Even Pappu can fast - Only you can kill corruption

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 08, 2016 09:16 hrs
Anna Hazare breaks fast

Anna Hazare's indefinite fast against corruption ended last week with the government agreeing to have a co-chair for the panel that will draft the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Jantar Mantar, the venue of the fast, saw a total Peepli-isation with a massive press contingent interviewing a Manmohan Singh look-alike one day and making Tahrir Square references the next.

Across the country, business executives, students and housewives poured onto the streets to show their solidarity for the old man and his anti-corruption cause. It's incredible to see a young - previously dubbed consumerist - India step onto the streets and demand an end to rampant corruption.

Anna Hazare deserves praise for tapping into the imagination of the young Indian who is restless for change and wants to do 'something!' The yuppie, riding the wave of optimism and hope after the national team's spectacular World Cup victory while simultaneously down and out in the aftermath of the countless scams, came onto the streets rallying for Anna and his cause.

It sure is heartening to see a young generation take to the streets, click the 'Like' button on the 'India Against Corruption' page on Facebook and even change their display pictures on social networking sites en-masse to Anna mugs (so that your chat window looked like you are friends with multiple Annas).

However, one can't help but feel a little strange about the so-called 'revolution' that has turned people into Satyagrahis and activists overnight. You can't deny that this heady movement, egged on by TV cameras and backed by a coercive fast-unto-death, is for a rather vague, intangible and abstract cause. And it was for a piece of legislation, the implementation of which will see the appointment of a supra judicial, supra constitutional authority potentially prone to abuse and misuse at the hands of the respective political executive in power.

So, who will kill corruption?

Corruption needs to go. In principle, no one in their right mind can disagree with this demand. But when Anna Hazare and his supporters articulate it, it's almost as if they are asking someone else to root out corruption.

And what kind of corruption are they talking about? The kind that all of us indulge in locally every once in a while? Paying small bribes to clerks, traffic cops, asking that uncle or aunt for that sifarish (recommendation) somewhere? Or is it the 2G kind of corruption, the corruption at the political executive level, led by the likes of Raja and (Madhu) Koda, overseen by the helpless man in the blue turban?

One would say both kinds of corruption, and the whole range that falls in between, need to be rooted out!

The protestors need to make this demand as forcefully to themselves as they are making it to the government.

Because frankly, who and what is the government? It's us representing us. We are the system in the systemic corruption. Even the Babus we loathe are from amongst us.

Corruption could be rooted out by not paying bribes - at least that would be a good place to start.

So shouldn't the movement or the fasts or the campaigning focus on individual duties rather than throwing a set of general demands in the general direction of the monolith that we have allowed our state to become?

I'm not advocating an end to youth activism and the engagement with state. All I'm asking is that it be refined to achieve specific goals, rather than make vague demands like, 'Stand with Anna Hazare. Tell PM Singh 2 endorse Jan Lokpal & tackle corruption'.

Now what? Does PM Singh have a magic wand that he'll wave from the premises of 7 Race Course Road that will make us stop paying and receiving bribes? No he doesn't.

The change we are asking from the government needs to stem from us. It's not about demanding change from 'them', because we are the 'them!'

The CBI example

Let's now look in some detail at the implementation of the Jan Lok Pal Bill that will enable the appointment of an all-powerful ombudsman.

The legislation has been in the pipeline for close to 50 years now, the idea first coming up in Parliament in 1963 during a discussion on budget allocation for the Law Ministry.

Before the fast, two drafts of the Bill were floating around, the government draft and the 'civil society' draft. A joint panel will now combine the two drafts to frame a final piece of legislation that, as indications go, will eventually be passed by the Parliament.

What the legislation will lead to - a Jan Lokpal - is an idea worth debating.

In 1966, the First Administrative Reforms Commission recommended the setting up of two independent authorities - at the central and state level, to look into complaints against public functionaries, including MPs.

Between 1966 and 2011, the Lok Pal Bill was introduced in Parliament eight times, but it wasn't passed.

In 2002, the MN Venkatachiliah-headed Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution recommended the appointment of the Lok Pal and Lokayuktas.

It also recommended that the PM be kept out of the ambit of the authority. And this year, the UPA II government formed yet another Group of Ministers, chaired by who else but Pranab Mukherjee, to suggest measures to tackle corruption and examine the proposal of a Lok Pal bill. (Source: PRS Legislative Research)

How can we be certain that the new institution and a new process will deliver what existing institutions and processes can't?

While in theory it's great to ask for an all-powerful Ombudsman, what will ensure that his/her appointment won't be political? And that yet another institution and process won't further promote corruption?

The CBI wasn't institutionalised to be misused, but look at it now!

Are we bringing in foreigners to run the Lok Ayukta and the Lok Pal? Eighteen states in India already have a Lok Ayukta in place. Among them, Jharkhand (the land of Madhu Koda) and Karnataka (the land of Devegowda/Yeddyurappa)!

Even Pappu can fast!

Anna Hazare is a well respected social worker who as per his website is responsible for 'upgrading the ecology and economy of the village of Ralegan Siddhi which is located in the drought-prone Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra state.'

Anna started work in the village in 1975 and it has taken him more than three decades to convert it into a 'Model Village'. This begs the question that if it takes three decades for him to transform his own native village, how does he expect the government to 'tackle corruption' (root it out) with a mere bill?

Would the village have transformed into a model for development by itself if Anna would have gone on a fast in 1975? And, paraphrasing B R Ambedkar, what precedent is Anna setting by overseeing the surrender of the idiom of democracy to the grammar of anarchy?

What happens if ten years from now, another activist goes on a fast unto death seeking a change in Jan Lokpal legislation? And guess what! Even Pappu Yadav - in jail for life for murder - was fasting against corruption.

The solution isn't a new process or a new institution, which seem inevitable now. It's not fasts unto death or Facebook pokes and Twitter hashtags. You can like all the anti-corruption pages on Facebook, tweet all you want & and even light candles, real and virtual, but corruption still won't go away.

The solution is that we STOP being corrupt. The premise of expecting the government to stamp out corruption is based on the assumption that someone else out there is corrupt. Not us.

Organised activism is welcome, but it can't come at the cost of shunning individual responsibly in lieu for institutional accountability.

By all means go to Jantar Mantar or Azad Maidan or Freedom Park or wherever! Just don't break a traffic rule and bribe a cop on the way! 

Raheel Khursheed is an independent journalist based in Kashmir. He is a consultant on communication skills, development and youth leadership. He writes on international, national, local and even trivial matters. You can contact him on raheel.khursheed@gmail.com. He tweets at @Raheelk.