Sunday, January 29, 2012

Twenty Years Down the Line.. Lokpal and the State

A lot has been said about Lokpal, Anna Hazare and the controversy, yet the issue is so nerve wracking and yet exciting that even today thousands of theses can be written on the topic, without repetition.  And so, here I allow myself to join the leads of armchair activists and pen my own worries.

Many have argued that the Lokpal does not target private organisations who are the biggest source of corruption today and is aiming only to the already-dying government sector.  Optimists express that this should not be a cause to oppose Lokpal as some years down the line, the Lokpal may cover private players as vigorously as the government sector.  Well, I am hardly an optimist in that sense and in this era of LPG, there does not seem to be even a slightest possibility that Lokpal shall penalize the private business houses ever.  In fact, the avoidance of the corruption in private bodies and its over-emphasis on scrutinizing the public officials by even a mere "observation" of corruption, the Lokpal seems to be giant leap towards privatisation if look into its future impact on the public sector.  Let us see how.

The public officials, especially the Grade A and B officers, shall always have the Lokpal sword hanging on their heads.  Whether an officer indulges himself in a "corrupt" activity or not, he shall always be under constant fear of investigation initiated by the so-called "whistle-blowers."  In this spy-camera age, small-time journalists holding a handycam are capable of getting the wind knocked out of government officials, irrespective of whether they are indulged in corruption or not.  A man with a camera and mike is capable of suspending an IAS-rank officer within days.  These men constantly harass public officials for so-called "hafta" or else a sting operation will be performed, which might show them exchanging bribe, regardless of what kind of exchange actually happens, thanks to the bad video quality of such operations.  Lokpal shall be a new item number if this masala movie on corruption and its whistle-blowers as antagonists and the public officers merely side actors, sometimes villains and the other times just junior artists.

So, whats' new in it?  In every good thing, some people are bound to suffer.  Isn't it?  Well it might have been true, except for the fact that once this good thing gets passed, a lot of IAS-ranked officials are estimated to leave the job and take up the private sector instead.  This may not do any harm to their economic life per se, as their salary shall be at least five times what they used to get working under the Government of India and they would have a good chance of settling abroad and cursing India for the deficiencies in its "system," but what shall happen to the system itself?  When more and more first-grade, highly experienced, highly trained public officers voluntarily leave the job for the fear of being scrutinized under the Lokpal (irrespective of the fact that they do something wrong or not), what shall the State do?  Will the State increase the salary of government officers manifold to keep them from attrition?  Or will the State start a massive recruitment drive and people like you and me shall have an increased chance of getting the most-fascinated "bade babu" job?  I honestly discard both of these possibilities.  One cannot expect such socialist measures from a state so blinded by capitalism and foreign investments.

In fact, there is a big chance that once a considerable number of government officers happily leave the job and join the private players, the state shall privatize the entire public departments to look out for the "development and welfare" needs of people.  Imagine some 20 years down the line, Tata taking over the Department of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Apollo taking over Department of Health, and Reliance taking over the Department of Road Transport and Highways.  The supervising officers shall remain the same, but only they will be paid by the corporate houses rather than the Government of India, and so they will do what their employers want them to do and not what seems to be in the interest of the masses. They shall not be required to take any oath to serve the people.  In fact, they shall no more be called public servants even if the term remains a nominal one today.  They shall be the legitimate masters over us.  The agenda shall be profit generation to the optimum, not public service and welfare.  Development shall only be seen in terms of economics and not human development, and the fear is that all this should be legit.  No scope for criticism or dharnas or morchas.  And the big catch??  No reservation for the oppressed caste of course!

The Lokpal bill's arrival as a result of massive Ford-funded campaign by IAC, the government's readiness to let the movement flourish and let the people think of the State as villain and the media as hero, and then come up with the Bill that does exactly the same - victimization of the government officers, from the clerk to the Secretary of the State, points towards a wider conspiracy that may crush down the public sector in pieces and then come up with a full-fledged privatized Indian State where the public work shall be performed by private organisations and of course the ombudsman of Lokpal shall not look into those complaints as they would fall under "private purview."  What shall happen to the poor?  What will they do without jobs in that privatized world?  What shall happen to our government hospitals, schools, and PDS?  Where will the people address their grievances?  What shall you and I do in that state?

Well the poor are most likely to suffer the jolt, as they always do.  And about the "civil society," the you and the I, well, we shall continue to write blogs and analyse and criticize of course, provided the law then does not demand the social media to curtail and censor the anti-corporate articles, twenty years down the line.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Freedom of Expression.... Really?

The Salman Rushdie controversy is getting more and more intense with no signs of ceasefire in the near future. The term Freedom of Expression has been on debate since centuries with varied viewpoints - both in favor of it and against. There are those who say that an artist must be culturally sensitive in his work of art and should not intentionally try to hurt the cultural or religious sentiments of others. There are others who deny the concept of "culturally sensitive" at all arguing that in a plural society like ours, there are thousands of cultures and to keep everyone happy is not an artist's job. There are also those who argue that it should be at the discretion of the individual as to whether he would like to refer to the so-called "blasphemous" content or not, i.e., if a person feels offended, he must not buy that particular book or watch that particular movie or picture. I somewhat agree and disagree to all the above-given arguments and would leave the debate to the intellectuals and activists to speak on it.

Yet, one thing very interesting and equally threatening comes along the way. In an article published today, January 25, 2012, by DNA, named "Cultural Terrorism" where the writer argues that the Muslim groups have overstepped their right to democratic protest. In the closing line of the article, the author has almost threatened the community that this is " a danger to Muslims as much as others."

Very interesting to see that the word "terrorism" has been so conveniently linked to the protests here because the outrage was against the author who had allegedly "dishonored" Prophet Mohammad. The same term of terrorism was never used when Anna Hazare not just overstepped but totally dismantled his right to democratic protest by threatening the supreme institution of Parliament of "grave consequences" if his version of Lokpal Bill was not passed. When Shiv Sena threatened to kill Late M F Hussain, forced him to go to exile where he eventually died, no one linked the Hindutva to terrorism. Nor was it called terrorism when the same right-wing "terrorists" outlawed Fire for it showing a lesbian relationship but never created a havoc for gay relationships shown every now and then in mainstream Bollywood movies.

Just like Anna Hazare and others took advantaged of the already vulnerable political class who are always at the radar of corruption charges, the same way we are blaming the Muslims of cultural terrorism when they are already charged with actual terrorism by the world media. The Muslims of India already suffer from constant insecurity when almost every second day, the headline of the newspapers portray some or the other Muslim youth as the kingpin of some bomb attack. Now, the community is charged of cultural terrorism as well.

Whether the fight between Rushdie and Islamic religious leaders remain a matter within them or it becomes a bigger matter of freedom of speech versus fundamentalism, it is important that we do not start stereotyping the entire community. Fundamentalism is an inherent feature of any religious community. Blasphemy remains a debated subject in all the civilized societies. It is important that in our fight to outcast fundamentalism and revive freedom of speech, we do not become fundamentalists ourselves by branding one community as terrorist over others. Whether we stand for cultural sensitivity or freedom of expression remains a secondary issue.