The post- economic- reform- society has discovered its utopia in liberal democracy and market capitalism. It seeks the fulfillment of its deepest yearnings in a regime of plenitude, of abundant consumerism and unbridled hedonism. But no economy, least of all ours, where half the people lead an existence below the poverty level, can support the dream. The urban middle class has been quick to learn the ropes of the “world of market efficiency with its corruption and dirty tricks” to fulfill its essentially unachievable dream. It knows and knows only too well that back door is for business; serious business, that is. Front doors are to get past the regulators and enforcement agencies. You cannot embrace the market, the profit society ruled by the consumer king and keep away corrupt practices. But then the middle class does not only want to eat well and live well, it also likes to think well of itself. A generalized and diffuse sense of grievance against the “system” nicely relegates the individual guilt to a collectivity from which they are automatically excluded. It also rids them of any responsibility on their part for any transformative action, citing the self serving and cynical excuse that they cannot make a difference. Historical forces larger than them, individually and collectively, appear to be driving the sinful society in which people have ceased to be conscious, responsible, moral agents. The newly invented myth that the laws are inadequate justifies the demand for the all conquering thunderbolt to strike the mightiest of the corrupt. The unqualified support of the Jan Lokpal Bill is the most articulate expression of their middle class ontology. Their hedonism and hypocrisy has a new justification. These can be indulged in without any qualms till they get the cure all Jan Lokpal Bill. Any serious discussion of the bill therefore, must be foregrounded in the Dr. Jekyll and Hyde character of the movement. Some of those who light candles or keep vigil for the TV cameras are also part of the anonymous and shadowy “corrupt system”.
The Utopian thinking is by definition impatient of the gradualist approach; it deals in radical and subversive solutions which entail a recasting of the institutions and practices that create the social order. The utopian thinking has teamed up with the consumerist urge. Never satisfied with what is on offer, these drives ceaselessly demand ever greater things; the bar is progressively raised, the aims go higher and higher. The consumerist urge is both fuelled and satiated by a longing for newer and shinier merchandise and disposing off the old. The use value is supplanted by the sign value. Otherwise the proposed Lokpal bill – the authorized version of it- we are agitated so much about would not have been such a do or die imperative. We have a roster of laws in the arsenal – precision guided to eliminate corruption, black money and acts of financial malfeasance. It is in this context that one would like to raise the tactless and undiplomatic question – in what respect has the P.C.Act 1988 been tested and found wanting in the context of investigations. In tandem with the RTI it can take care of the corrupt practices lowly peon as well the PM of the country. If it shakes in craven terror when it comes to calling into account the mightiest, the fault certainly lies with those who are wielding the authority under that Act, not the Act itself. I am all for the strongest possible Lokpal bill; it is always comfortable to have an ICBM tucked away somewhere in the silo. My worry is our track record in terms of our use of the available weapons has been dismal.
While the several sections of the PC Act 1988 define and outlaw the corruption of the public servants section 12 of the PC Act criminalizes the abetment of bribe all together. By one all inclusive injunction “Whoever abets any offence punishable under Section 7 or Section 11 whether or not that offence is committed in consequence of that abetment, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall be not less than six months but which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.
It obligates the entire society to an honest conduct. If we are to believe, as is being touted by the media, that the nation is outraged at the all pervasive corruption, the pertinent question is how have things come to such a pass with the law prohibiting both the giving and taking of bribe? What is the purpose of law if no one obeys it? How do we administer a society which throws up people against whom the law itself hides behind legal lacunae and legerdemain? How do we chink proof
the armour of the criminal administration system. The CBI, an organization which appeared to have been carved out of pure awe, (was it till yesterday?) - suffers from a serious crisis of credibility today. The laws that it has been dealing with remain the same. The institution of the CAG has been there all the while and no one took much notice. And then comes a man and suddenly the nation wakes up to its tremendous powers and anti corruption potential and the mighty tremble in their shoes. A serial grabber of post retirement assignments has all but killed the Right to Information Act in a particular state. So perhaps in the present context it is more important to make better men; for that we have to reform our society a little bit. One can be a very efficient minder of other people’s morality: the difficult part is watching your own conduct.
Mahatma Gandhi had forged the weapon of civil disobedience for a slave nation as a gesture of defiance, as a non violent but highly effective weapon of self assertion. Is there a Gandhi today who could lead a civil obedience movement to exhort his followers to obey just one injunction –of not paying or accepting bribe; an action as heroic as those of our forefathers, who faced bullets in the freedom movement? Gandhi’s Midas touch produced a rich crop of leaders who were supremely adequate to the task in hand? Could the Gandhi, in his second coming, produce enough number of men commensurate in their moral worth to the perfectionist Lokpal document to occupy on a regular basis , even the proposed number of Lokpals? If that were not to be, the Lokpal Act would be another consumerist indulgence.