Analysing the phenomena
of mass upsurge
By Sanjay Kaul
It has now been analyzed threadbare that what looked like a comprehensive outpouring of public sympathy for Anna Hazare’s campaign to press for his team’s version of the Jan Lokpal Bill is really the public venting of outrage at the spread and depth of the scourge of corruption the people find themselves mired in today.
The campaign and its response, and the response of the Government to it have been exemplified by mis-starts, mistakes and misanthropy, to say the least. It is reckoned that a lot of the support that Anna Hazare has been able to garner is rooted in the obduracy of the Government in a repetitive pattern of insolent behaviour which also saw a scandalous attack on Baba Ramdev and his followers earlier.
But it would be a mistake to see this outpouring as an indictment only of the Government on the Lokpal Bill: it would also be misreading the mood of the people. Above all it would be an omission of critical value to miss that Anna’s movement challenges not only the state for its antagonism to the more comprehensive Lokpal Bill, but that it aims at the larger issue of political behaviour, reform and leadership.
The same sentiment is salient in the public response which while severely castigating the incumbent government and the dominant ruling party, tended to tar all political parties and politicians with the same brush. While it is not to suggest that this is a complete truth, the trend of public angst towards the quality of politics practiced for the last few decades is a clear signal for parties and politicians to introspect.
Be that as it may, it is also clear that the current campaign and its mobilisation is not all-pervasive considering the bias its exhibits towards an urban centric population and its popular modes of protest. That is not to suggest that the impact of corruption is not felt in other strata of society, but just to present the limitations of a sustainable movement against corruption if left circumscribed here.
That apart we have seen sections of social leaders choosing to express disaffection for the campaign and the movement based on unconvincing theories but reflecting discomfort with its urban/upper class orientation.
On the other hand, the original drafters of the bill, the NCPRI, and the NAC and other valuable sections of the intelligentsia as well as the political spectrum is emphatic that the provisions of the bill must eventually be the subject matter of deliberations for the standing committee and finally of the Parliament.
It is a concern that between the stress of hardened positions and subsequent negotiations, the energy of this mobilisation might be laid to waste and the real opportunity for reform may be permanently lost. If corruption is the result, as is being portrayed by the team, of politics, then it stands to reason that political reform must be the target of correction and as is now being more universally accepted, a mere bill is no panacea.
In the absence of any attempt to federate the energised youth, there is danger that the core of the movement might be reduced to the specifics of the bill and no more. For, it is not by events that a movement is sustained, but by organisation and architecture.
The real challenge this movement poses is not therefore to the bill or the government but to the texture of politics in general and it is that which must be our focus if we are to make use of this massive mobilisation of public opinion. It is my interest therefore to bring focus back to the essential subject – of probity, of ethical conduct and the intent to establish new benchmarks for high quality politics.
If we must take away something from this movement it has to be the learning that India has changed and that its young citizens are looking for a new grammar of politics and a new breed of politicians. Not for them the old wine in new bottles or the blood line of past, not for them the in-bred feudalism of yesteryears but a new paradigm that puts citizens first and accords accountability a premium.
But do we take up that challenge? Are we made of the material that Anna and his youth generation seeks?
I wager that we do. That there are in the political spectrum, as there is in the corporate world or the burgeoning enterprises of growing India, people of high merit, high values and those who make the cut.
But do we have the mechanisms, the apparatus and the procedures necessary to attract, mentor and deploy them? Maybe not completely, but the process is on. In the BJP there has been a subtle but sure shift of strategy and for those who may not have noticed it the party is reorienting itself to brace for a new generation of policy consumers. And that has required preparing for a new generation of political aspirants. If at all it is necessary to say it, I am proof of that shift.
Can we take this forward with enough speed and size? Yes we can. In spite of setbacks like Karnataka and the occasional compromise of character by someone or the other, I believe we can. But we can have even more traction in this enterprise if the motivated young men and women who have trudged to parks and maidans in the last week are prepared to not let their enthusiasm and energy waver and if they agree to become part of a larger movement – a movement which is easy to target and pillory, but a movement that nevertheless is the only way good governance can be delivered – the political movement.
It requires all those hundreds and thousands of young men and women who have thronged public parks and jostled on streets on marches and protests in support of this movement to enlist and take charge. It needs them to unify in the purpose they rose to meet – and to take this movement forward and not let the moment melt away. We must ask them to join us in establishing the order they want to see—ask them to be the change they want to see.
I would say to them that it is only by flooding the political system with your sense of goodness and honesty that you can impact political behaviour – so flood the gates, enlist and overtake the political mainstream. Don’t just stand by the side chanting slogans. Be the slogan you chant.
But that is only half the problem. Political reform is only part of the solution, for without constant oversight nothing ever works well for long. In that, the role of citizenry is essential and it is only in the absence of any institutional harness for constant public consultation and engagement that such a travesty of public will takes place.
The day we outsource governance without establishing a monitoring mechanism is the day we give corruption space to fester. It is not without reason that it has been said that a democracy where the polity meets not as often as each week is never in a healthy state.
In Delhi, the BJP’s experiment with devolving power at the civic level by establishing consultation committees where residents and their elected representatives meet every month and list priorities of development for their wards is one fine example of how corruption is kept in check and how the principles of transparency, accountability and probity are inbuilt as a mechanism in governance.
In this recently launched initiative under the Mayor’s office, the BJP leadership in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has instituted a Resident Ward Committee scheme that is a simple mechanism to integrate public consultation in an unostentatious fashion in normal day to day functioning of the city. The RWC, as it is called in short, is a committee made up of one member from each Resident Welfare Association that falls within that ward and the local councilor is the automatic Chairman of this committee.
Only two conditions prevail: One meeting every month; and Minutes recorded and forwarded to the Mayor’s office. A Convener selected by consensus calls meeting and records minutes. Just this two-step architecture presents us with a remarkable model for reorienting local governance. These consultative committees define the new outlines of the governance ecosystem where the pre-legislative consultation process is endemic and demands a debate without straining for the kind of attention the Lokpal bill needed.
The premise is simple and puts democracy back to work, for it is only by discussion, debate and dissent that democracy crawls forward. The problem with our democracy is not there is too much noise but that there too much chatter and too little talk. And the reason is not for any lack of anything except formalized structures conducive to the forward movement of ideas. The indiscipline of aimless banter can be tamed by the formality of procedures and precedents. Men can become statesmen when put to the task. The responsibility of charting a course gets a ship a Captain.
Given the conditions, people are capable of resolving issues, evaluating solutions and taking decisions. Given the conditions, elected representatives too respond to their electorate in the manner they are expected to. The RWC provides such enabling conditions that allows for engagement at the critical, basic levels of governance that in turn defuse the pyramidal build up of corruption and in response public angst and disgust.
It is now time that the RWC scheme is applied to every city in India. It is only then that we will see not just the beginning of a new dawn of good governance, but also of the end of corruption.
Varying versions of media reports abound but the sequence of events all through this episode from the first shot at fasting at jantar mantar by Anna Hazare down to the capitulation of the parliament is a study in how democratic institutions in India have pretended to be working while being progressively ossified into ineffectual architectural boulders rather than facilitating edifices of any worth.
(To be concluded)