Sunday, August 05, 2012

Anna's flop show

Anna and his team have called off their fast and have indicated that they would like to enter politics. Both items have been hotly discussed in the media.

Why did they call off the fast? Because it was evident that support for the anti-corruption movement was negligible. Many reasons have been given as to why support has dwindled since last year: corruption fatigue, the unreasonableness of Team Anna's positions, the fact that parliament is now processing the Lokpal Bill etc. The one I find most plausible was given by a friend who happens to be a businessman.

My friend says that the numbers last year were swollen overwhelmingly on account of support from the RSS- and the RSS would have its reasons for throwing its weight behind an anti-Congress movement. Members of Team Anna thereafter made disparaging remarks about the Sangh Parivar, causing the RSS to distance itself from the agitation this time.

If this interpretation is correct, it suggests that the Anna movement lacked popular support even last time and was primarily the creation of the media. Past anti-corruption movements, such as the JP movement in the 1970s, have also been made possible by political parties throwing their weight behind a charismatic or clean figure. The Anna movement petering out on account of lack of any political support thus makes sense.

Many have pointed out that converting the movement into a political party or backing one of the political formations would further erode Anna's standing. Creating a new political party to fight the elections would be an uphill task and would again involve serious compromises.

All this is correct. But the problem is more fundamental. Corruption is not about some individuals being bad guys, the decent guys being those who don't take cash bribes. It is the more sophisticated forms of corruption, such as a politician' next of kin getting contracts for a legitimate business in exchange for favours done to a business group, that are significant in scale and truly dangerous. These are next to impossible to root out. You can stamp out small-time corruption- and this will make life easier for the ordinary man- but stamping out big-time corruption is a tall order.

Corruption is not about individuals, it is about the basic economic and political structures. When a whole system is weighted in favour of a few haves- politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats, professionals or, broadly, the upper middle class - what you have is an exploitative structure in which the beneficiaries are all accomplices in corruption. The middle class manager who looks the other way when his company indulges in dubious practices; the academic who lends respectability to a company or to the government; members of the police force who collude with those in power; media persons who turn a blind eye to rapacity on the part of the powerful; all these are party to corruption in one form or another, regardless of whether there is acceptance of cash bribes or not.

If you have moved up the corporate or bureaucratic or academic or media ladder by not raising your voice against what is questionable, you are party to corruption. I find it amusing that some former members of the establishment are shouting themselves hoarse over corruption after having retired from service. Friends, what were you doing when you were in power?

The font of all corruption is the corporate world. Politicians are merely lesser partners in corruption as the bigger portion of the spoils goes to businessmen, with bureaucrats, managers, policemen and others getting their share in way or another. And  yet we heard very little from Team Anna about corporate corruption.

The idea that a corrupt economic structure can be combated by the creation of a new institution, peopled by the very same members of the existing power structure, is sheer nonsense. We need to strengthen democracy in many ways and that means strengthening the existing institutions, not creating some new institution will sweep aside all ills. We may well end up with a Frankenstein monster, the mother of all corrupt institutions.

Are you corrupt? Here is a simple test. Did you have the courage, in the environment in which you are located, to speak up when you were supposed to? Or did you choose to look the other way?

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor,

A very interesting write up. I must say. While I agree to most you've mentioned, I do disagree with few perspectives that evince.

1. Corruption does not only mean taking or giving bribe, but it also means not raising a voice when it ought to. Taking a rather silent approach & taking role of mere dumb spectator - puts an individual in an equally corrupt accomplice. By that logic, we all are corrupt by conscience, at some point of time in our lives.

2. But let's suppose that an individual conscience gets enlightened and that he wants to raise a voice against a corrupt deal to which he was a spectator or to which he atleast had cognizance. So to whom should he approach? Anti-corruption or CBI or any other body (you may name it) knowing that these bodies are at the end of day reporting to the same body which was at the helm of & behind the corrupt deal he encountered. If you can give this individual one 'Road Map' to register his complain against the corrupt deal - I agree with you that we don't need Lokpal and perhaps the Road suggested by you should be adopted.

3. There're few in IAC team that were in some or other Bureaucratic position. But who said that they didn't raised the voice when in that position? Do have the facts or evidences that they didn't? In fact, their very despondency of nothing happening even after raising their voices made them leave these bureaucratic institutions and joint IAC movement.

4. Lokpal has a risk of Frankeinstein. But then do you've any other option? If not Lokpal, do you or I or any one else has better mechanism or strategy to deal with corruption? Or are you telling that - "We don't have an option, but Lokpal is definitely not solution. So we should do nothing and be quite and allow it to continue to way it is, unless some better option comes to our mind".

If this be the thought pattern, I am afraid, whether we will be help make any improvement in the system, however, miniscule it may be. I am also making a conjecture that if this was the thought pattern that pre-Independence India shared, we would've never supported Gandhi and other fighters and would be still under English dominance.

There is need for metamorphosis in political structure & fundamentals - Are you prepared for it?

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor,
Anna team may have ended up not being able to attract crowds. But can you deny that they have raised the level of discussion or that they have been successful in bringing to the fore the issue of corruption.
And surprising thing is your naivety in believing that corruption can be rooted out within the existing structure.
I agree with Anna critics if they prove that there is someone else to fight the mighty corrupt represented by the present establishment.Or will all the armchair philosophers come out of their theorizing and do something concrete?

Anonymous said...

You are making up your own definitions of corruption as you go along and obfuscating the issue.

Fundamentally, corruption is about abuse of of entrusted power and is generally, if not exclusively, in the context of governments.So bringing in corporate corruption etc is a red herring. I am not suggesting that corporate shenanigans don't happen--the question is why are they not being prosecuted? Which brings in the government--you cannot escape evaluating government actions (or inaction) if you are grappling with corruption.

If you think that the upper-middle class in India--which you dont define, but I assume includes salaried professionals-- are corrupt in the sense that A Raja or P Chidambaram are corrupt, you are not very different from Arundhati Roy. So, middle manager failing to stand up--remember Manjunath??--is the same as someone actively breaking the law and enriching oneself. I am appalled that you teach at my alma mater.

Vivek said...

Since you brought up corporate corruption. Raghuram Rajan says that biggest incidents of corruption in India are due to resource raj or rent seeking activities by government. In other words, crony capitalism. One thing is obvious that corruption in private sector cannot happen without government collusion. Isn't it so? Why do you completely ignore the role of govt actors.

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Pranam said...

Good one TT

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