The Complicate Web of Corruption

It is now almost a year since the Transparency Revolution under the leadership of Anna Hazare gathered steam. It received tremendous public support. The success of this revolution itself became its biggest enemy. The whole political class felt threatened. Its political implications became crystal clear to them after the field experience in an election, where the ruling party candidate not only lost the election but his security deposit too. This was a signal to all the political parties to unite in opposing the success of the revolution and they ensured that the legislation for the creation of an effective anti-corruption ombudsman, called the Lokpal, did not materialize. The shadow boxing in the name of a debate was well choreographed and orchestrated by the high and mighty while everyone seemed to invent excuses and justifications for their conduct. The people watched in disbelief the whole charade. The Hindi word “Lila” best describes it.

The question is: why are people so much afraid to take on corruption, even as they speak loud for probity, ethics, standards, transparency, cleanliness, honesty etc? It appears that it is “useful” to talk against corruption but unwise to lock horns with it. Perhaps one is idealism and the other pragmatism! Since it is difficult to make the idealistic to appreciate pragmatism, the political class does agitate with the revolutionaries against corruption but functions in collusion with it while enjoying executive authority. No wonder, the call for transparency always comes from the youth. For them corruption is personified in the incumbent leaders of the executive. They never come face to face with the invisible form of corruption, which withdraws into the wings for a short time , only to re-occupy the throne with greater vigour to compensate for the loss suffered in the interregnum. Such is the nature of corruption. The inexperienced youth is drawn into the magic  domain of corruption slowly but surely. The pragmatic or the sagacious move towards the centre stage intelligently. The era of counter transparency revolution then begins. These sagacious beings survive the upheavals. Had they taken head on corruption, they would have been eliminated in any case. By emerging victorious also they would have been losers, for they would not have been able to reap the benefits of corruption, without which it is difficult to successfully practice parliamentary democracy and win elections to capture power. Power and corruption are complimentary to each other. Constitutional platitudes are one thing, their actualization another. The assurance of judicial remedies is nothing more than promise of a happy life in the other world given by religious leaders to their followers after relieving them of the burden of their purse.

It takes a long time to understand the intricacies of the web of corruption. It is very difficult for an un-corrupted fellow to unravel it. In the beginning an ordinary person would not even know from which side to enter this web and how to come out of it. Idealism will make him just take head on, only to realize soon the failure of his attempt and the frustration of being unsuccessful. Anna Hazare got the maximum support from the youth. The politicians he had invited for an open public debate did not speak in one voice for the adoption of the legislation formulated by Anna and his team for the approval of the government and the parliament. All of them seemed  to support before the public (electorate really) the idea of a strong Lokpal, but resorted to subterfuges in inanities. A three days special sitting of the parliament was convened for discussing and passing the Lokpal legislation, which proved to be an exercise in organizing strategy to delay a decision. The Bill could not be passed in the special sittings of the parliament. It was enough for the spin doctors to present it as the commitment and sincerity of the political class for a strong and effective Lokpal.

The whole exercise alludes perfectly to the Mahabharat episode relating to the Chakravyuh Rachna and its breach by Abhimanyu. The story in short is: one day the commander of the Kaurav army, Dronacharya, weaved the chakravyuh . Chakravyuh is an intricate pattern, more complicated than the spider web, which appears to be in circles to the attacking army. This battle field formation is deceptively dangerous to the attacking army. Its entry points are known only to a trained General, who knows its weak flanks to make the right entry and launch a successful attack and then come out victorious. In the Pandava army, only Arjun possessed the necessary skills, but he was fighting on another front. The Kaurava  army was meanwhile advancing towards the Pandava army in this formation and were planning to capture Yudhisthir, the Pandava king, alive in order to end the war and score the victory. When all attempts of the Pandavas failed to deter the Kaurav army, Yudhistir called upon his Generals if anyone knew the technique of breaking the enemy defence .Everyone pleaded ignorance. Only one young voice declared that he knew only the method of breaching the chakravyuh but did not know how to come out of it successfully. It was 14 year old son of Arjun, who had heard his father describe it to his mother when he was in her womb. However, his mother fell asleep before his father could complete the whole story. So Abhimanyu knew only the way to make an entry and attack the enemy, but didn’t know how to escape when required. He was encouraged by Yudhistir and other elders, who assured him that they would  be by his side to provide him the necessary security cover and support. Abhimanyu launched the attack, breached the enemy defence, inflicted heavy casualties, but was fatally wounded. An unarmed Abhimanyu  was  surrounded by the renowned Generals including Bhisma Pitamah and Dronacharya, Karn and Kripacharya, Duryodhana and Shakuni, Dushaashan and Ashvathaamaa etc and brutally killed in complete violation of the rules of the war settled between the two sides in advance in the august presence of Bhisma Pitahmah and Yudhistir. To me this episode provides the perfect symbol of idealism of the youth against corruption and the power of corruption against the idealism. But for these highly revered Generals, Abhimanyu had almost scored the victory. However, he forgot the power of the collective might of these Generals. They revealed their true identity at the last moment only. From their point of view they emerged on the scene at the opportune time. Their only objective was to score the victory, for which they didn’t mind throwing the rules to the winds! If Abhimanyu had not learnt his lessons, it was his fault. Anna Hazare and his team is like the youthful Abhimanyu, and the entire political establishment like the Kaurav Generals.

When I look back on the past 6 decades, I find the futility of the small battles I had fought against corruption. I have a sense of wasted efforts, as things have not improved at all. On the contrary, they have gone from bad to worse. The only solace lies in my early conclusions that it was a better option to serve the people through civil service rather than active politics. As a student activist, I had the early opportunity to work in elections and see the highest in real life situations. I saw their true character in inciting riots, conflicts, bribing the voter, untrue words, hollow promises of better days ahead, eradication of poverty, disease and illiteracy and bogus voting. I also saw the colourable exercise of executive power to dole out undeserved favours at the cost of the deserving. Misuse of administrative machinery and police was all the more brazen. I feel good that I didn’t fall for their allurements of political office for party work and subsequent entry into the assembly. I decided to dedicate myself to honest public service. I have tried to fulfill that promise to myself to the best of my ability. But I give credit for that to my mother, Late Chameli Devi(maiden name  Kalawati) and father,  Late Kalyan Prasad Gupta, who always encouraged me to work honestly without fear of the consequences, even though we were passing through very difficult times financially. I also was lucky to have some of the very best civil servants for my superiors in authority, known for their integrity and very high standards of public service. But above all, let me confess, it was only by the Grace of God, otherwise it has become very difficult to render honest public service in India.

Viewed in this context, the transparency Revolution set in motion by Anna Hazare will continue for a long time. It will continue to get fullest public support. However the public and the politicians share a ratio of 99:1 and the concentration of all executive power in the hands of the 1% is bound to nurture corruption. Corruption guarantees them an uninterrupted reign. Greed never grows old and greed for executive power certainly never does. Power is an addiction that can’t be given up easily. That is why retirement is prescribed. Ancient Indian custom prescribed Vanaprastha for the ruler (the Ruler must retire to seclusion by proceeding to the sylvan serenity at the right time) when his successor is ready to take over. But our politicians never die- we celebrate their birth days long after they are gone, in the hope of making political gains out of it!

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