Dialogue October-December, 2011, Volume 13 No. 2


Of Governance, Corruption and Anna Hazare Movement 

J.N. Roy*



When we requested senior govt. servants for articles on the subject of Governance and Bureaucracy for the present issue of Dialogue, most of them on their own addressed the issue of corruption. Another aspect was that they blamed the political interference and influence for the poor governance and decline of bureaucracy in the country. It is not surprising as corruption is at the centre of public discourse at the moment and political interference has been a constant refrain. Both impact governance.
     But is that all to the overall culture of governance? One starts suspecting elements of rationalisation in the approach even though true. Are not there many other aspects to governance where the senior echelons of bureaucracy, judiciary, the police and others, have free hand and could exert to improve the quality and content of administration? Lack of close supervision and  deterrent action by senior ranks is also responsible for corruption and maladministration at the lower levels in civil, police and judicial set ups. Senior all India service officials are loathe to serve long years in the district and higher judiciary is too overworked to tend and supervise the local courts. Surely there are large areas in the realm of governance where a determined civil service can make a difference without any outside interference.

     Another matter which begs the question, which all the senior ranks of bureaucracy and judiciary should ponder over is their duty and responsibility to resist undue, and at times illegal demands (refer to recent land acquisition issues in Noida/Greater Noida among others) and set better examples for the juniors. One starts suspecting that senior ranks are over emphasing the issue of political interference to salve their conscience and rationalise succumbing too easily to avoid inconvenience and trouble, or even for favours. We must look at the issue of political interference in administration in perspective and if the bureaucracy is pulling its weight, inspite of it, to improve the quality of governance? When accusing politicians the permanent bureaucracy backed by statutory safeguards need also to introspect on their own response to public trust.                                                                                                   
    Another aspect which needs attention is that when we discuss role of bureaucracy in governance we mostly discuss the higher bureaucracy, and its decline. There is no doubt that it is the higher bureaucracy which sets the tone and texture of overall administration. However, the administrative apparatus at the cutting edge level is far more numerous and pervasive and deals with the common man in his day-to-day affairs, including the vaunted and much publicised developmental projects and policy initiatives. It is here, as far as the common citizen is concerned, that the difference between a “public servant” and “master” is blurred and erased. A govt. servant at the delivery level dispenses ‘favour’ not “service”. It is a mindset inherited, from the colonial times. Even the current campaign against the all pervasive phenomenon of corruption and setting up of a Lokpal to control it ignores the corruption and maladministration the common citizen encounters at the level of delivery. There is no doubt that an improvement in governance at higher levels will also reflect positively at grass-root levels, yet the current campaigners fail to highlight the enormity and helplessness of the common citizen, particularly in rural environs. It is perhaps because this segment of citizens lack the usual access to attention which the urban middle class has of the media and consequent pressure it exerts. The campaigners like Anna Hazare and his team, who seem to be beholden to media for their clout, should pay greater attention to improving the governance and lessening corruption for the citizens at the nether most levels. The effort, perhaps, also has to be bottom-up rather than top-down and accept that the real crisis of governance is at the delivery level.                                                                                                                    
    Another point which deserves attention is the paradox that while a majority of civil servants, particularly at higher levels, are honest and well-meaning; may be even a good number of politicians; yet the overall product is depressing. It is because of several factors. Compromising with integrity, values and morality across the board is at the root of the problem. Rationalising failures and illegal actions has acquired an art form. Setting up institutions and checks will not deliver unless certain red-lines of values are drawn across the board for politicians and govt. servants and adhered to. Regulators, called by any name, should only see that these red lines are not crossed and ensure that the violations will be visited by inescapable consequences.                                             
    Infact, the issue of deficit in Governance, at all levels, political, administrative and social, is a battle against human frailities and how to keep it within manageable limits. And its being waged not only in India, but all over the world. Our social diversity and complexity only adds to the problems. We do not seem to agree on common denominators and solutions, as class interests seem to trump the overall public good. Even at the risk of being rhetorical and simplistic the solution is Gandhian.Visualise and factor in the poorest and the weakest Indian in all our plans, policies and actions. The powerful can and do take of their interests.                                                                                                                  
    The current struggle against corruption led by Anna Hazare at one level is embroiled in efforts to punish all by the campaigners, and how to blur the red-lines by those resisting it, citing practicability as defence. Its tragic because the movement has every thing to do to with good governance. The need is to keep things simple and implementable.        
    Its time to evaluate the direction of the movement against corruption led by Anna Hazare. Its relevance and importance for the citizens of the country should not be minimised. It must be understood that it is the issue which has made heroes of Anna and his team. The establishment which had so far been dragging its feet and hiding behind legal quibbles, procedures and sovereignty of parliament to make laws, was forced to bend before the people’s support to the movement. However, the establishment, used to avoiding and diverting attention over the issue has felt humiliated and stung by the outcome. Sensing electoral fall-out, it is fighting back trying to divert the popular discourse over the issue to personal traits of activists of the movement, as well as support of the RSS/BJP to the movement as a political red herring. However, it is the issue, the movement against corruption which is paramount and not the personalities around it. Its thrust should not be allowed to be diluted.

     Unfortunately, the team around Anna is contributing to the efforts to divert the direction of public discourse on the issue of corruption. Except Anna Hazare himself, the prominent team members by their actions and statements, are falling in the trap of those opposed to them in their objectives. After receiving the solemn assurance from the Parliament (not from the govt. or any political party) they should have acted with dignity and humility and not indulged in veiled threats, and patently political partisanship, as in Hissar elections. They have no right to demand assurances from political parties for support to the Lokpal Bill in Parliament. While keeping the principle of movement alive they should wait for the outcome of the Winter session of Parliament with patience. 

    There is every indication that team Anna is deviating from the Gandhian path of rectitude and ethics, though adopting Gandhian methods. To keep the movement apolitical and potent they should not commit the mistake which the J.P. movement committed and ended up only as a campaign for a regime change. It happened because of failing health and early death of J.P. and preponderance of political parties in the movement. Anna Hazare will have to act decisively to keep on the path of modesty, humility and openness. He doesn’t have to deny or accept support from the RSS, BJP or others. He should welcome support from all Indians and invite Congress and others also to support from outside, but act on his own. He should eschew any kind of involvement in electoral politics except reforms in electoral process and call to vote for honest people irrespective of political label or else his movement will also end up as one for regime change and face an early demise.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati