Finding a way out.. by Pritish Nandy


The magic of our democracy lies in its imperfections. Our flaws make us the nation we are. And never has this been more obvious than in the current standoff between an obdurate Government that will not acknowledge nor apologise for its corruption, a stubborn leader who would rather lay down his life than yield to political pressure, and a wily Opposition trying its best to harvest the crisis. For those of us who know exactly where we stand on this, and 90 per cent of India does, the question is not: Will Anna win the war against corruption? The question is: Can Indian democracy accommodate an alternative moral authority that refuses to bow before Parliament?

We all know one thing: Anna’s fight is right. After a few silly attempts to malign him and his supporters, the Government has realised that attacking Anna can only strengthen his support. So they have now kennelled their dogs of war and are trying to, instead, explore ways and means for a dialogue. But the problem is: Anna understands dialogue, not settlement. How can you settle with corruption? You either fight it head on or walk away. Anna is smart enough to know this and has therefore refused to back down from any of his actual demands. He also knows that his martyrdom may not provide a solution but a few face saving concessions to the Government might. That is why he never refuses to meet any emissary. But the Government is cunning. It tries to undermine Anna’s credibility by sending him emissaries who are postmen, not solution providers.

Dealing with the Opposition is an even more delicate task. Anna knows they have no intention of allowing him to win. His victory will only make them look redundant. But more important, they do not want him to win because his battle against corruption will eventually hurt them too. For wherever the Opposition has been in power, they have demonstrated that they are no less when it comes to bribery and extortion. They may have less years of practice, true. But their intent is the same: To loot India. And that is exactly why, even though they are desperate to reap the political benefits of Anna’s movement, they know that any such alignment can only be short term. As for Anna, he shuns them like the plague. He knows they have nothing to offer him. Not now, and may be never, if Anna continues to stay outside the political system and fight.

So now you have three canny players in a Mexican standoff. The Congress and the Opposition have found in Anna the perfect foil to attack each other. Yet both are equally anxious to ensure that Anna is eventually hung and left out to dry. Neither can afford to align with him. Nor can they ignore him. All the fake tapes and trumped up charges against his team have only strengthened Anna’s credibility and made his adversaries look even more contemptible.

So the challenge now lies in making our flawed democracy get to work. In fact, the solutions may lie in the very flaws. The only problem is: Anna is not a politician. He is a leader of men. He will not risk the faith of millions by taking an inapt step even if he knows that it could lead to a solution. He has the unenviable task of not only winning the war against corruption, tough as it is, but he has to also keep up a dialogue with the Government so that the media does call him unreasonable. He knows that one false step can ruin it all. Yet he cannot afford not to take any step at all.

I respect Anna. I think he’s the best thing to have happened to India in many years. His simplicity, his courage, his dignity appeals to everyone. But no, I would not like to be stuck where he is today, with nowhere to go, no one to break bread with. He is wise enough to know that martyrdom is no real option. A fast is a short term weapon. Gandhi always knew when to call it off. Victory lies in staying alive– and winning the war. And no, that’s not as easy as it sounds.

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