Curbing subversion as critical as drafting law

 Then the country stumbled, when after V P Singh whipped up hopes by using Bofors, the anti-corruption campaign became a hostage to partisan politics, not a means of cleansing the system. Corruption therefore, has prevailed.

 But Jantar Mantar seems to be altogether different so far. It has convinced the sceptical middle class that course corrections are possible without depending only on the vote as a game-changer. It has proven that a concerted action by credible people associated with civil society organisations can force choices even on an inured offender – the political establishment. They secured the right of the people to help decide the contents of a law before it reaches the parliament.  That is something.

But here is a note of caution. An establishment like the one in India does not give in easily. It would fight every suggestion tooth and nail – it is not for nothing that ratifying the UN Convention on Corruption has been stalled for quite some time. Equally, the Lokpal law has been on limbo for 42 years. The next objective of the establishment would be, if a law acceptable to the civil society was hammered out, to subvert it in its implementation. Preventing is as significant as drafting a law.

Fears of a Jasmine revolution

The government’s willingness stemmed not from seeing merit in wider people’s participation in law-making but fear that, given the happenings in the Arab world which caught the imagination of the middle class, a Jasmine Revolution could erupt. The unearthing of massive scams - 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Housing Society et al unnerved them enough to take if off the front pages, away from prime time television. Any obduracy could have taken things out of control. If the civil society rooted for good governance, the establishment played politics.

Corruption is not a new issue. It has become far too widespread and blatant for the society to keep quiet. A bribe to get a birth certificate or a ration card, a bribe even to have the anti-corruption bureaus to lay traps to catch the corrupt, could appear small tickets compared to the alleged loot nonchalantly picked up by A Raja and the gains made by Suresh Kalmadi but they have weighed the people down. Because elections are fought mostly by corrupt means, using caste linkages and alliances, by bestowing patronage with the poor selling votes and the rich influencing policy, the vote has ceased to be a weapon in a citizen’s hand.

Much before the full extent of 2G and CWG scams sank in, the civil society had been quietly canvassing support to its version of the LokPal Bill. When the scams broke out, the middle class support was assured. Even the aspiring middle classes have a limit beyond which corruption becomes intolerable. Apparently the major scams and the government’s unwillingness to quickly swing into action irked them no little and the media, which played a role in exposing them, quickly capitalised on it. It amplified the agony and scaled up the pitch. It gathered more support than participation but did serve a purpose.

Good governance the end

But those who are tired of bribing or seeing bribery ought not to rest in the belief that with the concession by the government to enable joint drafting of the Lokpal bill is an end of all woes of the people. The official – petty or otherwise – is unlikely to cease extending the hand under the table or the politician to demand a tribute for even routine work to be done; even routine work helps someone or the other, so there has to be a price!

The venal have to be forced to realise that unlike the existing laws, the hoped-for Lokpal Bill would not be subverted. That would be a long haul, lot of hard work for even the most active and alert civil society. Towards this end, the citizen would have to get involved by participation in actions that indicates the resolve to get the country and its people their due: good governance. The middle classes ought to be patient as well as become a proxy for the voiceless poor. With its capacity for vocalisation in the era of social networking, it has two choices: given in or fight it out.

After failing to carry conviction on its premise involvement of the civil society in drafting the Bill amounted to a sabotage of the parliamentary system, the next objective of the political establishment  is going to be ensuring that it was subverted in implementation like most laws have been. This too has to be guarded against.

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