Monday 17 October 2011

Have money and stay free (Sunday Guardian)

Arvind Kejriwal with Medha Patkar at a press conference in New Delhi on Friday. PTI
o deeply has the colonial experience penetrated into the psyche of the people of India that the definition of "independence" is the right to move from one form of servitude into the other. The media's identification of "Team Anna" with Civil Society (which presumably refers to those outside the magic circle of civil servants and their political bosses) obscures the fact that of the "core team", only Prashant Bhushan has never been a part of the governmental matrix. The senior Bhushan was a minister, Arvind Kejriwal a bureaucrat, Kiran Bedi a policewoman and Anna an auxiliary in the military. Small wonder that their nostrums involve liberal doses of quite illiberal accretions to the power of institutions funded by the exchequer. The arguments used by Team Anna in defence of their plan for a Jan Lokpal are eerily similar to those used earlier by others to justify the several layers of the anti-corruption bureaucracy that has been created over the decades, each of whom became corrupt almost from inception.
Team Anna has great faith in the legal fraternity, for at least 40% of its proposed Lokpal bureaucracy would comprise lawyers with experience similar to those of the Bhushans. Especially since the private sector was freed from purgatory in the 1990s, the country has witnessed its sons and daughters making history in numerous spheres, be they business or literature or sport or academics. However, almost none of such high achievers could ever be considered for the post of the Jan Lokpal and his or her colleagues. These luminaries would be sourced from within the pool of those who have had their salaries paid by the exchequer, rather than privately. The UPA's proposed draft of the Lokpal Bill is even more heavily skewed in favour of those within one or the other branches of the structure of governance, be that the executive or the judiciary. Clearly, the only "Jan" that deserves the title are those within the bureaucracy, just as the only people who counted in colonial times were the Brits. The rest was simply a faceless mass that needed to be ignored when it was not being coerced. In fact, the 21st century needs such people to fill sensitive positions, rather than merely those in what is amusingly called "public service" in India.
The arguments used by Team Anna in defence of their plan for a Jan Lokpal are eerily similar to those used earlier by others to justify the several layers of the anti-corruption bureaucracy that has been created over the decades, each of whom became corrupt almost from inception. 
In an age when question papers (and the correct answers) are available for a price, "public service" is being defined as an effective means towards private riches. There is no longer any sense of shame or even discomfort in the political class at the immense pile of cash that they have accumulated, presumably by investing their salaries in a thrifty manner. In times past, being a mega-billionaire may have been a handicap to advancement in a career of "public service". However, from the time L.N. Mishra taught Indira Gandhi of the benefits of fund collecting, those with money have far outdistanced those without. In such a course, the BJP is hardly different from the Congress party. A Jagdish Shettigar (who was a political appointee in the Atal Behari Vajpayee PMO) has little cachet, because he was unwise enough to refuse to make money through the misuse of influence. The consequence has been an inability for him to travel and to persuade others to support him. The one-time equal of Narendra Modi is now practically out of politics, while the big spenders congregate near the apex.
Of course, in the Race for Cash, the UPA has left the NDA far behind, which perhaps accounts for the frustration that causes so many NDA walkouts in Parliament. Under L.K. Advani, the BJP has become the master of walkouts, usually at the very moment when it would be most convenient for the Manmohan Singh government to have Parliament emptied of what should be its most articulate opponent. Given the fact that practically all the scandals now afflicting the UPA had their origins in the hard work put in by a few independent whistle-blowers, rather than be brought to light by the NDA, it is clear that the quality of the opposition in India has been a major factor in giving courage to individuals in the UPA to enrich themselves in an obscene manner. Small wonder that a grateful UPA now seeks to ensure that the possession of money act as a ground for protecting the holder from the processes of law.
Fund collectors in the Congress party understand "the economics of politics" very well, a core tenet of which is the ability to transfer huge sums into the offshore accounts of the powerful. Naturally, those generous souls need to be given immunity from prosecution. So what if tens of thousands of women are growing feeble and neurotic in jail, many as undertrials? Kanimozhi is different from them, she has more money. So what if hundreds of thousands are in jail without the ability to argue bail and get it? The wealthy should be given that privilege, exactly as they had before Justices Ganguly and Singhvi intervened in a manner that has led to the joke that while in the past, businesspersons "paid and played", these days, they "play and pray" that some judge not treat them the way the indigent are in India. But unless judges do that, and often, being a crook would be a far more successful way to business success than being a Henry Ford.

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