What's with the Lokpal?

26 Aug 2011 | rant, politics

Lying in bed with a fever-addled brain and nothing to do, the idling grey matter turns to an incident at work yesterday. Friends and countrymen in the city rushing to form a human chain against corruption - that poisoned, vile spear thrust deeper into us over the years by corrupt politicians and the bureaucracy; two shaky pillars of our tripod-mounted democracy. So above-mentioned friends were running off to form a human chain. I politely declined to join, having to complete labours for my masters in a land far to the west.

While I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of feeling against the evil ‘C’ (living in a city where “Swalpa Adjust Maadi” is the mantra), I was appalled that sensible, level-headed people were being swept away in a wave of patriotico-nationalistico-kill-those-corrupt-bastards-optimistic fervour, supporting a man and an idea that not very many have a clear idea about. Clearly, the mob was in town. If ye, weary net surfer, have a moment and an ear to lend, come hither and let me state the facts as I see them -

1. What can the Lokpal do?

Investigate a complaint from anyone, undertake surveillance, chargesheet and prosecute an offender. The only thing it does not have is a prison of its own. It is independent of any other body, be it the legislature, judiciary or the bureaucracy. It will have powers like the police and can file FIRs. All existing anti-corruption agencies are under it. Its decisions cannot be questioned. Basically, it can act against any officer, judge or politician. If you are a corrupt government official reading this, you have reason to fear what looks like a draconian law. The USP of this law is that all investigations/prosecutions will be time-bound and transparent. How these two miracles will be brought about is something that has been drowned in all the sound and fury surrounding the campaign. An admirable trait is the protection afforded to whistle-blowers.

2. What can it not do?

It cannot act against private corporations. Hmmm… but aren’t the large, evil corporations the ones who’re handing out foreign trips and expensive gifts for mining licenses, super expensive toilet rolls or a bit of 2G spectrum. No answer.

3. Who will be members of the Lokpal? Do I get a say?

The members of the Lokpal will be appointed by senior judges, nobel laureates of Indian origin (most of whom don’t even live in India), Bharat Ratna/Magsaysay awardees and other leading lights of civil society. This means a class of the elites will choose who gets to run what will be one of the most powerful institutions in the country. Members who will then be accountable to no one but themselves and the powerful elite that put them in power. Ordinary citizens don’t get a say - we, who are too dumb to chose our leaders wisely. Our choices are currently the targets of this bill.

4. Who guards the guardians?

If you have a complaint you could report it to independent boards in each state. Lokpal members and the chairman can only be removed by approaching the Supreme Court. What’s worrying is that we’ll have to rely on the transparency promised by the Lokpal to analyse its decisions - not a great situation to be in.

5. What happens if I manage to piss off one of the Lokpal people?

Move to Tanzania, get plastic surgery or better yet, a gender change.

6. Who is Anna Hazare?

Social activist, fearless campaigner, authoritarian, admirer of Narendra Modi’s Gujrat or RSS sympathiser? Maybe all of these and more. For a brief history of the man, check Wikipedia. Gandhian, he definitely is not. Gandhi never resorted to threats, obduracy or empty rhetoric.

So what is this bill? Is it the ultimate wet-dream of a frustrated urban middle-class? A billion people who are sick of an oligarchic government they see as as the root of all their problems? Who are these billion people who have lent their support to Anna - genuine anti-corruption crusaders or a few thousand wannabe-crusaders magically multiplied into millions by TV channels? Who are they who tell us “India is Anna and Anna is India”. He is the voice of the ‘People’. Do ‘People’ include someone like Irom Sharmila, who has been fasting for more than ten years against the AFSPA? Are the Manipuris supporting her ‘People’ too? And what are we agitating for? A Utopian ‘League of Protectors’ with unquestionable integrity who’ll guide us into a corruption-free future? It is comforting that both the cause and the solution to corruption are like the characters in a movie, with the corrupt being the villains and the Lokpal the hero. We’re just content to be in the audience, to watch, safe in the knowledge that good will eventually triumph over evil.

Assuming you’ve got this far, you need to think about whether you would want to live under the Lokpal system or not. Don’t say yes to it just because it’s a ‘mass revolution’ or ‘great leap forward’ or some such trash belched out by everyone and everything you see and hear on mass media. However, it’s a start. The men behind the bill may be flawed, but it’s miles better than the laughable version tabled by the government in Parliament. It is for you dear friend, to decide whether to launch yourself into action or guilt yourself into inaction. Corruption is one of our biggest problems but is the drug more dangerous than the disease? Are we responding to corruption in the system by setting up another, more powerful system that can be corrupted? Either way, as the more fascist-minded in the new revolution would say, “You’re either with us or against us” and, to be perfectly honest, who can be for corruption?

Corruption is not something that one of our million and one gods will descend from the heavens to clean up. If you’ve ever bought a house, think about whether you’d rather pay the ubiquitous ‘1%’ bribe or run from pillar to post for a Khata A-certificate, B-certificate, approvals for the positions of light-switches and God-knows-what-else. Next time you jump a signal or are caught driving drunk, will you pay the traffic cop (chalta hai yaar, it’s only a hundred bucks) or will you pay the fine and resolve not to break the rules again? Even more difficult, when you or someone close to you gets married, will you stand up to your parents/relatives and refuse to give or take dowry, even though the very people who taught you the difference between right and wrong say, “it’s part of tradition and this is how it’s always been”? If you haven’t caught on yet champ, corruption doesn’t exist because there are bribe-takers; it exists because there are bribe-givers. You and me.

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