August 13, 2020
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Drip, Drip, Drip

Anna breaks fast, moves to five-star hospital. Did the last image jar?

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Drip, Drip, Drip
Illustration by Sorit
Drip, Drip, Drip

Should an individual who has just led a mass movement end up in a high-end luxury medical facility? Given the amount of television eyeballs the Anna Hazare movement captured, shouldn’t the very smart people in Team Anna have realised that this could be seen as an endorsement for a brand of private medical healthcare unaffordable to the mass of Indians?

I would argue that it sends out a somewhat callous and inappropriate message. We may live in a market-driven aspirational age, yet we still respect individuals who live simply. It’s a bad choice by Team Anna that at the end of the 13-day citizens protest that also took on the contours of a mass movement, the figurehead is shifted to a facility that is certainly inaccessible to the masses and perhaps even to most of the middle class who supported the movement. Isn’t there some virtue and wisdom in hanging on to the fading symbols of simplicity, austerity, dignity?

Besides the symbolism of the choice, this raises more serious issues. Just a stone’s throw away from Ramlila Maidan is the G.B. Pant Government Hospital—it’s a super-speciality facility, overcrowded but with many competent doctors who have shunned the big bucks of private practice to treat the poor. Anna could have been taken care of by medical teams from there. Even if G.B. Pant was not considered good enough, on the route from Ramlila Maidan to Gurgaon, where Anna was eventually taken, is AIIMS which has some of the best doctors in the country.

Given the support his movement gathered, Anna would have got excellent care at any government facility. Those who work in the government healthcare sector, they who actually treat the aam janata, must wonder if this is a sign of the times when all choices in the medical field already appear to be loaded in favour of the private sector.

But then this anti-corruption crusade seems to be directed only against the government and the politicians—with no vision or ideology on other critical issues. There appears to be no attempt to even critique the role of the corporate world in creating this huge stench of corruption. The big public scandals of the past few years—the ones that have contributed to the present mood of national revulsion—actually emanate from the corporate world’s attempt to control wealth that comes from the land (the various mining and land acquisition scandals) and a new resource like spectrum.

It is because there are no specific details in this good versus bad narrative of the anti-corruption crusaders that the corporate world appears to have a high comfort level with it. Many top businessmen have tweeted their approval or support for Anna and Team Anna. Mainstream media has at times almost seemed to be embedded in the process. As journalists, we have to ask questions about the process no matter what the public mood appears to be.

That said, there’s no denying that there are many honest business ventures that face the mounting odds of a corrupt system. Even in my locality, I see small shopkeepers and traders organise processions in support of Anna. But can we overlook the fact that at the heart of the biggest loot of our times is the attempt by corporates to manipulate policies or bribe the system in order to control national resources?

In 1995, I had spent a few days with Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh of the MKSS in Devdungri village in Rajasthan. They had begun a movement some years ago for the right to information which was finally gaining momentum. They collected villagers and sought an account for the village school, a small road, a pond, a well and so on. Even after I returned from Devdungri (where they still live in a hut), I remember Nikhil making many visits to my office with documents and details about how money can be pilfered in rural infrastructure and schemes. There were specifics in the very detailed story that I did at the time. It is by organising public hearings on specific cases of rural corruption that the RTI movement began. It took years of work before the historic RTI legislation was passed. If Aruna and Nikhil are again in the news, on the sidelines of the bigger Team Anna story, trying to make a point about the proposed Lokpal law, they have certainly earned the right to be heard.

The Anna movement captures all our vague frustrations with the system. But let us not forget that this is a people’s movement whose leaders are very comfortable with the corporate world and thrive on the praise lavished by the media. There are many strands to this movement that we still have to comprehend. What we do know is that Anna is a man of great strength and endurance. We are all certain that he does not need luxuries. Indeed I would imagine that he would feel somewhat out of place at a high-end medical facility. Gandhiji mostly retreated to his ashram after his fasts.

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