Two recent events have galvanized the Nation and united us as Indians. While winning the World Cup in cricket is something that calls for celebrations, we need to be cautious about the successful completion of Anna Hazare’s fast. Having been associated with this campaign for bringing in a powerful and meaningful Lok Pal bill from the beginning, I am worried that the initial euphoria will die down and people may lose sight of the larger picture on hand. We first need to understand what the whole issue was about. The Lok Pal Bill has been unsuccessfully introduced in Parliament eight times in the last 42 years. No Political party or Government has had the courage to take the fight against corruption to its logical end. Most of them have offered lip sympathy and done little to show in terms of concrete action. The present UPA Government has been no different from its predecessors and hence the need for a people’s campaign for a Jan Lok Pal bill. How is the people’s bill different and what will it really mean to the common man?
While the Government’s draft Lok Pal bill is nothing more than a crude joke on the citizenry of this country, the Jan Lok Pal bill hopes to bring in a strong legislation keeping both transparency and accountability in mind. It seeks to prosecute the corrupt within one year of the complaint being registered and also provides for confiscation of assets of the corrupt. It also endeavors to give the Lok Pal suo-moto powers and provides for an amendment to the Delhi Special Police Act, thereby creating a separate investigation wing of its own instead of relying on the CBI. But will having all these ensure Good Governance and bring any change in our everyday lives? Interacting with several people, both young and old leaves one worried. There is a feeling of achievement already. Many have come to see this bill as a panacea to curb corruption. Years of suffering under corrupt governments and the increasing helplessness of the common man has left him looking for a messiah to come and fight his battles. Very few people realize that this is only the beginning of our battles. There is still a long way to go. The committee that has been formed has to now deliberate and agree to a draft bill and this itself sounds challenging. With politicians and ministers wanting to ensure that their interests are protected and the civil society representatives intent on having an Act with teeth, the battle-lines seem already drawn. After this is done, the Cabinet needs to agree and approve the same. Then the entire Parliament, which will suddenly face a collective threat, will need to agree and pass the bill into a law. The rules will then have to be drafted and all this needs to be notified in the Gazette. We should consider ourselves fortunate if we have an Act in place within the next year. Once we have the Act, the institution with all its infrastructure and processes need to be put in place before it can start functioning. Amidst all this, we need to keep in mind that the Act can only cover parliamentarians, ministers, employees of the Central Government and its undertakings. Most of these institutions may not be the ones that the man on the street will interact with.
What needs to be done now?
Apart from keeping the energies and the momentum for demanding a strong Lok Pal bill, we also need to ask for a stronger Lok Ayukta Act in Karnataka. Only 13 states in the country have a Lok Ayukta Act and despite all its inadequacies, the Karnataka Lok Ayukta Act is the strongest. We now need to demand that the Government make the act more meaningful by granting prosecution powers to the Lok Ayukta, along with the suo-moto powers that it recently granted. This will help the fight against corruption see tangible results in terms of changes in the way governance affects our lives. Getting ration cards, licenses and title deeds, property registrations and other regulatory processes can be completed without the need for greasing palms or paying bribes. And if people do demand bribes, we could then use the more powerful Lok Ayukta Act to ensure that such corrupt people are prosecuted and punished according to the law.
We also need to understand that corruption thrives only because we as common people encourage and patronize it. Over the last many years, people have gotten used to the process of using speed money to get what they want done. Giving bribes seems to be an acceptable way of doing business. The system thrives only because the bribe giver and bribe taken constantly collude to keep it alive and growing. The fight against corruption will be won only when we agree to be part of the change that we are all demanding. Like the Mahatma said, “we need to be the change that we want to see”. This needs to be demonstrated by living our values and refusing to be a part of the corrupt system.
The time has come for us as common citizens to go beyond the emotion of the moment and join hands to move it to the next level. We now need to reaffirm that we will neither give nor take bribes. Let us begin small and promise to make Mysore a corruption-free district. Let us start doing our bit, however small, to voice our protest whenever we see mis-governance or mal-administration in anything that concerns our lives. Only when we collectively start dis-incentivising corruption and ostracizing the corrupt will change become noticeable.
The time for action is here and now!