Nation still needs a leader like Gandhi

Ironically as a controversial book questioned Mahatma Gandhi’s sexuality, Anna Hazare, a quintessential Gandhian, captured the national imagination by his fast over combating corruption, an issue dogging the United Progressive Alliance government.

He sought immediate enactment of legislation to appoint an ombudsman i.e.
Lokpal, the government disagreeing over its powers and independence. A simple Gandhian technique, met the power of electronic media, the social networking sites and popular revulsion over endless corruption scandals and the result was tumultuous. The government caught on the backfoot, turned mulish. How could it concede the power to legislate to self-appointed custodians of public good when that right vested in the elected representatives? The Jasmine Revolution triggered by the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi, which 28 days later, on January 11, 2011, ousted President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, had arrived in India.
The ouster of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the uprisings in Jordan, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen with the rulers still clutching to their chairs/thrones were a sign that the moral space for the common people in the Arab world had suddenly expanded, using Gandhian methods. India felt exempted from this virus as it was already a democracy, where periodic elections had the requisite cathartic effect, allowing the venting of popular emotions. The Anna Hazare tsunami challenges those assumptions.
A closer look at the socio-political factors engendering the upsurge in the Arab world is illuminating. The Economist magazine christens it the Shoe Throwers Index, listing the variables on a sliding scale as: population below age 25; years the government was in power; corruption and lack of democracy; Gross Domestic Product; censorship etc. The list thus derived coincides with the nations most in trouble. Add to that burgeoning economic inequality and oligarchs with billion-dollar sky-scrapers that can be seen by millions of shanty dwellers from their front door and the picture begins to resemble India. That is why Indians, young and old, rich and poor swarmed to the vigils, reclaiming the moral space the nation’s founding fathers had recovered from the British but has since woefully shrunk.
Half of South Asia’s 1.5 billion are below 25 years and three fourths live on less than $2 per day. Even in India migration from rural economy to jobs in the services and manufacturing sectors is mismatched, both on numbers and paucity of vocational skills. Surging Indian economy has accentuated economic disparity and amplified the scale of corruption, ranging from simple bribery to Radia-type influence peddling, or the Commonwealth Games’ patronage or finally a cosy alliance between the government, big business and the entire political elite, tantamount to crony capitalism. Political parties apportion Rajya Sabha seats to money bags, one recently apprehended carrying a cache to a poll bound state. US President Theodore Roosevelt, the scourge of robber barons at the dawn of 20th century, advised that “...to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesman of the day”.
India is a democracy, with a constitutional separation of powers and a rule of law. However, unprecedented generation of wealth is creating distortions. The Supreme Court supervising CBI’s 2G scam enquiry is a symptom that systemic collapse is resulting in ad hoc solutions, Take the UN Convention Against Corruption of 2003, which India signed but has not ratified. It prescribes, inter alia, the installation of anti-corruption bodies and election campaign reform. Mr Hazare has put his finger on the problem, the malaise however demands systemic reform and not the mere addition of another office.
Supervening authority to an empowered Lok Pal, as a roving conscience of the three branches of the state i.e. the executive, the judiciary and the legislature would be impractical and even dangerous. As Roman poet Juvenal warned in his Satires, “Who is to guard the guards themselves?” Institutions like the Central Bureau of Investigation, Central Vigilance Commission, Competition Commission etc. are controversial or ineffective as their success depends on who mans them.
Mr Hazare has proclaimed that reform has only begun and the agenda is long. Success may be difficult to repeat, as the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, Cairo, are realising. Rare it is when man and the moment combine, as it did at Jantar Mantar. Pandit Nehru once violently disagreed with Gandhiji over the withdrawal of an agitation that had turned violent but was beginning to hurt the British. If Ms Hazare can persist, the reform should include state funding of elections and campaign reform, making inner-party democracy mandatory to break the hereditary control of families over political parties and the debarring of criminals from electoral politics. Government will react even as the great reformer President Roosevelt did: “I do not represent the public interest: I represent the public”. Whether Mr Hazare can make public’s representatives mindful of public’s interest only time will tell, but the nation still needs a Gandhi and the world Gandhian inspiration is now established.

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