Saturday, April 30, 2011

Graft graft go away…

Corruption in the country is as common as anything one could imagine. But there is a ray of light. The civil society is on an effective march against the menace

Amitabh Shukla / New Delhi

Anna Hazare and his movement against corruption has caught the imagination of the nation. Never before had the civil society forced the government to act so decisively against graft and in favour of a Jan Lokpal Bill which threatens to eat into the vitals of corruption and make the country rid of the menace once and for all.

Not surprisingly, after Anna launched the movement from Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, the government was in a “moral pressure” and forced to act decisively against top corporate honchos, involved in the 2G scam, Suresh Kalmadi, who is seen by many as the man responsible for the loot of public exchequer in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games and even the prominent functionaries of the UPA allies like the DMK by getting its members charge sheeted.

Many see the swift action as a direct fallout of Anna’s movement and the zero tolerance which the people have now developed towards corruption – a cancer which has thwarted the development of the country for decades.

The anti-corruption movement has been criticized, even lampooned and trivialized by the vested interests. We feel that some of the personalities associated with the movement against corruption could have indulged in some aberrations and should not be spared if found guilty of any wrong doing. However, we should never lose sight of the bigger picture – the drafting of the Jan Lok Pal Bill. Personalities are not important the issues are and corruption is definitely such an issue.
Attempts have been made to derail the bill by the political class and a section of the media by following a policy of selective amnesia. We clearly believe that this is a diversionary tactics to deflect from the issue of corruption. The critics of Anna and those against the Bill can make their “learned assessments” after the draft Bill comes in the public domain, discussed in Parliament and then passed. We do not believe in anarchist theories which do not give solutions but merely pose questions, one after the other. Let the doubting Thomases eat a humble pie on this question.
The attempts to discredited and underestimate the genuine anger of growing sections of the public against widespread corruption at various levels of the political leadership and bureaucracy is a knee jerk reaction to the popularity of Anna, a Gandhian of immense stature. The mud-slinging went to comic extent to sow the seeds of confusion amongst the people. But ultimately, the political leadership of the country saw the futility of bringing in CDs, land deals, character assassination, funding of NGOs into the larger picture of the fight against corruption.
Soon after starting, the movement threatened to spread far and wide across the country and attracted the support of growing sections of the youth, which had till now shown little interest in the campaign against corruption. The participation of the youth, though not comparable to the JP movement of the 70s, forced the government to accede to the demands of framing a Jan Lokpal Bill.
The demand for the creation of a position like the Jan Lokpal has been there since 1969 and ironically, none of the governments in power since then took it seriously, including the Janata Party government in 1977 and the Janata Dal government in 1989, both of which made corruption a national issue, mobilized the youth of the country and won elections on this count.

In the last two years, people of the country have seen what shape and form corruption has taken place - a monster out to gobble everything in sight. A series of scandals relating to the loot of public funds, or the twisting of rules to benefit high and mighty, broke in the country late last year. These included the Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum allocation, Adarsh society scam in Mumbai, a series of corruption cases against ministers in Karnataka etc. These are mere indicator and the tip of iceberg of how widespread corrupt practices are, in the states and at the Centre.

This is the reason why people are now asking questions relating to discretionary powers enjoyed by ministers and senior officials, and the creation of a Lokpal, or ombudsman, at the Centre. When there is no hope for the citizens, Anna emerges as the beacon at this point of time, catching the imagination and the thought process of the country.

Some want the Prime Minister kept out of the purview of the Lokpal. But the question which we ask is whether this is acceptable in a democratic system? Why does the office of the PM needs to be shielded from vexatious and motivated quarters? Similarly when there have been insinuations against the judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court, wouldn’t it be prudent to bring them too under the Lok Pal. After all how many judges of the country have been impeached since Independence for their acts of commission and omission? None. Is there anyone in the country who can stand up and say with confidence that all the Judges are honest to the hilt? If not, then bring them also under the purview of the Bill.

Even though the main target of attack on corruption and the Lokpal Bill has been the ruling UPA, all political parties are aware that they are under attack as very few have shown the will to fight against the menace in the states where they are in power or at the Centre when they were in office at some point of time. Anna’s movement has clearly shown that they can no longer afford to ignore the mood of the nation. If they do so, it will only be at the cost of their own political fortunes.

Along with the Lokpal Bill, more measures are needed to weed out corruption and usher in development. If money, which goes into the pockets of politicians, bureaucrats, corporate houses etc due to corruption and then finds its way in the Swiss banks, benami deals, hawala trade and is routed back to the country through questionable means is stopped, a lot of money would remain available to remove curses like poverty, illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition and other maladies which affect our society.

Besides, grant of genuine autonomy to the CBI and the CVC would be a move in right direction along with the creation of a similar and effective institution at the state level. Both these institutions have been suffering at the hands of whoever is in power. Genuine autonomy would shield these institutions and help in the fight against under the table deals.

There could also be a case of state funding for elections to root out the malady. A separate debate should begin on state funding, holding elections only once in five years and removing the aberrations which have crept in the electoral system over the years. The resent Assembly election in some of the states indicated how ill-gotten money is used indiscriminately to influence the voters.

But above all, there has to be an institutional mechanism in the country to fight graft. A national consensus has to be built around such a mechanism and we are sure when the Parliament takes up the Jan Lokpal Bill for discussion and passing and the draft Bill comes in the public domain, such a consensus would emerge.

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