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.