Monday, 11 April 2011

We Don't Need No Legislation

I was in London the last week and hence missed the hoopla in the country with Anna Hazare’s fast unto death. I was back in the country for a few hours on Saturday and all I could read and hear was how this one man had given the country some hope of seeing lower dishonesty. I was not convinced; not with Anna Hazare’s spirit but with the suggested course of action, the bill itself. Call me a skeptic, call me a cynic; I just do not believe that another law in this country will actually help reduce corruption. The only thing it will do is generate employment – first for those who help the committee research the draft and then for those who become a part of the Lokpal. In fact if the Lokpal is set up it will bejust another way of exploitation and influencing.

These thoughts were loitering in the corners of my brain cells on Saturday night as I queued outside the airport waiting to get in for my next international flight. Suddenly the lingering thoughts burst to the forefront. There were two youngsters praising Anna and cursing the politicians. It was not their chatter that got my sleepy thoughts to wake up and skip around. It was their actions. As they spoke of the rampant treachery in the nation, they were trying to jump the queue. I was amused with the hypocrisy. I encountered the duo yet again at the security check, scurrying around to see how they could move ahead of turn once more.

This attitude and insincerity is what makes me a believer that legislation will not be effective in reducing or ridding the country of corruption. The interest around Anna Hazare’s fast probably benefited the media the most and the telecom company as some attention has been diverted away, finally! The rest of us will talk of this for a while and then move on to being who we are – finding the quickest route possible to achieve our goals.

Aboard my flight I was fighting my time zone clash and decided to watch a movie. I stumbled across a Naomi Watts film, Fair Game. The film is based on the autobiography of an ex-CIA covert agent, Valerie Palmer, who at the time of the US attacking Iraq was almost about to prove that there were no WMD in Iraq. As the invasion started, her husband, an ex-ambassador to Niger started questioning the government’s motives. In order to divert attention away from the tough questions that were posed, the White House made the couple a pawn. Valerie’s cover was blown, her credibility and track record trashed and her husband was made to look like an anti-American. The world knows today that there were no WMD in Iraq but there is a lot of Oil. If the White House could stoop to abysmal levels only to safeguard the President’s ratings and cover up the lies; I am sure that less powerful people, hungrier for power could stoop to lower levels. With resources and might on their side, a legislation will only be a small hurdle. Yes, I was all along thinking of the Lokpal bill.

Corruption is prevalent world over. The difference in India is that we see it blatantly in our faces every single day. That does not mean that we condone it or do not work to rid society of this ill. However, legislation can never work in the absence of willingness. Valerie Palmer and her husband decided to take the challenge head on and speak the truth. They did not succumb to the might of the White House. Anna Hazare did not worry about himself or how would his actions be received by the government. He believed that it was his duty to bring attention to the rampant corruption in the country and the need to address it and so he fearlessly forged ahead with his mission. It is fortitude that got the system to pause and pay attention. It was his sincerity and courage that got the nation to support him, however, the spirit that he would probably like to see (in my view) is probably absent; my point in case being the duo at the airport.

Legislation can work when there is a need to enforce a right, for e.g. the right to vote or the right to religion. Legislation cannot replace ethics, moral conduct or righteousness. So there can be a legislation that provides citizens with the right to query processes and get information, however, then it is up to law and lawmakers to enforce justice. Giving powers to a centralized committee to enforce “justice” in case of corruption related issues only provides an opportunity for the influential to exert pressure on one body rather than fight their ills through the system. We need to acknowledge that in any form or shape, the center of power and influence will remain the same. To bring change we need to change that core. To strengthen and alter that foundation we as citizens need to speak fearlessly and acknowledge our duties. Our primary obligation and most powerful right is the right to vote. If we execute this duty sincerely and sensibly, in time we will be able to rid the system of the leeches it has come to harbor. Our right to free speech and expression is what we need to capitalize on and not rest till the guilty are brought to justice. Numerous examples exist where with the help of truth and media, the aggrieved have secured justice. Yes there is a cost attached to all this. The cost of giving up some of our own comforts, of acknowledging that the blame game needs to start with self and of respecting that the rights that are ours are equally those of the other billion citizens of the country.

It has become fashionable to blame the government for every difficulty that we face. It has equally become a fashion to heap praises on someone who speaks against the system (rightly or wrongly). Grumbling and washing our dirty linen in public has become second nature to us Indians. We need to stop that, pause, reflect and then take a steadier course where we are in not a hurry to reach our final destination. In pace will come sensibility and responsibility. In stride will come the innate ability to render obligations, shoulder responsibilities and apportion credits. It is our country and it is up to us to shape its future. We can either speed into chaos or walk into prosperity. The choice is ours. No legislation can give it or take it from us.

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