Friday, October 21, 2011

Let Him Who is Without Sin Cast the First Stone!

One of the haunting memories of Anna’s Fast unto Death at Ramlila Ground was the rhetorical performance of Ms Kiran Bedi against the Indian Parliament and its members.  She had no qualms in accusing all the parliamentarians in general and thereby insulting the very people who elected those representatives.  She did not find it illogical or objectionable to adopt the ‘Anna is India’ call (or to defend it subsequently) or in reducing the popular anger against corruption into a ‘We vs You’ battle.

She along with other prominent members of Team Anna had no problem in adopting the ‘My Way or Highway’ attitude in prevention of corruption. 

I have always maintained (in the light of my experiences in Government as well as private sector) that corruption is a deeply ingrained trait in us Indians.  We do not think twice before paying bribes to get even the smallest comforts like avoiding a traffic ticket or reservation in a railway journey of just one night. We do not find it illegal or unethical to overtake a queue by paying bribes, even if it is our own brothers and sisters that we are overtaking in the process.

What follows logically from the above premise is that in order to remove corruption from our society we need three pronged strategy:

  • Bring about a cultural change in our people by imbibing a sense of responsibility for corruption.  Make all of us realise that corruption is the collective result of our individual actions and not something limited to the political or administrative leadership alone.
  • Remove the opportunities for corruption by automating the processes and reducing discretionary powers of decision makers.  Income Tax filings and Registrar of Companies filings are two immediate examples that I am personally aware of, where automation resulted in reducing corruption.
  • Carry out overall judicial reforms to fast track criminal cases in general and corruption cases in particular.  

There are many sub-strategies that can be adopted under these three main strategies.  For example, an Ombudsman or Lokpal is only one of the sub-strategies of the main strategy of judicial reforms for speeding up trials.  For details, please click this link.

The biggest fault of Anna’s movement, in my opinion, was to reduce the whole fight against corruption into one single strategy, i.e., adoption of what they call Jan Lokpal, as if this Jan Lokpal is a panacea for all the illnesses of this nation. They also shifted the focus away from the bribe givers (and even majority of bribe takers) by reducing corruption itself as something practised by a certain group of people at the very top.   Increased policing by Lokpal will no doubt bring about a fear, of getting caught, in the minds of wrongdoers. But to expect a Lokpal to remove the corruption from its roots is living in fools’ paradise.

This obsession with Jan Lokpal resulted in Team Anna indirectly aiding, in the Hisar by-election, a person and party which is accused of serious corruption, solely on the ground that they have pledged their support to Jan lokpal.  In other words, it all reduced to ‘You support my Jan Lokpal, I will support you in elections, no matter how corrupt you are’.  

This obsession also resulted in questioning the very credentials of all those who found fault with their strategy and stamped them all as paid media or cheerleaders of ruling government. Even I had to face insults and Deshdrohi calls from their followers for daring to raise some questions and concerns on the methods and demands of Team Anna.

It is in this light that we have to look at the report by Indian Express about the fudging of travel Bills by Ms Kiran Bedi.  Ms Bedi who herself was a senior law enforcement officer must definitely have known that what she is accused of is a serious matter involving moral turpitude.

Ms Bedi admitted her misdemeanour, but instead of apologising to lakhs of Indians who trusted her, chose to defend her action with the fig leaf that she did so for the purpose of some noble cause.  If we accept that logic, what better noble cause than funding the elections and thereby advancing our democracy?  The poor politicos who spent their money in enabling us to exercise our democratic rights are no doubt, serving a noble cause.  In the process, even if they have to fudge some accounts like Ms Bedi or seek other not so noble sources of income, can we blame them?  If this logic is sought to be defended by saying that the amounts involved in both cases vary in size, I wouldn’t by that.  

Kiran Bedi’s supporters are now busy justifying her on the ground that the act involved in was rather too small to warrant any attention.  Well she is now caught in a small activity. But having established her willingness to indulge in illegal and unethical measures to make money, how can we be so sure that she herself has not used more serious measure to make money while in power and out of it?  Also, A Raja who manipulated some process to gain undue monetary advantage and Ms Bedi who fudged accounts for the same purpose are similarly guilty; morally if not legally.

We have a judicial system to deal with corruption.  The present system has proved effective enough when there is a will to deal with corruption issues. The very fact that some of the top leaders including cabinet ministers and Chief Ministers are in jail for corruption is indicative of this fact.   The new system being proposed is radical in nature and goes against the very basic constitutional scheme.  Therefore, it is only natural for informed people to be careful in accepting those proposals that can have far reaching impact on our political system. 

When individuals or groups set out as crusaders in their fight against corruption, they are on the one hand accusing the system with inability or unwillingness to deal with corruption and on the other hand proclaiming to the world that they are different from the other people accused of indulging in or supporting corruption.

Therefore, people expect a higher standard from the crusaders.  More so, in the case of people like Ms Bedi, who goes around and passes judgement on others, even if no court ever held them guilty.  Therefore, Ms Bedi and her followers have to come with better explanations or at least an apology to the nation, for her mistakes. 

Finally, it is naive to expect the establishment and/or government not to point out the misdemeanours of those who accuse them of corruption.  It is also naive to expect the independent voices to keep quite when persons from either side of the fight are caught with their pants down; merely on the excuse that such questioning will probably help the other side. (After all, didn’t Team Anna tell us that their anti-Congress call is not in support of their opponents?).

We need a movement against corruption. Let us all get together, irrespective of what we did in the past, and jointly fight the menace of corruption.  If that is not acceptable, let those who are without sin throw the first stones.  Let not petty thieves lead the movements against other thieves, merely on the qualification that their thefts are only petty in nature.

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