Gathering power of moral snowflakes

Gathering power of moral snowflakes

By M.J. Akbar | 18 December, 2011
Youngsters express their support for a strong Lokpal Bill in Mumbai last week. PTI

You can create a Lokpal, but how do you change India?

Anna Hazare's movement has been among the most important developments since Jayaprakash Narayan's stirring leadership in the 1970s marked the second phase of that long historic process known as minting a nation out of a country. Anna's breathtaking contribution is that he has forced us to recognise that there is cancer in the body politic and that it is entering a terminal stage. He has withstood threat, pressure and inducement, including temptations aimed toward both ego and bank balance. He has insisted with courage and conviction that we find a doctor and fund a hospital that will begin to address this national disease. Both are essential, since there can be no forward movement until we identify and institutionalise those who can heal the patient. But diagnosis, however brilliant, is not a cure; it is only the beginning of a process. The next step, if anything, is harder.

Cosmetic change will disguise the virulent symptoms, but it will not eradicate the crisis. Now that the draft legislation has reached Parliament's drawing board, it is perhaps time to consider what precisely it might deliver. We need a Lokpal because the present inter-relation between crime and punishment has collapsed. Crime has been delinked from punishment with grease. There must therefore be a Lokpal Bureau of Investigation since a general without a force will only chase butterflies, not criminals. That is obvious. Then comes the difficult part.

Where will this new police force emerge from? As presently envisaged, it can only come from the existing guardians of law and order. No one expects Anna Hazare to raise a new contingent of Indians who will, when they graduate from St Divine School of Honesty, be awarded angelic wings under their armpits instead of hair. Question: why should the chaps who created the problem in the first place become any better as caretakers of the solution? The merit of the LBI concept is that it will be dedicated to fighting graft. What if, within five years, it merely raises the price of grease, and the cost of corruption becomes a higher quotient in the algebra of business balance sheets?

I am not a sceptic. I do not subscribe to the pessimist position that since nothing will happen, it is safer to do nothing. Anna Hazare, in any case, has eliminated "nothing" from the options before the Indian state, and for this he deserves our adulation and admiration. There were muscular segments of this government, and their cohorts in the other estates, including media, who thought they could leak some acid on the Anna parade, and it would scatter. Wiser counsel prevailed; a sage or two currently ranked higher than the muscle party, recognised that any more acid would only inflame crowds and incite conflagration across the country. But as we attempt to change course and steer back towards sanity, it is necessary to lift curtains from the grey areas, recognise doubt and try to shift it towards clarity.

We need a Lokpal because the present inter-relation between crime and punishment has collapsed. Crime has been delinked from punishment with grease. There must therefore be a Lokpal Bureau of Investigation since a general without a force will only chase butterflies, not criminals.

Such a process cannot ignore contradictions on the street. Urban India, the first stronghold of the Anna movement, has collaborated in an alibi narrative of corruption which soothes the growing middle class need for blame without the pain of accountability. Corruption, in this comforting scenario, is the exclusive fief of the powerful: police, politician, businessman, bureaucrat. The alibi works because it is a substantial part of the truth, but it is not the whole truth. There are men and women in government who are honest; and their numbers are not insignificant. The debate about 2G pricing became a debate only because there were officers in the finance ministry who refused to be coerced, and left an imprint of integrity on the files.

Dropcap OnAt the other end of the spectrum lies a different reality. The urban street, which considers itself a victim, and is proud of a vanguard role in any protest, leaps to take advantage of the culture of corruption whenever it gets a chance to make a personal side deal. It will not, for instance, pay a fine when it breaks the law; it will bargain with a constable for a corruption rate of escape. There is a story going around in Delhi, which is funny without being a joke. Traffic police are now demanding Rs 200 as bribe for a violation instead of Rs 50, and calling it the Anna Hazare rate. Such cynicism would not survive a day if the holier-than-thou driver of the car decided to pay the fine of Rs 500 instead. It takes two sides to complete a transaction.

Do not dismiss this as petty crime. Culture is the aggregation of moral snowflakes. They might seem individually insubstantial, but when they congeal into ice a nation can become snowbound.

 

Add new comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.