I wrote once before about Raj Thakery and had a lively debate with a friend. My objection was simple – he broke a law, and he was not held accountable for it. For all my admiration for Batman, I certainly respect the fact that he is always portrayed as an anti-hero by the writers. A moral conflict that is never really quite resolved.
This month it is the Jan Lokpal Bill in vogue. I understand that the laws we have are not sufficient. I understand that there is a need for anti-corruption law reform. But what we really, truly, desperately and urgently need, is the ability to enforce the law. I took some time to go over the Jan Lokpal Bill discussion on the site, and most of it sounds like one of my algorithm-proving design documents (first we send an integer as a parameter, then we check the integer for non-negativity, thereby ensuring it is always >= 0.) My computer, fortunately, is 100% reliable in performing that integer non-negativity check, which is why the algorithm works. That isn’t how India works though. We have rules. We have the law. It isn’t being followed.
I wrote before about Middle-class morality, and how we like to believe we’re better than everyone else. There is a reason why Gandhi was such a hard-ass on most people. Before criticizing someone else, he was willing to criticize himself. After he was done with identifying all his own faults, we would narrow down on exactly what it is he wants out of others. The fight with the British was distinctly different from what is happening today, and it didn’t quite begin as an Independence struggle. If I remember correctly, “Quit India”, was a late-comer to the party once he realized every other recourse had been attempted and proven unsuccessful.
The original conflict, the same as in South Africa was, “If we are under the British rule, we are British citizens. Consequently, we must be subject to British rule. We must enjoy all the rights, previledges and responsibilities of British rule. We want British rule. We _demand_ British rule to the last letter of the law.” This isn’t all that different from the American argument either. It started with demanding a colonial representation in the British Parliament, we they were to pay British taxes. When the Brits refused, did they make demands for independence from the British rule.
What is happening in India is similar, but not the same. Unlike the British, there are constitutional laws designed to protect us from corrupt officials. There is law designed to achieve a lot. What is lacking, is the implementation of the law. Now logically speaking, if the law were implemented, we would never find ourselves in this predicament to begin with. The Parliament represents the Will of the people. Some would claim that isn’t true. I had an argument with my mom about this yesterday, and I must disagree. The Prime Minister is right. The Parliament has no obligation to table a bill they don’t want to. If that is not the will of the people of a constituency, the MP would be afraid of not being reelected. It is a self-regulating system. The interpretation against Anna Hazare, that they are holding the country hostage is not all that far-fetched. Democracy is a hard pill to swallow when it doesn’t go our way.
The first thing I did to uncover more, was to read the FAQ on the website www.indiaagainstcorruption.org. One of the more disturbing statements on that site was, “The government’s agreeing to Anna’s demands was a democratic (not coerced) victory because the tiny fraction of the people of India who participated in the action represented the hearty desires of the masses against corruption.” I find that statement a bit presumptuous. I could say Osama Bin Laden’s tiny fraction who participated in the action against the US represented the hearty desires of the masses. In fact that’s exactly what Osama himself claimed. If we are to be a democracy, and a representative democracy at that, we can never presume anything. If an inconvenient law, rule, measure is taken against us, we must live by it because that is what we are signing up for. First, we must look at the election process – a lot of measures which benefited the masses have made it for 60 years. If the masses want it, it happens.
So either of two things is happening. Either election process is screwed up – in which case, if the very laws that are supposed to protect our democracy are not enforced, what makes you think any array of new laws would be enforced? Or, as the government is saying, the lack of introduction of the bill is, in fact, the will of the people.
There’s a reason I say this. Are the masses truly against corruption? Do you know that there have been plenty of law-enforcing people I’ve seen in my life, that the masses have kicked out of office? Arun Bhatia is my classic example. We speak of lack of infrastructure in our city of Pune (where I was born.) We speak with cynicism of all that could be done if the city planning laws were followed. Arun Bhatia became the commissioner of Pune for exactly 48 hours. As soon as he took office, and began enforcing the law, the masses – yes we’re speaking of the masses – the common masses – the regular middle classes, lower-income classes, upper classes, etc. – EVERYONE kicked him out of office in 48 hours. What does that say about the will of the masses? In fact, if I had heard that not a lot of people were against corruption, I’d readily believe it. To think that people from my city of birth are against corruption is a joke! Did they hold agitations to enforce the city planning laws? Did they hold agitations to enforce laws against a certain faction that went into people’s homes and beat them up? I know hundreds of “middle classes” that lie and cheat on their income taxes. What right do you think they have of holding someone else accountable? Why should a politician be treated by a different law? Why must he not get the right to lie and cheat? Why the double standard?
What I’m leading into, is this – if we do pass a bill, will it be enforced? What happens when hundreds of these middle classes are caught in land-deals or property purchases whose value is not honestly declared? What happens when hundreds of these people’s undeclared income is brought under investigation? Will we ignore it? Will we demand that it is inconvenient to us, and it must not be enforced?
This is a very real and dangerous possibility, that may bind our country in chains for another century with a big grand farce. Do the masses with the candles on the streets realize the consequences for themselves? This is not about the Members of Parliament or the Chief Ministers or the Prime Minister. This one’s going to hit home, and hit us all where it hurts. Illegal land deals. Illegal constructions. Illegal electricity bill manipulations. Illegal cooking gas cylinders. Undeclared incomes of doctors, lawyers, businessmen, farmers. I’m not sure all those supporters have thought this through. The fight is politically and diplomatically framed against politicians, and we’re all up in arms “against” an entity that we have clearly bounded and defined. I know plenty of people who have moved vehicles across state boundaries without paying the proper taxes. It is because of a corrupt cop who is happy to take $2 that they avoid paying heavy fines. Would they really want that corruption gone? When it starts to hit us, we’re going to demand leaner laws. We’re going to have talk shows and debates about confiscating whether a poor farmer’s undeclared income is ‘fair’. We’re going to cave in. And like the host of other laws that exist, we will have another one that won’t be taken seriously.
Visibility is a big part of the Jan Lokpal bill being promoted. Allegedly, it will allow corruption to be brought to light, which implies that we don’t yet know that India has corruption. Do you really buy that? Seriously? So you’re sayimg, there is corruption in India, not because it is not prevented, but rather because people don’t _know_ that it happens? Are you kidding me?!
To prevent the Jan Lokpal from abusing its powers, there will be populist measures like video recordings of meetings. We’re back to the point above. Do you think I don’t act against police abuses because I don’t know they happen? Do I not prosecute people in power because there is lack of evidence? So that given a video recording of a misdeed, I’m better equipped to fight irregularities there? I’m afraid of the kind of world we live in, if this belief is widespread.
I can’t prosecute those who abuse powers, because I don’t have the means to. Whether I have a video tape or not, I don’t have the time, resources or guarantee of remaining alive long enough, to fight a case in the courts. Visibility was never the problem. I remember in my own University, I had evidence of breaking of rules and regulations by the director. I have a hatred for that entire institution not because I didn’t have video recordings, but because I could find nobody who would act on the evidence that did exist!
Such populist measures frighten me because if I ever do have a grievance, I will have that video recording thrown in my face, and told to shut up because it shows no irregularity.
Enforce, Enforce, Enforce:
I love the support this issue is getting. I know people are pissed. I know people are frustrated. We’ve had enough. We taken this for over six decades. More bills and laws and authorities are not the way to go. We need to enforce what we have. Enforce laws. Enforce rules. I’m totally in support of adding new laws. But do so consciously knowing what we are all giving up. The sacrifice isn’t the fasts we’ll do, or the protests we’ll hold in the safety of American cities (for us NRIs), or the candles we’ll light. The sacrifice we’ll give up is our own little bribes we’re so used to.
We must ENFORCE! if this is ever to work. Sadly, I’m not convinced that’s going to happen, but am holding out hope that I be proven wrong. I’ll get back to you in one year and we shall see where we stand.