Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Fast & the Corrupt

Disclaimer: - The following are my views based on what I saw/read/observed during the past week and I am no expert in these matters.

Earlier this week, the entire country was in an excited state (at least thats what the media made us believe). Anna Hazare had written a letter to the Prime Minister informing him of his decision to go on a fast for a corruption free India. On getting no repsonse, he went on a fast which lasted till the demands on the Jan Lokpal bill had been met. What was amazing was the amount of support that he had been getting. Anna Hazare became the rallying point against corruption for one week. The question reamins, Now What?
The Indian public had been rightly fed up with the seemingly unending series of corruption scandals being reported. As someone rightly put - People wanted to do something, the Anna Hazare led Lokpal agitation seemed to be that something, so people jumped on to the cause. I can safely say most of his newly acquired supporters had neither heard of him or the Lokpal bill. But they came out in support immediately after the World Cup euphoria. Now my question here is, did the people who rallied behind this actually believe in the movement or they felt that something had to be done and this seemed like that "something"?
I might be sounding cynical, but I felt the support being shown was not for the cause but because it seemed the "cool" thing to do. Putting an "India Against Corruption" badge on your facebook display picture (which had the "Bleed Blue" badge till last week) became a sort of fashion statement over the past couple of days. And status messages/tweets saying "Anna Hazare is a rockstar" seem meaningless when most are not even aware of the cause he was fighting for. The social media seemed to have a belief that this fast was going to be the panacea of all problems when it was only a start.
Then there were people who tried to jump on the bandwagon. Some of the politicians with the worst cases of  corruption against them saying they support Anna Hazare. They were rightly turned away. The chief opposition party supporting the man only because it was a chance to score some brawny points over the government. There was a long list of film personalities coming in support. Lalit Modi tweeting support for the cause was comic to say the least. He was asking people to hold placards during the IPL matches. Wonder if he would have done the same if he had been the commissioner.
Then there was this disturbing trend on asking every personality to support the cause. A random article on a certain person would be filled with comments like why isn't he supporting this cause. An article on IPL had comments which stated - "none of the cricketers are supporting this, so lets boycott IPL". Seriously, this made no sense to me. You can't just force anybody to support you. This sort of jingoism probably defeats the very idea of satyagraha.
Now for the Battle against Corruption. Most of us not only indulge in but also actively encourage corrupt practices. Paying off the traffic police for minor violations rather than paying the full amount of fine. Submitting falsified HRA/Medical bills/Reimbursement claims to save on taxes. Applying for driving license/ passport through back door channels. Not taking the bill in lieu of a reduced price. These are just a few instances. Looking at all this somehow the battle against corruption starts sounding hypocritical. There was a nice tweet on this subject "Isn't it hypocritical that you sign an online petition supporting the fight against corruption using a pirated Windows OS?" Pretty much summed it up.
Now on a funny note. Indians abroad also planned to take out protest marches and candle light rallies. Given the recent events in Africa and Middle East, quite likely this might trigger the fall of some other government.

P.S. On re-reading, the above post has started sounding like me trying to do "something".

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Fight Against Corruption - Anna Hazare's Letter to the PM

Here is a reproduction of Anna Hazare's letter to the Prime Minister. Stated his points simply. Its good to see the support he is getting and hope this becomes the rallying point for the bigger fight against corruption.

Dear Dr. Singh,

I have started my indefinite fast at Jantar mantar. I had invited you also to fast and pray for a corruption free India on 5th April. Though I did not receive any reply from you, I am hopeful that you must have done that.
I am pained to read and hear about government's reaction to my fast. I consider it my duty to clarify the points raised on behalf of Congress party and the government by their spokespersons, as they appear in media:

1. It is being alleged that I am being instigated by some people to sit on this fast. Dear Manmohan Singh ji, this is an insult to my sense of wisdom and intelligence. I am not a kid that I could be "instigated" into going on an indefinite fast. I am a fiercely independent person. I take advice from many friends and critics, but do what my conscience directs me to do. It is my experience that when cornered, governments resort to such malicious slandering. I am pained that the government, rather than addressing the issue of corruption, is trying to allege conspiracies, when there are none.

2. It is being said that I have shown impatience. Dear Prime Minister, so far, every government has shown complete insensitivity and lack of political commitment to tackling corruption. 62 years after independence, we still do not have independent and effective anti‐corruption systems. Very weak versions of Lokpal Bill were presented in Parliament eight times in last 42 years. Even these weak versions were not passed by Parliament. This means, left to themselves, the politicians and bureaucrats will never pass any law which subjects them to any kind of objective scrutiny. At a time, when the country has witnessed scams of unprecedented scale, the impatience of the entire country is justified. And we call upon you, not to look for precedents, but show courage to take unprecedented steps.

3. It is being said that I have shown impatience when the government has "initiated" the process. I would urge you to tell me - exactly what processes are underway?

a. You say that your Group of Ministers are drafting the anti‐corruption law. Many of the members of this Group of Ministers have such a shady past that if effective anticorruption systems had been in place, some of them would have been behind bars. Do you want us to have faith in a process in which some of the most corrupt people of this country should draft the anti‐corruption law?

b. NAC sub‐committee has discussed Jan Lokpal Bill. But what does that actually mean? Will the government accept the recommendations of NAC sub‐committee? So far, UPA II has shown complete contempt for even the most innocuous issues raised by NAC. 

c. I and many other friends from India Against Corruption movement wrote several letters to you after 1st December. I also sent you a copy of Jan Lokpal Bill on 1st December. We did not get any response. It is only when I wrote to you that I will sit on an indefinite fast, we were promptly invited for discussions on 7th March. I wonder whether the government responds only to threats of indefinite fast. Before that, representatives of India Against Corruption had been meeting various Ministers seeking their support for the Jan Lokpal Bill. They met Mr Moily also and personally handed over copy of Jan Lokpal to him. A few hours before our meeting with you, we received a phone call from Mr Moily's office that the copy of Jan Lokpal Bill had been misplaced by his office and they wanted another copy. This is the seriousness with which the government has dealt with Jan Lokpal Bill.

d. Dear Dr Manmohan Singh ji, if you were in my place, would you have any faith in the aforesaid processes? Kindly let me know if there are any other processes underway. If you still feel that I am impatient, I am happy that I am because the whole nation is feeling impatient at the lack of credible efforts from your government against corruption.

4. What are we asking for? We are not saying that you should accept the Bill drafted by us. But kindly create a credible platform for discussions - a joint committee with at least half members from civil society suggested by us. Your spokespersons are misleading the nation when they say that there is no precedent for setting up a joint committee. At least seven laws in Maharashtra were drafted by similar joint committees and presented in Maharashtra Assembly. Maharashtra RTI Act, one of the best laws of those times, was drafted by a joint committee. Even at the centre, when 25,000 tribals came to Delhi two years ago, your government set up a joint committee on land issues within 48 hours. You yourself are the Chairperson of that committee.

This means that the government is willing to set up joint committees on all other issues, but not on corruption. Why?

5. It is being said that the government wants to talk to us and we are not talking to them. This is utterly false. Tell me a single meeting when you called us and we did not come. We strongly believe in dialogue and engagement. Kindly do not mislead the country by saying that we are shunning dialogue.

We request you to take some credible steps at stemming corruption. Kindly stop finding faults and suspecting conspiracies in our movement. There are none. Even if there were, it does not absolve you of your responsibilities to stop corruption.

With warm regards,
K B Hazare

Hoping and Praying that this is a start to reduce corruption.