Of Corruption, Crescendo, and Caution
As I write this, Anna Hazare, the figurehead of the anti-corruption movement that has galvanized India, is on the seventh day of his fast onto death—in his fight for a powerful anti-corruption watchdog office (broadly referred to as the Jan Lokpal Bill) to be in place by August end. The unyielding ruling party seems dead set against it, insisting that corruption is a deeply rooted phenomenon that cannot be wiped out overnight in a democratic country subject to due process, and that demanding it by threatening a fast-unto-death amounts to blackmail.
The vast majority of the Indian masses as well as leaders from a diverse cross-section of institutions such as the film industry and spiritual groups appear to be firmly behind Anna, bringing the movement to an energized crescendo. In fact not since Independence has the nation come together around an issue with such unanimity.
But there is also an elite, if smaller, camp that is questioning Anna’s ways and the merits of the Jan Lokpal as proposed. While differences are to be expected on such a complex issue, what has incensed many who are fed up with corruption is the pontification from observers in ivory towers who are far removed from India’s day-to-day struggle with corruption.
When a mature, seasoned man such as Anna—unlike a youthful suicide bomber—is willing to lay down his life for this national cause, the only reasonable response seems bowing down to him with reverence—even if one believes his campaign is not perfect. Flaws, if any, in the JanLokpal Bill can be addressed as we go, provided the government shows a good-faith effort in rooting out corruption.Despite these armchair detractors, for those of us in Anna’s camp, the challenge is to not shoot down all criticism, let alone the process of dialogue and give-and-take that is needed in addressing such a hugely
multifaceted problem in a nation. As it stands, the situation can easily morph into mob mentality if fanaticism enters the equation and critics of Anna or the Bill are considered unpatriotic or worse.Can we not throw our support behind such a noble and necessary movement, and yet be open to blind spots in the Jan Lokpal Bill? Could putting the Prime Minister and the judiciary under its purvey cause more problems than it can solve? What if, because of the Jan Lokpal, a thoroughly honest PM is obstructed from working for the good of the nation by his political opponents levying lawsuits against him? It is also important to recognize the limits of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Ultimately it boils down not to laws and external checks and balances, but the willingness of 1.2 billion people—consumers, bureaucrats and all—to put a brake on generations of corrupt practices and be open to the hardships and delays that are inevitable in not greasing palms to get things done. While a strong Jan-Lokpal type bill might help to provide immediate relief to the cancer patient that India has become, ultimately the overall health can only be regained through a shift in culture and habits.
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