A year ago, no one would have thought that Anna Hazare, a seemingly demure Gandhian from the state of Maharashtra could have kicked up a nationwide row over his insistence for a new (Janlokpal) Bill to fight the endemic problem of corruption in India.
His team's Bill was countered by the Government's own Bill and then a final version was introduced into Parliament on August 4 (Thank you, PRS India for the links). So far, the Government has reacted with amazing disregard - by professing sympathy with the key issue of corruption but failing to display any specific political action to try and address the uprising.
Instead, it has battled with Anna over whether he should be allowed to fast and where and in what conditions. So the Union Home Minister of the country, P Chidambaram, was on August 18 seen on the floor of Parliament, picking his way through various minutiae in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 that concerned large groups and congregations.
Ignore At Peril
"Not the real issue," screamed back the opposition quite rightly and accused the government of hiding behind beat constables and not having a political solution. Meanwhile, thousands of supporters across India have joined in. Even Mumbai's famed dabbawalas (or tiffin carriers) struck work for a day on 19 August, for the first time in 120 years.
Is the Government so stupid? Actually no. And that's what is more worrying. Why has the Government chosen so far to ignore or substantially recognise this mass movement? Actually, the answer lies there. The Government does or did not think this is a mass movement and is really a middle class rant. Fully justified but lacks scale. So in effect, the Government is saying the following:
1. As a socio-economic aggregation, you are most concerned about your own little world. Look at the fine state of your homes inside and despicable condition of apartments blocks outside.
2. You have never, in the history of modern India, shown the ability to congregate and demand change.
3. You folks are the first to escape from India, given an opportunity.
4. Finally, you middle class folks don't really elect us into power.
Feet On Streets
India's opposition has been pointing out that the Quit India Movement of 1942 saw less people on the streets. Reports indicate the British arrested some 100,000 people then. The numbers for the Janlokpal agitation in terms of people on the streets actually come close. There are no arrests, mostly 'preventive detention'.
But it does not matter what the numbers are. It’s the composition that is not worrying the Government, at least so far. Which means the Great Indian Middle Class comprising more than 250m and more has a different battle ahead? Of being taken seriously. That is a much tougher one and will not perhaps be won in a single round.