A hole in the bucket

Now that Team Anna is contemplating forming a political party, I wonder why Anna Hazare had to go as far as New Delhi to look for a clean government.

After the enormous scandal of the Adarsh Housing Society, wherein a sitting chief minister was found involved in a quid pro quo and had to resign under ignominy (though his personal scam was just around Rs. 6-7 crore while many other chief ministers and ministers have clearly manipulated thousands of crores), Maharashtra has got one of the cleanest governments of the time: and that is clearly a feather in Anna Hazare’s cap.

It is difficult to say this without sounding as though one is supporting corruption but Maharashtra’s current chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, is the cleanest man you can find anywhere in the state – and his government has come to a halt over the past 18 months or so that he has been CM. Chavan is simply suspicious of every one and every thing; hence he goes through every file personally before sanctioning any project. That has brought all development activity in the state to a standstill because it is simply not possible for one man to quickly dispose of all the files in double quick time – and the pending piles of files in his office are now as high as his ceiling.

The CM is suspicious of his own MLAs and the Congress has now given up hopes of winning the next elections – one MLA told the CM to his face that he had had to bring 17 delegations to his office for clearing just one development work over the past year “And you have still not sanctioned that much-needed project in my constituency. How am I supposed to get the votes? I am not even applying for a ticket in 2014. And any other Congressman you give the ticket to will lose, too.”

But it’s not just a matter of the Congress MLAs. Apart from the fact that the Nationalist Congress Party, too, is driven up the wall by the CM’s strict adherence to his principles, the Congress party as a whole finds it has alienated many corporates who are disappointed at the painfully slow pace of development in Maharashtra in the past couple of years and would rather not do business with the party.

One senior Congress minister told me, “It is a good thing that the opposition in the state is in more disarray than us and in a much more pathetic state. Or else we would surely have been dead by now.”

It is very difficult not to support Chavan in his single-minded clean-up act. And having seen his work at close quarters, I am sure this is exactly how Anna’s political party will work if it wants to keep up its “honest” profile. With another handicap: perhaps in keeping its government honest, it might set the police upon the police and instead of clearing the files honestly (though slowly) as Chavan is now doing, much of the time of Anna’s government might be frittered away in punishing the corrupt and the guilty. Development might once again be the casualty.

But I guess that is painting too gloomy a picture of things to come. If at all the India Against Corruption movement converts itself into a political party, it will be interesting to see where it first finds the money to contest enough Lok Sabha seats to form a government. And if it does, it would be even more interesting to observe how it escapes its debts to its donors. The process is bound to result in some amount of corruption, or even alienation of both the donors and the expectant people, and that might quite defeat the purpose of the IAC, ain’t it?

But that is jumping the gun, really. Actually, much as I have been a critic of Team Anna and have always believed that Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and others have insulted our intelligence and played us for fools for more than a year, it might not be quite a bad thing if some honest individuals now enter the political arena. There are no quick fix solutions to ridding society and government of corruption but if these individuals are truly secular and demonstrate some staying power, India could be on the way to getting another centrist political party that could be an alternative to the Congress. And while the nation might be a long long way from that ideal, the choice between a left of centre (Congress) and a right of centre (Team Anna) party might be the best thing to happen to India. For, I firmly believe that both the right (BJP) and the left (Communists) in India have been too batty and fractious to make a meaningful difference to the lives of common Indians.

But will we really have a credible alternative? I cannot help but recall what my political science professor at university had once told us. “You can never beat the system. You have to become either part of the system or get out of it.”

He had been a former Indian Foreign Service officer and he was talking in context of both the bureaucracy and the political class. He had chosen to get out of the system after coming to the conclusion that “the bureaucrats are just as honest or corrupt as the politicians allow them to be and vice-versa.” I have better understanding now but, more idealistic as a student, when I asked him to explain what he meant, he directed me to Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. “But I will give you an easier example,” he said, “You don’t have to roll a stone up the hill. Look at goodness and honesty as clean water – but the bucket in which you draw from the well will always have the tiniest of holes. For the short distance, it will still be almost full of clean water; for the long haul, though, it will be empty by the time you have reached your destination. You will eventually have to throw away the bucket and if you do not have the means to buy another one, you are lost. But if and when you do buy a good clean bucket, someone will always be waiting round the corner to drill a hole into the new one while you are not looking. So you just have to get out of the race.”

So many years later, I believe that Sisyphian analogy suits Anna Hazare to the ‘T’. May he be able to stop people drilling a hole into his bucket. If he succeeds, it will be good for the rest of us: at last we will have to pay no bribes to the traffic cop, to the rationing officer or even to the municipal officer at the cremation ghats who will not sign your death certificate unless you have passed on a bottle of liquor under the funeral pyre.

I hope all this happens in my time on this earth, in this great country of ours!

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