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No quick-fix solutions to corruption

August 25, 2011 10:09 IST

Much of what we call corruption is but a side effect of a deeper malaise. The chalta-hai attitude and its innovative twin, jugaad

Every shortcut we take compromises a principle, corrodes an institution and sets a wrong precedent, says Shashi Shekhar.

The crisis surrounding the Anna Hazare fast and his campaign's demand for a specific kind of Lokpal Bill has reached an inflexion point. It has become abundantly clear that the Anna Hazare Campaign is negotiating from a maximalist position even if it means fostering civil anarchy in the days to come.

As I write this down, two questions come uppermost to mind -- How did we get here and how do we get out of it?

To address the first question on how we got here:

One would have to primarily hold the culture of politics practiced over the past six decades that saw a series of half political decisions which steadily compromised Constitutional principles and corroded the institutions of our Republic.

It would be an insult to the readers' intelligence to recount every one of these decisions. It should suffice to point out that when the corrosion reaches all the way up to the highest offices of the state as has been the case since the United Progress Alliance government took office in 2004, this crisis was not long in the offing.

Today there is an abject lack of faith in both the ability of the Constitution to be fair and in the integrity of our institutions to deliver. The lack of trust extends to political parties and their leadership. All discourse has become conspiratorial. All proposals and decisions have become suspect.

The deep sense of victimhood, offence and outrage with which all politics is being carried out has come to mean that nobody trusts anybody anymore. The Radia Tapes, surreal that they were, gave us a first-hand view of how most of our public institutions stood compromised.

However it had to take a fast by someone with Anna Hazare's moral strength and integrity to expose the deep moral corrosion and the abject bankruptcy in leadership.

The tragedy today is that no political leader in Delhi is able to stand up to Anna Hazare and his supporters with moral strength and credibility, to be able tell them to their face how irrational their proposal of a Lokpal is and how unacceptable their methods are.

There is no political leader in Delhi today who can command the attention of the masses at Ramlila Maidan, who can ask of their patience while laying out a roadmap for holistic reforms that they can trust.

There was only one way out of the corner that Anna Hazare had forced the government into. It was to overwhelm his appeal with even greater moral strength. The UPA's political leadership came short on that with its monumentally inept handling of the crisis and the failure to communicate with the people.

This failure of the UPA cannot be condoned, heads will have to roll. But that would not even begin the process of getting us out of the hole that we currently find ourselves in.

Every Young Republic perhaps has to go through a near death experience to rediscover the foundations that hold it in good stead for centuries to come.

The Young American Republic in less than hundred years of its creation had its moment of truth during the Civil War resulting in the creation of a stable and durable Union. The Indian Republic is also young. This may be our moment of truth.

That truth, however, is bitter. There are no quick-fix solutions to the deep malaise of corruption.

The stark reality is that today there is no credible leadership in Delhi that can honestly deliver this truth to the people while simultaneously inspiring trust and patience in a long drawn roadmap that can rid us of this malaise. That truth is also unpopular. We have exhausted the capacity of the Republic to apportion justice based on identity for perceived victimhood.

There is no credible leadership in Delhi that can honestly deliver the truth to the various caste, linguistic, ethnic and religious groups that have created an environment of competitive identity politics where nobody can win anymore.

There is no credible leadership in Delhi that can calm identity linked anxieties while simultaneously inspiring faith that we can improve the system to deliver for each one of them, all the time and every time.

There is no credible political leadership in Delhi today that is self assured of its survival, to risk attempting the difficult, persisting with the unpopular and championing the right causes.

To get us out of this hole, calls for a rediscovery of trust. We need a leadership in Delhi that inspires trust and exudes trust. Leadership whose actions we can trust without always ascribing motives.

Next we need a vision and roadmap for how we restore trust in our Constitution and system of government. The notion of a strong and effective Lokpal is laudable, but that strength can only come if the Lokpal is not merely an agency, office or individual but a system and culture of governance rooted in the principle of accountability.

We need wholesale Constitutional and judicial reforms that will ensure such accountability to inspire trust.

Hence the sentiment for Lokpal has to be about a vision and roadmap for both structural reforms in the Constitution and reforms in the processes by which laws are enforced and justice is delivered.

Lastly, we need social rejuvenation as well. Much of what we call corruption is but a side effect of a deeper malaise. The chalta-hai attitude and its innovative twin, jugaad. Shortcuts have become endemic. Every shortcut we take compromises a principle, corrodes an institution and sets a wrong precedent.

The burden of wrong precedents is weighing down our Young Republic. The shortcut taken by Anna Hazare and his Jan Lokpal movement is adding even more weight to it with more wrong precedents.

The Young American Republic had to wage its Dharma Yudh against just one front, slavery. The Young Indian Republic has to wage its Dharma Yudh on two fronts -- against those are invested in the status quo and those who cannot resist the temptation for a shortcut.

It will take many patient conversations. We have no choice but to persist and commit ourselves to strengthening the foundations of our Republic through reforms. We must demand nothing less from our leaders in Delhi. Dr B R Ambedkar showed us the way during the Constituent Assembly debates. Let us put our politics and our leaders to the Ambedkar test on the Lokpal debate and beyond.

Shashi Shekhar is a social media commentator on Indian politics and public policy. His blog can be found at http://blog.offstumped.in

Shashi Shekhar