Friday, August 19, 2011

The war on Corruption

Some posts back I took an irreverent view of  corruption in public life and one man's crusade against it. I feel less sanguine now, and more so as battle lines between Government and "Civil Society" have clearly drawn. A dangerous game of brinkmanship is being played out by both sides with no clear outcome in sight. As always, it is the people who will suffer. Here are my views for what they are worth.

Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption is developing farcical dimensions and I am uneasy about the outcome. The anxiety is compounded by the realization that, being a member “civil society”, I am supposed to be different from the class of people I have elected.

First, the authorities found that releasing their prisoner was easy. The hard part was in getting Anna to leave jail!

Then Anna negotiated (browbeat would be a more appropriate term here) with the police about the location and duration of his fast. The last I heard, he was given permission to go without food for fifteen days. By then, I assume,  the Government would blink first or Anna would give up

This was followed by a gesture that has no precedent. I am referring to the Delhi Police’s action in arranging the infrastructure –as it were- for the event! Going by media reports, they have spared no efforts- tents, platforms, electricity.

The media, too,  has gone on overdrive. As matters stand today, Anna Hazare, the person, has become much, much bigger than the cause he is fighting for. He is well on his way to being anointed a Mahatma. So we have hundreds of millions of Indians hanging on to his every word, and reading meanings in every gesture.

Celebrities and public figures, many of whom have benefited by winking at the law, have sprouted halos after joining Anna.

Colleges -many of them guilty of taking illegal donations- have allowed staff time off to participate in protests.

Young people waving flags show policemen the middle finger as they speed past traffic lights.

Is this what the movement against corruption is all about? Could we not have gone about it differently? I think the time has come for everyone to stand back and take a deep breadth.

We have several oversight and regulatory bodies already. Let them do their work without fear or favor. How is the Lokpal expected to be different?

Unfortunately, our institutions and political processes have been so badly subverted by corruption that people’s faith in them has eroded almost completely. Still, the big bang approach favoured by the proponents of Lokpal is not likely to work because it will, sooner or later, subsumed into the system.

I believe that victory in the war against corruption will be the sum of wins in local battles. Such an approach demands that we stop making a spectacle of ourselves in front of television cameras and put our money where our mouths lie. For a start, volunteer groups can picket government offices and report on corruption as it occurs. The campaign must be sustained and there must be no let up in intensity till the guilty either mend their ways or are punished.

As for our politicians, they owe their existence to “civil society”.  Let the message be clear that our votes matter and they will be personally answerable to their constituency for their party’s failures.

Next week, I will be accompanying my daughter when she goes to the Regional Transport Office to get her learner’s driving license. I understand that many of the staff has gone on leave to join Anna Hazare.  But my work will be done if….

Let’s see. I might even start a fast to get my work done.


Hitesh Ashar said...

I think the issue is far bigger than just corruption or the means being deployed to weed it out.

We have failed as a democracy. Democracy assumes that the majority is right and will do something ethical and in the benefit of all. Unfortunately, this is not true for us. And the politicians always take refuge in "parliament" as if they are referring to God himself. The matter does not start or end with corruption. And a simple Bill or law is not going to end the problem.


SRINAYAN said...

The problem also is that Anna Hazare is being put on a pedestal that he does not deserve. One would have expected the saner minds in his group -Santosh Hegde, Kiran Bedi, etc-to exercise a moderating influence. Instead, they have been swept along. Expectations have risen sky high and we are fighting within ourselves. There is no doubt that corruption is a cancer that must be ruthlessly excised, but this is definitely not the way. The typically lazy Indians that we are, we have "outsourced" our fight to Anna. Neither the means nor the outcome is going to bother us much.

Sudha said...

Your fast will not work except to upset your family members.

I find the whole idea the bribe takers (aka the government and bureaucracy) as being worse than the bribe givers (aka the civil society) as so hypocritical.

SRINAYAN said...

The biggest problem is that the Great Indian Middle Class is afflicted by the-customer- is- king syndrome. The current movement is no different; you want your problems to vanish at the snap of your fingers. So, you want the job to be done even if it means having to bend the rules.If its called corruption, too bad.Its the governemnt's job to do something about it. I will do what I need to. Sorry, the resistance must come from within.