Today is probably the saddest day for Indian Parliament.
The Lokpal bill approved by Parliament now accommodates Anna Hazare’s main demands with a little tailoring. Interestingly, the House thumped its assent. Its vocal chords seemed to have been silenced at the most decisive moment. They had taken to fists. In retrospect that makes sense; Parliament had been silenced by People.
For 12 days the Anna’s fasting frame had hung over Parliament like Damocles’ sword. It is ironic that in a largely foodless country, what power a man who can forgo it wield. Perhaps such self-inflicted gastronomic torture raises the atavistic fears of the Famine, a national archetype that is never too far from our subconscious.
Close to 790 members in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha represent the billion odd population of India. They are there because we believe in exercising our franchise every five years, or whenever we are asked to. Unlike in the West, where institutions of democracy are in place, we put everything into our election, which is why Parliament here should be totally true to its people.
According to the speeches made in the House today, this is not the first time a Lokpal bill was sought to be introduced in Parliament. Apparently, we have done it some eight times before. For over 40 years then the bill had been doing the rounds. The question is why?
Because, Indian Parliament is a failure. One of the more eloquent tributes to its emasculated status came from Lalu Prasad Yadav in the second half of the day’s speeches. Perhaps he has himself to blame for the state of affairs he was lamenting?
Or may be not. Corruption is at the heart of Indian ethos. We bribe Gods, sanitation workers, peons and loan officers. We bribe RTO officials, passport officers and traffic constables. We believe if we don’t bribe, the job will not be attended to as a “special case.” And if it’s not a special case, it will never get done anyway. We can’t be blamed either. The system runs on our willingness to bribe. And the officialdom’s eagerness to take. Perhaps this is the legacy of a starvation economy, where for all supplementary income is the main thing.
Certainly, it is not as if corruption is part of the system; it is that the system is a part of the corruption. You take corruption out of it, and the whole establishments will just crash. If the cash for votes scam is any indication, Parliament is very much a part of it.
Which is why Parliament has been so dilatory with the Lokpal bill. It resorted to procrastination to protect itself. If Anna Hazare had not starved himself on a high stage in the Ramleela grounds, so TV cameras can watch him waste away to Bollywood music, the Lokpal bill--for what it is worth, and it is not much, because you can’t bring a law to make your genetic pool more ethical-- would still be a piece of paper to soak the tea spilled on a table in the Central Hall.
At the end of it all, the bill still might serve as a mop.
Philosophically the bill believes corruption as an unethical practice involving public money. It says nothing of corporate corruption, which is a horror story all by itself. The grand narrative of India’s overnight corporate miracles owes a great deal to efficacies of graft. Corporates directly, or indirectly through their lobbies, buy and sell favours that range from land to licences to whole portions of rivers and forests. The new development model that India swears by, the one of Public Private Participation (PPP) where the line between Corporate profits and government responsibility is fluid at best and nonexistent at worst is in fact tailor made for export-quality corruption.
It is difficult to believe that a simple legislation even if is improvised to accommodate corporate corruption will change all that. No law can change our genetic disposition. To be ethical is an existential choice. I am personally skeptical of Anna and his movement because the fashionable families from Defence Colonies and Greater Kailashes who frequent the Ramleela grounds between parties and PVRs are a suspect lot: how many of them for example treat their maids well? How many beat up their wives and wouldn’t mind a rape now and then just to add a little excitement to their scented lives? How many will resist a dowry deal for their sons?
That an unelected body of people-- inchoate in their articulation, self delusional in their idealism—has risen to act as a kind of corrective to the highest law making body in this country is tragic news. The people have lost faith in their Parliament. Clearly, parties across the ideological spectrum have forfeited their right to call themselves representatives of the people. Left, Right or Centre, their function has been whittled down to reluctant approvers of what an amorphous mass aspires for: respect. And it has come at the expense of a Parliament that is blind to the reason why it came into being.