Civil society part deux: A flop

Oct 17, 2011, 08:30 IST | Smita Prakash

Biff! Slap! Wham! Thud! And down went Prashant Bhushan. As if that was not enough, it was televised and played on loop for hours on the news channels

Biff! Slap! Wham! Thud! And down went Prashant Bhushan. As if that was not enough, it was televised and played on loop for hours on the news channels. Like a scene from a masala South Indian flick, the do-gooder lawyer was thrashed brutally in his chamber; the slogan-shouting abuser was beaten up and eventually handed over to the police, which obligingly reached the scene as the credits were about to roll.

Team Anna's Act-2 has flopped miserably. The main protagonist has cancelled his Uttar Pradesh tour and announced a weeklong 'Maun vrat' -- a fast of silence. Prashant Bhushan is licking his wounds. Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi are having a tough time distancing themselves from Bhushan's comment that Kashmir needs a plebiscite. "Our Prime Minister solemnly assured the United Nations that there would be a plebiscite in Kashmir. How can you say that these views are seditious or anti-national," droned Prashant Bhushan.

Bagga and Verma, the slap-happy right-wingers, couldn't care less about what an Indian Prime Minister promised the UN in 1948. As far as the 'slappers' -- and most of India is concerned -- India has fought four wars with Pakistan over Kashmir, lost thousands of soldiers, held elections with enthusiastic Kashmiri participation, and provided copious funds for the state's development. The horrors, if any, have been brought upon by Pakistan's proxy-war which India was forced to counter. Yes, Kashmir needs an assimilation process, but that is the job the governments at Srinagar and Delhi are already at. While many of us were shocked at the bizarre events in Bhushan's chambers and the next day at the Patiala House, when his supporters were kicked and beaten by hooligans, there are many others who are piqued by the media space being grabbed by oh-so- fashionable India-bashing liberals.

As long as civil society rakes up the muck in our system and offers seemingly feasible solutions, they will command respect. But the moment they start projecting themselves as  the sole repository of wisdom on every issue facing the country, the support will quickly vanish. It took just a day for Anna to distance himself from Bhushan's comment. Anna clarified, "Prashant Bhushan's statement (on Kashmir) is not the view of the team.

He has never asked the team. These are his personal views. The team is not responsible for the comments. We are not in agreement with him." Kiran Bedi also clarified that all of them had a common viewpoint only on the Jan Lok Pal Bill.

Bhushan's hubris led him to presume that the support that Team Anna got for its Jan Lok Pal agitation could be transposed onto every other issue that any individual member of the Team chooses to pick up. Anna and his team have roused, nurtured, encouraged and vented a lot of anger against the system. By asking its supporters to picket their representative's houses, Team Anna sowed the seeds of mob-unrest against the state. It encouraged people to break laws, albeit non-violently. Once you publicly sanction undermining the law, it is just a matter of time before someone's pent-up anger and frustration finds a violent expression.

It isn't just liberals who have access to media now. The democratisation of media, especially social media, has broken the near-monopoly of elitist and left liberal views in what we get to read and hear. Right-wing opinions, expressed articulately some times and virulently at other times, are landing up in our living rooms, via TV debates, Facebook and Twitter. TRP hungry news-channels will also highlight radical opinions and not the conciliatory points of view. Voices of sanity, as we knew them, might be drowned out, simply because they are very few and not loud enough.

People who refuse to tolerate those eulogising separatists are not just right-wing loonies, but professionals who inhabit the same social and cultural landscape as most of us. Many of them are miffed by the publicity that people like Mirwaiz, Roy and Bhushan get when they pillory India at national and international fora. The sensible obviously don't condone violence, but at times, it seems so tempting to tell those belittling India: "Oh for God's sake, shut up."

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