Friday, August 26, 2011

The Lila of Corruption

Two eleven will be remembered for the boundless frontiers of corrupt practices, the people’s initiative to battle it, the government’s recalcitrance, quasi-Gandhian fasts, arrests, releases, tricolor waving urban candlelight marches, emotional responses and unending media debates over the territory where the battle needs to be fought.
To be honest, like many educated Indians, I have been perplexed at its multilayered complexity. More newsprint, visuals and words have been dedicated to scams than on other pressing issues. Hence, civil society is concerned. But India is a parliamentary democracy where elected representatives are given the people’s mandate to make laws of governance. To overrule this constitutional provision by popular street resistance is to challenge the constitution itself. The moral basis of such a resistance is also untenable if we believe in our post-colonial democratic structure. This may seem like a Gandhian argument but I do believe that means must justify the end and our discontent in the times of crisis is because we have privileged the material over the moral. The lawmakers as we know, whether we approve or not, have been democratically elected. The leaders of the civil disobedience have not. There is no democratic mechanism by which I may convey my mandate to someone as worthy as Justice Santosh Hegde or Arvind Kejriwal to negotiate with the government on the Jan Lokpal Bill. The convincing arguments about the Lokpal being another centre of non-democratic, authoritarian centre has already occupied much space as is the hypothesis of double oligarchy. But then is the parliament superior to the people? If the elected representatives are deaf in one ear and cannot hear with the other, do we have the right to recall them? The way out is therefore to work through democratic processes that may need a scrutiny and legislation of appropriate election laws and their implementation.
While the lawmakers are elected representatives of the people, we are aware how elections are fought in this country. Without affiliated support, which include resources such as money, party, caste, religion, criminals and occasionally popular sentiment, a candidate’s security deposit is likely to be forfeited, however upright the candidate may be. So the first thing to do is to amend the election laws. The great urban heartburn about dynastic political heritage may be overcome by promulgating a simple election law: no candidate can represent the people in parliament or the state legislative assemblies for more than two terms. Democracy is after all about creating opportunities for greater people’s participation in governance. If that is the requisite for the President of India, or the most powerful person in the world, the American President, it can be for the rest of our elected representatives. The practice of corruption is licensed with the confidence that one’s political fiefdom can be perpetuated.