Deconstructing the DNA of Indian protesters

First things first. I have deliberately and scrupulously used the word Indian protester instead of Indian revolutionary. Revolution is a far more serious business than fasting and portentous slogan-shouting; and the Anna posturing and obloquy has gone a bit too far – however good the intention – as I explained in my previous editorial in TSI (issue dated Aug 22-28, 2011). Now, obviously, the caviling Dalits want their version of the Lokpal. Tomorrow, captious Muslim leaders who can get a lakh odd people together will want their version of Lokpal too... and it will continue. I have been quite vocal in supporting Anna's intentions, but have a lot of questions regarding this buttonholing attempt by him to enforce a particular version of Lokpal without any respect for democratic processes that our Constitution has laid down. However, regardless of my blackball reservations, one thing cannot be denied – what has happened on the Indian streets has been unprecedented and never seen before. If one were to read the English media, one would believe that this is a Twitter or Facebook revolution going on with a significant majority of the renitent city crowd and college students taking to the streets. Having been there for about half a day at the centre of piquant action when all this happened during Anna's previous fast, I however had my doubts – since at that time I had seen no signs of the gladsome crowds who fitted such lambent descriptions. Yes, there were blowzy school children for sure. But some, who had come from nearby villages. Most people looked far from belonging to even rank and file middle-class families. Clearly, if we do not understand who these protesters are that Anna mobilized, we shall never understand what is going on. So, at the peak of the protests this time, on the third day, I asked my market research team to do a serious survey and find out the reality of who these protesters were!

Exactly as I had expected, the reality is that the recusant protester on the street is not the commonalty who pays a bribe at a red light, because a significant group, 33.5%, doesn't even own a two-wheeler! They are not superfancy students, for only 7.5% of those surveyed were studying! They are not the parlously jolting Twitter crowd, because only 33.5% had access to the Internet and only 7% amongst them had ever heard of Twitter! And mind you, this was from a sample size as large as 1000. So not much chance of going wrong here. Yes, more than 82% of the 33.5% with access to Internet had heard of Facebook. However, overall, virtually none of them was on the streets due to the Internet as a medium, leave alone Twitter, for only 1% of those surveyed said that they were protesting on the streets after being influenced by the issue on the net! So, out of this 1% on the streets – extrapolating the findings above – one can safely assume that 82% were there due to Facebook and 7% (that is less than 0.07% overall) due to Twitter! But of course, if one were to open the leading newspapers, then one would be led to believe that what's going on in the streets is a Twitter and Facebook revolution, spearheaded by deluxe students and the galvanic middle-class of India! Well, out of those surveyed, 68.5% were from a household income group of less than Rs.10,000 per month and another 21.5% from the household income group between Rs.10,000 and Rs.25,000! So, in effect, 90% of those protesting are from families with less than Rs 25,000 monthly household income; and most of them with less than Rs 10,000 monthly household income! This was exactly as per my experience during Anna's previous fast, where most of the protesters I saw then too seemed to belong to the toiling lower income group. These are people who came taking buses in Delhi to join the protests – 54.5% of them! Yes, 86% do know that this is a fight against corruption. But horror of horrors, only 1% of them were aware of the key features of the Lokpal Bill (understandable, because if one were to keep the sharp brained Arvind Kejriwal aside, and if one were to just hear Anna, one indeed can understand nothing about the bill). These are the key findings of the survey; further details can be seen in the accompanying survey results!

So what is it that I want to say here? Well, to understand this entire movement, we must cut the canting crap and understand some reality. And the reality here is three-fold. Firstly, the English media propagates crap to sell their newspapers. On the front pages and third pages of newspapers, faces of scrapping poor people don't sell. What spuriously sell are baseborn talks about Twitter and synthetic photographs of ‘cool’ looking students on the streets – even if this is far, far away from reality! The reality is that people on the streets are not from ravishing air-conditioned, Internet-savvy and tweeting households. Forget that, they are not even from gimcrack air-cooled households! They are the people of India, the real people of India. Secondly, corruption is today a huge factor of jeopardous discontent in the lives of these disillusioned common real Indians. And if they are out on the streets, the government must try to understand and introspect what has gone wrong, instead of completely blaming Anna for creating a blackmail-type of a situation. If the government doesn't do that, and ignores the issues of these real people, nothing, absolutely nothing, not even BJP's complete failure to capitalize on the situation, can stop the current government from being booted out in the coming elections. Thirdly, the electronic media in India rules perceptions of these people! And the English channels are not what these people watch. They watch Hindi and regional channels! So, as I had written some months back too in an editorial ('The winner – the electronic media and the Anna Hazare movement', TSI issue dated May 2-8, 2011), those are the Hindi and regional channels that have been the reasons behind the capacious spread of this movement, as clearly shown in the survey – 75.5% people on the streets were influenced by watching television to come onto the streets! Yes, Anna is a hero, but he is a hero thanks to the crackerjack electronic news channels. This movement belongs to them as much; no wonder the key team of Anna seems to be more bothered about media strategy and planning than anything else! Secondly, this movement belongs to the real Indian and not those that the trumpery English media wants you to believe. And finally, if the Congress wants to survive in the next elections, they must know that those are the real Indians who came out on the streets (and that too without any incentives like food or money). The government might as well take the people's concerns seriously, else the electronic media will see to it that the real Indians boot them out of power in the next elections!

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