Thousand Voices Against Corruption
Anna Hazare is a 72-year old disciple of Mahatma Gandhi who sees himself as a moral crusader, whose purpose is to expose corruption by India’s politicians and bureaucrats and holding them accountable for their misdeeds.
Anna Hazare is a 72-year old disciple of Mahatma Gandhi who sees himself as a moral crusader, whose purpose is to expose corruption by India’s politicians and bureaucrats and holding them accountable for their misdeeds. So far he has been largely unsuccessful; unable to buck a political system that winks at financial wrongdoing, but he keeps plugging away. His latest battle centered on a proposed Lokpal (Ombudsman) Bill in parliament that seeks to curb financial irregularities and other acts of omission and commission by the government. The Bill drafted by the present government was so watered down so as to be virtually ineffective. To protest against this, Hazare recently went on a hunger fast unto death, eventually forcing the government to accept civil society representatives in the committee formed to draft the Lokpal bill. His effort received overwhelming support from the public, particularly the middle class.
So how does one describe Anna Hazare? Is he a modern day saint, or an opportunist who has seized upon the prevailing mood of disgust and frustration among a section of Indian society? Is he a naïve idealist seeking to implement Gandhian principles in an era when the Mahatma has become totally irrelevant in Indian politics? Will the thousand voices supporting his cause eventually translate into millions? Only time will tell, but if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
The Hazare “movement” gained media mileage because the “revolutionaries” were not the usual suspects seen at political rallies; and more importantly, because they were articulate enough to provide sound bites – no matter that most of the words were utterly predictable and inane. The day Anna ended his fast, his middle-class “warriors” went into paroxysms of ecstasy, proclaiming that they had won. They were a bit fuzzy, however, on what precisely they had won. Yes, they achieved the representation of a few eminent citizens on the committee to draft the Lokpal bill. They seem to have overlooked, however, that our ministers and bureaucrats are past masters at forming and controlling committees. Moreover, the committee will have equal representation from ministers and civil society. In the event, as is quite likely, the government and civil society hold opposing views on specific provisions, who will break the deadlock? The government is quite content because equal representation could easily translate into stalemate – and forcing adjournment after adjournment is meat and potatoes to our politicians.
One thing we can be reasonably sure of – our politicians will never enact any legislation that has the potential to put them in the dock. One recent example is the clarion call given by Congress President Sonia Gandhi urging Congress Chief Ministers to give up their discretionary powers. It was an astute political move, since it would have forced Opposition CMs to go on the defensive and tie themselves in knots trying to explain why discretionary powers were essential. Quite predictably, however, even the Congress CMs have belatedly discovered that abrogation of discretionary powers would impinge on their “sovereignty” – and so the issue has died a national death. Never forget that the raison d’être of entering politics in this country is to make money; and giving up the power to allot flats and plum postings would dry up a major source of tax-free income.
I believe Hazare has asked the Lokpal committee to declare their assets. This may invoke a feel-good factor, but is a largely meaningless exercise. Countless ministers, for example, have declared assets which show a multi-fold jump since the time they assumed office. But hardly any have cared to explain the source of their new found wealth; nor have they been asked to.
Critics of Hazare’s crusade have self righteously declared that in a democracy, our elected representatives are supreme; and that their rights cannot be usurped. But what “democracy” are we talking about? Theoretically, the “people” are the masters. But do the people get to decide who will stand for elections? Do the people have the power to debar criminal elements from the electoral process? What sort of democracy is this where the people’s choice is blatantly influenced by the freebies politicians dole out? And once the charlatans are “elected”, they are virtually given a free pass to carry on their nefarious activities for the next five years. Hazare has suggested a “right to recall” – as they have in the United States – but there is no hope in hell of our political class agreeing to that measure.
So what’s next? The chatterati and “activists” and mangal-sutra sporting housewives have had their day in the sun; and have dispersed. Their enthusiasm will dissipate in direct proportion to media glare. The five “wise men” and their ministerial counterparts will have endless debates on the correct wording. Maybe a Lokpal bill will actually be passed, but whether it will cleanse the ethical rot in our system of governance is debatable. There will be one effect, of course. Of late, our politicians had become quite brazen in their acts of corruption. Perhaps they will now be more discreet.