In school we were taught that constant vigilance is the true price of democracy. For decades, we did not take this principle seriously. We allowed politicians, bureaucrats, and power brokers swindle billions of rupees from the public system decade after decade. We made a few noises from time to time and then we hurtled along the path of democracy with our heads bowed. We had a nation to build. Life was not easy anyway. The result of this half-century long lapse is today's anti-corruption crusade by Gandhian activist, Anna Hazare and his team.
Corruption in India has reached its tipping point. People can't take it any more.
Anna has been fasting for the introduction of the Jan Lokpal bill in parliament for 11 days now. Negotiations with the government have been blowing hot and cold. Both team Anna and the ruling Congress Party have stonewalled themselves. Everybody is looking for a closure. A 74-year old frail Anna's life is at stake.
There is doubt if the government will concede to all of Anna's demands. Even if it does, will it solve the widespread corruption in India? That is the question I want to raise.
Anna's demand for the appointment of a Lokpal at the Centre, a new agency empowered to fight corruption among public servants, with sweeping powers over all government officials, the prime minister included, will create a bureaucratic monstrosity. Anna also wants to appoint Lokayuktas at the state level, with bureaucratic machinery to support them.
First, people who will be appointed in this bureaucratic set-up will again come from the same society that produces the corrupt police and administrative officers, politicians and clerks. How different will their morals be from their current counterparts? Second, even if they turn out to be honest, they will have to handle billions of complaints from 1.2 billion Indians. To sort out the complaints, they will have to work with other government bodies which are supposedly staffed with corrupt officials. How is this system going to work then?
Corruption happens because of two main reasons: one, absence of a stringent rule of law, and two, moral weakness in individuals (instances of corruption can arise from both greed and for need of money). A nation that has people with a strong moral fibre will not tinker with the institutions in place. That's what India's basic problem is today. No one is arguing that corrupt government servants should be spared a harsh crackdown. But crackdown alone will not solve the problem of corruption. In China too, there is visibly harsh punishment for corruption, yet cases of corruption keep getting unearthed. Therefore, alongside the struggle for Lokpal, Anna should focus his energies on building a mass movement to develop people with character.
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