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What A Quandary ! A Silent Transparency Revolution In India?

India is a mystery. Is it a modern state? Is it an ancient country? Is it both ancient & modern at the same time, a poor & rich country simultaneously, a developed and undeveloped economy all in one, a democracy or plutocracy in a revolving door style, a mono culture and poly-culture entwined, nation or a continent in one? What is it? What is so confounding about this country & its people? There decidedly is something stranger about India than strangeness itself. How else can one explain the developments in Delhi since December26 this year? A newbie has trounced all other established forms of political structures, moral platitudes, economic rhetoric, social pyramids. It has affected all political parties, making them irrelevant (temporarily albeit), and threatens to archive them. It is re-engineering, which was in the works for more than 5 years unobtrusively, started manifesting some 2 years ago but was ignored till it donned the coat of arms in the name of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Even then, nobody was prepared to as much give it any importance. It was never taken seriously and even derided till the Delhi Assembly Elections sprang the real surprise. The political establishment was shaken so badly that they have yet to recover from its shock. They fail to understand what struck them so violently. All the old dirty tricks of rich-poor, progressive-reactionary, communal-secular, pro-anti America, left-right, price-inflation, subsidy-taxation, welfare-investment, market-people, labour-management, public sector-private sector etc fell like nine pins. Nothing could stop the AAP to register an electoral victory that now threatens to expand to the whole country. Half of India is excited while the other half is benumbed as never before. The excited are thronging the AAP for enrolment as full-fledged members or volunteers. The applicants belong to all categories from celebrities to civil servants to marginalized politicians of the calamity struck political parties & their renegades , professionals like managers, doctors, engineers, technologists, lawyers, professors, writers, journalists, social activists, students and the core constituents the aam aadmi or the ordinary people. The party has formed the government even though it has yet to win the vote of confidence of the Assembly. In the healthy constitutional convention, any new government should not take major policy decisions before getting the vote of confidence and should exercise restraint till such time the House passes the vote of confidence. It is to avoid any constitutional crisis in case the party fails to get the vote of confidence of the House and has to quit unceremoniously. But this government is born in as peculiar circumstances as the political party it represents. It is conscious that it might fail to win the confidence vote and may have to go to the voters again in the near future. It is, therefore, exploiting judiciously the time lag between now and the election, which is not far away.

It is keen to do something striking, as titillating as its electoral victory. It has carried out some transfers in some departments, removed the red beacons from the cars of ministers and bureaucrats, thrown open the gates of the secretariat to the aam aadmi and announced free potable water to every family as promised during the election. In the process it has started learning the ropes. So water up to 20 KL per family per month is free, but full charges are to be levied if the consumption goes beyond this limit even by 1 litre, and for other consumers the price gets increased by 10%. This I would call the first lesson in real governance the new party has learnt or taught by the bureaucracy. It is not as though the bureaucracy is stupid or anti-people, but because it can’t afford to be sentimental or liberal at the cost of the public money by indulging in the day dreaming of free food, water, electricity, medicines, education or services. While the bureaucracy tries under exacting circumstances to protect the public money and can’t partner the politician (executive) in playing with the public sentiments, politics is all about selling dreams- hollow dreams- to the people. One may ask: what is the political ideology of the AAP? What is its economic vision? What is its foreign policy mission? Is it different from the popular ideologies in India which a plethora of political parties have been practicing for a long time since 1913? If yes, how? So far nobody knows any answer. Everybody is in a state of stupor after consuming heavily on corruption, probity and transparency. Corruption is such a magnetic word everywhere in the world, but more in India. Organizations like the TI (Transparency International) owe their birth to the word corruption. Now even the UNO has opened a new Division to watch global corruption and has drawn appropriate conventions against corruption, since corruption had reached even the world government.

India poses greater problems in rooting out corruption than many other nations. The only reason is that India is not one nation but a union of many nations, it is a continent. What is corruption for the people in one constituent may not exactly be corruption for the other, what is corruption for a class of people may not be corruption for another class of people, what is corruption for one person may not be corruption for the other. Let me illustrate the point by referring to the free water business. Water and sewerage management in Delhi is the responsibility of the Delhi Jal Board (Jal=water). It employs more than 75000 personnel. The Delhi government or the DJB do not know as to how many are “ghost” employees. May be supervisors or politicians are getting the salary in the name of the employees. It was reported in the press a few years ago that more than 25000 bogus employees are on the rolls of the board (this figure is at times inclusive of the employees of the Delhi Municipal Corporation, which has since been split in to 3 corporations). There are many employees taking salary from 2 government departments. Most of these ghost employees work like slaves on the 1000s of farm houses of ministers and bureaucrats and party bosses in Delhi. They collect their salaries from the DJB or other such department. Rather their bosses collect the salary for them and pay them a part only for providing them residence on the farm house or official residence of the benefactor in a costly city like Delhi, ration card and medical & Health care (as a government employee but exhibited as generosity of the benefactor), school admission for children and promise of helping his/her son/daughter also get similar employment in future. There is more to it. Half the water in Delhi is stolen by illegal connections for domestic, commercial, industrial and trading purposes. While Delhi complains of shortage of water perennially, these illegal operators never experience any shortage but make millions in black money by not paying for water which they sell on market rates! Which government can dare end this menace? It is doubtful if the AAP will succeed in doing so. It may not even be allowed to do that, if the riders with which the promise of free water has been fulfilled by the new government. The highly advanced skills of organized corruption in Delhi can hardly be matched by the new government, which will be watched for some time before corruption strikes at it. As of now, these people are watching the confidence vote. If this government wins it, it will not survive beyond March 2014, by which the Election Commission would have announced the dates for the General Elections. Even if the AAP were to rule for full 5 years of the term of the Assembly, it will not be able to root out corruption in Delhi, for India is not a state but a union of states, which resembles a continent. As stated in the foregoing, in India corruption of the one may not be the corruption of the other. A simple study of the corruption cases will open the eyes of anybody who would like to study the slow and poor rate of punishment in corruption cases. In majority of cases, the charged officer blames the hierarchy of “harassment, bias, mind set, vindictiveness etc”. Who is not aware of the stature of a good lawyer in converting a crime in to an act of kindness and an act of kindness in to a heinous crime akin to daylight murder?

The AAP is growing in ambition: it wants to capture parliament. It has declared to take on the Congress Vice President, and son of the Congress President Sonia Gandhi, in the Amethi constituency. Its success in Delhi where the AAP Chief, Arvind Kejriwal, contested against the Congress Chief Minister of Delhi Ms Shiela Dixit and defeated her by a margin of more than 25000 votes, has given the AAP leaders their new found confidence. In fact Arvind Kejriwal had declared much before the announcement of election to the Delhi Assembly that he would contest against Ms Dixit from whichever constituency she chose to contest. Kejriwal successfully depicted the Congress and in particular  Chief Minister Shiela Dixit as thoroughly corrupt. Now it is the turn of Kumar Viswas, another prominent face of the AAP, to challenge not only the vice President of the Congress but also the BJP PM nominee, Narendra Modi, to contest election from Amethi constituency in UP (Uttar Pradesh), which is considered the pocket borough of the Nehru-Gandhi family to which Rahul belongs. The most interesting aspect of this roaring of the AAP leaders is that they are careful enough not to throw any such challenge to Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP, Lalu Yadav in Bihar, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Navin Patnaik in Odisha, J.Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu. Farookh or Omar Abdulah of J&K state or Prakash Singh Badal of Punjab etc. The AAP selects its targets very carefully from amongst those who are comparatively softer targets. Though it has a substantial following and sympathizers in almost all states of the country, the AAP has restricted its target to Rahul & Modi only. It immediately recalls to mind the contest against Indira Gandhi by Raj Narain in 1972. Such challenge acts as a perfect symbol of vanquishing the mightiest but does not endure enough to give an alternative. Only time will tell if the AAP would be able to attain that distinction, for it is for the first time that the change has begun in the national capital in Delhi. As the AAP is an offshoot of the Anna Hazare led movement for an ombudsman to watch, investigate and bring to justice all the corrupt including even the Prime Minister, it has made gains even it had not imagined due to the association of ideas with the movement, Anna Hazare and above all Anna’s resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi. After the formation of the AAP, Anna Hazare has broken all ties with Kejriwal and his associates. In fact, Kejriwal’s right hand man, Gopal Rai, came for a severe reprimand from Anna Hazare publicly during his last fast for the passing of the Lok Pal Bill by the parliament. Gopal Rai picked up an unseemly argument with Gen. V.K. Singh when he was addressing the gathering in Ralegaon Siddhi, the village developed by Anna Hazare and the site of his last fast for the Lok Pal Bill, after the stunning victory of the AAP in the Delhi polls.

It is not a good sign as the party has to reveal its policies clearly on several important issues afflicting and threatening the country. Has it any policy on reservations? Does it subscribe to genuine secularism or the kind of the other parties? Does it want to cultivate poverty or corruption? Has it an economic doctrine which can deliver justice? Can it simplify the Income Tax, Excise & Customs Laws? Is it going to end adulteration of milk, butter, edible oils? Can it uproot fake medicine manufacturing before it promises to root out corruption? Can it arrange to provide quality education to all children? Can it change the pay structure in education to attract and retain high quality teachers in school and higher education? Has it any plan to stop brain drain and promote brain gain? How is it going to deal with social and religious conflicts? How is it going to respond to terrorism? Does it believe that low grade services at police station, primary school or PHC need immediate replacement by the highest quality since they form the foundation of the strong nation? Does it also practice tokenism, as in the case of free water? In the complex and conflicting state craft, does it find itself burdened with too much of state secrets which cannot be made transparent? When some methods in governance look patently unethical (or corrupt), such as in counter insurgency or counter terrorism etc, does it still insist on transparency, probity and honesty? Has its experience of governing for a short period imparted it some maturity blunting its sharpness in political rhetoric?

What is then the future of the AAP led “silent transparency revolution”? They have indeed brought about a revolution, without shedding a drop of blood, dirty tricks, manipulation of the media or pumping black money or employing muscle power. The Election Commission deployed Income Tax Flying Squads seized cash amounting to rupees 27 crores from political workers of the Congress, BJP and other parties. Such seizures in the past 3 years in various states amounted to more than 300 crores. Hardly any state can vouch for absolutely clean elections. It is nothing different from the charges of rigged referendum in even the most advanced countries. The voters in India have acted over smart for many years now- they accept money, goodies, liquor etc as it comes their way during elections but cast their vote to the candidates of their choice. When there was no third choice to exercise, they alternated between the available parties- the Congress and the BJP. The communist parties had lost their relevance long ago and regional parties like the NCP, RJD, DMK, AIDMK, BJD, JD(U), NC,SS, SP, BSP, AD etc have no national appeal. They can sometimes exploit the fluid political situation by demanding their pound of flesh when no party gets an absolute majority and can’t form the government without taking (read buying) their support. But their regional base shall continue to remain the rallying point for the voters limited by lack of a national support base. In a way, it is a kind of exploitation of the un-empowered, who are kept dependent on doles from the state government of their chosen political party. In such a scenario, where does the AAP fit? It is yet to crystallize. It is the dilemma before all the national political parties. In the search for a nationalistic brand image, all political parties are upturned, compelling them to make adjustments, compromises, give & take—formulas that affect its image of transparency and probity. As mentioned earlier, India being a continent of caste, creed, regions, language, cultures, ethics, morality, philosophy, literature, visions, mission and objectives, finds it extremely difficult to devise a single standard acceptable or satisfactory to all. No single size fits all. Excepting glorifying diversity, there is nothing that can be done to unify the country to adopt a single approach to corruption or probity or clean government. It is no less than a wonder that the framers of the Constitution of India could write the mother law so clearly and elaborately.  How did it happen? What acted as the inspiring catalyzing chemical in this process? It was the national fervor, even though there were influential pockets of political movements against the Indian independence, who decried Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress. Congress alone was the monolith in the beginning. There was no BJP. The only other party with limited influence was the communist party and highly influential individuals like the social workers, industrialists, philanthropists and formers Princes (Maharajas, Rajas & Nawabs). The Congress was like a big umbrella under which differing opinion makers worked in unison till they walked their own separate ways one by one. Most political parties of today are splinter groups of the GOP of India the Congress Party, such as the NCP, TMC, BJD etc. The real fighters are the Congress and the BJP at the national level. Their dominance of the political space is regularly challenged by the formation of pre election alliances of disparate political parties, who come together at election time to impede, stall or block the march to success of either national party. They end up making enough gains by becoming king makers or spoilers in a fluid political situation as they did in 2004 and 2009 by supporting an alliance under the Congress leadership, which has ended as the most corrupt and scam ridden formation in the history of India. Under this arrangement- UPA I & II- the constitution of India has been undermined, government made dysfunctional and policy formulation paralyzed. The AAP made its entry in the political field at such a juncture. It is for the first time that a 14 months old party has challenged from day one both the national parties and promised a non-congress non-BJP government. Before it, coalitions for the purpose called the Third Front had been formed without any success. It was for the first time that the newly formed party AAP not only humbled both the parties at the hustings but succeeded in forming a government too. It needs to be remembered that others before the arrival of the AAP had achieved such feats like  the AASU (All assam Student Union) in Assam formed a government, the BJD (Biju Janata Dal in the name of Biju Patanaik, an old Congress hand, who was arraigned for corruption)in Orissa (now renamed as Odisha), DMK (Dravid Munetra Kazagham) and the AIDMK (All India Anna Dravid Munetra Kazgham) in Tamil Nadu, NC (National Congress) in Jammu & Kashmir, BSP (Bahujan Samajwadi Party)and the  SP (Samajwadi Party)in UP, TMC (Trina Mool Congress) in West Bengal. But they had their ideology to speak for them.

In case of AAP it is its Chief Arvind Kejriwal who speaks on its policies and ideology beyond its 70 manifestos for the 70 Assembly constituencies of Delhi. The AAP is born after the implementation of the Mandal Commission. Grounds of its success lie in the social re-engineering and the disillusionment following it. It has played on the problems of the people, who have been oppressed extensively by the UPA regime in the past 10 years to the worst exasperating extent. It was during these 10 years that the people in the states felt abandoned by the state to their destiny and loot by the ruling conglomerates there. Security of the person and property as also honour and dignity from the ordinary to dignitaries was compromised to such an extent that people rose in defiance in Delhi under the leadership of Anna Hazare in multitudes, as if they were waiting for the arrival of any such enigmatic leader. Anna ignited the fire that was burning in their hearts to punish the ruling establishment severely in whatever way they could. Since Anna revived the Gandhian principles of non violence and civil disobedience, violence was shunned while expressing public displeasure. People’s promotion of AAP and handing them an impressive electoral success was the natural result of these developments. Political parties, journalists, writers, commentators, analysts and all other intellectuals are engaged on analyzing the reasons for AAP’s unbelievable success in its maiden effort. Arvind Kejriwal has his ears to the ground when he calls it the providential bliss. Yes, it is the intervention of providence. Nature has its own laws to restore health and vigour to the body and soul- whether it is of an individual or a nation. India has been ruined in less than 47 years to such an extent that people had come to accept corruption as the only way to survive in an otherwise hostile political environment. It is a real chaotic situation. Murders take place as routinely as rapes, robbery or bomb blasts! Politicians stand for the criminals and terrorists against the law enforcement officers, many of whom had laid their lives in the line of duty. Their families are left to mourn, like the families of 2 Indian soldiers beheaded by the Pakistan Army, whose heads have not yet been returned by Pakistan to India. It is the bottled up anger of the people which had erupted in the Delhi elections. People would like it to be repeated in the forthcoming parliament elections. But the indecisiveness of the voters is feared to throw up a hung parliament, as the Delhi Assembly. Arvind Kejriwal is not confident how long his government will survive. Even political commentators know that its days are numbered. However, the bigger question is whether the silent revolution will die its natural death or unnatural death like the fate of the earlier bigger revolutions like the Gujarat Nav Nirman agitation, Jai Prakash Narain led Total Revolution (Sampoorna Kraqnti), AASU etc. or survive?

Revolutions anywhere anytime are always effective. Some die with their proponents, others live longer. Mahatma Gandhi’s revolution inspires us in India as also elsewhere in the world even today. Since the AAP is born of the pure Gandhian thoughts distilled in public mind, this transparency revolution will endure all the attempts at counter revolution by the sharks of the political sea. Sacrifices will have to be made. That is not difficult. India is a nation of born martyrs. They value public good over their private interest and honour freedom of thought and expression over servitude. This personality suffers bouts of slavery from time to time, but temporarily only. After all, we are children of a particular geography and its reigning climate which determines to a great extent our physique and mentality. We are more than one nation at the same time, we are a whole continent of thousands of languages, beliefs, food, dresses, cultures etc. We have so much to learn from each other and explore the world too that we have really no time to waste on politics or politicking. We are the happiest without any government. That explains the reason for our ancient thinkers to withdraw in to the deepest forests and distant mountains to pursue their vocations in complete peace undisturbed by rulers, rules or the ruling establishment. The miseries heaped on our people in the past years were the result of the mistaken belief that we don’t know how to rule ourselves and hence are easy targets for soft enslavement. In democratic India our politicians fell for illusions about the people and their power. The AAP has compelled them to thinks seriously. The politicians now understand that they had miscalculated the people’s power, their style of governing themselves through self-rule with minimum intrusion, interference or invasion from the ruling establishment, who they have appointed to serve them on payment of salary, allowances and privileges. If the ruling establishment forget their status vis a vis the aam aadmi, they have been decisively reminded and put on notice to behave properly in future. The people care two hoots if the Kejriwal government survives or collapses. They have asserted their authority for clean, transparent and serving government. They refuse to tolerate non functioning government like that of Manmohan Singh led UPA-II government (United Progressive Alliance-II). They have laid down their choice of government in no uncertain terms. It will now be for the Congress, BJP and all other political outfits to change gears & appropriately respond to the charter of commission laid down by the people.

The Congress is no longer an umbrella organization for disparate political elements operating from a single platform. The BJP has suffered erosion of its base. The AAP has not yet proved it’s all India capabilities. It is best described by the manufacture of a contraption in Haryana (the state Kejriwal comes from) called the “Juggad” (nearest translation being a funny or odd assembly by piecing together of unmatched combinations of parts for manufacturing the whole), which is a rural transport vehicle of a kind of its own. It is made of a wooden body mounted on a diesel engine and aeroplane tyres with complimenting mechanical parts to make it run smoothly on dirt roads in rural India ferrying man, machines, animals, fodder and goods to and fro the market. Since the government has miserably failed to provide any roads or transport in the rural area, the people have invented and manufactured the juggad, which is rendering invaluable services in the countryside, without causing any pollution or major accidents. The political Juggad that the AAP has assembled in Delhi owes it to the post Mandal Commission developments and disillusionments in the continental identity of Delhi, as distinct from the national identity in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Benguluru etc. Even in Delhi, pockets of sub-nations have returned candidates, who have doggedly refused to join the continental conglomerate, trying to maintain old hostility towards the unity of India under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Whether the AAP or Kejriwal will ever be successful in persuading them to partner in the vision of this new India is difficult to say.

That brings us to another important issue of economic prosperity versus poverty. The word “corruption” has been overused in India in these past 66 years. Corruption has never been unknown to Indians. They know it for centuries. They practiced it -during the British regime, in the Calcutta municipal corporation, state governments formed consequent prior to independence, in military procurements during the second world war, in Nehru’s time and thereafter, and in the last 10 years everywhere from municipality through the state and central government. Our skills in corruption make news abroad too, which get detected sometimes. The point is that all those Indians who lived a life of probity and service to the people in whatever walk of life they got the opportunity to serve, have ended in difficult financial conditions and those thoroughly corrupt have created assets that will last them generations. It is not simple wealth but the opportunity for growth to the corrupt and their children like access to the best education, professional success, standing in society, isolation in an environment of contempt for any talk against corruption or virtues of probity, honesty or transparency. One India hates corruption, the other campaigns against corruption. With not all voters casting their ballot, and thus keeping their opinion on such important matter as a clean government to themselves, it is difficult to surmise if the society views corruption as a vice or virtue. The ideal situation would be where the voter returns a clear and decisive verdict for a clean government. But what it does is giving a split verdict, rendering government formation not only difficult but also susceptible to blackmail by supporters outside the party getting the largest number of seats. The AAP has not succeeded in changing the public behaviour in this regard and is unlikely to achieve more success in the future. The apprehension is that the initial public euphoria is likely to recede in due course as in other similar revolutions. The divergence of views, conflict of interests, differing visions etc are going to impact the AAP and its proper functioning too. If it insists on total transparency, it is likely to walk in to the trap of poverty where policy is substituted by attractive slogans like “end poverty or end corruption etc”. If it shows flexibility, it is going to attract the stigma of being like other political parties. Liberating India of poverty is no easy task, and yet not an impossible one either. It requires the services of genuinely honest public servants. Only the people can provide such public servants. So far the people have shirked their responsibility. The singular achievement of the AAP experiment has been the re-establishment of public faith in honesty and clean government. The success or failure of the transparency revolution now depends on the people. It is for the public to decide whether they want a clean government or the same old tricks of fronts and alliances formed before elections or after elections to convert the elected offices in to money spinning machines (ATMs). Populism of any kind, including AAP kind, is indicative of weak policy formulation and implementation. Subsidy or free electricity or water etc without rational policy pronouncements is a sure recipe for economic disaster, law & order, stability, peace and growth. Stable government, without the crutches of outside support or alliances alone, is the only insurance for good governance.

There is something for the Congress, BJP and all other parties to learn from the emergence of the AAP. They should stop firing arrows in the dark and adopting old tricks of flinging corruption charges, deals or character assassination. Instead they should try to understand the new phenomenon. They can ignore the new development because it is going to power politics in India in the coming decades. This is highly educated young India determined to set the country in order. Unlike its predecessors, it wants to stay home and use its knowledge and skills for development in the country. They understand politics better than the professional politicians. What takes the politician several years to crack, decipher or assimilate, this generation picks up in no time just at the click of the mouse. They are better equipped to analyze problems and find solutions. They have access to several solutions and an informed choice to choose one that suits their country best. Just think of a million IIT, IIM, Engineering and medical graduates in collaboration with other elite and the aam aadmi, venturing out to usher in the much needed change. Can the old political tricks of the Congress, BJP and other politicians trounce such powerful show of people’s strength? At least the AAP story tells otherwise.

The political class has learnt at their cost the appeal and rise of the AAP/civil society they treated with derision as “unequal”. Their performance in the Assembly during the Vote of Confidence today exposed them further: they gave elaborate evidence of being unequal to the AAP. The government created a situation which compelled their arch rival, the Congress Party MLAs, to express their confidence in the AAP government, which rules with just 28 MLAs in a House of 70.

 

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