Thursday, October 6, 2011

Corruption, Anna and Gandhi

The issue of corruption has emerged on the national scene in a strident manner in recent years. On account of the involvement of high levels of government, an unholy network of actors and huge sums of money in a single corruption incident, it has no doubt assumed giant proportions. So much so that all other problems facing the nation like widespread and widening poverty of the masses, deepening chasm between the rich and the poor, growing social unrest and insurgency, and increasing threats of terror seem to pale into in significance or go out of the focus of national attention and endeavor. It may be appreciated that the suffering of the people affected by, or victims of, these problems is more direct and intense than that caused by corruption. This is not to minimize in any way the immensity or seriousness of the problem of corruption which hogs the headlines in the print and audio-visual media these days. This is only to emphasize the point that one must take an integrated view of all these problems including that of corruption as they are inter-related and interacting. Unless we do this, we are bound to miss the mark in getting over the problem of corruption. All the above-mentioned problems and many other perversities including corruption characterizing our national life are symptoms of the same disease plaguing the body politic of India. And that is the exploitative and degrading system of governance, which was designed and used by the British to systematically exploit the resources and degrading the people of their colony of India, that free India adopted in its Constitution. Let us examine this view based on historical facts and their analysis.

The patent objective of British governance of India was exploitation of the resources of a culturally developed India for the benefit of Britain. Moral degradation of its people was essential for such exploitation to be sustainable and systematic. The colonial system of governance was skillfully designed by the British to achieve the two interdependent objectives - exploitation of the resources and degradation of its people. Corruption at the lower echelons of government was almost inbuilt in the system. It was practiced with impunity by the government servants and taken for granted by the people. Departments of police, engineering, medical, taxation, supply, etc. were notorious for rampant corrupt practices. Corruption at these levels was conceded as part of the spoils of exploitation in the colonial dispensation, which served to make government servants at these levels willing accomplices in the immoral act of exploitation of their fellow countrymen. Those at the higher levels of government, where the real decision making power lay, were not corrupt in the usual sense of the term. These levels of government included not only the highest levels of the Government of British India members of ICS but also the British government itself where ultimate decision making authority lay. They were, however, direct beneficiaries of exploitation of India’s resources and its people in various ways. Their salaries, perquisites and facilities were simply sumptuous. According to one estimate, quoted by Gandhi in his letter to him, the salary of the Viceroy of India, apart from his hefty perquisites and other facilities, was 5000 times the percapita average income of the Indian people paid out of the money extracted from the people through various types of taxes. Thus, the exploitative character of colonial governance manifested itself as corruption, as we understand it, at lower levels of government and fruits of exploitation at higher levels.

This system of governance existed when an interim government was formed in 1946 with Indian leaders at the helm of affairs. When India became free on 15 August 1947 through Indian Independence Act, 1947 passed by the British Parliament, continuance of this system was mandated through the Act till India framed its own Constitution. Due to machinations of the departing British government, vested interests of certain sections of Indians, and lack of real commitment of top Indian leaders to Gandhi’s ideas and ideals, essentially the same system of governance was consecrated by adopting it in the Constitution, thus betraying Gandhi and short changing the freedom fighters who participated in, and made sacrifices for, the freedom movement under the inspiring leadership of Gandhi. The new Indian republic was born on 26 January 1950 with high constitutional aspirations as expressed in the preamble of the Constitution as “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens justice, liberty and equality and to promote fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and unity of the Nation do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.” This solemn resolve was, however, negated by adopting essentially the same system of governance which was designed and used for exploiting India and degrading its people. Thus India started on its journey as a republic saddled with this grave intrinsic contradiction in its Constitution which guided this journey. Various problems and perversities including corruption that have been increasingly afflicting the nation are the logical consequences of this inner contradiction. Gandhi, gifted with his unique insight and foresight, had clearly apprehended this and even warned against this prospect. In his book ‘Hind Swaraj’ written as far back as in 1908, much before he emerged as a well accepted and well respected leader of India’s remarkable freedom movement, he had expressed his apprehension that if India drove out the British but not their system of governance, and the Indians operated the same system in free India, the nation’s doom was definite. What we witness today on the national scene is only the playing out of the Mahatma’s dire predictions.

Corruption characterized the governance of free India from day one. While at the lower levels, it continued and flourished unabated with increasing roles of the government in development and socio-economic activities, it soon appeared at higher levels even when freedom movement leaders with impeccable character moulded under Gandhi’s spell and inspiration were in the driving seats of governments at the Centre as well as in the states. While Mundhra, jeep and several other scandals appeared at the centre, state-specific scandals rocked various state governments in the very first decade of the Indian republic. Since then, leaders at the helm of affairs changed and political parties in power changed, but what did not change was the march of corruption in Indian governance. It continued and grew unabated through all these changes. What is remarkable is that side by side we have also been endeavoring to check and curb the menace of corruption, largely through legal-administrative measures in the same system. Even during the British period, Special Police Establishment (SPE) was set up by the Govt. of India in 1941 to investigate cases of bribery and corruption, particularly in supply related matters in the Army. The scope of SPE was enlarged to include all departments of the Govt. of India and was named as Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) under the Home Ministry through an Act passed in 1946. The scope of DSPE was further enhanced in 1963 to include public undertaking employees as well as state government employees with the consent of the state government concerned and was named as Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) was set up in 1964 as an autonomous body to deal with all governmental corruption and to monitor all vigilance activities. It was given a statutory status through CVC Act passed in 2003. Several acts have been passed by the Parliament to deal with cases of corruption in government and semi-government organizations such as Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002 and Right to Information Act 2005. Several states have set up anti-corruption ombudsman organizations know as Lokayukta to deal with corruption cases at the political and administrative levels in the states as recommended in 1966 by Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Morarji Desai. The recommendation regarding a similar organization at the central level, called Lokpal could not yet be implemented as the enabling bill has not yet been passed by the Parliament in spite of several attempts to do so.

Anna’s agitation against corruption, which has been so prominently covered by the media, must be viewed in the historical and related perspectives indicated above. While the problem of corruption has been present from day one of free India and has been systematically escalating over the years, it has emerged on the national scene like a bombshell with scandals after scandals coming to light, involving high level politicians and mind boggling amounts of money in recent years. Understandably, this has outraged and enraged people who felt they were being cheated out and out by their government.

They are thus ready to ride any bandwagon which is purportedly marching against corruption. They have no patience to deliberate whether the means to achieve the end, i.e., corruption free government are appropriate and valid for the task; nor do the people in the vanguard find it necessary to explain and convince the nation that what they plan to achieve through agitation. i.e. to get the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by Team Anna, is appropriate, adequate and effective to eradicate corruption, the purported objective of the agitation. Let us pause and examine it ourselves. Through Jan Lokpal Bill, Team Anna aims to set up a legal-administrative organ to deal with and eradicate corruption in the country under the existing frame work of governance and is thus in line with other such organs set up in the past which have admittedly failed. Team Anna holds, however, that the proposed organ will not fail as it will be armed with more autonomy, more powers and more wide ranging scope of action. This is patently fallacious. It is too simplistic a view to deal with a complex problem which is essentially systemic. The nation has experienced the ultimate fallacies of such attempts in the past, either in the area of corruption or other social, political or economic fields. Take the case of Anti-Dowry Act, which aimed to eradicate the social ill of dowry, in the existing system of governance. What happened? Whether this Act has made any dent on the dowry problem is debatable, its wide spread misuse is well known. The nation has also the experience of popular agitations against corruption in the past. Corruption at the highest level of government was the dominant issue in the 1989 general elections and the coalition of political parties advocating for a ‘clean’ government came to power under the leadership of V. P. Singh, the prime crusader against such corruption. The government utterly failed to successfully deal with even the single corruption case of Bofors, let alone the broader issue of corruption in government at different levels. This government proved too short lived on account of its strident inner contradictions. Another big agitation was waged in 1976 primarily against corruption in government under the inspiring leadership of Jai Prakash Narain (JP), originally a socialist converted later on to being a Gandhian. For eradication of corruption in government, he called for change of the system of governance rather than a change of the government, a ‘total revolution’ he called it. This call tremendously appealed to the people and evoked an immense response leading to a change of the well entrenched Congress government at the centre and in many states. Due to several factors such as indifferent health and subsequent demise of JP, lack of clarity and any training about ‘Total Revolution’ and the changed system of governance, and the road map for achieving the goal, not only did this phenomenal political change lead to nowhere, but also put the nation into a regressive mode for many years since then. Anna’s agitation must be viewed in light of all these national experiences related to campaigns against corruption which is a volatile but complex issue.

Anna is generally mentioned as a Gandhian and his agitation against corruption is said to be based on Gandhian methods. This is a little baffling as this betrays only a superficial understanding of Gandhi, his ideas and his methods. Perhaps, Anna is called a Gandhian because of his Spartan living. This is truly so. But Gandhi is a Gandhi primarily and dominantly because of his unique ideas and ideals whose validity and value the world is only beginning to grasp now His agitation against corruption being based on the Gandhian methods is only superficially true because it declares to abjure only physical violence. Gandhi’s non-violence was much wider, abjuring all types of violence - physical, mental, even by words. In fact, he believed in the change of heart of the other party. Also, going on fast for socio-political purposes by Gandhi was conceptually different from those undertaken by Anna, which is to force or coerce the other party into doing certain thing. Gandhi undertook the fasts mostly for self purification. But, most of all, Anna’s objective of getting the Jan Lokpal Bill passed by the Parliament in order to eradicate corruption is a complete antithesis of Gandhi’s ideas. Gandhi considered that corruption and other perversities of the nation are inbuilt in the exploitative and degrading system of governance, are its logical products and cannot be eradicated without changing the system and supplanting it with a system which is truly democratic, which is completely decentralized and which is based on our indigenous ethos. Success of Anna’s agitation, i.e. creation of a highly centralized, powerful and autonomous institution would negate Gandhi’s prescription for governance of free India and would lead to dire and frightful consequences for the nation.

We betrayed Gandhi in the Constituent Assembly in the making of our constitution and giving birth to the republic of India. We have been desecrating him since then by using his name, his photographs and even his misinterpreted preachings to promote things which negate his ideas and ideals. And we have also been suffering the consequences of our follies. It is high time for the nation to truly understand Gandhi and his ideas, and be true to this greatest seeker of truth on this earth. Let us make amends for the suicidal act of betrayal of Gandhi in a crucial operation of India’s unique freedom struggle and save the nation from its further ruin by bringing in the system of governance which Gandhi advocated till virtually the last day of his life. This will be the most appropriate tribute to the Mahatma on his birth anniversary.

2 October 2011

1 comment:

  1. Namaste Uncleji,

    Read your article on "Corruption, Anna and Gandhi". Just have two follow-up queries/requests related to your thoughts to get a better understanding of the subject matter. It may be nice if you may kindly let us know your ideas on the following issues/topics:

    1. In your opinion, why do you think CVC has failed, in spite of being an autonomous body?

    2. How do you think a decentralized system of governance will help us in eradicating corruption? Frankly speaking, revival of village panchayats have just shifted the focus/center of corruption from Block Development Officer to Village Mukhiyas.

    With Regards,
    Tushar Kant