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The Churn of the Chambered
|by Pramod Khilery|
Anna Hazare’s arrest seems to have released an existential intoxicated air laden with patriotic passion. Middle class people in acute diversity stepped out of their homes across major urban centers and made for dramatic and provocative television images first time to be seen in life time of my generation lending weight to the increasing distrust of Indian politician and despair with his ways. Though only middle class came out on streets one can hazard the guess to think of other classes too to be equally supporting.
The nature of an ordinary intoxication is to die down. It derives its sustenance power from the strength of the realization of the truth one can’t shake off. If the intoxication of patriotic passion is floating around in the ambience of adrenaline and nerve sating then its sustenance cannot be guaranteed notwithstanding the fate of Jan Lokpal Bill Team Anna is fighting for. But if it can manage to radiate aroma for considerable time whose bobbing let not only the proposed Bill fly in the collective sky of consciousness but give the sense of outdated morality a lift from the stinking ground of blind dictums then some of the synonymy of the word optimistic with naive can be abscised. It is possible only with young generation.
That the government invited Anna Hazare to table for negotiations over the crafting of the Bill spoke well of democratic ideals India, however stutteringly, proclaim. But what unfolded afterwards in the garb of specious reasons hammered home the painful realization that talks were not being held between a social activist and government to arrive at a Bill in the interest of the nation but between a common man and politicians. Only that the common man, couldn’t be duped, for a change. It’s not that government couldn’t have had valid objections to Hazare’s version of Bill given their massive experience of governance and Hazare is divinely blessed not to put foot wrong but neither the objections of proposed Bill nor the defense put forth by government of its own Bill cut much ice with people. It seemed afflicted with political shenanigans.
Today when India stands behind Anna Hazare, politicians of all hues and forms have rushed in groves to the shadow of the Constitution and its sanctity (something most of them enjoy tearing asunder) though, very curiously, in the language which seemingly make them appear cross argue each other. After all lame duck Opposition in the Parliament of India wants to be seen with the people of India for its own cloaked reasons.
There is nothing wrong in asserting and spreading this uncontestable civic and constitutional information repeatedly that Parliament alone is vested with the powers by Constitution to make laws. Only that the wail of the spirit of the Constitution doesn’t ring on walls of a house wherein a substantial portion of these law makers are law breakers in one form or another, recognized by court or otherwise, representing themselves in the name of their constituencies, thus heaping insult on the very idea of Parliament, an organ which sums up the populace of India within its designed-to-be-protective but now decrepit needing patch-up walls. Using the same Parliament as their shield is like using the piety of the fundamental truths as a lid to seal the bottle filled with contaminated water.
Outside the theoretical debate lay the naked truth. There cannot be a bigger and more lacerating joke than the fact that no politician has ever spent time in jail even after having been convicted on the charges of corruption in commensuration with the sentence pronounced in free India thanks to the appeals and vakils (lawyers) as if in this corruption ridden country this were the only paragonous tribe. Poor rots in the jail because he has neither vakil nor appeal. He has the legal right but not wherewithal. This outpouring on the streets in its din entails multifarious laments and grudges.
Anna Hazare only fanned the flickering flame and turned it into fire in the light of which, perhaps, one hopes, people as well as politicians would be able to see many patent, pertinent but pale colored truths. In the interlude between Hazare’s talks and 16th August emerged an image of Indian polity which threatened to unmask many hitherto sequestered faces of it, especially the Manmohan Singh led Government.
The oft heard questions like who do they represent? and who elected them?, deriding suggestions like go and get elected and then talk about people, haughty pronouncements like we have the mandate of the people and most unfortunately the braggadocio that gathering people doesn’t make anyone leader present an image of a politician in India where people are brutally and ignominiously looked down upon by those who are meant to serve them and ironically represent them. Not only do these statements crossed out the first gesture of bestowing upon people from civil society some say in the running of the country in the true Gandhian spirit but also tumbled out the side effects of power in the most au naturel flesh.
Irrespective of Anna Hazare’s electoral capabilities (which today seem more robust than any politician in country) did they want to say that one should be an elected representative to be heard, a preposition way off the reach of 99 percent (or may be more) of Indians. Go and get elected was like saying to a poor man, don’t starve, there are many restaurants around. We have the mandate of the people, though factually correct but considering the people being the last thing on the mind of those holding the electoral mandate sounded like having taken over their ownership for five years. And statement about leadership though again true but keeping in mind the tongues they got dropped off and in the present context serves only to deny what is right for the people (ideally a concern of every leader) and thus putting the maker of this statement in direct conflict with the right wish of the people as well as in the pit of self-aggrandizement.
The response of the government showed in ample measure the arrogance of power and confidence in flaws of electoral politics at work. Some snigger, some ridicule and some grin got cycled back to the originators. The spectacles unfolding before us are unprecedented and admittedly horripilating. Not only are these sights soul stirring for the honesty of their purpose but have also been able to knock at least a speck of defeatist attitude of common person down.
Anna Hazare and his team deserve kudos for developing a churn in the stomach of the nation and arousing the sense of nationhood in young as well as the generation yet to leave schools. The agitation has exhibited a crowd unknown to Indian people in their living memories. Crowd no matter however much blind it powers the argument. Governments have the tendency to act heedless if arguments put forth however cogent run in conflict with their way of working and sense of comfiture. In these circumstances the use of crowd can help the cause of cogency by powering it with audibility hard to be condoned if used well. That doesn’t mean the crowd has to believe in solemnest manner possible in the cogency of arguments of the crux or it cares about subtleties. If the crux is weak not in essence but in its physicality it can always afford the leather shell of crowd which has the property of being able to ring out if struck with right sticks of arguments. In these protest too there is no way to measure the degree of corruption in the crowd itself. The fact that Government of India or in other words politicians happen to be at the receiving end of Anna’s fight has definitely helped.
Fortunately the crowd supporting this agitation cannot be called a mere scrum (like arranged crowd of political rallies) as a substantial part of them appear to be in the know of goings-on. The hatred that Indian politician has amassed by his tendency to make common person feel like nothing more than an insect flailing around his big trampling feet is phenomenal notwithstanding aberrations. Those who indulge in corruption from the highest echelons of babudom to the lowest can always feel guilt free as what they do is not only nothing before the gargantuan misdeeds of their masters but also in many cases flow from them. The adage of sau mein ninyanvein beimaan phir bhi mera bharat beimaan (out of every 100 Indians 99 are unscrupulous, yet claims float around of country’s greatness) now mired deep into Indian psyche has made almost everyone swallow the bitter pill with sweet patina or sweet pill with bitter patina of corruption depending upon one’s sensibilities without any stomach ache.
The lure of sarkari nuakri still holds a charm for many Indians for its unique advantages: lifelong security, no accountability and upar ki kamai (extra income beyond salary). In fact these three privileges can be extended to everything sarkari, now including forces. Jobs in certain departments infamous for minting money elevate the entire family to an altogether different status in society. No longer does the act of corruption make a son fearful of his father’s admonition. No longer a father feels the need to hide his act of corruption from his children?
The monster of corruption became a way of life cutting across even gender lines. In the society only money and its flaunting mattered however plugged. Team Anna’s Lokpal Bill will not be panacea for country’s ills. It cannot be. Bills by their very nature not only represent regulations but fear too. Infliction or sufferance of fear is in commensuration with the degree of maturity of society. Jan Lokpal Bill contains the nooses which might strangle the salacious desires of those working under its operational ambit provided implemented correctly or in other words headed scrupulously, efficiently and stringently. Considering the top down nature of corruption its maximum possible arrest at the top can affect the beginning of a change in the hierarchical level which in all probability with the passage of time may entrench itself along the right course.
Change at the top is necessary to inspire change at the intermediate stage and the bottom in so far as government working hierarchy is concerned. Every other kind of corruption sprouts from this trunk. The baseless fear of this Bill running the risk of becoming a Frankenstein’s monster doesn’t hold any water as many other independent bodies have proved to be effective if headed by scrupulous people. As for the risk of Chairperson of Lokpal himself (herself) turning out to be a corrupt official one can safely conclude by tossing one glance at the history of clean and honest officers that a staggering percentage of those who remained clean halfway through their services found it difficult to be corrupt at latter phase of their career. In addition they also showed to be doubly effective and agile in the post retirement assignments.
If this Bill becomes draconian then we shall fail as a society and perhaps we shall deserve that. The selection committee proposed in Team Anna’s Bill seems far better in terms of their neutrality and cognitive applications than constituted in government’s Bill. The views suggesting Jan Lokpal being a Panglossian entity brings forth less their cageyness and more lack of belief not even in plagued today but hoped for tomorrow.
Government’s shallow arguments drive home only one truth; prevailing political system can’t even totter much less run without political corruption. And a strong Lokpal Bill functioning in an efficient way would only create roadblocks. Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy is skeptical of one institution’s ability to check entire country’s corruption at all levels. The apprehension even takes more worrisome proportions considering India’s population. This is one area whose clouds seem devoid of rain of clean waters. The way more bandwidth of a channel opens it up to more unwanted noise and hence poor reception bigger size of an institution is bound to be afflicted with ills. One hopes top down formula of corruption might make these clouds watery and wash away stains as much as possible. But on this apprehension alone one can’t leave officers and employees below ‘A’ level outside of the compass of Bill as it is those who common man deals most with.
Government if, is serious about eradicating scourge of corruption, will have to manifest sincerity in coming up with measures to check corruption at all levels. Though skepticism intervenes now still it has to be said its work starts with itself. Of course Jan Lokpal Bill is ambitious; were not our founding fathers in endowing India with a Constitution the absolute implementation of which promises nothing short of a near Utopian land. Does that mean Constitution happens to be too ambitious? Utopia is unattainable but every step towards it is commendable so long as it is not trampling. Today we should talk about that step. We need not risk falling in the pit in our quest to take one giant leap in one go. Leaps need a pace which we are yet to gather. We should make sure that our foot takes the load of body with minimum strain and maximum orientation so as to render footprints an indelible impression only to rise once again and continue journey the beginning of which we all are proud of. Every step is a leap in itself provided pace is maintained and illusion of destination can be warded off.
Moment has knocked our door. Deaf ears, scuffing feet and trembling hands will only help status quo. What is the need of the day has outgrown the alleged and flimsy charges leveled against Anna Hazare. No one can take away from him and his team the credit they deserve for bringing comfort seeking India on to the road of questioning and demanding India, a proposition not without flaws but utterly indispensable. Government of India could have hijacked this issue from Hazare if wished but petty and oriented way of politics not only prevented it from doing so but revealed the skeleton underneath nakedness. This says a lot about society as a whole.
Corruption has never been a major issue for Indian electorates as corrupt got reelected at the same pace as the emergence of their scandals. Our regional and religious sensibilities far outweigh our civic sensibilities. India needs the injection of animated education, (more importantly primary) a discipline which itself has fallen captive of illusion of certificates driven courses where the end is the only vision in the eyes of a student either bypassing the path or treading it blindly.
The fast of Anna Hazare which now has entered a precarious phase is being called an undemocratic one. The act of inflicting suffering upon oneself doesn’t diminish in any which way the latent violent lurked in it. Superficially it is easy to understand that the act of shoving oneself to death if certain demands are not met is inarguably not only utterly undemocratic in nature but also immoral and unethical. Colloquially it could simply be called blackmail or passive coercion. But in the context of Indian democracy before we derive such simplistic conclusions we had better we factor in the state of democracy in India whose success can be ascribed to the spectacles of elections and passivity inherent in Indians. Even in British Raj when patriots were being incarcerated and executed for their revolutionary activities a simple peasant or factory worker working at the lowest strata of society was hardly aware of being under foreign rule owing to multifarious factors.
This passivity seeped into independent India and politician were the direct beneficiaries in terms of accountability and transparency. Because the ideals of democracy were reduced down to mechanisms of psephocracy wherein class system reigned and universal suffrage, another wise noble idea, played wet blanket by allowing those who wielded influence to herd illiterate, poor and inferiority complex riddled voters into their ballot boxes. With the passage time when a slight deviation occurred from the above mentioned path the same herd took shape of caste unanimity or religious community and hence undermined the purpose of democracy in term of electing an able representative. The elected representative even from the lower class or caste morphed himself into a feudal landlord overnight as if there was a code of conduct about the disposition of representatives with respect to varying degrees of arrogance and superiority over common folk which everyone had to conform to.
Democracy for all its visible success in India remained captive to the representatives who even by the principal of majoritarianism (not a perfect system of governance) hardly represented majority thanks to first past the post system has failed to respect the precepts of constitution, the very entity, which now all politicians are adducing to have their meretricious way. How shall one make one’s demands so long as they are in correspondence with Indian constitution heard?
Swami Nigamananda laid down his life for the demands every Indian should be concerned about. No one heard him while he was alive. Iron Sharmila is being force fed but her demands to rescind the draconian law which give the police power to shoot anybody in Manipur stand unheeded. No one would have cared about Hazare’s fast nor would anyone have felt being coerced undemocratically if it were not for unprecedented support he has won from the people. This country now being admired in the world for its having been able to function in accordance with the democratic system without coming apart is bearing witness to a huge and sadly unbridgeable gulf (completely) between representatives and represented.
Our representatives use the democratic means to get elected only to abuse them unabashedly. After all Hitler too didn’t usurp power. He was the child of democracy. How many Hitlers do we have in our Parliament who holocaust the spirit of universal suffrage every day. It is incumbent upon the representatives that they shed their special status and work amidst people, for them (whose representative they claim to be), sometimes even against their wish at the cost of election or popularity, a la Nehru, and stunt even the undertaking of undemocratic fasts for the cause of democratic precepts, as is the current case, if they don’t blink an eye before citing the nuggets of democracy. Am I being unrealistically optimistic?
Did government tell Mamata Banerjee, an alliance partner, that she was being undemocratic while holding fast in 2006 against land acquisition in Singur and driving Tata out? The spirit of democracy would have in all probabilities pronounced this fast as an undemocratic one for its obdurate demand but it is the lack of the spirit of the democracy as prevalent in India that has this fast come into being. For all our concerns about democracy we shall be doing injustice to this man who has put his life at stake if today we talk about those precepts whose essence has remained unrealized inside as well as outside parliament instead of asking government to take steps in the best interest of the nation.
Today Indian sky rents with battle cries of Anna Hazare and Arvind Kezriwal and Kiran Bedi against corruption in chorus with Indian public. Hopefully, Government will heed, be flexible and prevent a tragedy. But will it result in a Bill either Jan Lokpal or a new one, devoid of even an iota of political interest, strenuously and only in the national interest (which is nothing but the interest of the people as it stands fit constitutionally) in the name of which government decided to table its own Bill before the Standing Committee. Only time knows the answer. On the other side it will serve us all well if the ongoing churning is not a one-way traffic on the path of rectitude. In a country where common man sometimes doubles as bribe paying as well as bribe taking entity this rant will have to belong to whole of the India, not just forcibly bribe paying people. This cry of people will have to be for cleansing the nation of litter of corruption not only to vent seething rage by deriding vexing and feudal thick skinned politicians and more importantly, this churn should help us find a new a direction we all can be proud of venturing into, however wobbly, not just a roundabout we hover about for some time only to start treading once again our well beaten and trodden paths?
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