A far cry from the din, the expensive multimedia publicity campaigns and the narrow outlook of Anna Hazare's anti-corruption brigade, was a grassroots-level campaign against 'corruption and price rise' in Karnataka. A State, where the shrill anti-corruption cries by the saffron brigade falls flat on its face given the large-scale corruption charges that many members of the ruling BJP government face, the issue of corruption indeed resonates deeply with its people.
This jaatha (or rally), held across 26 districts, was organised by Samudaya, a Left group that has for the past 35 years been working with people, cultures and communities; while taking up issues that affect them most. Samudaya, which means community in Kannada, is an apt name for this group that has a legacy of organising such rallies that reach out to the widest of cross-sections, while dealing with the most pressing issues of that time. If in the 1970s their rallies attacked the government for the then mounting attrocities on farmers, in the 90s the focus shifted to promoting awareness on literacy or garnering support for a people's science movement. Samudaya has over the years played a significant role in the cultural scene in the State.
In May, Samudaya organised a 15-day campaign travelling to schools, colleges and public spaces in villages, towns and cities, to talk about the C-word. However, not limiting its discourse to simple bribe-taking, the campaign's discourse was rooted in the need to establish links between the culture of 'crony capitalism' that has provided fertile ground for corruption over the last decade. Through posters, publicity material, booklets, music and theatre, these complex linkages were demystified. For instance, a simple poster charted how the reported Net Profits of Reliance Industries Limited (excluding the younger Ambani's ventures) grew from Rs. 212 Crore in 1980 to Rs. 1,994 Crore in 1992 to Rs. 8,405 in 1995-96 (less than half a decade after economic liberalisation) to a whopping, mind-boggling Rs. 89,124 Crore in 2005-2006. The bustling neo-liberal economy saw this figure rise to Rs. 258,651 Crore in 2010-2011. Posters highlighting the growth in income of politicians and businessmen, while contrasting this with the swelling woes of the working class, not only drove home the message that corruption is not an issue to be seen in isolation, but also located it in the larger quagmire of the growing nexus between global capital and neo-liberal economics.
Surendra Rao T, general secretary of Samudaya, explains that the aim was to sensitise creative persons to use their skills to take up issues of social importance and use art and culture to take this message to the masses. Flagged off on May 15, from Bidar and Dharwad, two colourful contingents journeyed across the State during the hottest time of the year. In each of the districts, Samudaaya had organized numerous cultural events in the run up to this campaign. Mr. Surendra said the response from the masses has been quite encouraging. He feels people in Karnataka are sick of the unscrupulous and callous government here.
The agenda of this jaatha, he explains, is to challenge the facade of misinformation created by mainstream media discourse on what causes corruption, or even the issue of corruption as a whole. He locates the wide-spread corruption we see today in the context of the capitalist culture. The idea of how a system thriving on crony capitalism could breed nepotism, greed and bring us to the current state of affairs were in clear, simple terms conveyed to the masses across districts in Karnataka. Public meetings were held in most of the Jaathas, where eminent thinkers, intellectuals and artists would play their part in professing the ideas this Jaatha had taken up.
Unlike previous Jaathas, a lot of caricature-based campaign material on hoardings were displayed on their wagons and at every pit stop. A comprehensive manual in Kannada was handed out to the crowd, elucidating the cause for the ever increasing rate of corruption and price-rise. This comprehensive material, also proposes solutions in terms of what could be our roles as citizens, stringency of current laws and limitations of future proposals such as the Lokpal bill. Simpler solutions such as bringing corporates, religious institutions and public-private partnerships under the ambit of the Right To Information Act were mooted.
In Kolar, Chikamagalur, Coorg and Mangalore, the Jaathas met with tremendous success, drawing huge and enthusiastic crowds. At each stop, a “common-minimum program” was organised. This comprised inauguration by ringing a bell of warning against corruption and price-rise, singing four Jaatha songs, poster panel exhibition and speech by an eminent writer/intellectual.
RK Hudugi, State president of Samudaaya, says his Jaatha wagon alone had traveled 2,200 km during the course of the Jaatha in North Karnataka. Likewise the other Jaatha wagon had traveled about 2000 km. Participation in each of the Jaathas ranged from 100 to 1000. On an average about 250 people at each of the Jaathas, making the total reach of the Samudaaya team during these Jaathas to about about one lakh people directly.
The two jaathas, ultimately culminated in Bangalore where a final programme was conducted involving theatre, music and dance, and debate.
Karnataka Lokayukta, Santosh Hegde, a key player in the Lokpal Bill, spoke at the event. He quipped that the demeanour of the admittedly “helpless” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reminded him of the blind king Dritharastra who witnessed the harassment of the mythological character Draupadi in the epic, Mahabharata. He appreciated the efforts taken up by Samudaaya in educating the masses, which according to him is the most important step in the fight corruption.
K Maralusiddapaa, former chairman of the Karnataka Nataka Academy and a leading intellectual, spoke eloquently on how the combination of liberalization, privatization and globalization phenomenon in the past two decades set the stage for rampant corruption. A sharp critic of the Anna Hazare movement, he voiced concerns over it leading to what could very well be a second JP Movement, one that leads to the possible legitimisation and the resurgence of rightwing forces.
In Bangalore too, music and theatre pieces were interweaved with debate and discourse.
A takeaway from this campaign?
Samudaya had its list of demands that it put forth to audiences seeking discussions and debates on each. From demanding the resignations of all those accused in corruption scandals and holding public offices and the formulation of a strong Whistleblowers Bill, to a shift in economic policies to ban forward trading on essential commodities and universalisation of the Public Distribution System; the campaign did manage to present a range of issues that affect common people in a format that was not only simple and thought-provoking but also entertaining.