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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Who said crucifixion's a thing of the past?

My last post on the whole anti-corruption Bill furore (extremely unfortunately also known as the Anna Hazare furore) left me a bit emotionally exhausted. I do not consider myself a seasoned blogger who can produce post after post with amazing regularity, without compromising on the quality of the post. I admire such people – but am acutely aware of the fact that I do not belong in this league.

I was therefore not expecting to post to my blog so soon after my previous post. But this subject of the Jan Lokpal Bill does not just not go away, it continues to claw away at me, to drag me down in a manner that I must confess I’ve felt only on a few occasions in the past. Normally I’m a pretty upbeat person (I think those who know me will vouch for this!) but in the last week, something’s not been right – and I know that the one subject that has dominated my mind in the last week has been this Jan Lokpal Bill. Maybe it is a reflection of how empty my mind (and my life!) otherwise is, but that’s how it’s been.

I therefore find myself sitting here, once again dumping my thoughts on this subject on my blog, in the hope that I will get some sort of closure on this matter. Once again, this is mainly for myself – if others want to read it, they’re welcome to. I’m keeping it public for that reason. But if they don’t , I’m just fine with that too. But I know I really need this.

I will not repeat all that I’ve already said. At least I will try not to. But there is more that I think I want to put down on this subject.

First of all I want to say that I am extremely saddened by a lot of what I’ve read and heard on this subject. Like I said in my previous post, it is only to be expected that opinion on a subject like this would be divided. And in a democracy, people are entitled to express their views too, their different positions on any issue.

But is THIS how it needs to be done? Even the gutter will feel insulted if I say that some of the stuff doing the rounds belongs there. I’ve never EVER in my life come across writing that is SO vitriolic, SO humiliating, SO demeaning to another, in an attempt to drive home a point.

So you disagree with what Anna Hazare has done. Fair enough. You call it a circus. Fair enough. But please do not ridicule him just because he is an old man from a village. By all means, challenge him on issues. But do you really have to say things like “Anna Hazare, a former driver with the Indian Army who has the useful Indian talent for sitting cross-legged for long periods…” ?

And this was from the editor of a news magazine! And this is just one of many examples that I have come across in just the last few days.

And this really saddens me. Maybe that explains to some extent my disturbed state of mind.

As I’ve said before, I have no problem if people disagree with Anna Hazare. Or even if they want to lash out at him. But surely there can be a more dignified manner of bringing one’s point across?

These are educated people, probably highly educated people. Part of the intelligentsia of the country. They have excellent writing skills and their ability to use humor and sarcasm to bring their point across effectively is exemplary. They are extremely savvy with modern media tools like blogs and Twitter, so their ability to distribute their message across a wide section of society, all over the world, is massive. And given these qualities, they will not only attract readers, they will also become influencers in society.

Maybe this is just how it is in today’s world. Maybe I am the one who’s grown old, who still believes that issues should be debated with dignity and respect towards the other party. And that it should be the ISSUE that is the focal point of the discussion, nothing else.

And that is why I started this post by saying that it is extremely unfortunate that the furore has become an “Anna Hazare furore” instead of being an “anti-corruption” furore.

Reading through all this vitriol (I will admit that I winced several times), I did find valid points. Yes, the constitution is sacred and we need to respect it. Yes, vesting too much power in one authority is a bad idea. Yes, the ideal solution is to get the people to vote intelligently, without duress of any sort. Yes, ideally we should have less government and more governance in the country. And yes, there are a ton of issues that the Jan Lokpal Bill (even when modified) will not address.

I agree with all of these. They are no-brainers. The big issue is that this ideal situation that everybody talks about requires electoral reforms, it requires education of the electorate (a small matter of a few hundred million voters across the country), it requires non-interference of politicians and anti-social elements in the electoral process, it requires considerable overhaul of institutions (and in some cases, elimination of institutions) if we want less government, thereby resulting in less corruption.

I totally endorse all of this and would be very happy if all of this happens. The sooner the better. Citizens can themselves get actively involved in educating others about the value of their vote. Bringing about electoral reforms, overhauling government institutions is going to depend on legislation and Parliamentary sanction – and that once again makes it dependent on the elected representatives in Parliament.

Which brings me back to the point I made in my earlier post – about significant numbers. In a democracy, the vote is king, even in Parliament. Majority votes are required for most decisions. Whether simple majority or two-thirds majority. And that is where the cracks begin to appear.

Not with the Constitution. Certainly not. I believe the Constitution has provided us with an excellent framework, with systems defined for most things, including the roles of the Legislature, the Executive, the Judiciary. We need to respect it.

Yet, the representatives we have had have repeatedly failed us. As a collective unit in Parliament, regardless of which party has been in power. And, in the case of certain individuals, in living up to the standard that they are public servants and accountable to the public, not masters of the public.

And that is why, while we continue to work on improving the effectiveness of our democracy, while we continue to work on educating our electorate, while we continue to do all that we need to do to reduce corruption, not just in government but also in society (let’s not deny this bit – we need to look at ourselves in the mirror too!), we also need a mechanism – and rather urgently - to make our representatives accountable to us.

For, if there is one thing that I think nobody denies, this accountability is not just essential, but absolutely crucial, for effective functioning of the democracy. It is intertwined with much of what we are trying to accomplish. Yes, we keep coming back to the vote as the tool in the hands of society, but we are still decades from an electorate that can be expected to elect representatives who will, suo moto, introduce and pass strict anti-corruption legislation that makes them accountable.

That is where the current movement, the current push for introducing such legislation urgently comes in.

The people who are attacking Anna Hazare and his associates for their methods, those who are questioning the civil society representatives on the joint committee as not being “elected” representatives of the public – I grant them that they are technically right.

But why doesn’t anybody think that none of this would have been necessary at all, if just like the plethora of legislation we have in the country on a whole lot of things, the government had, on its own, set up strict anti-corruption legislation for members of Parliament by now?

THAT is the issue that hardly anybody in the intelligentsia seems to talk about. Instead I see a wave of agitation that democracy has been undermined (as if successive governments have not undermined it for years, but let’s not go there!). I see a rush to defend the government because these are “elected representatives” who are being “blackmailed” by some “self-professed representatives of civil society”.

Let’s be clear – nobody ever WANTED to do this. The protesters who assembled at the Jantar Mantar, and elsewhere in the country and even overseas, did not do this because they had nothing better to do.

They wanted to get a message across. They wanted to get their voices heard. They find themselves caught up in a situation where millions of apathetic Indians, having equal voting rights as themselves, end up either not casting their vote at all or selling it to the highest bidder. It is the visible voice of frustration, more than anything else.

I would like to think that if the government is stung by this and comes up with a time-bound action plan to introduce a strong anti-corruption Bill in Parliament, if it can assure the public that this will also be passed as legislation, then all would be fine. Everybody is focused on the results. Personally I could not care less if there is a joint committee or not, if the provisions of the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill are taken as the basis or not. If the end-result is powerful legislation, that is all that matters. The ONLY reason the protesters have insisted on a joint committee and on equal representation on the committee, is the total lack of credibility of the current government.

I agree this lack of credibility is not healthy but it is not entirely unjustified either. So let’s also make an effort to understand the genesis of this whole issue instead of just crying foul at the “undermining of democracy by Anna Hazare”.

Before I close this discussion (and I really hope this is closure for me), I want to touch on one other point.

I have seen a lot of ridicule coming the way of the protests from the intelligentsia. Apparently some of the placards had "over-zealous" slogans. I have seen references where these protests have been compared with Tahrir Square or Jayaprakash Narayan’s protests in the 1970s and ended up been mocked at, as a result of this comparison. I have seen comparisons of Anna Hazare with Gandhiji, resulting in mocking of not just Anna Hazare but in certain cases, even Gandhiji.

In both my previous post and in this one, I’ve steered clear of making comparisons. Comparisons make good rhetoric, and the media in particular loves them, but, in my opinion, they only serve as excellent distraction material. The discussion soon degenerates into whether the protests were comparable with Tahrir Square or not or whether Anna ‘s movement is comparable with Gandhiji’s or not.

I would say – who cares? I, for one, don’t. I do not want the focus of the issue to be diluted. The discussion from the first day to this day for me, has been only about corruption, anti-corruption legislation and nothing else. It has not been about personalities.

It is a pity that inspite of having such an excellent Constitution, we have allowed corruption to not just exist but grow to an alarming proportion in the country. We, as citizens, are as much to blame for this as anybody else. We are a very big part of the problem, let’s not point fingers only at the government.

Having said that, let’s also not sling mud at a few fellow-citizens who have chosen to not be as apathetic as most other Indians. Yes, some of us may not like them speaking on our behalf because we feel we have our own voice. But surely, given the scamfest that the country has been “enjoying” in the last year, if their voice makes the government sit up, realize the mood of the public and act, surely that cannot be too bad a thing?

We don’t have to give credit to somebody if we don’t want to. But living as we are in a civilized society, we also don’t have to discredit him in such a brutal fashion.

I think, in hindsight, it would have been best if nothing had happened at all.

Anna Hazare, Kejriwal and the others should never have got into this mess.

We could also all have just gone on with our business as usual.

And I would also not have got so worked up and would have have been able to sleep well too.

Yes, that’s how it works in India. We are like that only.

1 comment:

Jewellery By Shalini said...

"Yes, some of us may not like them speaking on our behalf because we feel we have our own voice. But surely, given the scamfest that the country has been “enjoying” in the last year, if their voice makes the government sit up, realize the mood of the public and act, surely that cannot be too bad a thing? "

Well if they don't like someone else speaking on their behalf I don't really see them speaking out themselves, do you? They are happy to let the "status quo" maintained while indulging in rhetoric because it fills column inches and presumably their bank accounts too.

Great post Raja!