THE BA­NAL­ITY OF FREE­DOM

India Today - - SIGNATURE - S. PRASAN­NARA­JAN

There was a time when the out­break of ide­al­ism brought Jan­tar Man­tar closer to other date­lines of the strug­gle against power, at least in the imag­i­na­tion of those who still be­lieved in the re­venge of the street. A pro­fu­sion of Gandhi caps and lit­tle flags of tri­colour added to the ro­mance of re­sis­tance, but Delhi’s of­fi­cial site of protest did not be­come an In­dian ver­sion of Tahrir Square, or Wences­las Square, not to men­tion Tianan­men Square. Last week, in a fi­nale with­out rev­o­lu­tion­ary fizz, Anna Hazare and his fel­low satya­grahis par­o­died them­selves past the head­lines— into that rare re­mote­ness where most freak shows of dis­sent end up. Ide­ally, there should have been a dif­fer­ent script, one that jelled well with the 65th an­niver­sary of In­dia’s In­de­pen­dence. And we needed one, a counter- nar­ra­tive of na­tional free­dom in a coun­try aban­doned by its rul­ing class.

We didn’t get one. Fast­ing is a waste of time, said the dis­il­lu­sioned Hazare, and his bit­ter prag­ma­tism stopped short of throw­ing away his Gandhi cap. But for his San­cho Panza, frail but the fire still rag­ing within, the de­but fast­ing was an act of em­pow­er­ment. Mar­tyr­dom was post­poned for the larger in­ter­est of the Repub­lic and Hazare’s first lieu­tenant— a monochro­matic, oned­i­men­sional per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of self- right­eous­ness— was quick to re­alise the uses of a po­lit­i­cal al­ter­na­tive and the re­dun­dancy of Jan­tar Man­tar. Shall we say the anti- cor­rup­tion move­ment has reached its post- Gand­hian, post- Hazare phase, with Arvind Ke­jri­wal, fierce and fa­nat­i­cal in his sim­u­lated lofti­ness, as its mas­cot? It may be too early to ask such a ques­tion but its very pos­si­bil­ity mag­ni­fies the dan­ger­ous tra­jec­tory of dis­sent in this coun­try. We are be­ing short­changed even in our un­fin­ished strug­gle for free­dom.

It is as if we can never get the text right, even when the con­text is per­fect. Sixty- five years into free­dom and In­dia is one of the world’s most mis­gov­erned coun­tries, and what makes its self- in­flicted wretched­ness all the more glar­ing is the fact that its sham­bolic record in na­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity is only matched by its in­flated pre­ten­sion as an as­pir­ing re­gional power. The sec­ond phase of the Man­mo­han Singh era paints in pas­tel the slow dis­in­te­gra­tion of na­tional cred­i­bil­ity. Words of re­vul­sion and anger have be­come clichés: Say cor­rup­tion and we have learned to take it with a sto­ical shrug. The courts may send one or two politi­cians to jail but the sys­tem that le­git­imises cor­rup­tion as the re­li­gion of the rul­ing class re­mains in­tact. If we needed a live metaphor for the state of the na­tion, we got that too, un­so­licited: The lamps went out all over north In­dia for two con­sec­u­tive days.

Now it seems, at In­dia’s dark­est hour, even the most rhap­sodised Gand­hian of our times can­not hold a can­dle. But there is some­one from his dis­banded team who thinks a soar­ing fist and a newer flag can shat­ter the cal­ci­fied ci­tadel of cor­rup­tion. Noth­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate, con­sid­er­ing the elas­tic­ity of our demo­cratic space, even if he names his or­gan­i­sa­tion as Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guardians of Moral In­dia— and even if there is a whiff of Py­ongyang about it. But what will a man with such fright­en­ing be­lief in his own moral in­fal­li­bil­ity, and a match­ing con­tempt for the in­sti­tu­tions of civil so­ci­ety, do with a much mauled democ­racy? He cer­tainly knows its uses, as all fa­nat­ics do; and to know what rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies— the moral cus­to­di­ans of “the peo­ple”— do with democ­ra­cies, we just need to look at some of those peo­ple’s demo­cratic re­publics presided over by a leader loftier than the rest. On in­de­pen­dent In­dia’s 65th birthday, even the strug­gle for re­gain­ing its squan­dered free­dom of­fers no cheer.

SIXTY- FIVE YEARS INTO FREE­DOM AND IN­DIA IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST MIS­GOV­ERNED COUN­TRIES, AND WHAT MAKES ITS SELF- IN­FLICTED WRETCHED­NESS ALL THE MORE GLAR­ING IS THE FACT THAT ITS SHAM­BOLIC RECORD IN NA­TIONAL RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY IS ONLY MATCHED BY ITS IN­FLATED PRE­TEN­SION AS AN AS­PIR­ING RE­GIONAL POWER.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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