In the current battle between the growing populism of the fasting Anna Hazare and the Government of India, I’m finding myself taking a standpoint I never thought I would. For what could well be the first time in many many years, I’m finding myself siding with the government on this one.
Even a jaded cynic like me who has seen simply too many hopeful promises broken by charlatan ideologists can concede that perhaps Mr Hazare is genuine in his beliefs. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as someone who really wants to try to break the hardened crust of corrpution that has dried out the heart of India.
I just don’t think this is the right way to go about it.
Let me though make it quite clear - there is a great part of me that believes that the Jan Lokpal Bill is a better version than the Bill the government has acceeded to. It strengthens the Lokpal and allows the body to really threaten the corrupt practices of politicians and judiciary. However I’m also a great believer in the “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” school of thought. A power beyond the reach of Parliament and judiciary is not just a liberating prospect - its also a threatening one.
And I’m wary of populists in general. Mr Hazare is using Gandhian tactics to reach into India’s emotional memory and I’m not quite sure on what ground. Is this man an elected leader? Has he got an inner track to some deity who has told him that only he can manage to curtail the multi hydra headed corruption of a complex nation? And most important of all, what is his guarantee that the Lokpal, the “carefully chosen panel of people” he proposes will be immune to the corruption that so far seems to have left no kurtha pocket in the land untouched?
The Right to Information Act - a revolution in modern Indian politics - took years and more than 150 amendments to bring it into being. Why should a man who until a few months ago was relatively unknown to the world suddenly claim a shortcut to the due democratic process?
And what kind of precedent will this set?
What will it be next time? Some saffron robed madman who proposes a mass conversion of every non Hindu in the country? A business tycoon who wants all tribal land cleared so he can build and mine and chop to his heart’s content? A Lokpal so powerful it starts to emulate an Orwellian “some people are more equal than others” philosophy?
And does the Jan Lokpal proposition also include the thousand cuts of small time corruption that riddles India? Of headmasters wanting bribes for student enrollment? Of doctors who can be bribed to break the law and provide sex determination and other dodgy procedures? Of every little cop and petty official who wants a little palm oiling for providing the services they’ve been hired to provide?
The road to end corruption in India cannot just be embarked upon by donning a white cap and taking to the streets - corruption in India will end only when 1.2 billion people commit to a time consuming, pattern breaking, determination to neither pay nor ask for bribes in the daily business of life in India.