Thursday, 7 April, 2011

Starve the corrupt, not yourself


Scores of people led by Anna Hazare are starving themselves and collapsing from fatigue and dehydration in the pursuit of fairness and a sense of justice. It's an amazing turn of events - resembling a revolution of sorts - spurred on by a salivating media industry. The media could not have asked for a better story, waking up from the world cup hangover, as it were, and waiting for the IPL matches and the assembly elections.

While any voice raised against corruption is better than silence, I think the satyagraha in its current shape and form could use some strategic thinking if it is to have even a fighting chance of making a positive impact. After all, the system that it is up against is one that was elected by people who are not too different from the satyagrahis themselves.

The problems I see are related to the fact that the protest uses a technique that Gandhi perfected over time - against clearly 'foreign' overlords, at a time in history when information traveled slowly.

Every satyagraha needs a clearly identifiable enemy and in the current context, it appears as though that badge is being pinned on the government. It would be naive to think that the Indian government operates by and for itself. Yes, people in government use their positions of power to reap personal gains, but we all know that the real power, of capital rests with industry. Indian industry has over the last few decades managed to create a symbiotic relationship with the Indian political system. A relationship that sanctions and executes the exploitation of the country's wealth. The rest of us are employed by this nexus and have come to depend on it for our sustenance. Unless we go back to the roots, do a real satyagraha and reject all factory produced goods that are sold for profit alone, we will remain dependent on this nexus.

Coming to the flow of information, in today's mad world of TV debates anchored by self-appointed self-righteous keepers of the nation's conscience, it is easy for opinion to be shifted by either party. Yet again, the one who wields the capital will eventually win. The internet has been a great enabler and
consolidator of public opinion, but what happens after the villain has been de-throned? Is the collective intelligence of the Facebook and Twitter 'mob' enough to build a new system that is not half as rotten as the one they denounced? Looking at the example of Egypt, we clearly lack the technology tools to coalesce the public rage and opinion into constructive nation building activity.

So, we have a situation where the satyagraha is taking place with a system; the guys with the power within that system also wield the power to shape public opinion. If the satyagraha manages to overcome the power bias, it is still left with no tools (comparable to the ones that upset the status quo) to use the victory constructively.

What we need then is a two pronged strategy. First, starve the system of power, not yourself. And second, create tools that make the day after the victory pleasant, not seem like a bad hangover.

To starve the system of power is simple. Deny it the funds it requires to function the way it does. While giving up wants and living frugally would help, I think it will not be necessary. All that we need to do is to stop paying tax.

If the belief is that corrupt government officials are looting money, stop giving them the money.

Now to the tools, what we need are simple ones that allow every citizen to play an active part in deciding the fate of the society he or she lives in. The time is ripe to create such tools.

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