Khadi or Teflon? your choice… By Pritish Nandy

The nation is split in two. There are those who believe change is a possibility and must be supported at any cost, setting aside cynicism. So they go on marches, light candles, join fasts, and come out into the open against corruption and venality, knowing that in a society like ours there is always a price to be paid for dissent.

On the other hand, you have those basking in the eternal sunshine of the status quo. They are the privileged ones who back current power equations for they fear that change could subvert their cosy, comfortable world of give and take. They see the Hope brigade as a bunch of political upstarts anxious to break the queue. For them, men like Anna Hazare are dangerous. If he can emerge from nowhere, with no money, no patronage, no political party to back him, and yet win the support of millions of people, how will the status quo survive? What also disturbs them is that those who have set aside cynicism to raise the banner of hope are also spurning the typical political alignments of the past. They can’t be labelled any more.

So who are these new enemies of the State? No, they are not secret armies of the saffron Right. All attempts to prove that Anna Hazare has clandestine links with the RSS and the BJP have been laughed away. Nor can they be labelled, like Binayak Sen, as the ugly face of the radical Left. From a dangerous Naxalite, Sen has now cheerfully morphed into a new middle class hero after the Supreme Court sternly ticked off the State Government and set him free on bail. So who are these new Andolan junkies and what do they want to do? Stop all development? Subvert democracy? Derail our Parliamentary process? Hijack the political agenda? Or are they just dangerous blackmailers trying to sell us nonsensical ideas about social justice?

The argument of the cynics is simple. Where in the world has a nation progressed without corruption? Is the US graft-free? In fact, it has institutionalised graft and made lobbying on Capitol Hill a respectable profession. Is China graft-free? Go try and do business there. You will figure. Is Russia graft-free? Brazil? South Africa? If the other BRICS nations are not graft-free, why are we so anxious to sacrifice our scorching growth rate, our economic well being for such ridiculous and obsolete ideas that Anna Hazare stands for? You seriously expect a khadi clad, topiwallah, 72 year old Gandhian who has suddenly emerged from political obscurity to lead India into the 21st century? Whatever happened to our dream of building the new temples of modern India that Pandit Nehru dreamt of. What about more SEZs, more factories, better jobs, higher wages, the new lifestyle we dreamt of? Why should India’s progress be waylaid by these bandits questioning our short cut to wealth?

There is an entire constituency out there, led by those who benefit from being in power or close to it, who have suddenly emerged as the great defenders of the faith. They are the cynical backbone of the power elite, who want the status quo to continue. It gives them a sense of comfort to know that things will not change in a nation where every year dollar billionaires keep growing as fast as millions slide below the poverty line. There are more people buying cars in India today than anywhere else. There are more people buying second homes. There are more tall towers coming up in our cities to taunt the homeless. Swiss banks hold more hot money from this subcontinent than from anywhere else. We even have a Chief Economic Adviser who has put up a paper on the Finance Ministry website proposing that paying bribes be made legal. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a ragtag bunch of civil society activists have emerged to question the morality of the economic model that promises us a 9.8% GDP growth.

How can all this progress be sacrificed on the altar of some stupid, old fashioned notions of morality? Can khadi take over from teflon? Will the Gandhi topi come back to mock a generation that has grown up on twitter and facebook? Are we going to sacrifice all our achievements for the sake of few crackpots chanting Vande Mataram at Jantar Mantar? For those who love the status quo, it’s a clear No.

What impresses me, however, is that the main propagandists for change are the young. I see it wherever I go. Never was it more obvious than at Hazare’s fast. The people queueing up behind the new heroes of our time are mostly young. The generation that drives the new social media have campaigned with greater fervour and far less cynicism than traditional media. They are the ones most excited by the promise of change. It’s now up to each one of us to decide on which side we are. With the good guys struggling to bring in change? Or with the bad guys resisting it?


22 Responses to “Khadi or Teflon? your choice… By Pritish Nandy”

  1. Mr. Nandy,

    This untimely season of ideological evangelism seems odd. I have always considered you a pragmatic person.

    Comrade Hazare has just found his Rocinante. He calls it corruption. The don has just returned from his battle with the muleteers at Jantar Mantar. This is but the beginning. Let us give him some time to recoup.

    His journey will soon take him to the parliament of ferocious giants, who, as we all know, are mere windmills blown by economists.

    ‘That’s exactly it,’ replied Don Quijote, ‘that’s just how beautifully I’ve worked it all out — because for a knight errant to go crazy for good reason, how much is that worth? My idea is to become a lunatic for no good reason at all.’ Ch. 25, “Don Quixote” by Cervantes

    • Whats with Amar Singh making Sonia his muse now?

      • Sharmila,

        Amar Singh has always been a Congress mole in UP even when he was the architect of Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party. He is the ultimate agent/broker/ middle man.

        The Congress party lost UP, its largest bastion since independence, after VP Singh split ways with Rajiv Gandhi.

        VP Singh was the finance minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government and broke away from the party in favor of the Mandal commissions recommendation for caste based reservations.

        Amitabh Bachchan defeated VP Singh in the next parliamentary elections in Allahabad.

        VP Singh unleashed the Bofors scandal using Goenka’s Indian Express.

        Amitabh Bachchan withdrew from politics. Rajiv Gandhi got caught in the Bofors smear campaign. The entire state of UP was fragmented and up for grabs.

        Mayawati’s mentor Kanshiram, who was a trade union leader in Pune and flirting with minority politics in Punjab, saw an opportunity in UP and moved in. He polarized the dalit, scheduled caste and tribal votes.

        Amar Singh, a faceless, middle man, dealing in everything from securities and portfolios in the film industry to politics, set-up Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi party, a new political arm for the muslims to fill the void left by congress.

        The Samajwadi Party split the Muslims in UP, which is a very significant vote bank. They vote en masse this way or that. Amar Singh was instrumental in polarising the equations.

        He was nudged out of the party recently by one of his own subordinates.

        He continues to flourish in his old ways. He is a sort-of freelance Alagiri of UP. He is capable of anything from political negotiations to plain blackmail.

        This time around I think he is being cornered by too many cases. There are millions of corruption cases that are being investigated by the CBI in UP. From the foodgrain export scandal running into hundreds of thousands of crores to cash-for-vote scandals that shook the parliament to pass the Nuclear deal with the US.

        Somehow, every scam that occurs in UP has Amar Singh or his links involved.

        He is probably trying to make a deal with the Congress for a piece of action in UP. Congress has lost its foothold there to Mayawati and Mulayam. If they can get even 40 of the 85 odd seats in UP, the Congress will not have to make coalitions with MPs from Tamilnadu, Kerala and West Bengal, which was the situation during Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s reign.

      • The Shanti Bhushan + Amar Singh + Sonia + Digvijay + Santosh Hegde angle

        The lokpal bill draft panel has 6 non-elected members from the public.

        Comrade Hazare, Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan, Swami Agnivesh, Prsahant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal.

        Sonia Gandhi wrote an unsolicited letter to Comrade Hazare a few hours before Amar Singh charged the Bhushan duo for benefitting from Mulayam Singh Yadav. They got some prime party in Noida, near Delhi.

        Meanwhile, Santosh Hegde, another private citizen in the panel and co-chairman of the commitee is charged by a Congress General Secretary, Digvijay Singh. This guy Digvijay Singh is the same who claimed that the police officer who was killed during the Mumbai terrorist attack had called him on the phone and feared for his life from Hindu terrorists. He announced this on TV on the day when Kasab was sentenced by the court.

        Comrade Hazare’s team of 6 are being attacked by Congress and their cronies. Sonia had no business to write to him now after the commitee had already started working on the draft. This is what she has said:

        Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who wrote to Hazare in her capacity as National Advisory Council chairperson, said, “Let me reiterate what I wrote to you earlier, that I believe there is an urgent necessity to combat graft and corruption.

        “You should have no doubt of my commitment in the fight for probity in public life. I strongly support the institution of a Lokpal that is consistent with the practices and conventions of our Parliamentary democracy,” she said.

        Comrade Hazare is not a politician. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the members resigns or gets admitted into the AIIMS all of a sudden. This AIIMS is a virtual one way lane for celebrities. Earlier it was the most popular hospital for critical patients along with the Lohia hospital. Rarely did anyone come out alive. It’s a coroner’s paradise.

        Amar Singh is obvoulsy playing for some gains. He has been waltzing with Sonia since the days she let him negotiate the nuclear pact vote with MPs in Chattisgarh and UP.

      • Correction: Para 4: The Bhushans got prime property in Noida, not party. Some farmlands.

  2. The English media and its coterie of chosen writers is like a community of frogs in an old well. No matter how deep they inhale and inflate their lungs they cannot match the size of an elephant.

    In business management jargon it is said, authority always ends up with the person who knows the job. In our case, unfortunately, this person is a corrupt bureaucrat with a colonial hangover.

    Comrade Hazare is trying to turn a carnivorous predator into a vegan.

  3. It would be unfair to comment like a muralist without saying what I do when I indulge in civil resistence.

    I call it an indulgence because I have not invested anything for the country. Not even dreams. I don’t trade in futures. That makes my life simple and stupid.

    Long ago, in 2003, my brother asked me how I was going to live without money, without a job, a house, a wife and a family.

    I was bankrupt in April 2003. My divorce had been decreed already. I had sold all my property and paid off all my liabilities. I was literally left with a briefcase of papers and a head on my shoulders.

    I had replied what I knew all along, “If I am useful to the people, I’ll be taken care of.”

    With that, I left the house, the town and the country.

    There was one thing I was quite sure about, and which I had not said loudly. That, I’ll be taken care of by people who acknowledge my usefulness. I knew that was impossible in India. Intellectual property does not fetch human rights in India.

    That’s the kind of civil resistence I indulge in – boycott social service, reserve usefulness for individuals. Think simple and stupid.

  4. It is amazing how crafty Sonia really is.

    • It’s a catch 22 for the voters.

      Like what we have recently witnessed in Tamilnadu. The people have only two choices Jayalalita’s 500 sarees or Karunanidhi’s church bells. No one else can enter the fray.

      At the center, it’s either Sonio’s mafia or Advani’s ratha yatra. If neither then regional party will sell themselves at high prices.

  5. There is one thing about the last paragraph in Mr. Nandy’s post, where he avers that the youth are the main propagandists of the change.

    The youth are always in change mode. They look for opportunities for change. And rightly so. Nothing new about that.

    Did Comrade Hazare offer that opportunity? There are 30 million corrupt government employees. Are we planning to subject all of them to trials and jails? Are the good people on the right side?

  6. Aishwarya Says:

    I wonder if one is expected to feel guilty if one is not taking sides.

    It is perhaps not wrong to be skeptical or critical of the flaws/loopholes in the ‘solutions’ offered. There probably is a section that has lost faith in a quick fix, after having been ruled, managed and exploited by the corrupt for so long…people who feel that at present, whether khadi or Teflon, stick or non-stick, there is no one who is devoid of skeletons in their cupboard.

    Wonder why Kiran Bedi is not in the committee. Probably the only one without a shady past…or is that a requirement to BE in the committee?? Just a personal opinion. No offence.

  7. Sharmila, Dr. Aisharwya, Dr. Renate, Dr. Shubha, Anand,

    Update on the dispatch of my book: Consignment is reaching Borders Muscat on 27 April. Leaving for your destinations on 29. Should be at your doorsteps by 3rd or 4th May. Couriers are Aramax and DHL.

    Please expect a difference of a day or 2 if there are no phone numbers on the address.


    Did you notice that you have 3 doctors among your EF on this blog? I bet you are in safer hands than the Baba. 🙂


    That reminds me. If you remember I had visited your TOI page when you wrote on Sachin and AB. I had noticed a very stragne line in your profile on the page. It said, “She also blogs at”

    If you have drafted it yourself, perhaps you can remove the “also” in it. This page is where you began your journey. TOI is the “also”…. 🙂

  8. Quotable Quotes:

    Comrade Hazare: “My fast was not a campaign against any government or person, but it was a satyagraha of the people against corruption.”

    L. K. Advani (BJP): “Those who spread a climate of disdain about politics and politicians are doing a gross disservice to democracy”.

    BJP President Nitin Gadkari: “If all politicians are discredited, who will have belief in the system? Will civil society run the country?”

    Sitaram Yechury, politbureau, CPI-M: “Hazare’s disdain for the voter and contempt for parliamentary democracy is indeed disturbing”.

    Swami Agnivesh, member of Comrade Hazare’s drafting team, a known maoist: “I do not believe in parliamentary politics or representative democracy”.

    Pranab Mukherjee (Congress): “This is an experiment”

  9. Article of the day:

    An empire’s shocking decline and fall

    by Mathew Norman

    Somewhere in a cave, in Pakistan or Afghanistan or wherever, a tall, skeletal man with a long stick and dodgy kidneys must have been laughing on Monday. No one has a clue where Osama bin Laden is, or even if he is at all. We hear little from or about him these days, apart for the odd report of a sighting or claim of his death. But assuming he is alive, we might imagine this conversation two days ago with a minion. I translate very loosely from the original.

    “Father to us all, I have news to cheer you up.” “Cheer me up, Abdullah? Whatever can you mean?” “Come off it, Ossie, you’ve been miserable ever since Liverpool equalised against your beloved Arsenal yesterday, thereby handing the title to the Great Satan of Old Trafford.” “Ah, well, Eboué was certainly foolish to barge into Lucas. Yet, as Allah is my judge, it was never a penalty.”

    “Be that as it may, sire, our fortunes prosper elsewhere. The credit agency Standard & Poor’s threatens to downgrade America’s AAA credit rating unless more drastic steps are taken to cut the deficit.” “This is indeed wondrous news, my son. Bring me a mint tea and the dialysis machine, and we’ll have a right old knees-up with the lads.”

    Who could blame him for celebrating? A few months before the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that set America’s corkscrew spin in motion, the S&P’s report heightens the sense that this empire is disintegrating faster than any before it.

    The warning’s economic import may be negligible, because there is no chance of the US, cosseted by what remains the world’s reserve currency, and with its economy reviving, defaulting on its loans. No creditor would call in such a loan knowing that a default would cripple the global economy in about 17 seconds.

    Yet the psychological impact is immense. Imagine the blow to any residual faith America had in its exceptionalism and supremacy. Imagine the shock, not to mention the awe, to find itself, within 10 years of being vaunted as the planet’s hyperpower, at being styled a potential debt-welsher on Graeco-Portuguese lines.

    The three interconnected forces that destroy empires – military over-reach, lack of money, and the catastrophic loss of self-confidence that stems from the other two – have coalesced with astonishing speed since the Twin Towers fell. When George W Bush was elected President by five of the nine Supreme Court justices, he took on a country swimming in cash and basking in its post-Cold War hegemony. Eight years later, despite the healthy surplus Bill Clinton left him and a barely broken economic boom, he had doubled the deficit by wasting trillions on imbecile wars and trillions more on tax breaks for the wealthy. He inherited a swaggering empire at the zenith of its financial, military and cultural might, and bequeathed to Barack Obama a traumatised country in precipitous decline.

    Obama’s wise refusal to dominate a wretchedly confused Nato campaign confirms something unimaginable a few years ago. The President of the United States is no longer the leader of the free world, but a fellow-traveller in a free world without a leader at all.

    Proper historians eschew the Boy’s Own-style of history that sources dramatic power shifts to individuals, analysing them in terms of sweeping economic patterns. Yet in this case, they might allow themselves one of those “What if?” questions they generally disdain.

    What if the hanging chads hadn’t hung, or if the Supremes had heeded Diana Ross’s dictum that “You Can’t Hurry Votes (No, You Just Have To Wait)” by allowing a full Florida recount? With Al Gore in the White House, there would have been an Afghan campaign after 9/11, but no wicked oil grab in Iraq and no obscenely unChristian tax cuts for the rich. Far from doubling, the deficit would have remained stable or shrunk. America would have been nicely placed to withstand the sub-prime and banking crises that led The Idiot, in the dog days of his distempered administration, to say of the economy with wonted gravitas: “This sucker could go down”.

    Under Gore, the US would not have sacrificed what she saw as her moral authority to impose the Pax Americana, however misguidedly and self-servingly, on the satanic altar of Dick Cheney’s neo-con experiment. The US the 44th President inherited from a two-term Gore would have been a startlingly different entity-rich, confident, unsullied by Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and still dominating the world by the projection of soft power.

    The America at which we glance across the ocean today is shrinking before our eyes. The Chinese, to whom the US is in ever growing multi-trillion hock, own the very pants Obama walks in. Extending far beyond the Birther nonsense, the far right’s malevolence has prevented him from reversing the Bush tax cuts – worth $500bn per annum, or half the annual increase in the deficit – for fear of spreading the Fox-propagated belief that he is a Communist sleeper. He regretted this last week on finally cobbling together a deficit-reduction fudge with the Republicans, but regrets butter no Thanksgiving turkeys.

    Impotent domestically and internationally, he may be judged kindly by history for preventing the sucker from going down, and for finding that presidential holy grail of universal(ish) health care. But the figurehead of a collapsing empire will never be loved in the homeland, let alone when trying to lead a people divided by much and united only by fear for the future. His approval ratings are sliding again, and he looks vulnerable in the unlikely event of the Republicans nominating a sane and serious challenger next year.

    There is only one of those on the horizon. A feeling in my bones whispers that Mitch Daniels, the engagingly unpompous, Harley Davidson-riding, deficit-slashing Governor of Indiana, is an obscure name that won’t be obscure for much longer.

    In the last year, the number of Americans citing the deficit as the country’s major problem has gone from virtually nothing to almost 20 per cent (and that before the S&P warning). If this issue proves decisive in 2012, Daniels could – for all his lack of hair, charisma and willingness to pander to the far right on social policy – do an Obama, and come from nowhere to win. But that’s one for another column.

    The real biggest issue that faces America today is that America, despite a recovering economy, is broke, dispirited, bamboozled and petrified. It is terrified by the suddenly bleak middle-class future faced even by graduates, by the prospect of losing its supplies of cheap oil from rebellious client kingdoms in the Middle East, and by the staggering speed with which China threatens to supplant it.

    Although the links between the Bush and Bin Laden families made a fine film in Michael Moore’s hands, they seemed merely a diverting conspiracy theory. Yet it appears that Ossie and Dubya are destined to be conjoined in history after all, as the double act that destroyed the American empire in record time. Only one of them will be laughing about that, of course, and it should be one hell of a tenth anniversary bash, come September, in the cave.

    Mathew Norman is a commentator.

  10. Am leaving a request to Reader ! Please let us have the details of your book and the schedule of its availability here, so that we can procure it and be enlightened by your thoughts ! Hope this is a moderate request ! :))

    • Smiles,

      No one Sharmila’s EF will have to pay for a copy. Please leave your address for the couoriers in the ‘Contact Us’ tab on the book site:

      I’ll instruct them to deliver a signed complimentary copy. The first consignment is expected end of this month. It will reach your addresses through DHL or Aramax by first week of May.

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