Behold India’s unfolding democratic revolution (Comment)

August 24th, 2011 - 2:54 pm ICT by IANS  

A unique revolution is unfolding across India. No matter what is the immediate outcome of this popular upsurge, triggered by the inspiring determination of a 74-year-old man’s refusal to eat food till the first step towards containing the hydra-headed monster of state-encouraged corruption is taken, Anna Hazare’s fast has already become an event of great historic proportions.

Take a few recent developments in the so-called developed democracies of the West. In the United Kingdom marauding mobs robbed innocent people, burned down neighbourhood shops and houses and attacked police with guns and petrol bombs. In otherwise placid Norway, extreme hate-filled anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant mindset led to the mass carnage of innocent students and bombing of buildings in Oslo. In the preacher of democracy, the United States, a prolonged recession, mounting unemployment and venal partisan politics have led to hardening of anti-immigrant prejudices, instead of a pan-American protest movement. A similar narrow-minded response is on display across crisis-ridden Europe.

Now contrast that with India’s sweeping mass movement. It is peaceful, non-violent and all-inclusive, propagating a “middle path” shunning the extremism of Maoists on the one hand and rightwing bigotry on the other. We must remember that ordinary Indians have been brutalised for far too long by tyrannical state functionaries ranging from a ruthless policeman to a shameless minister looting public money to a pitiless judge allowing the innocent to rot in prison.

And yet, Indians have not swung either to the extreme left or to the extreme right. They have steadfastly remained on the middle path. In a dazzling display of noble human emotions, Indians are helping each other in this mass uprising in a spirit of service and fellow feeling. Look at that family of 40 from Ludhiana distributing food and water at Ramlila grounds and the traders from Shahdara who are running community kitchens to feed people and the grandmother from Kurukshetra who cooks food and brings it to Delhi and shares it with anyone sitting next to her at Ramlila grounds. Such stories abound across the country.

There is, as if, a race to do as much as one can to help the fellow human being braving the punishing heat and a callous government apparatus. There was a blind teacher from Delhi University who came with his blind wife so that they could let their one-year-old son see and hear Anna Hazare. There was an 80-year-old ailing professor from Patna who was brought in a wheelchair by his daughter-in-law so that he could be part of this social churning before he dies. Groups of poor homemakers from the suburb of Palwal came every day after finishing their household chores along with babies in their arms. Taxi-drivers skipped their work one evening and brought their taxis in a procession and many gave free rides to fellow protesters. Diasporic Indians also took to streets from Toronto to London and New York to feel emotionally connected with the movement back home.

No other popular movement since independence has been able to generate such nationwide enthusiasm in such a grand scale that is totally peaceful and non-violent. Even the “total revolution” call by Jayaprakash Narayan in the seventies evoked a response mainly among the youth and stayed confined to northern and western India and sometimes degenerated into violent outbursts.

Cynics and sceptics, unwittingly propping up the indefensible case of an insensitive and insular ruling establishment, have variously tried to run down the uprising by picking up a stray slogan here or an out-of-context comment there or by plainly circulating lies and misinformation. That is why they are as disconnected from the ground reality and popular aspirations as the government and its corrupt minions are.

We must celebrate the swelling popular participation in the uprising that has forced the elected representatives to be accountable in an unprecedented way. If the legislators were truly representing the people, they would be milling among the peaceful crowds, and not hide in fear in their well-guarded, fenced and usurped prime real estate.

This churning will go toward strengthening democracy and making it more meaningful and relevant. Democracy does not mean voting once in five years and allowing the elected politician to lord over people and to loot public money and resources, secured in comfortable enclaves and protected by phony legalese.

It is the criminal masquerading as politician who has degraded parliament and its procedures, not the long suffering Indian people who are out on the street today demanding accountability and transparency - two hallmarks of real democracy. And the citadel of corruption is shaking. It is time to be proud of India’s vibrant and exemplary democratic revolution.

(24.8.2011 -Sudip Mazumdar is long-time foreign correspondent based in New Delhi and a keen political observer. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at sudipm@gmail.com)

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