Not on the streets

Not on the streets

If every issue is taken to the janata, it will lead to anarchy in the country. Corruption is very bad; but, anarchy is much worse.

The people of this country are sick of all the news stories of corruption. There was Commonwealth Games to wake them up. Then came the thunder of 2G spectrum with corruption touching mind-boggling figures of Rs 1.76 lakh crore.

As if that was not enough, we had the coal blocks allotment scam with a possible corruption of over Rs 1.8 lakh crore. One involved a sports authority, another a Union cabinet minister and the third threatens to touch even the prime minister of the country. All the big stories are interspersed with other scandals of smaller sums of money, but serious all the same. If the ruling government at the Centre is alleged to have been involved in all these, the opposition has not projected any clean image either with scams in Karnataka, UP and Bihar. If coal is said to be looted by the UPA, the BJP ministers are alleged to have pillaged iron ore.

The reaction to this corruption has been street-level protests first by Anna Hazare and the then India Against Corruption led by Arvind Kejriwal and his group, and the road-side ‘janata courts’ in which a Union minister of law – Salman Khurshid – and the cross-examining media try to argue out their side of the story. Immediately, Kejriwal holds his own ‘janata court’ at another site where he brings his own witnesses in the open.

Why has our country been reduced to a road-side spectacle of justice? Why is every issue taken to the streets? Don’t we have a constitution? Have people and the leaders forgotten about it? Or, do they all think that the constitution is totally ineffective to solve the problems facing this country? Have we lost all faith in our legislative bodies, the administration and the judiciary, so that we resort to something akin to public referendum on every vexing issue? ‘We will take the issue to the janata’ the protesters – since Anna Hazare started his movement – have been saying. If every issue is taken to janata, it will surely lead to chaos and anarchy in the country. Corruption is very bad indeed; but, anarchy is much worse.

We all fault khap panchayats in Haryana for being extra-constitutional bodies ignoring and challenging even the Supreme Court. The street-shows of the activist and their exhortations to the janata are even more damaging to the fabric of our democracy. We cannot throw the constitution to the winds with the intention of punishing the errant incumbent government. There are electoral procedures and judicial processes to seek redress. We cannot and certainly should not follow Egypt’s ways of the so-called ‘silent spring’. Egyptians do not have a solid constitution the way we have. They are still grappling with framing a good constitution for their country.

Similar drama

It would indeed be sad if over-activism destroys the strengths of our political and judicial system. Activism is fine; but, crossing the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ would be disastrous. When one looks at the ‘silent springs’ in various Islamic nations – all arisen almost at the same time and the way the matters are proceeding in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and now Syria – we should not give an opportunity for the outside powers to play similar dramas in our country. India‘s economic growth – although lop-sided – can be a thorn in the heels of the world’s economic powers.

While protests are good up to a point, they should not become counter-productive. All that we have now are the corruption scandals of all sizes, of all parties, which are disheartening and the street protests threatening to damage the constitution. All of these are destructive to our economic and social improvement. Nothing constructive has come about so far that could take our nation forward, empower the poor people, educate them, feed them, and provide basic healthcare. The need of the day is to meet these basic needs.

Corruption has been a phenomenon of the elites and near-elites who want to grab whatever possible of the economic and socio-political power pie. It is another manifestation of India’s caste structure. Earlier when the socio-political and economic power was through one’s birth, ‘caste’ was used to retain that power.

Now, in the industrial society the power is obtained through politics or collecting money and then passing it on to one’s progeny by birth once again. Since the 1990s when India started becoming an industrial power, the elites and the so-called middle class have been in a scramble for more and more of money and power. It is indeed sad that the last two decades after ‘economic liberalization’ have seen a rapid rise in greed and in a penchant for breaking the rules and regulations in all walks of life.
There is nothing wrong in economic prosperity and technological progress.

It is definitely wonderful for the people to prosper and progress; however, it should be accompanied by socio-economic equity. Corruption, being a social ailment, needs social awakening and reformation. Any amount of laws, regulations and angry protests are not going to cure it. We all need to change for the better. A culture of equity needs to pervade.

(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)

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