not wearing a helmet / seat belt, we do it not because it is right, but in the full knowledge that it is wrong yet there is minimal chance of getting caught. And it’s not just traffic sense (or lack of it) that I am talking about. Whether it is the shopkeeper who prefers the cash transaction to the 2% service tax he would have to pay for debit card transactions, or the buyer who prefers to get the stocked item for this “discounted” price, each one of us has at some level actively participated in cheating the rest of our country. We seat our kids on bikes and break traffic lights with impunity. To us, and to our kids, this has become acceptable behavior. Differentiation between right and wrong, has become primarily a one-way street, where everything done by us is automatically considered right.

We may complain, protest, demand against our elected representatives, but at the end of the day, the people we have elected are our mirror image. What they’re doing is, in my opinion, no way different from what I would do if placed in that position. We can blame the system, or we can admit that it us, you and me, who has created the system. We have created this system, because at some level we do condone this corruption. We condone it because we have, at some point or the other done the exact same thing that we’re now taking the moral high road against. Hazare’s protest is showing “civil society” a mirror, and supposedly intelligent, somewhat educated, people are demanding we change the mirror. Expecting highest levels of morality and “unimpeachable” integrity from our leaders, while demonstrating the exact opposite at every single opportunity is what we have come to.

As regards Hazare’s behavior personally, there’s something left to personal judgement. I was not around during Mahatma Gandhi’s time, and so cannot comment on whether he is Gandhian in the true sense. But something seems wrong, when he says that if you’re not agreeing to his demands, you’re not doing the right thing for the country. Gandhi succeeded in his protest, because his protest was simple. He told the British government, that they have no right to rule simply because they do not represent the people. And to prove his point, he simply followed the rules set by them.

As regards the Jan Lokpal bill, again I am probably not the best judge of that. Maybe it is the best thing since we discovered freedom from the British. But something tells me that it won’t quite be the solution we’re hoping for. Not because of its merits or demerits, but rather because it will create one piece of legislation, and that’s it. As a society we are used to proceeding with anything and everything that meets our ultimate objective, and legislations and rules and ethics that come in our way are mere occupational hazards.

What I write is boring, and I may be arguing without merit. It certainly doesn’t sound sexy enough to hit the front pages of the TOI - a newspaper which seems to have no hesitation in selling its front page and masthead to the highest paying advertiser. Maybe my protest against the protest is misguided and on the wrong side of history.

But that’s what is on my mind, and I will be damned if I don’t say so.

And to top Anna Hazare’s million Bollywood Twitter friends, I have some support from Hollywood:

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