Sharmila’s response to the invitation by Team Anna to join the hunger strike campaign to make the Union government introduce a legislation in Parliament to constitute a statutory people’s ombudsman aimed at curbing official corruption effectively, was measured and mature. The invitation was obviously an afterthought following many comparisons and questions raised in the media about the public clamour over the fast by Anna Hazare and the lack of it in the case of Sharmila who had been on a fast for a record 10 years and still counting. It is unlikely Team Anna did not know the facts of Sharmila’s status as a jail inmate and for this reason it was not totally up to her individual volition to participate in their protest strike in New Delhi. The invitation in this sense was, so to say, a token gesture, or the biblical fig leaf, to cover up what was increasingly becoming an uneasy embarrassment. It was interesting to note how a great section of the media in the Northeast rallied behind Sharmila in varying shades of outrage calling for parity of concern of the Indian public in the two cases. There was also a good section of the national media, lead from the front by Chennai headquartered The Hindu, constantly reminding the Indian public of the difference in their reception of the two cases. Most memorable of all was well known social activist, author of Booker Prize winning novel “God of Small Things” and acknowledged champion of the underdogs in the Indian state’s assimilative nationalising mission, Arundhati Roy, who lent her voice to highlight this discrepancy further. The main thrust of her hard hitting articles derided the public hysteria over the campaign against corruption as this looked only at official corruption and not that of the corporate world or for that matter the corporate media, the indication of which became quite stark after scandals like the infamous Radia tapes expose.
Sharmila was humble in her reply. She wholeheartedly expressed her solidarity with Anna Hazare’s campaign but expressed her inability to join him and his team because of her internship in a Manipur jail. She instead invited Team Anna to visit Manipur, which she described as the most corrupt of all Indian states. Her last jab should have had the sting intended. Manipur must rank as the state with one of the most corrupt official establishment. From the lowly fourth grade employees to the top bosses in the political leadership and bureaucracy, all have collectively and in a collaborative manner, ensured that corruption is entrenched not just into the system but in the psyche of the people. Even the most humble citizen today talks with a clear conscience of the need to pay bribes to get in a child or ward to a government job position as if this was the most natural and only way such things were to be done. Roads and other infrastructures constructed continually are so substandard that they cannot even withstand the onslaught of a single monsoon not because of paucity of funds but because funds were siphoned off into individual pockets. Of such works, there will be no proof needed, as they are plenty of extremely visible examples stark before everybody to see. Corruption in other states is about occasional explosive scandals that break out in high places. Corruption in Manipur, although relatively much less in magnitude, is much more in spread and extend. Indeed it has been made a part of everyday life, therefore endemic and perpetuated endlessly in an unnatural cycle. We hope, even if as just another token gesture, Team Hazare visits Sharmila after their high profile campaign is brought hopefully to a happy conclusion. That would be such a jolt to the corrupt system at in this state. We hope Team Hazare also lends its highly audible voice to Sharmila’s own campaign against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA. They are out there on a campaign to what they believe would ultimately save India but this too is equally about saving the spirit of India.
No argument about it, putting an end to corruption would be a big fillip in the public morale and the economy of the country, considering the estimate that close to 40 percent of the Indian economy is black. But as critics have pointed out sharply and sometimes disparagingly, we hope the campaign also ultimately brings in other forms of corruption other than just the official ones. Corruption happens everywhere including outside the official realms. It includes the ways of cheating small time traders and contactors as well as those who award and approve their cheating ways. The very fact that prices sky rockets every time there is a road blockade or landslide is itself an indication of the cheating ways of many. On all these occasions, essential commodities, in particular petrol and diesel, disappear from the petrol pumps, but nonetheless begin to appear for inflated prices in the black market. How could this happen other than through the vile contagion of corruption?