Nittoor Srinivasa Rao, a Gandhian who participated in the Freedom Struggle and the Chief Justice of the High Court of Mysore became the first Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). Lived a simple life and died 12 days short of his 101st birthday.
The road from Nittoor Srinivasa Rao in 1964 to PJ Thomas in 2010 has been a long one in terms of Integrity albeit rather short in time. CVC is an an apex Indian governmental body that has been created to address and fight Governmental Corruption.
It has the status of an autonomous body, free of control from any executive authority, charged with monitoring all vigilance activity under the Central Government of India, and advising various authorities in central Government organizations in planning, executing, reviewing and reforming their vigilance work.
Although it gets the investigation done via the Investigative organizations like the Central BUreau of Investigation (CBI), CVC has enough mandate to create moves against the Government in case of wrong doings. The most critical words about this body are “Free of control from any executive authority”.
Interestingly, the nomination of PJ Thomas, a corrupt bureaucrat and the Telecom Secretary during the 2G Telecom Scam – was finalized by a committee of Dr. Manmohan Singh, the PM; P. Chidambaram, the Home Minister; while dissented by Sushma Swaraj, the Leader of Opposition. Despite Sushma Swaraj’s appeal for more information given the track record of PJ Thomas, her views were brushed aside by the PM and the Home Minister.
When even the “Wise” Destroy Institutions
Now, Dr. Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram are not the epitome of corrupt politicians. In fact both are known as wise, reasonable and very upright individuals in public at large. Yet, it came to these two individuals to expose the weakest link in any democracy – Lack of Integrity!
If Dr. Singh and Chidambaram, one a star internationally known Economist and the other a Harvard MBA, could destroy the office of the main vigilance organization which was made to fight Governmental Corruption, then the hope that we could have any better with another set of politicians is pipe dream. Think of it, can the political irony get any worse?
And that is the perspective in which we ought to see the Lok Pal Bill and Anna Hazare’s movement.
Lok Pal bill is a tool… a symbol. No more. It has no meaning and no utility. Chances are that it won’t even have the longevity of the CVC framework – under 50 years!
But importance, or lack of, Lok Pal Bill doesn’t make Anna Hazare’s effort useless. It is important. Very important. But not because of what we think, but because of what we are not looking at.
Democracy and the Rules
Democracy has two sets of rules – Written and Unwritten. The former are in the laws, the constitution and in the policies. The latter manifest as traditions. In these traditions, there is nothing to stop you from going the wrong way, but it is never done as a matter of tradition.
There are times when the unwritten rules are transgressed by overzealous politicians (George W Bush, being a good example). When the unwritten rules are broken, trust in equal treatment falls off. Soon, the negative effects from such transgression are such that they necessitate inclusion of “written rules” to pave way for just behavior from all sides.
If written rules ensure universal equality of application, then unwritten rules ensure flexibility in a democracy. Replacing of latter by the former leads to a rigid system. Democracies graduate towards ungovernable societies. Flouting of the unwritten rules is, in my estimation, directly proportional to the increase in the Average Greed Quotient of the society. A society can run well based on unwritten rules as long as Universal or Societal Good remains paramount and above personal greed. If one’s own Good is what one is after, then it will always dovetail into and be secured by Universal Good. Only Personal Greed is at the loggerheads with the Universal Good. And that is precisely what one sees in India – and US – in terms of special interest groups.
In Scandinavian countries, for example, the cost to hold elections is almost negligible. Because politics brings no pay off. If the opportunity to use power is not equated to opportunity to make money, then that society can thrive on several unwritten rules of engagement and be flexible – while being generous. Its only in such societies that one can see a higher inclination to think for Good, as opposed to Greed. Eating enough to satisfy hunger and taste is Good, but to gulp large portions of food every meal is Greed. One car is Good, buying several cars or one for show off is Greed.
Individual Greed vs Universal Good
Why is this important? Because if the Individual Greed has reached a level where one ignores personal and societal good as a matter of right and policy, then creating new institutions is a useless exercise. Even the current ones cannot be saved. The most respected people in such societies become the most dangerous – as was exemplified by Chidambaram and Dr. Singh! What is required in this society is not a new tool or a new organization – for even these will have the same fate. What is required is to wake people up. To make them realize that what is at stake is their GOOD! And the greatest enemy they face is their OWN GREED! The Greed – unhibited and shameless – has rotted the very fabric and minds of our citizens – learned, educated, criminal and the illiterate alike – that only a miracle can put the threads of basic integrity back again. Abusing and treating issues and things of immense importance to National Good is a matter of pride. Rebellion in the society is not against any criminal act or subjugation.. but against rudimentary introspection!
When the lone news reader in her own studio and her own show has to make her voice heard by shouting melodramatic nonsense sans any profundity, then the malady of the nation is apparent. We are fighting hard to drown our own inner voice. We are trying our best to ignore our Good. And take care of our Greed. Because it pays – for the TV Channel, for the anchor, for the masters of the media house!
When an office goer, who has great ability to maneuver his car around the broken road in front of his house, so he can park his car despite the wrecked road for last 6 months, got up from his desk and took a few minutes out (more than he would take out for his own Good), to participate in the Anna Hazare’s rally; something amazing happened. The Average Greed Quotient suddenly fell down drastically. For those few days, specially for the evening when the entire nation fasted on April 5, the Average Greed Quotient of our nation was at rock bottom in decades!! That is no small achievement.
The politicians didn’t fear the Lokpal’s wrath, but the sudden change in the consciousness of the nation. Corruption is sustained by a HIgher Average Greed Quotient (AGQ) vs the Universal Good Quotient (UGQ). If AGQ is higher than the UGQ, then rooting out corruption is a futile exercise. The ONLY way you can fight corruption is when UGQ over runs the AGQ. That is the ONLY way. Any other action is hacking at the branches and at best a cosmetic exercise. Nothing will change for very long.
Such a shift – as momentary and fleeting as it was – was created by Anna Hazare. I know many have tried – Baba Ramdev has done an amazing campaign with the rural masses and his efforts need to be appreciated as well. But Anna Hazare used the media of the Urban masses, against their own apathy! That was a rare act.
Having said that, I have to say that the tools and ways used by Anna may not be entirely desirable from a long term perspective, but he used them well in THIS SITUATION to inspire people. Why do I say that? Gandhi also inspired people by using his tools of Hartals, Fasting etc. Those as tools against a foreign government were great, but against one’s own Government they have proved to be fatal! Every movement and revolution needs symbols and tools. But the tools used IN a revolution cannot and SHOULD NOT be seen as a heritage for other times. It can be fatal. As Indian polity has learnt the hard way.
Insitutionalizing Anna Hazare
Anna, however, needs to be insitutionalized. Not as in the Lok Pal Bill. But his ability to inspire and create a drop in the AGQ. It has to become systemic and regular. It has to be so systemic and regular, that it becomes our habit. When revolution and activism is not just a National phenomenon but a personal phenomenon, then we can say that Anna Hazare has been insitutitionalized. When everyone of us takes his/her rights and Good (and that of others) very seriously… so seriously that it overshadows personal greed (AGQ), the only can we say, we can root out corruption.
That is the only way to save the insitutions that keep corruption at bay as well, irrespective of the fate of the Lok Pal Bill.