Originally Published 2011-06-17 00:00:00 Published on Jun 17, 2011
The Government and the political and bureaucratic class should be sensitive to the cause professed by the civil society and acknowledge that absence of accountability and responsibility could lead to anarchy of a more militant kind.
'Lok Pal' does not mean it has to cover all Indians!
The current course of the 'Lok Pal' discourse indicates that sooner than later we may have an institution that will cover all 1.2-billion Indians, rendering it unwieldy, unmanageable and lacking in focus, and consequently action. What had started off as a one-stop solution to graft in public life is being diluted to a level that the movement itself has begun lacking focus and direction if not seriousness.

Anna Hazare and others with him in the civil society movement should be consulting people who have been in the business, to learn more about how Governments function and how Governments function in India. Any scheme that is alien to the system is bound to fail owing to ignorance and consequent indifference on the part of the implementation authority at lower levels. The system needs to be strengthened and made enforceable and accountable. New schemes can even wait, after we have proof that all existing schemes have been exploited to the full and have been found to be inadequate.

In a way, even the original promise(s) on the Lok Pal has served little or no purpose. Until the Anna Hazare movement brought it to national focus at a crucial stage when corruption had become the talking-point one more time, people had been paying lip-service to the Lok Pal for long. The demand for engaging civil society in the drafting of the law has only made it easy to deflect and dilate, not reflect and react with consciousness and conscientiousness.

There is justification in having to hold political bosses and bureaucrats accountable and responsible on the corruption front as well as in terms of good governance. An inefficient but honest Government is as bad as an effective but corruption-ridden system. India is somewhere in between, having managed to have a mix of both. Some may argue it is a mix of the bad elements in both. It is cynical at best, unrelated to the complexities of governing India.

There is also truth in veiled allegations and constant criticism that hold the private sector and the civil society organisations, too, accountable. The 2-G scam, for instance, would not have happened had it not been for private players wanting to grease the palm of the decision-makers in Government. There have not been many instances in the country where bribe-giver has been penalised for the act, or the ill-gotten money and its source-funds confiscated or those concerned punished on this score. If some of the charges that have been levelled in the 2-G scam are upheld in the courts, then it flows that there are now legitimate ways of bribe-giving and bribe-taking, where black money plays no part.

The NGOs have laws of their own in terms of accountability to the authorities. They are often charged with being law unto themselves. Most thrive on foreign funds, and there is little or no transparency in terms of their own actions and activities. Independent of the accountability part, their relative responsibility to the cause that they claim to propagate at times becomes suspect. For instance, NGOs working on poverty-alleviation have CEOs whose take-away could alleviate poverty in whole communities. The affluence that some of them sport make their cause suspect, and methods questionable. So do with those fighting corruption in public life.

All this does not mean that we need to dilute the proposed Lok Pal Bill, to cover the private sector and the civil society organisations. There are enough laws and rules in this country, and institutions to enforce them. They need to be strengthened and held accountable. Civil society movements should keep watch on them, not interfere with the ordinary functioning of the Government, where the Constitution has guaranteed law-making as part of the ordinary functions of the Legislature. Rather, that is the core function of the Legislature.

Now that the civil society has taken a keen and overwhelming interest in issues of governance, they should be looking at strengthening and continuing the processes at all levels. They should evolve ways to hold 'public servants' accountable without holding the Government to ransom. Education and creation of an enlightened society, where family members would shun a corrupt parent or brother or sister could be an effective tool from within the society. Elections-2011 proves as much. How to take forward the movement should be the current concern of the civil society, not drafting of yet another law, which would remain toothless on paper after the initial euphoria had died down and the leaders of the current movement had lost steam.

The civil society should help identify sources of corruption in policy-making at the Government level and also at the implementation stage. Post-reforms, the high cost of professional education in the country along with greater exposure to better employability of equipped youth has led to an inherent scheme, where 'public servants' in their tens of thousands have begun justifying corruption as the only means, for being able to give their children and wards (the 'future of future India') what they deserved and had earned. The picture is no different in the private sector, either. There are other examples, in sectors such as health-care, where again availability of cure is not matched by affordability. For some, however, bribery and corrupt practices continues to be a means to eternal luxury that they could not afford otherwise.

The civil society should ask itself if they were working for a cohesive society that is governed well and is governable, or is leading the country to anarchy, in ways that they might not have imagined. The Government and the political and bureaucratic class should be sensitive to the cause professed by the civil society and acknowledge that in the absence of accountability and responsibility on their part, anarchy of a more militant kind could be the course - and the nation could become unsafe for them, and ungovernable, otherwise.

(The writer is Senior Fellow at  Observer Research Foundation)

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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