Honesty best policy against corruption
The phenomenon of Hazare is neither nationwide nor to be termed Gandhian
Despite being the world’s largest democracy, India repeatedly elects feudal politicians and criminals, who in turn suffocate their constituents with acts of corruption.
One wonders why the country then decries corruption. Is the current opposition to corruption logical, or is India fighting against an evil that it openly perpetuates?
Crowds have gathered in recent weeks at Ramlila in Delhi and other locations in support of Anna Hazare over the passage of the Jan Lokpal bill, which has been construed as a widespread demand. Surely such a demand is not being made by the people but by hysterical mobs who do not represent broad public opinion.
It is interesting to note that while people in some parts of the country rage against corruption, in other parts, such as Andhra Pradesh, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of former chief minister YS Rajashekar, won a seat in Parliament in a recent bye election with a record majority vote despite accusations of corruption.
How do we interpret this phenomenon? Even as national police investigate Jagan’s wealth, crowds throng to his meetings and members of parliament have resigned to express their solidarity.
The mobs opposing corruption do so out of self-interest. The movement is led by right-wing groups that seek to curtail constitutional freedoms and the rights of citizens. Muslims, Christians and dalits have no share and no say.
The Lokpal bill envisaged by civil society and spearheaded by people in northern and western India has not resonated in the east and south. While the campaign has raised awareness of the problem of corruption, it has done little to solve it.
Agitators demand draconian measures instead of addressing the undemocratic caste system and issues of social morality. What guarantees exist that the passage of the Lokpal bill will have any effect on corruption?
The existing constitution offers several checks and balances against corrupt officials. If corruption persists, it is not a problem with the constitution but with individuals who continue to violate the law.
No law can ensure appropriate human behaviour. Even if the Lokpal bill passes, it will offer no guarantee that only honest individuals assume positions of authority. The bill is not a permanent solution to the problem of corruption.
The Indian media have played into the hands of Anna Hazare and his supporters, and failed to highlight the broader issues of corruption. They do not seek consensus on anti-corruption measures and in fact divert attention from other pressing matters in the country.
It is telling that Anna Hazare has been called the second Gandhi. Why not call him the second Ambedkar or the second Jayprakash Narayan? The middle classes conveniently appropriated Gandhi for his conventional view on social inequality. Ambedkar was a crusader for social equality and chairman of the drafting committee of the Indian constitution. Narayan waged war against corruption through his “Total Revolution.”
The answer is that agitators are not really fighting against corruption but attempting to achieve middle-class dominance. Hence, they do not evoke the names of Kamaraj Nadar and Anna Durai, former chief ministers and icons of honesty and transparency who also opposed Brahmin-Dravidian ideology.
Indians have a tendency to mythologize individuals. Hence, the mantra “Anna is India and India is Anna,” spoken about a man who has never held national office or tackled any serious national issues, yet who is hailed by some as a hero. Ambedkar rightly noted that “hero worship is a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship.”
It is contradictory to call Anna Hazare’s approach to combating corruption Gandhian. If Gandhi were alive, he would not have demanded new draconian laws because he would know how easily such laws can be manipulated. Gandhi would use truthfulness, a weapon with which he won independence for India.
Moreover, adopting the “fast unto death” has elicited criticism because of its forceful and anarchic approach. Demanding the passage of a complicated bill by an arbitrary deadline and without the necessary discussion and consensus of all relevant parties is unreasonable.
Anna Hazare’s movement is political and accusatory. He and his supporters point to politicians, bureaucrats and public servants as being corrupt. Upon reflection, we discover that we are all in some ways corrupt, that corruption on a large scale cannot exist without corruption on lesser scales.
We do not need more laws to curb corruption but more truthfulness. The journey towards a more honest and transparent society is a long one and will require making the powerful more honest and the honest more powerful.
It is a journey that will require us to end corruption by voting out the corrupt.
Father BJ Shailendra SJ, a chaplain with the All India Catholic University Federation, is based in Hyderabad