Anna Hazare’s recent visit to Jantar Mantar has set the cat amongst the pigeons in Delhi and other state Capitals. Politicians and bureaucrats are increasingly looking worried and puzzled at this sudden interest of Indians about this issue of Corruption. I can almost imagine them thinking – what’s the need for all this discussion of corruption? Isn’t it enough that we are delivering growth of 9% etc.?
Anna Hazare has woken up India. Over 4 Million calls were made by Indians to the telephone number set up for the purpose by the movement of India against Corruption. Most importantly, it has proved that young Indians can wake up and get involved in serious causes that affect the country.
Like Tahrir Square in Egypt which was the epicenter of the movement for change that has swept Egypt and subsequently moved to other parts of the Middle East, history will show that Jantar Mantar was the moment in our history that triggered change in our country that has been buffeted and embarrassed by scams and corruptions in public life and Government.
The message that came out of this was that India, and indeed Indians, have had enough of corruption. The assumption that we are thick-skinned and mutely accepting of increasingly blatant and brazen forms of exploitation by the political-bureacrat-business nexus has been turned on its head and that is sending shivers through many. In some cities, the mood was positively ugly.
The trigger for this was the Lokpal Bill. The Lokpal Bill that was being proposed by the Government is in every way a representation of what is wrong with our system. It is classic obfuscation and bureacratism at its most excellent. And hence the protest by Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi etc. There is an increasing trend for those in power to assume that Citizens have very little intelligence and to insult that intelligence is a safe bet. Kapil Sibal did that some months ago by saying there was no loss in the 2G scam and CAG was wrong, and now this Lokpal Bill. Fortunately for India and Indians, there are people like Anna Hazare who have called the government’s bluff on this and mobilized millions to prove that the intelligence of Indians cannot be taken for granted.
Predictably of course, some of the intellectual elite in Delhi have come out and morphed this debate about Government corruption into one of constitutional appropriateness, and if that isn’t sophisticated enough, another argument about the dangers to democracy of mobs.
Anna Hazare and the Indians behind this must not pay heed to this. Yes, there is a risk that politics by mobs isn’t a sustainable model for democracy. But that is becoming a risk only because the democracy and Government we have today is dysfunctional. The cause of action here is the failure of Government, and a failure it has been for sure. When credibility of Government and its leaders go, then every action of it is seen through the prism of suspicion and doubt. The onus of establishing trust and credibility is on the Government and political leadership, and not the citizens. And this will not happen by parading smug ministers in front of TVs trying to outwit people; rather, it will come from real, deliberate actions that give the people the confidence that Government is transforming into an institution to honestly serve people, and be about National service and not about self-service and vested interests. Action and words will be required to address this trust deficit in the people about all Politicians and Government in general.
As I said last week, our capital Delhi was once a fountainhead of idealism, national service and commitment to the Idea of India. The crowds at Jantar Mantar and around the country were clamouring for a return to that. Stay the course and they will get that change they want.
This article appeared in Sunday Standard, dated April 17th, 2011