Thursday, April 14, 2011

Of Anna(s) and Events

There is one Anna sitting in fasting in Delhi protesting against corruption. It is amazing to see how he swept up and touched people across the country! The middle class, the (largely) honest tax payer was hurting as scam after scam of unimaginable proportions was hitting headlines. Looking back, Harshad Mehta’s 4000 crore scam seems diminutive now! The latest one, the 1.76 lakh crore scam befuddles most of the middle class minds who don’t really know how many zeros the figure contains. Many of them are busy commuting to work, working, taking care of family and inevitably paying the taxes through salary deductions. Caught up in this loop and unable to do little else, they only can be frustrated and helpless when they see their hard earned money warming some undeserved pockets. That one voice, therefore, garnered gigantic waves of support. Like everything else these days, Anna’s movement also is seen through eyes of cynicism. Plenty of voices have FBed and Twittered, both for and against the agitation.

Just about a week ago, the crowd frenzy took a different dimension. History repeated itself on the 2nd of April. The underdog of 1983 had now become the favorites for the 2011 World Cup. The difference between 1983 and 2011 also is the pervasion of cricket into many more homes via TV screens. In a country where a wooden plank, three sticks and a ball make cricket, where you find kids playing cricket on every road and gully, where the children may not remember the Math formulas but cricket stats are quoted confidently and accurately, Dhoni came close to displacing Sachin from the position of Cricket God with THE SIX which made history by bringing the world cup back to our country after a 28-year long wait.

And then we have the Annas of Telangana. [Yeah, men usually address each other as ‘Anna’ in the Telangana regions of AP]. One of those Annas went on a fast for independent state of Telangana last December. Hyderabad has seen several bandhs in the last one year seriously disturbing the life of general public. People closer to the OU were practically imprisoned in their homes as the Annas and their followers resorted to stone pelting and destruction of public property. These protests gathered momentum and led to the so-called Million March on the 11th last month. People gathered in droves defying the police, breaking through barricades to join in the protest, wreaking havoc, breaking the statues that lined the road, throwing the desecrated and broken statues and cameras snatched from the journalists into the murky waters of the Hussain Sagar.

We witnessed crowds, enthusiasm, hullaballoo, cheering, stomping, sloganeering, madness and mayhem…all within the last one month.  In the first event, the fight is against the common enemy of the middle class—the greedy government official. In the second, it is India against the rest of the world. In the third, it is one Telugu against another Telugu. While the first event caused people to connect emotionally and fight as one single entity with a enemy within, the second brought tears of great joy and goose bumps as we, irrespective of class, creed, religion and language celebrated our—India’s—moment of triumph over the world, the third had us frightened by the sight of the noisy mobs silencing the streets with their acts of violence and mayhem.

I do not know what motivates someone like Anna Hazare to speak for the people. But right now, I, as a middle class person will rather submit to the optimism that the voice beckons, be swept away in the euphoric success story of Indian cricket than be intimidated by pessimistic, destructive and divisive forces.