By Sunanda Ranjan:
Thousands continued to flock to Jantar Mantar- the capital’s protest paradise- even as I write this. It’s like the war for independence all over again. People have spoken and the verdict is out- Indians are done with corruption, especially where the government is concerned.
This is a generation brought up on 24/7 news channels, citizen journalism, and the mother of all crusaders-the RTI. You can’t fool them anymore, and they won’t shut their eyes to your overtly glaring inconsistencies.
Anna Hazare, the eminent and much revered social activist has brought the country together again, obviously helped by the WC victory hysteria that had just a couple of days before bound the whole country in an unprecedented wave of Indianness. However, he has a mission on his mind.
Just before Delhi was to play host to the Commonwealth Games, charges of financial irregularities in the Organizing Committee’s dealings came out. And it was just the beginning as news of scams came aplenty, what with Raja and his 2G and Adarsh following soon.
The people had enough. Their faith in their Government was rudely picked up from a cushion of hope and dumped on thin ice.
At such a time Hazare’s crusade came as a ray of hope- the way he challenged the powers that be reminded the youth of the power of popular movement.
The Lokpal Bill was presented to the country as the answer to all its corruption woes. A body bereft of any political participation or role whatsoever, autonomous, and self-guided in all its discretionary powers; headed by people known for having served and upheld public good, and for their unquestionable integrity, having also received international recognition for the same.
With an alluring promise of bringing to book all culprits within a time period of two years, and the power to act on charges against even the PM, under its ambit, and an assurance that any Lokpal member found guilty on any charge in defiance of his duty would be dismissed within 2 months- the bill sounds too good to be true.
And it is, too.
Firstly, it puts to question the very concept of democracy by according such absolute power to one Organization. Decentralisation, with all its incumbent red-tapeism, at least ensures that no one person/body gets too big for its shoes.
Who is to say that once this immediate passion dies down, and the present atmosphere of graft grows faint in people’s memory, the Lokpal will continue unabated in the conduct of its duties?
Someone once said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Are we ready to give an organization that kind of authority and control?
It is very easy to think and believe that starting absolutely afresh, away from the cumbersome ties of the past will make all our ghosts disappear.
Right now, the atmosphere and public sentiment is totally supportive of a body like the Jan Lokpal. With the govt. failing on one account after another on every occasion that their integrity was put to test, people have declared they want out of this quicksand.
One can even draw a similarity between the prevailing sense of revolution now, and 64 years ago, when after tiring of a long reached saturation point, people broke out and the nearly two-century long shackles of colonialism were thrown away into the deep, irretrievable confines of history.
The idealism in the air is the same that guided the formation of the largest, most comprehensive Constitution in the whole world. But ironically, barely seven decades down the line, here we are, lashing out against the “upholders” of that very holy document, for miserably failing in their duty.
So, why are we so hopeful that this new body will suddenly, miraculously do away with all evil- which it will be beyond all follies, and will responsibly uphold its autonomy, and powers bequeathed, to it by a trusting people?
Anna Hazare’s only demand is for the Government to give him an ardent ear, and not completely ignore all his demands; while also putting his foot down in complete denial of Government’s proposal of the Lokpal.
And yes, admittedly, enforcing the Government’s idea of a Lokpal is as good as maintaining the status quo- as they don’t really make any new suggestions, and seem almost defensive at the idea of allowing an objective look at it workings. But, I seriously don’t think the Jan Lokpal is the answer, either.
I would repeat what has oft been said, if corruption has to be rooted out, the weeding out needs to start at the grassroots. It would be downright foolish to believe that a new organization will suddenly come into being and bring the downfall of every wrong in our society.
What one needs to do is increase transparency in the existing system, and the trials of those guilty against the people and the state; to eliminate the extreme secrecy these matters are dealt with, and present the proofs and arguments before the public through the internet or any other medium. Something along the lines of the Right to Information- so it may not be foolproof, but that ideal kind of ‘foolproofness’ is a lost relic of the simpler times of the past.
The government should make it a point to not allow those with a criminal record, or blemished in any other way, into its ranks- even if it’s at the cost of those one or two, who landed in the soup as a result of ugly politics. Hazare was right in questioning how we were supposed to have faith in an anti-corruption Group of Ministers comprising Sharad Pawar, of all people!
India is perhaps the most prolific democracy, where the public can openly question the workings of our representatives without fear of retribution.
The Jan Lokpal will also be run by humans, those who have proved themselves to be of a higher ideal of course, but humans nevertheless. To believe they will deliver on all their promises would be too idealistic. It’s not always the right solution to form a new body with more idealistic principles, every time the old ones fail.
My suggestion would be to find a way of working a slightly mellowed form of the Jan Lokpal into our present system of representative democracy. The government should work to include new levels of transparency too- how about the details of important business transactions of the government being available online?
Additionally they could have a body comprising Hazare’s suggested members, along with certain experts examining Defense purchases, to guard against shady dealings. The answer lies within the system.
Forget the idealism for a while, and give it a practical thought- a long-term solution or a temporary promise of hope?
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