The whole Jan Lokpal agitation brings me to write about politics after a long, long time.
It was partly intentional, this hiatus. There was a point when I was intensely political, but I discovered I was getting my blood pressure up every morning when I read the paper or the zillion rabble-rousing political blogs I was subscribed to, and even more so when I discussed the stuff I read with like-minded friends over lunch. Then more interesting things came along, and I thought I should give those things a fair try, and all I did with politics was to make jokes about current or past events.
But Anna Hazare drags me back.
Not just me, but various others are newly politically conscious. People who didn’t used to watch the news now watch the tamasha. People read newspapers more avidly now. More people talked about Rule 184 than about Rule 34 over the past couple of weeks.
I want to try and make sense of this craziness that has gripped the country.
It’s not a matter of surprise that a Gandhian with a rather universal single-point agenda gathers so much of a mob-like fan following… Gandhian, Fasting, Saying No To Corruption… predictable outcome. Why, even the famed dabbawalas of Mumbai struck work in a show of solidarity with him! It’s also not much of a surprise that the media are all gaga about him…. this is the guy who decided to break his fast in the past because the media couldn’t get to his village, and he has rather astute media advisors now, I’d imagine.
The real wonder here was that people don’t seem to have just a ‘Let’s what the tamasha’ sort of an attitude to this. You can give a movement all the publicity in the world, but the sort of attention it draws can only depend on its content. This is not one of those candlelight march sort of things, nor is it the ‘change your Facebook profile pic to Anna Hazare’ sort of thing. People seem genuinely into this. A friend of my sister’s wanted to go to Freedom Park and fast on her birthday. A seventeen-year-old. Fasting. On her birthday. Freedom Park. That’s some serious shite.
I really wonder why.
Every twenty or so years, some or the other movement seems to come to the forefront, mobilize youth and grown folk alike, throw up a few heroes and induct many more workers, who all go on to be the next generation of politicians. There was the Freedom movement at first, then the Jayaprakash Narayan one, where a lot of people who are at the forefront in politics today cut their teeth – Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Laloo Yadav, George Fernandes, Subramanian Swamy… and various others. Then we had Mandal and Ayodhya. Now, this.
I wonder what’s behind this phenomenon (If it can be judged as one.. I think I’m concluding too much from too little, but given that people conclude so much more from so much less usually, bear with me). I assume it has something to do with there being a whole new generation of youth with no political moorings every twenty years. Now I have my rightist political moorings, I’ve done my share of taking politics seriously and general rabble-mongering, even if it was only on numerous Orkut communities and this blog… if I had been a part of something bigger when I was in that phase, say, in the 2009 elections, there’s a good chance I’d’ve been interning with a political party… but that didn’t happen. The point is, I know where to direct my greviances now. I know who to vote for. Reading works of politicians and watching people like Subramanian Swamy use the system well has reinforced my faith in the system. It isn’t so for a lot of youth. They don’t know what to do, who to address with their ‘It’s the system, man!’ frustrations. I guess the glut in the number of such youth has peaked around now or something, due to which so many of them seem to identify with India Against Corruption. Right place, right time.
If the glut had occurred two years back, Lok Paritran or some such Youth-y party would have been the beneficiary of this largesse of political feeling. And if the glut was a few years away, Anna Hazare would have just been a joke and everyone would have dismissed Kejriwal as the guy in the last bench who thinks he’s going against the system whenever he back-talks a teacher.
What I’m saying is, the movement doesn’t find the people, the people find the movement. It is inevitable that we have some mass movement every now and then that the country needs to cool off all the latent political emotion.
So what can we do with this? This is just a hunch… more empirical study would be a good thing to have on this. If this hypothesis is indeed found to be true, political parties should watch for signs and then make sure to capitalize on this feeling of ‘revolution’ by recruiting heavily in colleges and urban centers. They can also fan this feeling of insecurity and make the country go to the poll just when this seems to be boiling over, and capitalize on it. A nice tool to have in their arsenal.
And now the more important question. Corruption? Seriously? What’s the deal? Aren’t we all corrupt at some level? Don’t the bribe-takers also come from the same places as we do? Do we really need an ombudsman?
I did used to think that there’s no point of a LokPal. Any ombudsman can be easily compromised, every man has a price. There’s no way this could stop big-ticket corruption. Why then, are people supporting this bill, apart from that they are all Sheeple?
I get reminded of the Jayanagar 4th Block RTO and the Registrar’s office. You couldn’t for the heck of you get anything done in either of those places without paying a bribe. The areas outside of these places used to be overrun with touts. Everyone there was corrupt, head to toe, end to end. I remember telling my mother about a classmate whose father worked at the RTO, following which my mother gave a look of disgust and said “Yeah, plenty of bribe money”.
And then the LokAyukta struck. They suspended a ton of people (or recommended for them to be suspended, and those recommendations were implemented), got in newer people from elsewhere, and those places remained clean for, I’d like to think, atleast a few years.
The allure of an independent entity is that they have few, if any, vested interests in that place, and are immune to influence because they aren’t in the system. It is easier for them to view these instances of corruption as just cases to be solved or people to be apprehended, and go about their job without worrying about interference. This is the side of an Independent Entity that people want to see. And these ‘new officers without vested interest’ have been successful in more than a few places, including movies, that people really want to give it a try.
Of course, not all is hunky-dory with getting a LokPal… those folks are human too, and they too can succumb to cold hard cash offered, and no way can they be very useful to counter big-ticket corruption.
And petty corruption is not something that takes place only with the bureaucrats… a couple of hundred when you’re speeding, a couple more to move files a little bit more faster, a few here and there because you’re lazy to get that document done and you need to get that government office work done today… that’s not new to any of us, is it? Especially since we know as well as the civil servants we bribe that it’s hard to sustain a family on that kind of a salary.
I’m ambivalent on the Lokpal thing, but I do know that automating things can go a long way in checking corruption. Take the human element out of everything, let everything just be a form you need to fill online, let every ration shop be a bunch of vending machines where you swipe your card, enter your PIN and get your dole. If you jump a red light, let the ticket come to your house after finding out your address from your license plate. Let there be emission test gates where you swipe your emission test certificate, failing which you need to pay a fine. Or have these police station kiosks where you have a videoconference sort of a thing with some police officer somewhere in the country who takes down your complaint, to use which you need your biometric ID. If there’s no human who controls what you get, neither can you bribe him, nor can he ask you for a bribe. And if you have any problems, you’ll be interacting with a call center guy somewhere who you have no clue about, and which call will possibly be monitored for quality control purposes.
There’s no way you can pass a couple of hundred under the table there. I’m sure people will find kickass ways to send and receive bribes, but we’ll deal with those when we get there.
What’s more, this will create a new generation of people who have no clue about how to go about bribing officers, and a bunch of officers who have no way to take bribes and are unfamiliar with the practice. It’d take a ton of stepping out of their comfort zone to do either of those things. So there.
And systemic reforms too. There’s CET which makes sure the meritorious get into a good college, but what about the ones with bad luck in the exams, who feel entitled to more because they had a perfect track record, but screwed up their math paper? They’ll obviously book seats in colleges, pay touts a heck load of money… unless you make a KSIT the same level as RVCE, unless there’s no steep gradient in the quality of institutions, this will definitely happen. There will obviously be a bunch of people who feel the system has screwed them over. The point of a well-designed system is to keep the proportion of such people low, because if they gain substantial strength, they will find extra-systemic means to gain what they want.
That apart, Kiran Bedi seems hormonal. I feel sorry for her having come to this point. It was so ironic that she was on the other side of the bars in Tihar. She’s one of those unfortunate people who have been totally screwed over by the system. Stay positive, Ms. Bedi, you still have a lot of spunk left in you.
And yeah, I’m a newly-minted fan of Dr. Subramanian Swamy, after his efforts in the 2G case. He seems totally badass and Machiavellian, an inspiring example of someone who uses the system to achieve his ends instead of simply ranting about it.
And his older daughter Gitanjali Swamy seems super inspiring in her own right… IITK Compsci, Berkeley PhD, Prof at Columbia and Harvard, and a string of startups… what’s not to admire?