Is Lokpal the solution?????

Published December 31, 2011 by vishalvkale

Lokpal – the central topic of discussion, in fact the first topic to actively engage the entire society at large, without exception. Driven by the Utopian dream of Zero Corruption, it has been galvanised into a movement that dreams of removing corruption from our country by creating a powerful Lokpal. Initially even I was pulled in by its allure, my eyes blinded and my thoughts totally engaged and dominated by the promise of finally tackling corruption…

This is not about Annaji, or about Congress vs BJP. It is not about the prevailing chaos surrounding this matter, and at the outset let me clarify that I am not against Lokpal. In fact, I very much want a strong central body like the one advocated by the Jan Lokpal. 

The doubts and questions assailing my mind have more to do with the underlying problem: corruption, its players, its nature and its effects. The first pricks of doubt in my mind emerged when I read the latest corruption ranking index update, which firmly places India among the last countries. India has consistently been rated as being among the most corrupt places in the world. Then I recalled all the earlier updates that I had read in the news… this has been a consistent placement for us on the index. This caused a very basic disconnect within me: can laws alone suffice if we have to reign in corruption? Yes, laws are very important: they provide a “maryada rekha” for us to stay within. They provide a fear factor, and they entail  a loss for the transgressor of established boundaries. But are they alone enough? If laws alone were enough, then there would be no murders and looting anywhere… Ram-Rajya, as it were. Women would be safe at night, there would be no need of locks etc etc…

You might say that it is a far – fetched comparison. Had the 2 cases (Loot / murder vs corruption) been comparable, then every home and every street would be bathed in blood or robbed. But wait a minute, and think. There is a basic fundamental difference: morals. The basic Human nature is good, and the internal moral codes of society act as a deterrent that prevent us from looting or murdering etc. We don’t loot simply because it is a wrong thing to do. The thought that I cant steal because I will go to Jail does not enter our minds at all. In fact, the very thought that I can steal from the Shop or the house next door does not enter our mind. Our internal moral systems, our sense of right and wrong prevent us from doing so.

Which brings me to my fundamental question: what happens to our internal sense of right vs wrong in the case of corruption? Why does it not kick in? And even more pertinently, why should the thought itself occur to us? Remember one thing: corruption has 2 parties – the bribe taker as well as the bribe giver. So long as there are people ready to give a bribe there will be people willing to take a bribe. The stronger controls will undoubtedly have some impact, but simultaneously, people will find more innovative ways to escape and avoid detection. During prohibition, Booze was readily available despite strict controls and laws. The case of corruption will be very much similar to that, methinks. 

The problem is our own internal sense of right or wrong, which cannot understand that giving a bribe is basically wrong. Most of us just do not see anything wrong in giving 10 Rupees to a traffic cop, for instance. Why, boss? You are in the wrong – you have parked in a no-parking zone. So, in  order to escape punishment, you decide the easy way is better! Are you a part of the problem! Follow the thought process to its logical conclusion, and the same reason emerges in the bigger scandals – winning a contract, or buying a land etc. 

There are a host of factors to this problem. The scarce resources being chased by a larger number of people is one, for example. The plain fact is that there is cut-throat competition with a norm of winner taking all. And, in our pressure of living, we resort to unfair means to achieve our goals. It is a sign of the times that we live in, unfortunately. And so long as demand outstrips supply by a large margin, this is a reality that will exist. 

There are a host of manifestations of this problem. But the core of the issue can be encapsulated in a few points:

  1. What happens to our sense of right or wrong when giving or taking a bribe? If the thought of stealing does not occur to us, why is the thought of bribing coming to us?
  2. In the larger scandals, people at all levels of hierarchy have been involved. Why has no one complained, or resisted? Major scandals cannot happen without the passive support of hundreds. It is the silence of normal citizens that is at the core of the problem. Each person remains silent simply because he is scared of being victimised and caught in a minority, while the majority keep silent and enjoy the fruits. The need of the hour is to vocalise the majority of passive supporters into speaking out.
Can the lokpal bill alone solve this? It remains to be seen. A lot will depend upon implementation, of course. As far as the first point is concerned, I have no clue to the solution. For the second, Lokpal might just be effective into galvanising the silent masses. That will depend upon the performance of the Lokpal. And far more importantly, the masses will have to be galvanised into action for this to be effective – they will not come into action by themselves. A body in inertia needs an external stimulus to get out of its inertia! 

The silence of normal citizens can be put to 2 simples causes – they see the silent people prospering, and secondly peer pressure and ostracism. The reality is that whistle-blowers are victimised simply by being ignored by the peers or even ostracised. This can take the simple form of people ignoring you, or can take the ugly form of being passed up for promotions, vicitmisation etc. Unless this is tackled, there can be little hope for any lokpal. One way out could be to focus the attention of everyone – media and normal citizens both – on the problem. This is where Annaji’s movement (hopefully) – which will focus the exclusive attention of society – becomes important. It is a simple legal way of forcing people to look at themselves, of highlighting how corruption is making your own lives difficult and making it good to be right. We need a lokpal, but we also need a social movement to galvanise the masses and make it even acceptable to be a vocal anti-corruption person. If that happens, we might just make it. 

I have just looked at a few issues of the problem – the ones that occur to me. There might be other issues, too – but my objective in this article is simply to highlight that the Lokpal Bill alone will not be enough. The Lokpal bill is just the beginning of the long road, I am afraid….

Edit 1: 2 Jan 7:03: : Looked up, an excellent blog with views somewhat similar to mine, only more developed and well thought… interested parties might look it up

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