What is going on? What about "democracy" and why aren't these people resorting to "democratic" means? Why aren't they standing for elected offices? What is corruption, really?
In my opinion, this phenomenon can be seen as the rage of a disenfranchised middle class towards what it considers illegitimate power.
India is a mostly poor, illiterate, agrarian, religious nation. The political power in India lies with a certain elite who can manage to rally the ignorant and the poor behind them by promising short-term, caste or religion oriented, or populist gains. On the other hand, the corporate power lies with a different set of elites who are managing the economy very "resourcefully".
In short, political power is the fiefdom of the leaders of ignoranti, who are joined in their endeavor by the capitalist elite.
Middle classes, the salaried, tax-paying, fixed-depositing, diabetic, high-blood-pressure, worrying about television and pranayama classes have no representative in these times. Even in big cities, the vote banks lie with the poor, the illegal settlers, the religious fanatics, the ones who vote on strict pragmatic considerations of benefits offered, and so on.
The middle classes are aghast that both the filthy poor and the filthy rich are milking them dry. But they have no real recourse. The legal system is dysfunctional, the middle classes neither have the time nor the ability to enter politics or to fight court battles (except against each other), and they are wondering if democracy is really such a good thing for them. They are taxed, but they have no voice. Their money goes to the poor (think free power) and to the privileged rich (think CWG) alike.
Media seems to be their only friend, even if a hoary and shrill one. They are the target audience for most of what goes on on television. The only good reason for an intellectual to watch television these days (I think) is to gauge what the middle classes are interested in: gadgets, cooking oils, air conditioners, song and dance, infotainment, urban crime stories, etc.
Democracy is not coming to their aid because of a number of reasons:
- They don't vote, already pessimistic that the other vote banks are far more powerful.
- They are not organized, and hence have almost no lobbying power.
- Due to the career progressions and the invasion of the knowledge economy, they are being scattered far and wide, and far too often, across the country.
- They are living in a media-fed cocoon with no time for anything except their domestic concerns and rising bills.
- Due to the way they bring up their kids, all moral, non-violent and risk-averse, their kids don't end up being political leaders or corporate plunderers.
In this environment, when they understand that the political leaders serve either the very rich or the very poor (the former because of their money, the latter because of their numbers), the middle classes are frustrated due to their lack of power. This frustration stems from the realization that at least for the foreseeable future, there is not going to be any real change. The poor will continue to vote corrupt leaders into power, and the rich will continue to exact their pound of flesh.
What are the middle classes to do?
They, not unsurprisingly, spit at the system, the democratic process, the institutions of the state and want a short-circuit path to glory where they lord over both the filthy rich and the filthy poor. They don't have any leaders, and people such as Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare are not really politically astute. Nor is there hope that they will have a great political leader anytime soon. Any political leader in today's system has to: a) appeal to the illiterate masses, b) have a nexus with the corporates. The middle classes are handicapped when it comes to both of these. They are educated enough not to mouth jingoistic platitudes to win ovations, and they are also not versed enough in the "ways of the world" (or insensitive enough) to hobnob with the rich and lord over umpteen servants regarding them as sub-human creatures.
They are mediocre, and they don't have much of a say.
Hence, they are saying (through Anna Hazare and through Baba Ramdev) that processes and voting be damned, just give us the power and the money back. The media being their daddy, is making it appear as if there is a nation-wide consensus over their demands, when in fact there isn't. The intellectuals are aghast at their shrillness and their painfully naive rhetoric tinged with religious undertones to short-circuit process and institutions, the rich are a little cautious and are watching the scene unfold, the poor are not in the picture at all.
The demands of the middle classes (despite impressions to the contrary) are not the same as those of the much more numerous poor, and are definitely not the same as those of the much more powerful rich. The poor want short-term remedies: reservations, free rice, free power, low-cost diesel, freedom from regulation (environmental, economic, educational, and so on). The rich want the status-quo: privilege, opacity, a crony police force, a subservient executive, a consumerist ethos...
Even amongst the middle class, there is a great majority which evades taxes, encroaches upon public land (just an extended porch or a driveway, usually, but still), and gloats whenever they are able to run through a red light.
Hence, their leader, if at all he comes up, will always lose when fighting against the establishment. They have no chance in hell of making a dent in the current system through democratic processes. And they know it.
The middle classes, being a minority, want their values imposed on the majority. They are certainly becoming a more sizable minority, and may even outstrip major caste-based vote banks. But there is another curious reason why they will never have faith in democracy: they are narcissistic. They have some ego, these days. And an unfulfilled one. They are neither too poor not to have an ego, nor too rich to have it constantly gratified.
And their pattern of thinking is: Just because I want something, it should be done. Telly tells me so, no? To have their vote and protest and online petition go waste because the opposing block of votes was bigger is a big blow to their world-view. They don't want to participate in the system, ever. What a fucked-up system, they say to themselves.
And want Ramdev to go on a fast to bring them quick justice.
100% justice in two years, as he says.