Tuesday, June 21, 2011

India and Transparency Revolution

            The defence minister, A. K. Antony, said it all, very aptly and very succinctly. India is going through a transparency revolution, he said, but not everyone is ready. This is the most honest statement to have come out from any important public functionary. His squeaky clean image could only have granted him the courage of conviction to say what, one reckons, is not the blasé and stereotypical refrain of a person in high perch. It is a rare, if also a very prescient, statement.
“Our country is passing through a transparency revolution. Walls of secrecy are crumbling gradually. But politicians, bureaucracy, judiciary, business people, armed forces and journalists are still not ready for this transition to transparency,” he said. The present logjam in the drafting of the Lokpal Bill needs to be looked at against this backdrop. It is not so much a fight between the Civil Society and the Government, but a fight between the Old Order and the New Concept. The Old Order refuses to change, not because it, like everything else, resists change, but because it knows that this change (in particular) is like nothing else in our nation’s memory; it is fraught with incalculable and dire possibilities –past, present and future.
Roll your mind back to an email doing the rounds in cyber world. “Indians are poor but INDIA is not a poor country,” says one of the Swiss Bank directors. He says that “280 lakh crore” of Indian money is deposited in Swiss banks which can be used for “tax-less” budget for 30 yrs. It can offer jobs to 60 crore Indians. It can help build 4-lane roads from any village to Delhi; it can provide free power supply to more than 500 social projects. Every citizen can be paid a monthly sum of Rs. 2000/- for 60 years. There is no need of World Bank and IMF loan. And: “We’ve full right to this corrupt money stashed abroad.”
If this is the past, the present too is not too inspiring for the Old Order. The apparitions of Kalmadi, Raja, and Kanimozhi, not to speak of the lesser lights, as these big fishes fry in Tihar in the height of Delhi summer, continue to haunt, ravage, and stalk popular imagination. Nor does the future hold any promise. The RTI has already made a serious dent, limiting public servants’ freewheeling dalliance – and, especially now with the magnum scams making them aware of potential future threat – were they to stray off the strait path. Any punitive action professionally imparted, with the time-tested influence-peddling to stall and dissipate charges missing, isn’t very appetizing. Therein lies the rub.
Typically, this is vintage Hegelian dialectic – the process to reconcile contradictions, in this case of historical processes and transitional inevitability. Future historians would note that the Defence Minister was clairvoyant in providing an answer before the die had been cast in Anno Domini 2011. “They’ll have to follow the transition and I don’t think anybody can take any step in a different direction,” he says. “You cannot stop this transparency revolution. It is percolating to all walks of life in India. That is the beauty of Indian democracy…Nothing is permanent in a democracy. Change is a must.”
            The spirit of the time goes against the Old Order. Today all-round, endemic corruption has been topped off by mega scams. The ever-enlarging phalanx of educated Indians, swelling outside the government employ and granting this new middle class legitimacy, is bristling at the quotidian corruption that it confronts. With disposable income-in-hand and with multiple hedonistic avenues available in an emerging economy, they are short on patience, brooking no roadblocks on their path they perceive is otherwise laden with good life. True, they may not understand the nitty gritty and nuances of the Lokpal Bill, but one thing they know: the way to future betterment lies in a corruption-free India. And this can never happen unless they too participate and make themselves counted. That explains why the youth rallied behind Anna Hazare during his Jantar Mantar fast in April 2011 and made the nation sit up and take note. India’s demographic dividend where youth is the lynchpin cannot be wished away.
Let’s examine the two important sticking points: Must the Lokpal embrace the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary? The Old Order still tenuously holds on to its antediluvian ideas to insulate these two categories from the searching eyes of transparency. If a Prime Minister under investigation is rendered hors de combat in running the country, a Chief Minister too would similarly be in his own State when under a cloud. In effect: while all are same in the eyes of the law, one, yes, is a tad higher – almost a colonial parody of I am George Nathaniel Curzon/A very superior person! And our parliamentary democracy patterned after the British model has drifted off from the essence of first among equals, primus inter pares!
Judiciary, higher or lower, is constituted of men from the same stock who populate every other service. Their DNA, thereby, is no different from others. In an ideally configured social contract envisioned through transaction of business rules, every service provider must render corruption-free service and do the work of his station that carries its inherent occupational hazards and allurements. This is as much applicable to the judiciary as to others. If every job is a job to be performed professionally, the retributions too should and must be similar. By similar the allusion is to transparency, fair play and level playing field.
It is well to remember that as events unfold – as indeed they already have – in India and as the inexorability of human will surges ahead, there is no holding back of history. A citizen roused is worse than a woman spurned. The New Concept of supremacy of the ordinary citizen has taken root. Yet these new ideas are nothing new. During the special session of parliament to commemorate 50 years of India’s Independence (26th August-1st September, 1997), a National Agenda to eradicate corruption, criminalization, casteism and communalism was adopted. Also, passed unanimously by both Houses of Parliament, was a resolution of a Second Freedom Struggle to implement the National Agenda. Today’s movement is only a re-averment of our past national resolve. Isn’t it time we gracefully accepted the remorseless march of history rather than obfuscate the issue with ideas that even fifteen years ago were thirty years out of date?

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