Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Once again comes the war on corruption, but hope has wilted

They're back. Anna Hazare and his Team have renewed their agitation against corruption.
It is clear that in round four, Team Anna has ratcheted up its rhetoric.
Tuesday's press conference included a direct attack on the new President, where Arvind Kejriwal, the brains behind the movement, declared 'Pranab Mukherjee is also among the 15 corrupt ministers. It's unfortunate he will become the President tomorrow.'
Newly-elected presidents have been unwelcome before, but never in such blunt terms.
But then, for the director of Team Anna the issue is not personal, it is part of the street theatre of the anti-corruption movement.
Though the protest and the accompanying fast-unto-death have been carefully timed to peak with the beginning of the monsoon session of parliament, the campaign is not likely to have the dramatic impact it had last year.
The people's appetites are jaded, or to put it another way, the hopes that the movement would actually have an impact on corruption have wilted. In the past year, we have seen that the Lokpal Bill has been put on a walkway to nowhere.
As for corruption, it continues to rule the land. It has been pointed out before that India suffers from the double whammy of big and small corruption. 

You have the mega-corrupt such as those who have allegedly taken hundreds of crores of rupees in the 2G scam, the National Rural Health Mission scam of UP, or the combined Commonwealth Games rip-offs.
The extent of corruption and the brazenness of those behind it is evident from a report that said that a Karnataka mining baron was willing to pay as much as Rs100 crore just to get bail.
And you have the smaller ones where the poorest of the poor are bilked for anything up from Rs10. An active vigilance department has revealed how, in Madhya Pradesh, corruption goes into the very vitals of the administrative system, from the minister to the IAS officers and down to the very peons and clerks of government offices.
An ongoing set of exposes in MAIL TODAY reveal how it affects everyone. The series has revealed the manner in which touts, hand-in-glove with the booking clerks, used sophisticated software to corner the railway bookings and compel tens of thousands of desperate travellers to shell out hundreds of rupees extra to get a rail ticket.
The middle class has tolerated touts with the excuse that they get things done. But the expose has shown how touts not only reach down to the poorest in the land, but also deprive them of the special services they require.
One report has revealed how touts provide economically weaker sections (EWS) certificates to anyone with money to spare.
Wednesday's report shows how, like bloodsuckers, touts make money off the sick and the poor who crowd around to government hospitals for treatment. So even the tattered safety net that the government promises to the poor does not, in fact, exist.
The same, of course, could be said of the medicines that did not reach the numerous sick because of the NRHM scam, or the thousands of tons of food that was siphoned off government godowns in UP. Corruption has created a toxic swamp in which the entire country wallows. Team Anna's targeting cannot be faulted.
Fish rots from the head, and that has been the case in India. With corrupt leaders, what else can you expect? You do not have to believe in the India Against Corruption dossier on 15 government ministers, including the PM and the new President, to believe that corruption begins at the top.
The dossier may have been intended for shock effect, but it is not entirely off the mark. Manmohan Singh may be as pure as driven snow, but many of his Cabinet, Sharad Pawar, Kamal Nath, Praful Patel, M K Alagiri, Farooq Abdullah, Vilasrao Deshmukh and His Excellency President Mukherjee have a jaded past and, in some cases, a present.
It is astonishing that there is no explanation offered or otherwise for the growth of the fortunes of our politicians, as revealed by that most minimalist of documents - the returns filed before the filing of nominations for the parliament or assembly seat.
If you want to fight corruption you must begin at the top. It is the politicians who have been primarily responsible for the corruption of India's political and administrative system, and it is they who will have to be cleansed first, before the rest of the system can be cleaned.
Yet the solutions that Team Anna speaks of are also difficult to swallow. Their version of the Lok Pal would end up creating a parallel government of official vigilantes. There has to be another way, and that is the crux of the matter.
The effort needs to begin with tackling the problem of election funding. With elections costing crores of rupees per constituency, there is a built-in imperative for the political class to accumulate money. If it were elections alone the problem could have been dealt with.
There is also the matter of greed. Politicians are today making money to fit out their family and extended family for generations. This is where an effective vigilance machinery, along with fast courts needs to get to work. A couple of top-level convictions made in quick time will certainly make a difference.
The bigger hurdle, however, is the Anna Hazare movement itself. While it has captured the people's angst over corruption in everyday life, it has not been able to come up with a credible solution. The belief that only a small group of virtuous people can steer the destinies of this huge nation on the issue of corruption, is inherently flawed.
And this basic flaw begets a large degree of suspicion over the remedies that Mr Hazare and his acolytes suggest.
Mail Today July 26, 2012

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