There are several things that come to mind, a day after social activist Anna Hazare concluded his 12-day fast to push for his version of the Lokpal legislation. Taken together they tell us something about the emerging political economy of new India.
First and foremost is how the polity acquiesced to the pressure exerted by Hazare and his merry band of urban followers. It is that much more impressive, because initially the government had held Hazare in disdain and even jailed him to dissuade him from carrying out his threat to undertake an indefinite fast. From here on it will be an uphill task, either for the government or for the opposition, to bridge the trust deficit with the Indian public.
Second, the coming together of such a mass following reflected a sense of collective anger, seen so far mercifully only among the urban populace. The cross-section of the support base suggests that the motivation went far beyond the official rallying cry of the fight against corruption. Hazare served as a lightning rod for channelizing public anger and frustration at everything that is wrong around them—near double-digit inflation, jobless growth and visibly growing inequality. The expose of big-ticket corruption was only the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back as it were.
Third is the implicit assumption that the Lokpal legislation is the magic wand to deal with corruption. It is undoubtedly a big deterrent. However, mismanaged it will just turn out to be another layer of bureaucracy; and, worse it will be led by a bunch of self-righteous individuals—a perfect recipe for disaster. The danger of the Lokpal going awry is that politicians, desirous of getting back to old ways, will be quick to pounce on this and say, “I told you so”.
To preclude against this, the social capital that has been realized over the last fortnight should be channelized into nudging the government to push for greater disintermediation through economic reforms. Less intermediaries means that much less scope for corruption and similarly for discretionary powers at various levels of the food chain. More importantly, it will tackle corruption ex ante. This in contrast to the present approach, which mistakenly believes in tackling it after it has occurred. The trick is to prevent corruption, not police it.
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