Lokpal Legacies

It is a small, tentative step up a slippery slope. Still it calls for some cautious elation. That the jinxed Lokpal which has been stranded in the streets, entangled in bureaucratic red tape, buried many a time in political quicksands and defied consensus even amidst its champions has ultimately crossed the legislative threshold is itself an achievement.

But it is also precisely this arduous process with all the associated hype that has made Lokpal seem like some kind of a pervasive panacea. Also the stiff political resistance gave it an extra mystique: Indeed if the political establishment was unanimously in sabotage mode there must surely be something inimical to them and conversely something good to the people in the proposal, went the pedestrian logic. And just when the momentum seemed to have fizzled, the Delhi polls and AAP’s success clinched the deal as the wily political class saw the writing on the wall and played ball. Suddenly Lokpal was the most politically correct thing to do, a symbolic gesture of good intent to an angry nation.

But whatever the motives Lokpal remains a major landmark for a country lost in the wilderness of hopelessness and frustration. Its efficacy is now theoretical and very much in the realms of the abstract, and much has already been written about them. But the Lokpal movement as such has yielded many beneficial by-products. For one, the country in the last four years saw an unprecedented intellectual debate. Though it might have been often noisy, reckless, rhetorical and even incoherent, the thinking domain was broadbased and expanded beyond the usual few wise men, experts and primetime pundits. A great part of India broke the self-inflicted ignorance barrier, shed mental inertia and exercised their brains in trying to understand the nitty gritties of sleaze and the nuances of law making. This thinking habit spread to other issues as well and therefore to those affected by them. More and more people are less of a push-over now.

Mass mobilisation is another positive fallout. Thoughts and words would have no meaning if not acted upon. The wider thinking arc also brought within its fold larger sections of people willing to stick their neck out. A slew of new faces emerged at the head of a crowd that was unrelenting, focussed and result oriented. All credit should go to Anna, Kejriwal and their team, not as much for spearheading a strong people’s movement as for showing to their countrymen that the seemingly impregnable political walls were after all brittle. They have certainly emboldened and energised a generation to stand up, stay put, sustain and eventually succeed. The nation’s DNA certainly stands modified.

Activism, thus far the preserve of a chosen elite or self-centred groups, is now a democratic tool. Sure, the frequent knee jerk manifestations and candlelight vigilantism did evoke concern and even laughter, but still an agitational mindset, despite the small price of mental peace, keeps the officialdom on tenterhooks. Eternal vigilance has often to be tested in public spaces, just as a constable is supposed to tap his lathi to the ground on his nocturnal rounds. Rage and indignation, if backed by sound homework and well thought out strategies, can be channelised as a positive and powerful force to bring about change. The Lokpal movement has not only demonstrated this but also remained largely violence-proof, despite the simmering anger on the streets and provocation from authorities. Indeed, activism need not always result in riots, damaged public property or a martyred soul-turned-statue!

But the greatest take away from the Lokpal movement could be the ‘vote’. The large turnouts during the recent Assembly polls may be due to the anti-establishment or anti-Congress mood in the country. But there is no doubt that the last few years of turmoil has also convinced people that the vote could be a positive agent of change. As more AAP clones and well meaning individuals make bold to hit the hustings, the current ‘devil and deep sea’ option is set to become history, sooner or later. As the ‘There is no alternative’-TINA- factor ceases to be an alibi for not voting, the sanitisation of the electoral process and thereby, politics and Parliament will be hastened. Vote is akin to the grass root and its spread would determine the nature of the landscape. So, if the rising trend continues, the 2014 Lok Sabha may have a hugely different contour and composition. After all the nation needs a break not only from many all-too-familar faces, but also from their unseemly methods. Yes, the imperfections of humans will continue but the havoc of the devils can be mitigated.

Lokpal may or may not address corruption completely. But that cannot obliterate the permanent and positive impact the movement has had on our polity. Indeed it has become the metaphor for people-driven reform.

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Jawahar T R