Friday, April 8, 2011

Democracy wins - baby step number one; hilarious TV panel debate: activists vs government

"Anna Hazare, Aage Bado. Hum Tumhare Saath Hain."/ Soldier on, Anna Hazare. We stand with you.

Anna Hazare will end his fast at 10am IST on April 9.  The government has accepted the people's specific demand for a notified joint committee with equal representation from civil society including a co-chairman.  This is the first victory in a new, enthusiastic, focused anti-corruption people's movement, be it a "minor symbolic victory".  It is definitely a moment to celebrate and thank the man who made it happen but how about a laugh at the government's expense?  Don't look at me like that.  If they serve it, I'll take it.

Sandwiched between Anna Hazare's two stage appearances tonight, in the thirty minutes we thought the fight was not over, I watched, possibly, the most hilarious debate ever to be aired on Indian television.  The spotlight was on two young activists - the first, a repeat guest; well informed, voluble and aggressive; perhaps a potential protege of the anchor and the other, adorably energetic and devastatingly inarticulate.  For the first time that I've ever witnessed, the famous Times Now anchor held back his own running commentary.  He didn't even just ask questions.  He happily took a back seat and simply connected the youth to UPA government representative and the only politician on the panel, Ms. Renuka Chowdhury.

Superbly aided by a journalist and a lawyer adept in politicianspeak, the activists refused to let Ms. Chowdhury get away with anything.  She started with an academic lecture on parliamentary committee-making delivered in an egregiously offensive, sugary, patronizing tone.  So, naturally, there was nowhere to go from there but up.  Skipping down memory lanes of college activism, Ms. Chowdhury tested the waters to see if she could slip in an undercover co-opt of public sentiment via expressions of pride in strong civic participation from the citizenry.  A few minutes, numerous interjections, and several half-sentences later, she got blunt; "we are not on the other side of the table".  Until she brought it up, nobody was talking in that language. She opened the door and the anchor ambled in with another government spokesperson's quote labeling Anna Hazare's supporters, "unreasonable" and "the other camp".  And so the backpedaling began.

The panel caught Ms. Chowdhury boasting her government put tainted minister A. Raja behind bars (and not the independent CBI), pooh-poohing deadlines for law making perhaps momentarily forgetting the context of a 42 year delay provoking a 72 year old man to go on a fast unto death, and diverting discussion to semantics - call it "our" government instead of "your" government.  When things got a little rough, she quickly reminded everyone of that old chestnut, politicians are people too. "Who are politicians?", she bleated.

"Politicians are smart people", replied the neglected sixth panelist who could only manage to get this one sentence in. "They know this is an inflection point and there is no choice but to be on the same side."

"We're damned if we do and damned if we don't!", exclaimed the government representative at one point.  "No, you're damned if you don't!", pat came the reply from the youth.

Kudos to Ms. Chowdhury.  Never once did she lose her smile during all the interjections and clarifications and mis-statements and self-victimization.  But you've got to admit, it is hard not to smile at her, too.


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