Friday, Sep 30, 2022

Why tar all politicians with the same brush?

We need to reboot corrupt systems,instead of demonising our political class.

We should be grateful to Anna Hazare for dedicating his life to the people and battling for accountability in governance. Millions look to him for inspiration and guidance. We are all sick of mismanagement,venality and the lack of accountability that plague not only governance but also other institutions,including many NGOs that call themselves “civil society” institutions,the term made fashionable by international donor agencies.

The support base of this anti-corruption movement covers a large spectrum,from small shopkeepers to IT honchos,film stars,retired bureaucrats and housewives. However,the main support and mobilisation effort comes from a range of religious and spiritual gurus like Sri Sri Ravishankar and Baba Ramdev,who command larger and more committed followings than many of our political parties.

I feel perturbed by the disdain with which some in the movement treated elected representatives,MPs and MLAs who expressed their support. Our politicians have indeed failed us,so have many others — the judiciary,the police,the bureaucracy and “religio-spiritual” leaders. Many of these worthies are no less venal than the worst of our politicians. No politician can get away with corruption and crime without the collaboration of the bureaucracy,police and the judiciary.

Let us also remember that Mahatma Gandhi,Jayaprakash Narayan,Bal Gangadhar Tilak and B.R. Ambedkar all fought elections. Those who claim to draw inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi cannot afford to be so self-righteous. The arrogance of “tyaag” is no less dangerous and corrosive than the arrogance of money and power. If the movement is ready to welcome celebrities who may well be evading taxes and bypassing laws,why single out elected representatives?

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We would do well to remember that people like us are self-appointed representatives of “civil society.” There are times when they are able to express popular sentiment much more effectively than elected representatives. At many points,such leaders,including epochal ones like Mahatma Gandhi are ignored or even ridiculed by society. Does it mean that they lose the right to raise public issues? The groundswell of support for those who are ably leading the current movement should not undermine the importance of those who actually go to seek the mandate of the voters. They can also be removed through elections,whereas we self-appointed representatives cannot be voted out when we exceed our brief.

To tar all politicians with a black brush is to declare war on democracy. Our politicians are as much the victims of the money- and muscle power-dominated electoral system as they are its beneficiaries. By declaring that politicians cannot even come and express support to the anti-corruption movement from Anna Hazare’s platform is to treat them as untouchables.

Corruption is no longer confined to politicians and bureaucracy. It has percolated into the very vitals of society. Many of those who are now shouting against corrupt politicians could well be evading taxes,or violating building and other laws,selling adulterated goods and manipulating the system. Just as that does not undermine their urge for a clean polity,so too politicians currently using corrupt means to win elections could well be yearning for a more dignified entry into electoral politics.


The Lokpal bill has already invited a good deal of well-meaning criticism from those who share Anna’s hatred of corruption but have alternative strategies. Merely making the Lokpal a supra-government body and giving it full powers to make its own appointments will not ensure that the institution becomes worthy of the trust reposed in it. For example,the power to appoint Supreme Court and high court judges was taken away from the government and entrusted to a collegium of Supreme Court judges. That has not stopped some of the most corrupt in the judiciary from rising to the very top.

The legitimate concerns of all sections of society must be taken on board if we want to create an India where people don’t have to resort to bribery,string-pulling and subversion of laws in order to carry out an entrepreneurial activity — whether as street vendors,farmers,petty shopkeepers or as industrialists.

It is equally important to recognise that the present scope of the bill is so overarching that it could collapse under the weight of its own gigantic ambition. Anna Hazare is aware that the existing machinery of governance is not just corrupt,it is also dysfunctional. We need far-reaching administrative,judicial,police and electoral reforms if the Lokpal is to become an effective instrument. If our municipal offices,police stations,public hospitals and courts are not equipped with the appropriate personnel,incentives and resources with mechanisms of accountability,there is no way that a Lokpal or Lokayukta can get the system to work. The blueprint prepared by the Administrative Reforms Commission for wide-ranging reforms has been gathering dust. We need to bring that reform agenda on the table along with the Lokpal bill in order to restore the health of our institutions of governance. Otherwise,the Lokpal will either collapse under the tsunami of complaints or become yet another unaccountable bureaucracy that uses its extraordinary powers to add to the harassment that we routinely experience in our dealings with the government.


The writer is founder-editor,‘Manushi’,and professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies,Delhi

First published on: 12-04-2011 at 02:44:05 am
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