Power to the powerless, the story of 2011   1 comment


As the tributes pour in for the star cast that departed this world in 2011 — dictators, revolutionaries, actors, and the remarkable Vaclav Havel — men and women who impacted the world, commentary after commentary focuses on the recurring theme of the year that was — the multitude of Davids tilting against Goliathic states in the Middle East.

The uncommon Arab spring, sparked by an act born not out anger but futility — Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi’s self- immolation in December 2010 — led to the unthinkable — the Middle East’s motley collection of Velvet Revolutions. As in the Europe of 1989, when thirty years of communism crumbled in the face of a people who had had enough of crushing poverty and false sloganeering, so too in 2011 for the Arabs when rulers of authoritarian police states like Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, Bahrain, Libya and other Gulf monarchies were either tossed out, are on sufferance, or living on borrowed time.

Kings, sheiks, emirs, and their oligarchs stopped in their tracks. The rumbling among the Damascenes today is being laid at the door of the US by Assad’s mentors in Tehran. There’s probably some truth to the charge that the US is hoping to engineer another Libya under the cover of plausible deniability. (Pakistan has perfected the art, why not the Great Satan?).

But it’s what rivals do. They cut the earth from under the feet of the man who sits at the top of the food chain. Gnaw away from the inside until the system collapses from the inside. And strengthen and arm opponents until the chief’s position becomes untenable.

Which brings one to the central question as the UPA scrambles to hold on to what little dignity it can, in the frenzied blood-letting in the media — while Tunis has its Bouazizi, and Egypt, Syria and Bahrain its faceless bloggers (I mean, look at the speed with which images of the girl in the blue bra being beaten by police were uploaded) and Sana’a, its vocal Tawakkul, who do we have? Where’s our girl in the blue bra, being beaten black and yes, blue? Baba Ramdev?

Before we give Anna Hazare credit for this markedly more vociferous India that we now see all around us, I have one other question — does anyone know who the whistle-blower was, the man, woman, child, who put the Radia tapes out there in the public domain and unpeeled the 3G can of worms for all of us to see?

And shouldn’t that person be the unsung hero/heroine of our times, the metaphor for the Indian upheaval that Bouazizi has become for the unseasonal Arab Spring?

Surely, it was that one single act (cowardice, bravery or sheer pettiness is for history to decide) that created the climate of change, directed the anger of the common man at a plutocracy that brazenly manipulated the system to its benefit?

3G. The Adarsh scam. The Commonwealth Games. It’s the anger that the oh-so superior Team Anna now feeds off. To its advantage, no doubt. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the outing of the scamsters and the jailing of corrupt ministers in the Union Cabinet predate Anna?

And through the sixty-seven years that we have been a nation, Indians – barring the aberration of the Emergency — as a people have never been stopped from coming out on the streets to protest what they see as wrong. Or march to change black laws.

Status quo changes in the unlikeliest of ways. There’s Burma, where an iconic Aung San Suu Kyi is quietly and without fanfare easing back into the political scene after years of house arrest, with the tacit blessings of the junta. Then there’s Pakistan, where the military continues to manipulate its countrymen, playing one politician off against another, and reinforcing the impression among the gullible that the army would do a far better job of governing the country than corrupt politicians, and is best at keeping the big bad wolf — India — from its door. Change is a long way away. As for India, it’s strong electoral credentials have withstood every challenge to the polity, with every deluded authoritarian humbled in the people’s court.

In virtually lawless UP, where the law bends to the will of the ruling class, come February and one will see whether Mayawati’s brand of politics will carry her through. It’s make or break for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s UPA, whose hand at the helm has been not as steady as it was when he was the whiz kid in Narasimha Rao’s government. He knows the middle class only heave to your way of thinking, if it has money in it’s pocket. And then some. Share markets tumbling cuts into the spending power of the upwardly mobile. A vote bank that the UPA has completely disregarded. It’s the food bill that they have plugged, and a minority quota that is aimed at winning over the poor and the marginalized.

Lokpal, shokpal, Lokayukta, whatever. Let’s put this into context. The brouhaha over the Bellary mine barons has put exactly two men in jail. What about the rest?

India’s Velvet Revolution gave power to the powerless a good sixty years ago. What’s happening today is the aftermath of a revolution when a messy democracy sees an educated middle class trying to reclaim the political space it had vacated once Independence had been won. This is what political parties post-Independence do. They no longer fight for your rights. They fight for theirs.

The unseemly spat between Karnataka chief minister Sadananda Gowda and the man whose shoes he stepped into, has all the hallmarks of a political group that is fighting for survival in a nation that has suddenly become aware of corruption.

The BJP may not know how to treat its political stars — sidelining B.S. Yeddyurappa, just as they did the once powerful Uma Bharti who, too little, too late, has been rehabilitated for the UP battle —but it doesn’t want the tainted BSY anywhere near it when it goes back to the polls. But in the Anna-charged atmosphere, it may find that while they are seen as the unwitting beneficiary of the Anna campaign today, when push comes to shove it will be Anna and other members of his self-righteous team who will walk away with the spoils.

So, is Anna (reportedly ill, will he go ahead with this fast?) to paraphrase Vaclav Havel, the voice of the voiceless, the hope of the hopeless, the man who wants to give power to the powerless? Is he the Bouazzizi of our times? Or the canniest politician, who knows exactly what buttons to push? Should Manmohan Singh, Lal Krishna Advani look, listen and learn.

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Posted December 25, 2011 by avinash2060 in Uncategorized

One response to “Power to the powerless, the story of 2011

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