Why else would Anna Hazare, a virtual unknown to many outside Maharashtra, vault into national consciousness and force our democratic Government on the defensive?
Much ink has been spilt discussing his agenda and his methods. Much mud has been slung on all sides. After all this, we have now reached a stalemate where an increasingly belligerent Government is in a staring match with an increasingly intransigent Anna Hazare.
As Indians debate this grammar of anarchy, we should separate out several threads mixed in this mire.
First, there is a real crisis of governance in India. Our existing political systems have proven incapable of checking rampant corruption at petty and epic levels. The high cost of our sprawling democracy has created a patronage state to pay for it. The vast reach of our patronizing Government has created opportunity for corruption at a continental scale. The subservience and incompetence of our investigative bodies has created near immunity for corruption. Our parliamentary system has failed to provide sufficient checks and balances on the Government of the day. Our overburdened and, sometimes corruptible, judiciary has been unable to dispense speedy justice. Even our clamorous fourth estate has been compromised in its mortal competition for audience.
Second, our people are smart enough to sense that this state of governance anarchy is not self-correcting. This is why the upsurge in support for Anna Hazare, who people may not know but see as being a potential force for change. That Indians have less faith in their Government than a man most of them do not know and whose ideas they do not understand is telling in itself.
Third, the response of Government of India to this frontal assault has been self-defeating. Its initial defensive crouch has evolved into an increasingly menacing posture. Unable to make a case for its agenda or counter the reality of its inherent corruption, the Government is attacking Mr Hazare in personal terms and his movement by use of force. In so doing, it reaffirms the negative view Indians hold of their political system. If the institution of democratic Government is under siege, it is at the hands of the Government herself - not of Mr Hazare. The many commentators who cite Ambedkar's grammar of anarchy notion to attack Mr Hazare also fall into the same trap. Grammar of anarchy is only problematic in a self-correcting political system. India doesn't have that alas and change here takes way too long to be meaningful. To attack Mr Hazare's protest on the grounds that it sows anarchy misses this obvious point and makes Indians regretfully suspect the credibility of these commentators.
Finally, it is self-evident that Mr Hazare's prescriptions are profoundly dangerous. In the best of circumstances, they will create deep levels of risk aversion among even honest Government servants fearful of painfully intrusive investigations. In the worst of circumstances, they will create a super-Government that is above the democratic process - which would be a major retreat from freedom in India.
So, what is to be done?
This is a moment of perilous opportunity for India. Thoughtful Indians should seize upon the nationwide desire for structural reform in our political system. Yes, the country must reject the fascistic ideas that Mr Hazare offers, but at the same time must embrace the change that he demands. Political and civil society leaders must begin leveling with the people and outlining their visions for a self-correcting political system. We cannot be so rigidly wedded to the current system and so harshly averse to Mr Hazare's ideas that we miss the forest for the trees. Our need for political reforms is perhaps even greater than our need for economic reform. The economic superpower that India can become is being thwarted by the political subpower that it unfortunately is. This has to change - and starting immediately.
The current moment is a cry for help from the Indian people. Using police tactics or lofty rhetoric to smother this cry would be a Himalyan blunder.