COLUMN: Why the “intellectuals” are wrong on Anna Hazare: Mahesh Murthy

I do have a strong set of issues with the supposed ‘intelligentsia’ response to the Anna Hazara / IAC movement / Jan Lokpal bill – I use the terms loosely and interchangeably.

The key stands, summarising Nitin Pai, Amba Salakar, Arundhati Roy et al seem to be:

1. “We (the civil society experts / bloggers / hand-wringers) know how to fight corruption, but this is not the way”.

My comment: yeah, who died and made you Gods Of Knowing How To Fight Corruption?

Social change does not a pattern follow. If this is the form of protest it takes to change one aspect of Indian life – endemic corruption, and this form of protest has found itself large national acceptance and support, with an impact many times that of what has ever happened before, then this might probably be a likely way to make change happen.

I’m sorry that it’s not how you think it should be – because, let’s face it, that way (whether it is re-writing the constitution, or some vaguely defined “Reforms 2.0” or Salakar’s defence of current legislation) hasn’t worked yet, and shows no signs of working yet.

2. “Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal are unfit to lead this movement (for various reasons)” without a mention of who else might be. Or even if the movement should have no leader.

Arundhati Roy does the classic knife-the-rival-to-the-socialist-throne by suggesting somewhat loosely that Hazare, Kejriwal et al are stooges for bigger powers (USA, RSS etc.) – a point of view that puts her in bed, incongruously, with the ruling party.

She complains that “Kejriwal received a Ford Foundation grant” when she herself received some half a million pounds as publication advance for her book from Evil Western Capitalists. But she doesn’t go as far as suggesting who else the movement might be led by.

Nitin Pai defends the right to be an armchair intellectual and not really do anything on ground with the reasoning that “pilots don’t design airplanes”.

Yes, Mr. Pai. but armchair intellectuals don’t either. People who know the principles of flight do – and then they usually go test-fly the damn thing themselves, risking life and limb before they prescribe their designs to the hoi polloi.

3. “The Indian constitution is sufficient. Why add a layer of complexity?”

Well, the supposedly sufficient Indian constitution has resulted in us having an enormous amount of corruption in our lives. However sufficient it might be in theory, it’s not sufficient in practice. Perhaps another body – like Hong Kong’s ICAC – can help.

Adding a layer of complexity is not in itself a bad thing. It is probably the fastest way to cut through the Gordian knot of legislation and systems we currently have.

Suddenly our keyboard revolutionaries want to defend our constitution and the status quo.

And to Nitin Pai, I lived in Hong Kong, and yes there was a lot of corruption that the ICAC unearthed – and it was a truly feared force among businesspeople and government folks.

Here, even the once-feared threat of “CBI investigation” holds no menace to most folks. They know, ultimately, that some flaw, somewhere in the system will let them off.

4. “This won’t help the poor, the 80 crores who earn Rs. 20 a day”

Really, how do you know it won’t?

If someone siphons off billions using his position as Food & Agriculture Minister, Sugar Baron etc. – what other mechanism might help? You don’t know, and I don’t either.

But the status quo won’t do a thing. This just might have a chance of doing so.

Let’s start with the 8 crores who earn Rs. 200 a day, or the 80 lakhs who earn Rs. 2,000 a day. These are the folks protesting.

Even if it cures some part of corruption for them and does nothing for the 80 crores, that’s fine. It’s a heckuva lot more than anything you’ve ever done or managed to get done before this.

Give it a shot. Your way hasn’t worked. This might.

5. “This is draconian”

And you believe anything less than draconian will work here where politicians slime out of even murder cases in our current legislative system with impunity?

6. The elephant in the room is that none of the experts write about the government counter of the proposed bill with a much-diluted version that is closer to becoming law.

If there was really no need for a bill, why would the government offer one – is there not some realisation that yes, we are corrupt, let’s try to do a little to either fob off this Hazare fellow like we did last time, or to stem a little of the flow of loot.

The government proposals, from alleged “constitutional experts” and “defenders of the parliamentary way” is way more asinine than the Hazare version of the bill. The Hazare version is not perfect – we all know that, but what the government proposes takes the cake in de-testiculation of intent of legislation.

There is an obvious government move to leave gaping holes in the bill for even our corpulent politicians to sneak through. This Government version is actually a bill proposed before parliament, and it is somehow instructive to find neither Roy, Pai or Salalkar makes a mention of that impending legislation.

Instead, each seems more eager to derail the populist protest movement, as though the issue that is more important is not the Government’s crappy bill that is going through parliament, but to reclaim the crown of “Civil Society Thought Leader” from these damn upstarts Hazare and Kejriwal back for themselves.

7. “Hazare should stand for election and become a member of parliament if he wants to change the laws”

Really, why?

Why does someone need to get into the system necessarily to fight it? Why not fight from the outside? To use your Gandhian example should Mohandas have joined the British Civil Service and then worked for an independent India?

The number of people who have turned out against corruption is far larger than the number that voted for the legislators who are representing those constituencies. The very same legislators who are desperately frightened of the bill and are working hard to derail it.

8. “But who will monitor the monitors?”

Surely, there’s a process to do that. But let’s have monitors in the first place – it’s far easier to monitor the monitors than to not have monitors at all

Because we have none currently, we get robbed blind.

In my lifetime, this is the best shot we’ve had yet of ridding India of the thieves who constitute our politicians, bureaucrats and government servants.

Let’s not screw it up by being crabs-in-the-can who pull down the ones trying to get out.

Let’s try make this work.

About the author

Mahesh Murthy is arguably India’s most famous early-stage investor and venture capitalist. Thanks to his honest, often contrarian and sometimes blunt take on the events of the day and his understanding of media & technology, Mahesh is an unmissable presence in the online world.

Having founded (or co-founded) two early-stage funds, Seedfund & Passionfund, Murthy spends a large part of his time guiding young start-ups. Murthy, a college drop-out who started his career hawking vacuum-cleaners door to door and later entered the World of creative marketing, is also the CEO of digital marketing agency Pinstorm.

The above article is a slightly edited version of his original Facebook post You can follow Murthy on twitter here.


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