April 09, 2011

Some of my concerns

I have enormous respect for the people in this whole India Against Corruption effort: Anna Hazare, Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and many other names, some of whom I know personally. I have great respect for the cause itself: the corruption that's such an apparently indelible part of Indian governance will, I worry nearly every day, destroy us all. I don't say that lightly.

So given all that, why am I less than ecstatic about this victory after Anna Hazare's fast?

There are some reasons that others before me have expressed far more lucidly than I can manage (e.g. Gautam Patel, Shuddabrata Sengupta), so I won't repeat those. As an aside, given some of the comments on the TV coverage of the last few days, I'm glad -- yet again -- that I don't possess a TV.

Here are some of my concerns. There may be more.

* Half of this country does not care to go vote at election time. There is anecdotal (my own, among others) and other evidence to suggest that an even greater fraction of the urban middle- and upper-classes stay away from the ballot box. Yes, we need some way to tackle corruption. But it seems to me that any such method can only languish in the face of electoral apathy on such a scale. After all, if more of us had cared to vote all along, and therefore demonstrate our engagement with democracy, it's likely corruption would not have the vice-like grip on India it does today.

* There's a difference between making the best use of what we have and reaching out for something new. It's not always clear to me that we've made the best use of what we have before, in our frustration, reaching for something new. This applies to flashy bridges across the sea just as surely as it does to tough-sounding laws. (Think: traffic planning, public transport, implement existing laws).

* I'm a big fan of the Web, of blogs and Twitter (though less of Facebook). But I am not convinced that these tools, marvellous as they are, can substitute for active engagement with our democratic system. I worry that this victory by Hazare will subtly persuade people that these tools can indeed be such a substitute.

* Perhaps my greatest worry: where are the clean people who will root out corruption? The notion that all's well with us except that we are ruled by a rotting political mafia makes no sense to me. Face it: Politics reflects the rest of our society.

I wish the newly set-up committee good luck in drafting this new bill, and more than that, in addressing the concerns a lot of us have.

But you'll forgive me if I cannot shake a certain pessimism, even through today's euphoria, about ridding ourselves of corruption.


aditya kumar said...

About your first concern, please let me say something. I am sure this has been discussed at various forums at length.

As a voter when I go out, how do I choose who to vote for? Invariably, isn't it true that the choice comes down to choosing the lesser evil? Because on the whole, I have basically two parties to vote for - One opens up new chapters of scams that can only be differentiated by the utter magnitude of the money involved and the other party, which was cut out and has it's sole existence based on religion.

And well, coalition based politics takes care of the rest.

This setup dismays me. I am not justifying not-voting; I am just sharing my thoughts here.

I also agree with you on how social networking has become a tool. Sadly, many of the people I know, for them their crusade against corruption starts and ends at posting a tweet or a fb message or forwarding an email that they might not even consider to cross-check the claims of. I have often said that if we are really serious about this, we need to stop the crimes we ourselves commit. Crimes like paying a Rs.50 note to a traffic cop who stops us for, say, whatever reason - that sort of a thing. Without getting out of our comfort zone, very less can be accomplished and I am afraid we may be left out of this all, expecting people like Hazare to fight our battles.

Kavi said...

Completely share your thoughts here ! It was quite funny that there were SMSes floating around which says Anna had the support of 1.2 billion Indians ! If that were the case, who did we pay ? Folks in China ?

Absolutely true that it is a reflection of society ! And corruption doesnt end with the political class !

And ofcourse, thank God you dont have a TV ! :)

Chitta Baral said...

A few things the recent Anna Hazare led Jan Lokpal movement has brought forth to people's attention is that (a) Currently there is a dearth of "good" people in elected office. (b) The current process of getting elected makes it difficult for people without connections to be elected.

I think if that can be fixed then it could have a bigger impact than a Jan Lokpal bill where we put all our eggs in one Lokpal. We need more good people in the governance and not just one super-good Godlike Lokpal. That is too risky.

While many in India are skeptical of borrowing from West (and especially America), we should look at the system that was able to elect "self-made" persons like Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama as President. (The emphasis here is on "self-made".) Same can be said about the election of "self-made" Bobby Jindal and Niiki Haley (both of Indian origin) as governors of Southern statesin the USA. It seems to be much rarer in the Indian system.

So the bill I think that can make this happen is a bill which forces all recognized parties to have primary elections to decide who is their candidate in the main election. Currently, the decisions are made by high-commands of various parties and one has to suck up to them (and not to the people) and/or be connected to them to become a party candidate. (It is almost impossible to win elections as an independent; and making a new party from scratch is extremely hard. There are of course exceptions.)

Jai_C said...

agree with Chitta B.

I suspect the war on corruption will just go the way of recent wars on other abstract nouns.

I'm also concerned abt the vast powers sought to be vested in the LokPal.

Lastly I am not a fan of violent agitation and by my (perhaps overly strict) definition taking one's own life is also violence.

I am extremely concerned abt the cancer of corruption and would prefer Anna H over most of the politicians anyday.

It may sound weird to note then that if the govt had not blinked and Anna H had passed on, I would have held Anna H responsible for that death- not the govt.


prastham said...

For your four concerns,

-One has to be woken up from slumber (this event did) and consciousness would prevail.

-People, eventually are educated, concerning and wise; politicians are not.

-Tools are a fad, yes, but information is not. Participation comes from knowledge. On the street or in the house doesn't matter. Opinion does.

-That's because the 'unclean' think the 'mai baap' politicos can help them get away. Clean up the trash and the stink doesn't spread.

What we need are people to look up to and the right means to adopt. Even if the country doesn't change, i'm happy seeing a new generation inspired.

Madhat said...

"I worry that this victory by Hazare will subtly persuade people that these tools can indeed be such a substitute."

Agree that there is no substitute for offline engagement but online engagement serves as a means to connect, publicize and engage people, which _can_ translate to offline action.