Rooting-out Corruption is Good, but
Parallel Government is Injurious to Democracy
Mirza A. Beg
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Indian Express, Delhi, August 26, 2011
Milli Gazette, Delhi, August25, 2011
Anna Hazare has captured the imagination of the Indian body politic. His clarion-call to end the exponentially growing, endemic corruption in India has been reverberating and gathering supporters with each passing day. The news media in India has become his megaphone.
The corruption has been increasing over the decades in magnitude as well as pervasiveness. The developing economy, increasing disposable income of the middle class and much larger workforce provide more opportunities for bribes. At the top levels of the government the bribes have grown from thousands to tens of millions of Rupees.
On my visits to India, I enjoy asking probing social and political questions in conversations with a wide spectrum of very friendly and talkative fellow travelers. Everyone is against corruption as a simple nebulous principle. But the answers get clouded and muddled when it benefits their lives.
The Indian Government finally realized that the evil of corruption has reached the tipping point and drafted a legislation to create an independent office of Lokpal (ombudsmen) to watch over various agencies with independent, but limited authority. It would have the power to investigate. Based on evidence, it would recommend and direct the judicial system to take action. Obviously it would take time for such a system to mature and work. Unfortunately the judicial system is not beyond corruption either.
The office of Lokpal would be similar to the office of the Election Commissioner, which has worked rather well, notwithstanding all the ills of the society. Indian elections are by and large fair and have successfully changed the government many times.
Yet the corruption at all levels including the legislature has grown, because the most important driving force for voting for a candidate is not honesty, but sectarianism – a substantial majority votes based on religion, cast and regional advantages. Political parties put up candidates based on these considerations. Once elected, they distribute economic largess as well as jobs and contracts to their most important supporters and casts in their constituency. Ironically, it is not considered corruption by a large majority of the populace.
Anna Hazare and his companions proposed a much stronger and aggressive office of the Lokpal (ombudsman). They insist that all the branches of the government would be under its authority including the Prime Minister. It would have independent police and judicial powers. In effect, it would be akin to a parallel unelected government, and would have minimal check on its authority.
When aroused, people like simple and fast remedies. Anna Hazare’s remedy of cut ting the Gordian knot in one strike is simplistic and very appealing. To force his ideas on the government, he first threatened and then took up a fast unto death. It sounds enticing, especially coming from a person who has put his life on the line and has a long record of service to the poor and personal honesty.
Taking advantage of the situation, all sorts of people have jumped on his band wagon for their own purposes, while many opposed to him have unearthed records, where he appears to have supported unsavory ideas and people. Many in the minority community want to join him but are weary of some of the Anna’s unsavory backers. No one is perfect, and he has some explaining to do.
I applaud his taking a stand and galvanizing the placid electorate to demand reform. One needs to look at it not from sectarian perspective, but a long range national perspective. Means and ends should be carefully considered. They do matter. Democracy is not easy to nurture. A system that changes with the changing wind of public opinion does not last very long. An unaccountable parallel government is an idea fraught with danger. Impetuously designed laws with the best of intentions have unintended consequences. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
That is why most stable democracies have a bicameral legislature, so that a part of the legislature, called the upper house or senate --is protected from the immediacy of the impetuous public emotions.
Democracy by its very nature is inefficient. The system of checks and balances is an impediment to quick solutions of long festering social problems. Simplistic and draconian solutions against an evil are easy to understand and support. Anna Hazare has projected himself as a leader in the Gandhian tradition. But there is a difference.
Gandhi Ji agitated and fasted to give voice to the people, against an unelected imperial colonial government. Hazare is holding hostage, a legitimately elected government of the people. With his popularity growing by the day, the government is being held on ransom with a false choice of Hazare’s bill or widespread chaos.
In a democracy, the government is only as good as the people vote for. If the electorate really wanted honesty and integrity, they could have voted for them as beacons. But they did not, they vote for personal aggrandizement on the basis of cast etc. Impetuous quick solutions often bring unintended consequences. Thoughtful people should take time to bring in change without injuring the constitution and the essence of democracy. The start has been made to check corruption. Anna Hazare should compromise to get a good bill instead of throwing the country in to chaos.