Come August 15th, (India’s Independence from colonial imperialism from the British in 1947), Indians (at least a handful of them) are yet again setting up the stage for another showdown. Yet again, it is against a common public enemy, although this time, the “enemy” aint no outsider. But India itself. Or at least it’s government & the constitution (which I feel is, arguably, representative enough of a nation)
Over the past year or so, India (& its various institutions) has been under fire from all quarters –
1. The government, for abusing its powers to no end with one scam after another surfacing like potholes in monsoons.
2. The bureaucracy, for silently spreading corruption deep into the very fabric of democratic processes which were essentially the reason why we threw out the British in the first place.
3. The media, for it’s drama-like portrayal of public issues and its unacceptable political polarization inevitably leading to skewed opinions and further fueling public outrage.
And then comes along a man, white clothes draped, a white cap adorning his balding head, hands folded in humility to represent an image cognizant of the “aam aadmi”. Mr. Anna Hazare. A man, who has over time achieved almost the impossible. Common public acceptance of his ideals and methods. Playing on popular consciousness, Anna is well-intentioned, but ill-informed – and in his recent campaign against corruption, least about public policy and the democratic process.
He is a fantastic crowd-leader, one who captures mass imagination through his self-restrained acts based on gandhian principles which are irrefutable in India. So, here we are again… in the 21st century…. still resorting to out-dated methods of expressing public discontent. For sure one might still argue their relevance, and rightly so. But I have serious doubts on the outcomes of such acts in current times.
But coming back to Anna’s recent agitation against corruption, his intent is well understood and accepted. But the civil society that he represents seems adamant to bring the government down to it’s knees. Such blatant and thoughtless badgering of the very institution which has kept this totally diverse and chaotic country still together is only reflective of the myopic vision which plagues the civil society. Media plays a role in endorsing the civil society un-challenged instead of acting as a transparent and un-biased medium and thus discharging one of the most fundamental democratic provisions of free speech.
For starters, the civil society’s demands in the Jan Lokpal Bill are more emotional than rational. I am willing to bet that not a very significant % of the population even knows what the Bill entails and what its implications will be. The civil society is acting like a bollywood hero who promises justice to the down-trodden and exploited masses against the rich.
The entire stand-off between the civil society (who behaves like the self-appointed messiah of the masses) and the government (alienated by the very people they are supposed to represent) is fundamentally on the issue of corruption. It is only sensible to spend a few minutes here to delve deeper in this concept itself. Firstly, the word is poorly defined and lacks scientific rigor while being assessed. Bribery is by far the largest indicator of corruption. And politicians, by default, are assumed to be corrupt. Much in contrast to the judicial approach to any case- innocent until proven guilty. Politicians today are stereotyped as the messengers of evil and accused of self-aggrandizement of public wealth.
And that stereotype is the key motivator behind Anna’s and his civil society’s agitation. The eroding public wealth in light of the recent scams has dealt a severe blow to public trust in the government. Such angst & discontent is very likely to over-ride logic and reason – the basis for any public policy debate in a democracy. And that is exactly whats happening in the context of the Lokpal bill standoff.
What the civil society proposes is to setup an independent ombudsman with (literally) un-limited investigative and executive powers capable of bringing the entire public services setup of the country down in a single sweep. This bears scary resemblance to a dictatorial setup of government. In essence, the civil society proposes a dictatorial form of democracy. Where democratic principles are “enforced” out of fear of persecution rather than “embraced” out of free will. The civil society is unsure on how to govern this governing body itself and prevent it’s own structure from being infected by corruption. They give loose suggestions at best to tackle the issue of governing the watch-dog.
While I don’t patronize the government here, nor allow them any opportunity to redeem themselves from their indiscretions, I still believe in the democratic processes that mark the very identity of India’s democracy. Being the size that we are, given the diversity we reflect in our cultures, one must not forget the role of these government institutions in keeping the country from falling apart & drive its economic growth. Public policy in a Democracy needs time. And it must have that to be able to deliver results.
So, on the coming 15th August, when Anna sits on his well-campaigned fast-unto-death against corruption, I hope that he doesn’t misguide the massive public support he enjoys in the wrong direction and lead them to demand, what I call, a Democratic Dictatorship. Fingers crossed.