Tuesday, 12 April, 2011

Tavleen Singh's views on Anna Hazare's fast

Hysteria will not end corruption
Tavleen Singh

As I have watched mass hysteria build up over Anna Hazare’s fast, there have been moments when I felt that his supporters had forgotten that India is a democratic country. I have long believed that the most apolitical Indians are those who belong to the English speaking, tweeting, texting middle classes but I had no idea just how apolitical they were till last week. Without reading the Jan Lokpal bill that Anna Hazare is trying to ram down our throats, actors, writers, social activists, television anchors and sundry other supposedly educated Indians leapt on to Anna’s bandwagon.Some seemed to have been inspired by the recent revolution in the Middle East. They babbled on about text messages and social media sites having brought about a ‘people’s movement’ without noticing that in India the people have the right to vote. Every five years they choose who they want to represent them in the Lok Sabha and in their state assemblies. It is the job of these legislatures to make laws for the country. It is not the job of sanctimonious activists.

If they had bothered to read the draft that Hazare’s Leftist advisors have drawn up, they would have noticed that its worst flaw is that it is anti-democratic in the most frightening way. It is not an ombudsman that it seeks to create but a despot with the powers to investigate, judge and punish anyone he suspects of corrupt practices. So if some NGO type of Leftist persuasion were to decide that his local MP was spending his constituency allowance on a project that did not benefit ‘the masses’, he (or she) could complain to his local Lokayukta and organise a raid on the MP’s property and order his arrest if he decides that public funds are being misused. It is not just officials but private citizens who will be under the Lokpal’s purview.

This is the way of totalitarian countries like China. It is not India’s way but you would not know it if you had been watching our news channels last week. One famous TV anchor became a sort of Lokpal himself by haranguing a Congress Party spokesman on behalf of ‘the people of India.’
Meanwhile, hunger pangs appear to have caused Anna Hazare to suffer hallucinations of becoming India’s next Mahatma, so he has ordered a ‘jail bharo andolan’ as if we were still fighting the British. And, his coterie of Lefty advisors are using their fifteen minutes of fame to rant against the liberal economic policies that have brought the only prosperity that India has seen since 1947. Without it there would be no tweeting, texting middle class.
In the process we seem to have all forgotten that it is not the economic reforms that have created India’s vast and wondrous infrastructure of corruption. This was built in those times when the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy were inflexibly in the grip of high officials and mighty ministers. With the rise of the private sector in the past twenty years, politicians have turned their greedy eyes upon the possibilities of bigger takings and to this end ensure that their progeny succeed them to take care of the family business. If we want corruption to end, we could begin by banning hereditary MPs and making it compulsory for political parties to have regular elections. We could also ban political parties who cannot account for their donations. Political parties are richer today than ever because they have become leeches on the back of the private sector.

Nearly all corruption in India is related to government. If big businessmen pay for every contract they get, pavement shopkeepers pay for the right to earn their meagre living. I have never met an Indian who has not been forced to bribe an official at some time or other. This is why there is so much understandable anger against corruption but anyone who thinks a despotic Lokpal is the solution is deluded, naïve or an NGO.

Speaking of which, I found it most annoying last week to listen to NGOs behave as if they were the incorruptible, rightful spokesmen for ‘civil society’. In my time, I have met as many corrupt NGOs as I have met corrupt officials and they are accountable to nobody. Many receive funds from mysterious foreign sources that they would have to declare if they stood for elections. Is that why fasting in Jantar Mantar is the preferred option? If NGO types want to make laws, let them get elected to the Lok Sabha or else go back to activities that are genuinely non-governmental. Making laws is the right of governments, no matter how ineffective or corrupt these governments may be. This appears to have been forgotten in the mass hysterics of last week. It is time to remember.


Anonymous said...

Superbly written article.... got to the heart of the matter. Very well done Ms Tavleen Singh.

Anonymous said...

Article is no doubt well written..BUT..if elected politicians are looting the country, should they be allowed to loot for 5 years..waiting for the next elections?No, the guilty should be brought to book.Why is anyone fighting against Corruption being targeted? Anna is fighting for whom? is it for himself? No, and, we all know how much National Interest is in the minds of politicians!

Neelakash Murty said...

I Disagree

a) To say that the fast is a form of blackmail is not entirely untrue - I concede

b) To say that the whole manner in which this has been conducted goes against the system is true - Let Anna and Kejriwal get elected and change what they want to change

But -
Both of the above points assume that the system itself is without flaws. Part of the reason we are where we are, is because of lacunae in the system. Correcting it from within is a Sisyphean task. Do you honestly expect to see a sea-change occurring from within the system in your lifetime? Nothing works from inside of the system in India - by the logic you suggest, an accident victim in India should wait for the ambulance, if a teacher doesn't show up at school a complaint to the school principal should suffice, any case of crime would be addressed promptly by the police. But none of this happens - in India we find work around for everything, its what we have learnt to do - The whole Anna Hazare movement is just that - The much used and abused 'Jugaad'

Robert Cialdini talks about the power of commitment and consistency in his book - Influence. Perhaps the 'movement' offers more in terms of secondary benefits in terms of people trying to live up to their own self image as a result of the public anti-corruption stance they have taken, than in terms of primary benefits, directly observed.

P.S 2: In other news, my father firmly believes this plays out with Rahul Gandhi stepping into save team Anna's pride. We get a morphed Jan Lokpal, Rahul Gandhi for PM and Manmohan Singhji gets to finally go home. Place your bets now!

Anonymous said...

What has happened in India within 24 hrs after the arrest of Anna Hazere is enough to suggest you that you are disconnected from common man. The insult you showered on the Old man Anna who has become the "Candle of hope" during the debate on NDTV did not go well with many people with in india and abroad. From your article one get the impression that you write many time without applying your mind. My sincre advice to you would be that you re-discover india as a common man and not as Tavleen Singh associated with Indian Express---without having any clue as how real indian express when they have left with no choice. Dear Tavleen, next time if you art invited to take part in any TV
debate on any national issue, make sure that you behave in a most dignified manner.

Anonymous said...

I knew that Mr. Hazare's movement wont last for long, as we see now, no body is talking about him anymore, media has completely shunned him, nobody showed up in his support in the maidan in Delhi. Tavleen said it very correctly "the most apolitical indians are the english speaking tweeting texting middle class".