Thursday, April 14, 2011

Anna Hazare and the political class

Round One to Anna Hazare, no two ways about that. His fast in Delhi, played up by the visual media ( as only it can play up such things), brought the government scurrying to the table with a compromise proposal on the Lokpal Bill. There was joy unconfined in the media and the chattering classes.

Where do we go from here? Not very far, I fear. With every respect to Hazare and his well-meaning supporters, particularly young people, it's a serious mistake to suppose that non-political actors can provide solutions to political problems.They can act as pressure groups from outside and that's a valuable contribution. But anything beyond that would be unrealistic to expect.

This will not be the first campaign against corruption. In 1974, the JP movement aimed at bringing about a Total Revolution. It ushered in a non- Congress government. Thereafter, it was indeed a revolution- back to where it started from. In the 1980s, we had the Bofors scandal which swept V P Singh to power on the promise of a clean government. We know what happened.

We need to streamline various processes in government and to take purposeful action where corruption is detected. The Lokpal would be one instrument in tackling corruption but it cannot be the answer to the problem. And an all-powerful Lokpal, envisaged by the social activists, is a dangerous idea. Why must we suppose that a set of professionals would be above and beyond corruption?

There is one strand to the present outrage against corruption that is particularly dangerous. This is the vilification of the political class. In the course of a chequered career, I have come across not only politicians but professionals in various walks of life- corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, and, yes, academics. I am unable to testify that any of these groups has standards of conduct superior to those of politicians.

The middle class is complicit in corruption in many ways, and it happily applauds neo-liberal policies that impoverish millions of people. Businessmen and companies are amongst the biggest beneficiaries of corruption. For these people to single out politicians for blame is absurd.

There is a Bollywood stereotype of the politician- as a venal nincompoop and part-time rapist- that unfortunately has wide currency. With all their venality and ruthlessness, politicians bring to their jobs a certain degree of competence or knowledgeability that is not generally appreciated. And the democratic process works miracles in its own ways. Condemn individual politicians by all means but, please, do not devalue the democratic process. More in my ET column, Don't demonise the politician.


blackadder said...

The Hazare lovefest was India's first twitter / facebook rave party, allowing a whole army of lotus eating youngsters delude themselves into thinking that they had just conducted their own Tahrir Square. It was as genuine as a Che Guevara role playing video game. The Jan Lokpal Bill is moronic beyond belief and serves only to pacify the chattering middle class into believing that it has brilliant ideas that can solve all the ills of India. The sham(e) of it all

vk said...

Yes, some aspects of JLP are flawed. But I don't understand why people take the concept and equate it to political class vs civil (crony?) society? The goal of the JLP is to improve the standard of democracy (and bureaucracy and potentially businessmen, defence personnel, ,etc) and it will be drafted with parliamentarians who will then pass the bill. What makes you think that the compromise would be unreasonable to the political class? And, why do you think they are targeting only the political class. The complaint against the political class is not merely that they may be leaders of corruption but also that they are not doing anything about it.

Does the presence of SEBI undermine the free markets because it is a bureaucracy with powers? NO, because it has some accountability and checks - JLP can have something that works for it. Instead of suggesting what would be more reasonable, it is unsatisfactory to pontificate dumping the concept altogether.

It is also naive to believe that JLP will depend only on the honesty of its members - there will be checks and rules for them too. Btw, even if it were so, many institutions depend on the honesty and integrity of its members. Look at what Bhave did with SEBI for example - an example of a working, functioning bureaucracy.

And, sorry to wake you up but the bollywood perception is not unreasonable and it is inspired by facts. In fact in this case one can argue that facts are stranger than fiction.

Ultimately, it depends on where you think our democracy stands. If you believe that democracy as it stands in India is hardly democratic then JLP, electoral reforms, etc should be welcomed and not because they undermine democracy because they strengthen it and should lead to a better version of democracy. Democracy is not a monopoly of the political class. The demonstrations of the people are as much a part of democracy as anything else. Now, the electorate may be naive by they are not undemocratic.

K.R.Srivarahan said...

Maybe the functioning of JLP Committee must also be monitored by the Supreme Court !

lakshmi_smiles said...

Be the Change You want to See...i strongly feel that before blaming others we should look at ourselves!!...we buy movie tickets in black, pay bribe when caught crossing a traffic signal, cheat in exams...are we less guilty in any way...!! every person no matter how small or big, misuses his/her privileges and power to his/her selfish motives!! the JLP alone won't make this corruption free...the onus is on each one of as to be the change we want to see!!

Sagar said...

There cannot be a magical solution to all problems. Isn't it? We can be practical and say JLP will not root out corruption, Bravo. But, do you have any better suggestions? Improvements if any?

Yes, Vilification of ALL politician's (for that matter generalization of anything)is wrong. But given the present circumstances in Indian political class there are only very very few individuals whom we can trust. And those few with all their good will (like the PM) have nothing much to offer with respect to measures to stop corruption. There is a saying in sanskrit- "Yatha Raja, tatha praja" meaning "As is the king, so are the people". Yes, there is corruption at various levels but my strong feeling is that it stems from the TOP and that is where the noose needs to be tightened first. Individual transformation is a must but what JLP itends to do is ease the process of individual transformation by putting in measures/processes that would not FORCE people into corruption.

Anonymous said...

Corruption is a value system and agitation cannot change values of people

iNEXT iN . said...

Nice post !! I request you to provide RSS feed of your blog at its profile page. It would help us to keep track of new posts at Blog !!

Anonymous said...

Well, the political class have only themselves to blame. And, they have the answer too. So, why sympathize with them?

Ravi Kulkarni said...

Fair criticism. But most critics miss one crucial point: in India we lack the upright and moral role models. As a young man when I protested corruption at various levels, I had zero support - either from the bureaucracy or my own friends. My hope is that this movement will act as a beacon of light for all such right thinking people. Let there be a million mutinies now!

Anonymous said...

Your call on Ramdev episode and Government reaction? You continue with your stand against Lokpal or are now empathetic towards anti corruption actions?