Enough has been said, heard, written and read on the now ubiquitous Jan Lokpal Bill and Anna Hazare. For the past year or so, the nation has witnessed and participated in the moment that has been slated as ‘the end of corruption in India’. I have often wondered why all this time I never wrote anything on the issue. Going by the amount of related data currently circulating on the internet, especially social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, anything I would have written would have had an ephemeral lifetime and then it would be lost in all the brouhaha.
Why now? Because now I am starting to see an equilibrium being initiated in an otherwise unilateral agitation (movement, if one wants to call it that). The haughtiness of the campaign leader(s), which had been carried over to an extent in the followers, is now finally giving way to the much needed reasoning and a reasonable dialogue between the people and the government. Now is the right time for showing the other side of the coin.
I will begin by asking one simple question- What is corruption? We have all heard this word over a zillion times in the last few months, and every time we do, we instantly declare how much we hate it, how eager we are to get rid of it and that there need to be stricter laws to deal with it. I would like to know, is corruption an individual? Or a group of individuals? An institution or perhaps an organization? No, it isn’t. Corruption, like all other social evils, does not have a physical entity. Corruption, like dowry, domestic violence, honour killing, gender discrimination and female foeticide, cannot be tried in a court of law and punished. The accused- the corrupted- can be punished, but saying that it will lead to eradication of corruption is akin to believing that a sinking ship can be saved not by repairing the hole but by drying up the ocean. We all know it can’t be done.
And I have examples from both distant and recent past to demonstrate this fact. Fully competent laws exist against dowry and domestic violence. I take them into consideration because these are the two most widespread, deeply rooted social ills, which also happen to be the most under reported crimes. Thus, these two resemble corruption the most in occurrence and treatment. In the recent years, there has been an increase in the number of cases pertaining to domestic violence and/or dowry being bought to light all over the country. However, two things worth mentioning are- The number of reported cases constitute a fraction of the actual number of happenings and that the urban-rural divide can very well be seen here too. The former can be attributed to the fact that no matter how much developed India claims to be, women are still supposed to play second fiddle in a largely male dominated society. It is expected from them to be forever obedient to their halves and it is imperative that any nay-saying or straying from the usual course would be meted out with punishment, even physical abuse. As far as dowry is concerned, in many parts of India it is still seen as an integral part of the ‘culture’. And so is ‘Sati’, against which people have been working since the time of Raja Ram Mohan Roy. All these maladies are more prevalent in rural areas, where education levels are low and people are still chained in dogmas. Today, Gram Panchayats, which were supposed to be the epitome of grass-roots governance, have their integrity in question because of a plethora of cases of the panchayats in Northern India supporting and even participating in honour-killing.
The fight against these evils has tilted against us. Why? Certainly not because there aren’t laws to deal with them. The crude, and cruel, fact is that the guilty here is the mindset of a majority of Indian population. And the errors in mindset cannot be corrected in a court of law. The questions of morality cannot be answered by looking up the tomes of IPC. No doubt, laws need to be there against every possible form of violation of the ethical and moral code of conduct expected from an intellectually and morally developed society. But what if the morals are flawed, or worse, what if the necessary morals are missing?
I don’t see any reason why the fight against corruption will not meet with the same fate as the fight against domestic violence or dowry or Sati. My pessimism (if you want to call it that) arises from some very simple observations. Most of us treat the traffic and safety rules as a choice instead of following them sincerely. We simply don’t care about helmets, seat belts or signals. And when caught, 5 out of 10 times we will bribe a traffic police cop to evade penalty (I’m being very modest here because actually it should be at least 8/10). And then we blame the ‘system’ for the accidents and the traffic jams. Many of us will get railway reservations through agents and will be more than happy to pay ‘commission’ in exchange for a few minutes of hassle saved and a confirmed ticket. And whenever we are at the receiving end of this malpractice, we would either simply blame the ‘system’ or worse, try to bribe the T.T.E. Wherever it is possible to get the work done by showing some greens, we will happily take the detour.
And then we have the guts to blame the ‘system’ while sipping coffee and munching biscuits on a Sunday morning. The system needs reforms, agreed. And we are a part of it too. Hell, we are the system! A Tata Tea ‘Jaago Re’ ad campaign or a video of a chocolate-boy-turned-rebel-without-a-cause and claiming his ‘Haq’ raises only ephemeral social activists and brings only insignificant changes. The fight against corruption requires all of us to change the way we think. Permanently. This change won’t come in a day. You can initiate the process with the formulation of necessary laws. But it will still be the case of a paper tiger that will get its teeth only when the aam aadmi, in metros as well as in villages, realizes that a billion dollar scam is as bad as a 100 bucks bribe and that illegal mining of coal does as much damage to the country as the illegal consumption of electricity in a locality.
I was surprised when comparisons were drawn between Anna Hazare and Mahatma Gandhi. Both because of the similarities and the contrasts between the men in question. Anna tends to overshadow the entire campaign, much the same way as Bapu overshadowed the Freedom movement. I do not question his contribution, I simply want to point out how other people’s contributions was diluted because of the undue focus on one man. History is repeating itself here again. Somewhere in the chants for the leader, the cause is getting lost. People are awestruck by Anna’s ironclad image, forgetting he is but the face of a team that has worked for years without rest to formulate the JLP. He is not the answer to corruption. He is just one of the many of us who are seeking an answer to corruption. In a movement of this proportion, someone will naturally emerge at the forefront. And with the timeline, he might be replaced by someone else.
The contrast I mentioned is in the situation. Bapu fought against a monarchy. Anna seems to have confused a faltering democracy with an autocracy. His methods are not suitable in a parliamentary democracy. No matter how dysfunctional the government is or has become, democracy demands that the people and their chosen representatives solve problems through a sustained and sustainable dialogue . Anna’s haughtiness and lack of willingness to listen to others is frightening. I cannot even imagine what will happen if every one of the billion Indians sat on an indefinite hunger strike to bring the government on its knees and get their demands approved. I am not ready to believe that all the people sitting in the Parliament and all the bureaucracy are corrupt. And unfortunately if I’m wrong, I have every reason to believe that 9 or 10 ombudsmen that come into force with the Lokpal will also be corrupt. In which case, the present situation would only worsen, maybe beyond repair. When recently Anna’s integrity was questioned in a TV interview, a member of Team Anna( why not Team Jan Lokpal?) said nobody’s perfect. That’s my point too. Nobody is perfect. So when the ombudsmen will falter, who will ensure they are checked?
I am in no way averse to the entire Jan Lokpal Bill campaign. What bugs me is that people tend to believe that the fight against corruption will end with the successful introduction of a Bill. Ironically, the fight will only start after that. I would love to see people’s faces when they will be required to report a relative involved in a corruption case. I would love to see the choices they will make. I would love to see morality and rationality beating dogmas and injustice, for once. But until that happens, I would be contended with correcting my own flaws and making sure I do not mock the very system I am fighting for.