Anna Hazare's fast on the Jan Lokpal Bill has touched a chord in the people – the outpouring of support that has come from all corners of the country and amongst different sections is a testament to this. It is clear that we as Indians are simply tired of knowing that scams are happening on an ever increasing scale and we are unable to do anything about it. It is this helplessness that is building up the anger which is now being reflected in the wide support that Anna Hazare's fast has received.
There are two issues here. One, how can Indian democracy reflect the will of the people and not just the will of those we elect. The other is how do we stop this huge loot of India's resources in which the political and bureaucratic establishments are working together? While the Jan Lokpal Bill' is directly related to issue of corruption and scams, the crisis of Indian democracy is much more deep rooted. The people may have the right to vote, have a right to speak but have no right to be heard by the establishment. There Niira Radias of the world rule. The fixers are the glue that holds this criminal gang of politicians, business tycoons, bureaucrats together.
This state of affairs has not come about in a single day. It started with corruption as a by product of development. Once money was spent on projects, a part of it -- and in those days it was small -- went to fill the pockets of those who held power. Nevertheless, the projects and policies were chosen not for the corruption that it entailed but based on what was felt in the nation's interest. The next level of corruption was when projects were chosen not for their benefits but the amount that it would generate as corruption. Even then, at least the policies were decided based on country's priorities. The 2G scam showed we have now reached the last stage of corruption, even the policies are now 'sold' based on who gets to make how much money. No decision is now taken – be it for law or for policy -- where the driver is not corruption. It is this stage of corruption and scams that people are reacting to – the feeling nothing is now sacrosanct.
This also makes any debate on policies or projects almost meaningless. The issue is no longer of convincing the leaders of the Government of what is right or wrong. All they really want to know is which decision will generate the largest amount for themselves. The rest is a mere charade.
Various people had argued that corruption was the result of a license permit raj – liberalise the economy, let the markets flourish, corruption will disappear. In 20 years of this 'market as the mantra' policies, we have come to a stage that what created an uproar only 20 years back – the Bofors kickback of Rs. 64 crore – is seen as mere chump change. Even Raja's sidekick Batcha had a driver who could run away with Rs. 6 crore – that tells you the scale of corruption today.
The simple matter is that the state will always be a the largest economic player in any country. It will control major resources – from mining rights, urban lands and of course even invisibles like the spectrum. It will be the largest buyer of services and equipment – be it public infrastructure or defence equipment. In its role as a market regulator, it will address economic issues that will make or break companies. A Government that is corrupt as a provider of licenses or services, will not change with introducing market as god. On the contrary, as the economy has grown, so has corruption – there are many more novel ways to make money than before. And make much more of it as well.
It is striking that Manmohan Singh, regarded as a person of unquestionable integrity, should be seen as presiding over the most corrupt Government in history. Why should a person who is not making money himself, allow this untrammelled loot to continue, this is the question people are asking. The answer is quite simple. For Manmohan Singh, the end justifies the means. If harnessing together a bunch of corrupt group of politicians and bureaucrats with the business houses reaches his end-goal of a market driven economy, so be it. For him, the private loot of public resources is just another way to 'grow' Indian capitalism. If this leads to a series of scams, this is just to be looked at indulgently as some small excesses of unleashing the animal spirit of Indian capitalism.
In every country that the IMF World Bank policies have ruled, generally with people who were supposed to be technocrats and not political, the results have been similar. Unleashing 'market forces' and globalisation have been synonymous with privatisation –or what Stiglitz called 'briberisation' -- and hot money flows out of the country. No wonder, a Hasan Ali today is shown to have taken out billions of dollars as a part of this. He owes the income tax department Rs. 70,000 crore – imagine how much has gone out of the country.
For people who have always been paying out small amounts for various government services as speed money may be wondering what is new in what is happening today. The difference today is that we have moved in stages from speed money to extortion and now daylight robbery. Even the business class, who were earlier instrumental in creating corruption, are complaining today. A section of the political class, as also bureaucrats are now fully integrated with a section of the business houses who are the beneficiaries. The complex money trail in 2G scam – from Raja, to Batcha to DB Realty to Swan and to Ambani tells its own tale.
Apart from the Left, there is little doubt that the alliance of the corrupt – call it coalition dharmaif you will-- includes all the major parties. We have only to remember Pramode Mahajan, and look at the brazenness of a Yedurappa to realise that BJP's main grouse is that it has to now remain content with small pickings. Sitting on the side lines when money is being made, that too when they are the natural party of business, must really irk them. Just before they try to climb of the Lokpal bandwagon, remember how they are treating their Lokayukta in Karnataka – Justice Santosh Hegde?
Anna Hazare's fast has brought out the anger that is building up in the people. Notice has now been given that people will take to the streets if their will is continuously flouted. The issue is not of one Lokpal Bill. It is one of how representative democracy will run in this country. This is the core issue before the people.
In this battle, Anna Hazare's style and approach may be limited. It may help in focussing on the issue, create a groundswell of opinion. If it builds a middle-class anger against all politics, it may in the long term even be counter productive. Whether we like it or not, the only solution for the problems of Indian democracy and governance is political. And it is this arena which we finally have to enter if the system has to be cleansed.