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Fighting graft is good politics

Last updated: 16 April, 2011
Dr Jayaprakash Narayan 23:09 IST

Call it a popular uprising or a movement that had mass appeal. Three things led to the massive public campaign against corruption led by social activist Anna Hazare: The 2G spectrum scam, the huge sums swindled in organising the Commonwealth Games and the controversial appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner P J Thomas, later struck down by the Supreme Court.

The feeling of betrayal sweeping across the nation as an under current found a face in Anna Hazare. Blemish-free Anna Hazare evoked the spirit of Mahatma; he looked like Mahatma and acted like one and people followed him and so did the media.

Indian media, hitherto mostly power driven, suddenly became issue driven and gave round the clock coverage of Anna’s indefinite hunger strike. The profound involvement of the electronic and print media magnified the seriousness of the issue.

But for a population of more than 100 crore and still counting, the percentage of people who came out on to the streets in support of Anna and his fight against corruption is very small. Though it is significant that the urban middle class for the first time was willing to play a critical role, a large segment of the population still remained dormant spectators.
Why are we passive?

After independence, the first generation of freedom fighters’ primary concern was “family”. The tragedy is the abdication of politics by their succeeding generations. That deprived the nation some good politicians. The middle class in India mostly talk against politics. Anna is unwittingly a part of the depoliticised society. He often says that he is not a politician, but the fight against corruption is nothing but politics.

The middle class differs with the poor and their aspirations. The poor need ration cards, free education. Where as middle class send their children to corporate schools and seek treatment in corporate hospitals; they don’t need Rs 2 a kg rice like the poor. In fact the burgeoning middle class doesn’t identify itself with the ‘aam aadmi’.

The urban middle class did show interest in issues related to the ‘aam aadmi’ only on a couple of occasions. One such incident is the terrorist attack on Mumbai. The whole of the financial capital united against the foreign sponsored terror on Indian soil. But the bonhomie was short lived. No one came out to vote in the ensuing elections in Mumbai to continue and consolidate what they started. There was poor turnout on the day of polling. An ever vigilant educated middle class is needed to sustain any change in the system.

A robust institution like Lokpal is required to curb corruption. Karnataka is a good example as the Lokayukta of the state gave hopes to its people. But why is Justice Nitte Santosh Hegde, the Karnataka Lokayukta, himself frustrated and wanted to quit. He felt that the ruling government in the state is indifferent to corruption.

There is no single button that could be pushed to change the system, even after the Lokpal Bill becomes an Act passed by Parliament. The middle class hope for such a miracle but stay away from bringing about the change. But with no desire to politically engage themselves and by shunning politics, only corrupt politicians will have a monopoly over the system.

Visiting different places in the country I have seen people in anguish over corruption, but what was missing is the connecting link. In Anna’s hunger strike we found the missing link. Once in a while Mumbai terror aftermath and Hazare happen, but they are transient. With the Lokayukta, the government and the opposition will be compelled to initiate some action against corruption. It’s a good step forward.

Make no mistake, the anguish of the people is not about the bill, it’s about corruption. The popular outcry is not an endorsement to the bill but against few corrupt people enjoying the fruits of freedom. What kind of institution Lokpal Pal will be without the prime minister of the country being covered under its purview.

Similarly, bringing the judiciary under the Lokpal is not justifiable. The Supreme Court is a time tested institution and one cannot wish to bring it under the purview of a new born baby. The Lokpal is a weapon used against corruption, but it should be used carefully, like hunger strike that Mahatma used judiciously.

Tools of democracy

Many talked about an Egypt type of mass movement against corruption. An Egypt type of agitation is needed when there is no liberty for the people. But democracy has so many inbuilt tools to protect its polity. We don’t have to replicate a Tiananmen Square or Tahrir Square as politics provides us a wonderful platform to bring about change in very swift and decisive moves, without shedding a single drop of blood.

Mahatma once said “politics ensnarls you like the coils of a snake.” What Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Aung San Suu Kyi did was nothing but good politics.

We need our politicians to help decentralise power, take care of villages, provide education, provide gainful employment to unskilled labour, and bring in election reforms. But it requires deep involvement of the middle class and the media.

Look at Tamil Nadu where freebies were doled out to attract the voters in the Assembly election held last week. Look at Karnataka, it couldn’t stop corruption despite having a strong Lokayukta. Eradicating corruption requires sustained efforts by embracing good politics and not by good people shunning politics.

(The writer is Loksatta party president and a former IAS officer.)
As told to J B S Umanadh

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