Thoughts on Delhi’s Public Protests
By Col. R. Hariharan
A few questions come to my mind on the way things were handled in the gang rape episode which has shaken the nation as no other crime has done:
1. What was so special about this crime that roused the nation?
2. Have the government and the Congress party learnt anything from the messy way they handled it? (This applies to other political parties as well, though what they thought did not really affect the public protest.)
I am surprised at the ham-handed fashion in which the whole orchestration of knee jerk response from the government to the gang rape and its aftermath continues. It reminds me of the Phantom comic episodes where Phantom moves from one crisis to another. At least he had a faithful dog and an extraordinary horse to help him out. They were missing here.
Anna Hazare’s movement should have shown the shape of public protests to come in the national capital now onwards. These protestors are not rural guys following Khap panchayat instructions to assemble at Ramlila maidan and watch silently the political circus on the stage enacted by politicians and applaud them on cue.
These are younger people who feel for what is happening to them and refuse to accept it. They will act not on political party’s cues or agendas because they are setting their own agenda. They are socially-networked and are not dependent upon media publicity so important for political gatherings, though the gruesome crime itself spontaneously gave them media coverage. They are not going to meekly accept political rhetoric repeated periodically by leaders. Instead, they want action; and they are not going to wait forever like the ruling class revelling in status quo. They want action now.
Instead of assessing and understanding the emerging scene, the Congress and government leadership appears to be moving from self-made crisis to crisis like headless chicken.
Why did not Soniaji or MMS or anyone who takes decisions (is there anyone?) for or in the government work out a genuine plan of action that would defuse the public anger rather than saving their own skin for such contingencies?
Is it callousness? Or is it sheer inability to analyse and take decisions? Or is it sab chalta hai attitude? Or is it because they have lost touch with the public? I suppose it is a combination of all these things that enabled them to start believing their own rhetoric spelled out for public consumption.
In the case in point, even if law and order considerations were the reason for keeping the public off the loop about the cremation, why did not they take the family into confidence? Even while avoiding public participation in the funeral the whole thing could have been done with more dignity than the type of mess it has left behind. The poor girl did not deserve it.
How sincere was the talk of Soniaji or MMS after the death of the girl? It was patently lacking sensitivity and probably read out from the screen. Why can’t they speak what is in their mind? I thought Sonia’s talk on the same subject in parliament had more vigour and sincerity than one she made; it was too little too late. MMS made a better speech on FDI than on this critical moment because probably he believed his own words on FDI, more sincerely.
A few more questions come to mind regarding the funeral of the victim in secrecy. It could be an administrative decision for security reasons; but can’t it be done with more finesse? What do Soniaji and MMS achieve by conveying condolences in all the secrecy when the body arrived? Does it convince anyone as a sincere one? Did the family want all this shroud of secrecy? Will someone in power clarify?
Lastly, why does not the government nominate someone who can communicate with the public with skill, instead of delivering appallingly worded, insensitive, re-circulated pedestrian spiel by wooden-faced ministers with the body language and delivery of a marionette? We have seen even Musharraf or Zardari doing a better job.
I have not understood minister after minister talking about the “brave girl” who is a victim of gross negligence of their own responsibility to govern and be accountable to the people. And they say not a word that in future they would be more responsible. The lack of such statements to make an impact the situation is visible: even as they keep talking their words of wisdom, victims are piling up every day and public is restive.
Even my blood of vintage-1936 boils at the way the shoddiness of governance. Why blame the young people? They are facing the brunt of it every day. It is a great tribute to the youth of Delhi that they maintained their cool. In many other countries they would have set fire to everything they saw on their way.
Had someone responsible spoken to the protestors, sat with them and heard and shared their ideas, things would not have come to this pass. But the sad thing is, I see no one in the political horizon who can do this? And that goes for the opposition parties too.
Initially, even when Sonia and MMS made their belated statements, they could have started their talk with the simple words: I AM SORRY. I APOLOGISE FOR THE LAPSES. This is nothing extraordinary. Other leaders have done it. Do they have the moral courage which Japanese and Korean leaders in government have shown when their government or party had failed the public?
As New Delhi is in shambles now after the outpouring of public protests, the Congress party and the government would do well to do what every soldier does after every operation -small or big: carry out an after action analysis. Find out what was done wrongly and rightly, set right the wrong and reinforce the right things (were there any?).
I am sure the bureaucracy, largely patterned by the British, also must be having some form of post mortem (the term itself is self defeating) after such fiascos. Or, are they congratulating each other now for escaping by the skin of the teeth?
In another 30 days we will be mourning Gandhiji. I am sure his faith in the people has been redeemed not by our Netas but by the youth. They are showing the way to guys like me who had seen Gandhi when he was alive but lost him as we lived.
Written on December 31, 2012