In a sensational and completely unexpected development, Alok Kumar, an unknown liberal thinking youth from Bangalore began his fast-unto-death OPPOSING Anna Hazare’s Lokpal Bill. The news of his fast, however, came out only after he had already entered the 2nd day as not many people knew him in the first place. In spite of the delayed discovery, people from all over the city are paying him a visit just to see why somebody would do something as strange as this when the entire country seemed to be protesting WITH Anna Hazare.
When quizzed by curious and bewildered reporters as to why he was fasting to OPPOSE the LokPal, a visibly weak and tired Alok managed to respond, “People don’t seem to understand what exactly is happening here. Everybody is under the misconception that creating this Lok Pal will solve all corruption problems. But what they don’t realize is that it is a big risk to give so much power to one institution and hope that it does its job.”
Alok’s point of view, he said, was inspired by reading many articles online by bloggers, columnists and authors who he considers as “liberal thinkers.”
“These are the people who have influenced my thinking. These people have the courage to go against popular opinion. They are not afraid to write on their blogs and websites about things which the majority of the population would disagree with. One should really read their articles and consider their points of view. It will help people to think in a more sensible and liberal way. “
Alok managed to give links to a few of the websites and blogs he was reading that he said were influencing him. (This, this, this, this and this) He also elaborated about his actual objective of fasting.
“I am right now doing a fast-unto-death primarily to stop the Lokpal bill from going through to become a law. We simply cannot have an all powerful organization dictating this country’s fate. If the Government yields to Anna’s demands, then I will continue to fast until I am actually dead.”
It appears that, with Anna beginning his fast a couple of days back, the country is witnessing its first ever Fast-unto-death Off! On one hand, we have a widely popular Gandhian who has been fighting for this bill to go through for many months and on the other hand, we have a relatively unknown new generation liberal thinker who is fasting to protest the very idea behind the bill. This is an extremely unique situation and curiosity is building as to how this is likely to all pan out. Is Alok going to get enough attention to make his fast actually count? Will people take notice of what Alok is doing and recall the bill? Or will Anna Hazare, with his Gandhian ideals and populist base, out-fast Alok and get his demands met?
This brings us to another interesting question. When is one considered to have ‘out-fasted’ the other? Is it considered a victory for the survivor if the other person dies out of hunger? Or is it considered a victory for the deceased as it gives him martyrdom prior to the fate of the survivor? Who will be considered as the morally more right person? The person who dies first or the person who survives to fast another day?
[Even as this piece is being written, the writer has learnt that Arnab Boguswami has already called in a debate panel to discuss (read force-his-own-opinion-on-everyone) the nuances of what appears to be a moral paradox. ]
When confronted with this dilemma, Alok carefully considered the argument and said, “Honestly, I do not know. We will just have to wait and see till one of us dies I suppose. In either case, Anna Hazare holds the cards because he has a lot of practice fasting. He has been doing that for years now. I am sure he has been putting in a lot of fasting days in order to be on top of his game for this current fast. On the other hand, I will have to make do with absolutely zero fasting practice. I might very well be the one to die first. Lets see.”
Many of the curious youth who have gathered outside his house to see what the fuss is all about admitted to now being terribly confused. Shyam Prasad, one of the onlookers who knew what was happening said, “I really don’t know what to think honestly. We the people have always supported people’s agenda when they have resorted to fasting to get their demands met. Whenever someone decides to fast, it is usually for some very noble reason. That is why we supported Anna. Now there is this Alok who also fully believes in his point of view that the Lok Pal will do more harm than good for the country. And so I am confused which side to take.”
It also appears that the social networking websites have caught scent of Alok’s hunger strike and is apparently making waves in it. One of the onlookers outside Alok’s house, Ram, said he was posting updates on his Facebook and Twitter profile telling all his friends about this new development. “I want to do my bit for the country. That is why I am conveying this important development to all my friends through Facebook and Twitter. I am fairly confident we can get Alok trending on Twitter in a short while. I have asked all my friends to RT my tweet about Alok. One of my friends already said that he will start an online petition to create more awareness and support for Alok” he said. Asked whether he believed in what Alok was fasting for, Ram replied, “I don’t really know the exact reason why he is doing it. But if somebody is fasting, there must be a very noble reason behind it. We supported Annaji when he fasted. We should not treat Alok any differently.”
In an even more sensational development later in the day, Gautham Nayar, another unknown youth – this time from Mumbai- has also started fasting! But this young man is now fasting not to oppose or support the Lokpal bill. In fact, this youth appears to be fasting in protest of Alok Kumar going on a fast!
“This is ridiculous!” Gautham said. “How can somebody just decide to have a certain opinion about something just because they read a good argument on some blog? People like Alok Kumar need to look at both sides of the story to see what exactly is happening. Beginning to fast before that is like using the Jump-to-conclusions mat. You just conclude the same as whatever argument you end up reading.”
Gautham admits that he hasn’t read the Lokpal bill and so does not know where he stands on it. “Once I read it I will know exactly where I stand. But so far, all I have read are the articles that criticize the Lokpal bill and Anna’s method of getting this done. And I can tell you this. What they have to say really forms a very persuasive argument. They have a lot of points which raise some serious concerns about the subtleties of the bill. People, the youth mainly, read these cogent arguments on all these blogs and websites and immediately conclude that this bill is a recipe for disaster.”
When asked to elaborate, he said, “One of the points that the writers make criticizing the whole support behind Anna Hazare is that for the most part, none of the supporters have actually read the bill, yet they voice unconditional support to it. And this is truly a serious concern. However, what I want to point out is this. There are many people who have read these critiques and framed their opinion based on that. Now, how many of THESE people have actually read the bill before deciding that it is set for doom? For all you know, what one may read in these blogs and websites may as well be a clear case of Confirmation Bias. For every point that these critics bring out which appears to spell doom, there is likely to be one which streamlines and expedites the way corruption is handled. But these writers may have consciously or sub-consciously ignored to include those bits in their critiques just to prove their pre-conceived point.”
“The large base of support for Anna Hazare and the Lokpal bill may be largely ignorant about the nuances of the bill. But the small percentage of the population who seem to feel superior to the rest for going against the stream are not doing any better either. They feel smug about having this opinion as it goes against the popular voice. And with the general perception that going against the stream is a cool thing to do, these youth appear to be jumping to conclusions without sufficient basis. All those who seem to think they know better than the others about the bill just because they have read some well written critiques of the bill online are nothing more than self righteous hypocrites, because all they themselves know about the bill are just these small pieces that only serve to prove their point.”
While Gautham was making all these points about why people should read the bill before framing an opinion, this reporter was still trying to figure out if Gautham was fasting in support of the bill or to oppose it. When confronted with the dilemma, Gautham responded, “I am not fasting for the bill at all. I am fasting to get Alok Kumar to stop fasting and actually read the damn bill! I am fasting to make everybody, both who support the bill and those who don’t, to actually READ and get to know exactly about what they are feeling so strongly.”
This reporter was still not satisfied as he wanted Gautham to take a clear black and white stand. He felt it was not good for journalism to run a story wherein there was no story of a person who had a passionate bias towards or against something. So Gautham was asked if he was against all these critics who write online. To this, Gautham replied, “Absolutely not. We need such critics who can show us one side of the story and it also helps the case for freedom of expression. However, looking at the bigger picture, these critics do not serve any real purpose at the end of the day.”
Hoping that Gautham was going to take a clear stand against something, the reporter asked him to elaborate on that. Gautham, who was getting more tired by explaining everything to this reporter than by his hunger, managed to go on.
“You have to look at what is happening. On one hand we have Anna Hazare, who, in his own (perhaps questionable) ways, is trying to help the country by helping the corruption issue. And he is actually getting something done here. There has never been such widespread protests against corruption in a long long time and he was pivotal in initiating it. He is helping (again, in his own ways) to frame a Lokpal bill which is not just an eyewash from the Govt. It may not be the perfect solution to the corruption issue. But if it wasn’t any effective at all, there perhaps wouldn’t be such hue and cry from the Govt opposing it and trying to make it an eyewash. This will go at least some distance in doing something against corruption.”
“On the other hand, we have these critics. They sit in their office or home chairs, comfortable, searching for new and important developments in the country. They read about it, think about it and then frame their own opinion and point of view about the situation. They are able to understand the nuances and subtleties of the situation, which would otherwise be easily overlooked. They are then able to articulate these ideas and messages very well in a coherent manner in their websites, blogs or columns. Many of these points of view go against popular voice and when other youth read this critique, they frame their opinion based on what these writers have conveyed. These writers and critics may have a lot of very valid points concerning the situation at hand and they may want to communicate these ideas to the general public so that they are aware of what is happening.”
“But in the end, none of this translates to any tangible action. All that transpires out of them writing about critical issues, either in favor or against, online and a whole bunch of youth reading it to frame an opinion is that they write about critical stuff and a whole bunch of youth frame their opinion based on that. Nothing else ever happens. Everybody involved in this online process wants to be in their comfort zone in front of a laptop and think. And they feel good about it and believe that it is a job well done. There is nothing actionable that ever comes out of these things. You have to ask yourself. At the end of the day, what is all this critique and writing, if nothing more than just pointless intellectual masturbation?”
This reporter finally felt he had a quote. And immediately left Gautham’s house.
After the news of Gautham’s fasting became public, the news media went hysterical. And retarded. Actually make that MORE retarded. Arnab Boguswami lost his ability to think while thinking about who among the 3 was the one he was to support in the upcoming force-my-opinion-down-your-throat show. It is understood that his IQ was so low that he could not even initially comprehend what was happening and who was doing what. And then when someone explained the whole moral ambiguity involved, he just lost his (diminished) ability to think.
Popular blogger Amit Varma, who writes on the India Uncut blog, responded to what Gautham had to say. “I don’t understand why Gautham is getting all upset about us criticizing the bill. This is about freedom of expression and criticism. That being said, I really need to get back to blogging. You know I used to write a lot before. Almost 4-5 posts daily. I myself do not know where I go nowadays. Someday I will keep my word when I say I will be blogging more regularly. Oh by the way, that is not a promise.”
The cops on the other hand held an hour long meeting and, after realizing that this involves too much thinking, have decided to turn a blind eye to all these fasts. Local circle inspectors of both places were too busy to be bothered with ideas such as moral ambiguity and paradox. One of them said, “I have not received any orders to detain him. And moreover, I really do not know what is lawful and what is not anymore. So please wait till somebody higher up gives me an order for something.”