Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Corruption and India: Is Lokpal The Solution?

Indian media, and the global media has caught up lately, is completely obsessed with Anna Hazare and his Lokpal bill now. Indeed, Anna Hazare has caught the public mood by picking up the issue of corruption, which is all pervasive in India, and he is the man of the moment. His struggle at this moment symbolizes the rift between the new India, the India of the young people, and the old India, of the Raj mentality, of privilege and unaccountability, and this is why he is suddenly so popular. The government, inept and clueless, has made the matters worse by arresting Anna Hazare. Farcically, the reason given for arrest was a bungled attempt to impose conditions on the protest - the government wanted to have the power how many people can come to protest, whether they can come by car or by foot, how long they can protest etc - and they had to make a swift about turn when the comical nature of the arrest became clear. Now, the momentum is completely with Mr Hazare and the government is panicking and trying to get a bill against corruption through the parliament in the next few days. This is unlikely to placate Mr Hazare or anyone, and protests are likely to continue: This looks like the UPA government's undoing.

The whole saga of corruption and protests shows how fragile the Indian state, operated by mostly corrupt politicians on all sides, is. There is no doubt that something needs to be done about corruption. It is at all levels and includes the judiciary, media, education community, military, everything that one can think of. While vast sections of the society is left to fend for their own, cozy connections maintain a power and privilege gravy train running in Delhi and other big cities. The offenses committed are astounding. The deeply corrupt politicians dominate the government: One runs the Ministry of Agriculture and regularly encourages hoarding etc to make money (he is also the President of Indian Cricket Board and was deeply involved in the scandal of Indian Premier League) and the other is the Finance Minister, who has now been entrusted to write the anti-corruption bill.

Mr Hazare's solution, therefore, is to go beyond the state and create a supra-national entity to battle corruption. This sounds like an overtly technocratic solution: As one government minister argued, this body itself can become the super-hub of corruption. But Mr Hazare has the momentum and the government ministers continue to underestimate him: The people, particularly the young and ambitious, are fed up with the state and how it operates, and started losing faith on government to do anything. And, therefore,the supra-national solution, Jan Lokpal, however unrealistic, has caught the public imagination and it is not going to go away.

The government (and the opposition, all politicians in a way) is counting on this momentum to fed away with time: After all, they have kept their business going based on the public apathy in politics. But this time they may be wrong: What's happening in India may be seen where Arab Spring Meets Cultural Revolution. What was a deeply apathetic people may have suddenly organized, by social media first and then with mainstream media doing a catch-up, on an issue which plagued India since Independence. But instead of protesting against an autocrat, as they are mostly doing across the Middle East, the Indians want a dissolution of the state machinery as it stands today, and are seeking a revolution in governance.

India never tried a root-and-branch reform of how the state is run: It had continued the class divide of British Imperialism after the Independence with brown sahibs replacing the white ones. This was unsustainable from day one, but no leader was large enough to stand up to it (except Gandhi, who, in his will, alluded to the problem and wanted to disband the Congress Party - but he died too soon), and now, with a young population and urban growth, the old, corrupt, privilege-based state has come to a breaking point.

This is where the consequences of Mr Hazare's struggle may become catastrophic for India. This is not just about corruption: This is showing the fissures of Indian republic and its mishandling of the demographic time-bomb. With so many young people so disaffected, counting on public apathy is not a good strategy. The government ministers, however, are completely clueless about how to deal with the situation. In a way, this has started looking like the farce in Kremlin in 1991, when Soviet Russia's demographic time-bomb was about to burst and the government machinery, disconnected from the people by layers of corruption and public distrust, did not have a clue how bad things were or what people wanted: Eventually, the soviet state completely imploded.

So, in conclusion, while Mr Hazare's solution looks silly and unrealistic, unless a solution that satisfies this generation of Indians could be found, the Indian state is in danger. This is possibly the most serious challenge the idea of Indian republic has faced since its birth, and it is not doing too well in facing up the challenge.

1 comment:

Rahul said...

Corruption is not any issue as its made out to be. Differences are:

Corruption and loot by upper castes like Ananth Kumar, Kulkarni, Goel, Kalmadi, Madhav Nair, Jayalalitha, Yeddyurappa, Naidu, Reddy brothers etc are no problem, but

By Raja, Kanimzhi, Mayavathi etc are problems.

India has two worlds, devided by castes...

Money talks and you have money you can come out of jail or case at any time... where as others can languish for years.

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