Bihar shows anything’s possible

The first bout for the Lokpal Bill has been won by the people and Anna Hazare, but it is still early to guess what shape the bill will eventually take. Even while Mr Hazare was recovering from his 12-day fast in hospital, he kept firing missiles directed at Parliament on the right of the electorate to reject provisions in the official bill.
There will be demands on several issues and I think both Team Anna and the UPA, along with the Opposition, have sufficient time to think and deliberate.
All sides concede that corruption is an important issue. Though it spans a vast spectrum of activities, as a start the UPA and state governments could curtail the “discretionary” powers of ministers and chief ministers, like discretionary funds, allotments of gas stations and issue of gas coupons, licences etc.
The coal scam in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh is a case in point, as are the benefits given to the son of Tamil Nadu governor Surjit Singh Barnala in supply of CCTVs and other equipment.
Such stories will keep surfacing and the political system will continue to be battered unless leaders decide to take action and save their political careers from the wrath of the public.
Many commentators have written about the middle class’ anger and involvement in the anti-corruption movement in rather disparaging tones. Here is an extract from an email I received, describing the routine of the aam aadmi:
“He gets up in the morning. He may or may not have slept well as there was no electricity at night for several hours and in the morning there was no water in the taps. He boards a bus, which is overcrowded and is being driven on roads that are potholed. As he rides to work he reflects on his life...”
“His life savings are invested in a small plot of land. He wants to construct a small house and that’s when his nightmare begins — the officer refuses to accept his ‘valuations’ and asks him to pay additional stamp duty. But, for a ‘small fee’, the officer will ignore the guidelines. Once the aam aadmi has crossed this hurdle, he stops at the next one — to register the land. Here, too, he must pay officials, and then again when he submits his plans for the construction of the house. Once the construction is done, he has to pay for the NOC even if he hasn’t violated a single rule...”
“The aam aadmi is angry. He is not sure of the quality of the food he and his family consume and the medicines he purchases. He pays for a passport, for a gas connection, for a ration card, for an FIR, for his child’s admission in school. The fair-price shops he goes to are anything but fair. The weighing scales are tipped in favour of cheats and the oil is adulterated. Where is the time to fight? Where will he begin?”
The note goes into several pages and lists, among other things, corruption and extortion in sales tax and excise offices, bribes for public sector jobs and recruitment in the police service… the list is endless and you can feel the intensity of the anger. No wonder the “Anna cap” is so much in demand.
I must admit that I have serious apprehensions about several provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill and reservations about the methods used by Team Anna, but I agree with their observations on corruption.
I spent the last few days in Patna, a city I know well. The changes there in just one year are “magical” — law and order has been restored and most of the mafia elements are in jail or in hiding; the roads have been fixed and buses arrive on time. Even electricity supply has improved.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is spoken of with respect as his sincerity is visible on the ground. If Bihar can change, then almost anything is possible with good and honest governance.
Decisions in any system are taken by a small group, and in the UPA’s case, this should have been the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, with inputs from the party.
I do not believe in the blame-game but if there was any “game changer” in the anti-corruption movement, it was the decision to arrest Mr Hazare at the crack of dawn, before any law was violated. I cannot believe anyone with even elementary knowledge of politics would have taken this decision. The government closes ranks as it must, but an extended vacation is in order for the “official” who took this decision.
The UPA’s credibility has been dented, and the Prime Minister’s authority undermined. Just look at the reaction to the sports bill, which has been rejected by the Cabinet. There are strong vested interests in the BCCI, which is registered as a charity. Several senior and junior ministers have a stake in the BCCI. They can continue to hold these positions but should choose between this and a ministry. Times have changed so why should the BCCI be exempted from the RTI? The yearly accounts of the BCCI must be audited and subject to public scrutiny. Sports minister Ajay Maken will have full public support on this one because India is wearing the Anna cap! But he has violated Cabinet norms by discussing issues in the media and this is bad for governance.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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