Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Way Forward

A write up on the recent uprising against corruption led by Anna Hazare.

The Way Forward

In the evening on Saturday, the 27th August, 2011, the electronic media headlines across India screamed ‘Victory of people’s power’, ‘Complete victory for Anna Hazare’ and more to that effect when nothing more than a face saving compromise for all the players involved was achieved. Anna Hazare himself said that it was half victory. The wise said that a ray of hope had appeared and battle had just begun. Cynics continued with their cynicism, history being on their side. Let us try to analyze the recent uprising objectively but with a positive frame of mind.

First let us try to understand the cynicism. Many patriots, their hearts filled with love for their countrymen and with anger for the unjust British regime, notably Bhagat Singh, Vir Savarkar and Chandrashekhar Azad, sacrificed their young lives for us. Mahatma Gandhi, a role model for the world even today, guided us till 1948. In post independent India, corruption became the key issue in 1974-75 and there was ‘total revolution’ led by Jai Prakash Narayan. What is the net result of those sacrifices and efforts? That many a leader thrown up by us, the people, today can easily compete with the most corrupt in the world. Corruption and injustice are all pervasive and at an all time high. History, thus, doesn’t give much hope from this popular uprising. The way forward, but, will be to learn from history rather than to get demoralized by it.

Cynicism also emanates from the fact that Jan Lokpal Bill, even as per draft put forth by team Anna, can’t be panacea for corruption. In fact, there is no dearth of institutions and laws already to curb corruption in India. If all these have failed, why proposed Lokpal also will not fail? Cynics may rightly ask. The examples of Hongkong and Singapore are given in support of efficacy of Lokpal. Not rightly. Because for one these two are miniscule states compared to India, and secondly one doubts if corruption ever would have had permeated so deep and vast in the societies there as it has in India. Anna did publicly challenge that if Jan Lokpal as envisaged by them came into being, corruption would come down by 60-65%. It is anybody’s guess. To my mind, time will prove Anna grossly wrong if their version of Jan Lokpal ever came into being. Lokpal could at best be effective in dealing with high level corruption cases. The irony is that the agitation in the end was precisely for a purpose which is farthest away from the realm of possibility –to ensure that common man’s life becomes hassle free, corruption-free and honorable (through broadening the scope of Lokpal).

If rules and laws could achieve what these are set out to, petty offenders won’t be languishing in jails for years without trial; innumerable people won’t be waiting to get information under RTI Act even after a year (having run from pillar to post) that they should have got easily within 30 days as envisaged in the law; 2G, CWG scams, and even worse scandals not taken up by popular media such as illegal and harmful drug trials on unsuspecting poor, along with fat Swiss bank balances won’t have come into existence; whistleblowers won’t be suffering victimization; police atrocities would be unheard of, and so on. An attempt to change character of a people gone base beyond imagination through the institution of Lokpal is as laughable as anything could be. One who has had a close encounter with Indian bureaucracy will readily understand what I mean to say. No doubt, there are gems of individuals adorning number of bureaucratic positions, but the collective effect of bureaucracy, the backbone of governance, manifests itself in the state of affairs country has witnessed of late. The other pillars are also not much behind.

Does it then mean that Anna and his team have been wasting energy and have been misleading the nation knowingly? Certainly not. What they have done is historical and no child’s play. To me their integrity is impeccable and selflessness is beyond doubt. They have galvanized a country of dead souls for a noble cause. This is all they have achieved since on the front of Jan Lokpal they have not accomplished much yet. But it itself is no mean achievement. It is through this creation of synergy through their hard labour that we have to find our way forward.

A question arises as to who are these people who have been supporting Anna and his cause so determinedly and so passionately, not in hundreds and thousands but in lakhs, across the length and breadth of the country. The government of the day has clearly been the adversary. Are these the same people who had voted the government to power, or the ones who had voted against the ruling parties or those who had not voted at all? I suspect a large chunk might be belonging to the last category. Whatever, thoroughly disgusted with exposure of multi-thousand crore scams on weekly basis on one hand and having to deal with sky-rocketing prices and injustice on daily basis on the other hand, it was natural for them to join the movement so spontaneously.

The uprising and its leaders also have had their share of critics. Who have been these people? First the political leaders from the ruling dispensation, they being the threatened lot. Then those who stand to gain from status quo and the present government. Quite natural. But seemingly a surprise pack have been a number of other social activists and luminaries who themselves have been and will be crusaders against corruption. It is here that the tragedy lies. All the good guys don’t combine to fight the evil. Very often, their egos, jealousy and flawed thinking come in the way. And evil continues to win.

The soundest piece of advice (I am not sure if it were original) to Anna and his team came from Mayavati in the last stages of the fast, “Fight and win elections, form government and make laws as you would like.” Why not if they have got the popular public support as was visible through media? Might is right and might will remain right whatever one may say or write. They must accept the challenge and start working on it, starting from the ensuing UP elections themselves. There is no alternative if they have to have their way, even if they needed nothing for themselves but the masses. Baba Ramdev and his Bharat Swabhiman Party may join and strengthen the cause. Other good forces also may join and do their bit. The converse is also true. If they lose elections, it would mean that people at large didn’t need them as yet and they may quit or strengthen themselves further. They have not achieved much as an outside pressure group in terms of their demands yet and shouldn’t expect to achieve much in future either.

The Lokpals and Lokayuktas are aimed at catching the culprits after irregularities or crimes have been committed. Prevention of corruption is much more desirable and is more effective in saving precious public money than running after the culprits. And various systemic structural reforms, for example in land management and public procurement, are the way forward to arrest large scale corruption. The willingness for same has to come from the political leadership and top bureaucracy who so far, to their own peril, have been impervious to the public outcry and the need of the hour.

The millions who so passionately participated in and supported the movement need not wait either for elections or for Lokpal. They can start fighting corruption at the micro level straight away by resisting taking or giving bribes. More importantly, they should combine and lend support to those around them who become victim of corruption or injustice, with same zeal and conviction with which they undertook the candle light marches and shouted slogans. If they do so, no Lokpal will be necessary to combat corruption. And if we don’t do so, any number of Lokpals will prove ineffective and helpless in arresting the malaise in present Indian society.

PS: This was also published in 'The Statesman' dated 7th Nov, 2011.

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