31 Dec 2011

The Great Indian Farce

Posted by Oblivion in General | 12:20pm

Besides becoming increasingly political, team Anna's campaign is becoming increasingly farcical. I find it amusing that the campaign has attracted so much attention in the first place. But this is largely due to media's obsession for creating sensation about every damn thing. It's sick that media and supporters alike are referring to Anna almost like a saint. And those innumerable references to him being a Gandhian! It's the same fawning attitude that the country had maintained for Nehru family that it is showing now for Anna and his team. 

First, he is not at all a Gandhian. Far from it. Gandhi's grandson himself admitted he finds equating Anna with Gandhi funny. However, it's an irrelevant point. It matters little if he is one or not. He may have done commendable job in his village. Reward him with Bharat Ratna, recommend him for two Nobel prizes too. But that's that. Extrapolating it to suggest that he is some saviour of the entire country is illogical and idiotic. It speaks low of the intelligence of the population, but probably that's really how dumb we are. If it is indeed true that thousands of youth are supporting the campaign, then it makes me feel sad. When the young are so thoughtless, then the future of the country is hopeless.

It appears that when some countries got sick of dictatorship and made violent yet bold moves to try democracy, India is willingly letting a despotic team take the reins.

Corruption is not about money. It's about greed. It's about values. Our entire education system is designed for the sole purpose of earning livelihood. Success is worshipped (btw, this isn't an exaggeration. The increasing number of suicides among students more than clearly suggests how much importance the society places on academic performance). Success is measured in terms of wealth. Ambition is encouraged and the young are constantly driven to compete and succeed. Naturally, the system endorses accumulation of wealth and private ownership. As much as one dislikes to admit, money is an important criterion for the institution of marriage. This is the system we live in. 

One is expected to succeed, so one is always on the run to earn more than his peers. Greed is not looked at as harmful anymore, so much so that advertising campaigns overtly suggest that greed is cool. With such a system in place, why is it then a surprise if corruption is rife? Such a system naturally encourages corruption. So when we don't do anything to change the system, but try to address a superficial offshoot, are we solving the problem totally? Will it ever stop corruption?

Media is a shameless bitch. Movies like Rann only mildly give a glimpse of how media houses are actually run. It's only the gullible who would believe that media are really concerned about citizens. We have scribes in hundreds, but how many investigative journalists do we have, for a country our size? How many of us know how actually crime and political reporting is done? Anyways, that's beside the point.

Media make it sound as if corruption is a recent phenomenon. Take a sting camera and go to any court in the country and record 30 minutes of footage at any magistrate's or lawyer's and it'll make for a brilliant piece in any documentary on corruption. Extend it further and follow a case for a week, and you can make two films. If one cares enough, catch the lower staff of police or a court, offer him a drink and converse with him for three hours and you can crack all the behind-the-scenes stories. Check with a constable how much he had paid to get into service. Check with the helpless villagers who are subject to endless rounds of visits to courts, harassed by cops, lawyers and the powerful. Check with the retired employees who slogged their lifetimes for government and are then harassed by government for months when they seek pension. Worse, check with orphans, refugees, the displaced if they receive funds and the conditions they are made to live in. Install spycams in any lawyer's and get an hour's footage and air it. Actually, no need to air it. Everyone who has been there knows it.

What have media done till the team Anna had surfaced? Sleeping? They have not woken up even now. It's funny that some people get carried away and defend the media group they follow, as being genuinely fighting for people's cause. One simply forgets that the editor, let alone reporters, is just another chap who is working to push a few points up in his next appraisal. This is not to dismiss all editors, but to only stress that the majority in the mainstream cannot be expected to be expansive and standing up for people's cause.

While electronic media exploited the campaign to their advantage, very few eds cared to ask pertinent questions of the team and its campaign. However, given the blind support from the masses, these few voices were never heard.     

We (People)
To believe that passing a certain bill will solve the problem is the upshot of very lazy and superficial thinking. The campaign suggests that it's only the politicians and bureaucrats who are corrupt. But they can't be corrupt if we are not. It's not possible. However, by supporting the campaign, we are conveniently absolving our responsibility. In the name of honesty, we are shamelessly justifying our deeds of corruption. Statements like, "but he demanded, so I had to give", "but I needed my passport urgently, so I had to bribe", etc. We are corrupt. Country is corrupt. So when the media tell me that the country is supporting the campaign, I wonder how one misses the contradiction in that! Who is complaining against whom? People often tend to ignore, or at best rationalise, personal transgressions, but this is taking it too far.

How many supporters have actually sit and read the draft? This is not a casual question, for the heck of it. I have met at least four people in media who had actively supported team Anna, posted messages on social media, made it to the venues, admit that they have not read the draft. It's easy to see that there are so many more such supporters who have no idea what the draft says. All they know is that the team is up with some permanent, magic solution for graft. Politicians and bureaucrats have failed us, so we blindly put the trust in an apolitical group that exploits the fixation for Gandhian ideals and persuades that they are above board and are here to save the country. While on the one hand there's this constant statement of pride that we are a great democracy, most of the supporters are so blinded that any voice of dissent or doubts about the campaign are being dismissed outright as rubbish and anti-national. Just like Anna and his team, the supporters are not open for any debate. And then we look down upon fundamentalists!    

Politicians have been failing us. For decades. Yet, it is we who elected them. Again and again. It's absurd to not exercise any prudence while voting and come back and complain when politicians exploit. While voting, we never press for the history of candidates. We never press for accountability or responsiveness of the state. The campaign should have actually been about this. We helplessly sit back and watch when convoys after convoys of those goons stall thousands of us on roads for hours. The campaign should have been about this. The problem is we don't have a voice. We never had a voice. Vote is our only weapon, the only moment when we feel that sense of power. And we waste it thoughtlessly. Sadly, those who vote believe that the deed of voting, by itself, is a "responsible" gesture and blame the few who stand firm and refuse to vote. Rightly, then, we deserve this state of affairs. We deserve the corrupt goons. Importantly, we also deserve these dumb and phony teams who are equally exploitative but shrewdly persuade us that they are saviours.

We have been irresponsible. We are being irresponsible and thoughtless. Loyalty to political parties is important to us than bringing upright chaps to power. During every contest, there are goons who campaign loudly and lure with incentives, and there are also these upright chaps who plead us to make an informed and mature choice while voting. But we elect the goons! So what are we cribbing about? Why is media pretending that corruption has just been discovered while it had been there as a virus, for decades? We seek and worship power. We brag our associations with the powerful and we exploit these to our advantage. We want contracts, licenses, seats in academia, favours from police and courts, and we use these very people for the same. And if at a rare moment of introspection we do ask ouselves, "why", we have a ready justification, "but everybody else is doing it, if I don't do they will trample me".

If we really believe corruption is a problem and that it needs an immediate fix, we must begin with ourselves. And it means making sacrifices. To conveniently leave it on some team to prepare the ground and if we merely want to walk in and enjoy, is to be irresponsible. How many of us are prepared and willing? The situations are often testing. Let's take a simple one - a guy is rushing for a meeting. It's rush hour. The auto fellow asks 20 bucks extra. No other auto in sight. Technically, if the guy agrees, it's corruption. If the guy refuses and risks the meeting, the boss will not take it. He will think it's dumb of the chap to risk an important meeting for a mere 20 bucks. Let him go home and share this with his spouse, and she will agree with the boss. Let him tell that the boss might screw the appraisal and, effectively, it might cost incentives, promotions and even the job, she will accuse him of being a weakling and inconsiderate too. This is the normal script. And yet, the chap, the boss, and the spouse will discuss about the evils of corruption. Nobody wants to take the risk when stakes are high. A little noise on social media, a few inconsequential conversations over coffee, a rally or two on roads are fine. That's the bit most are prepared for. Nothing more.

Why? "But I have a family to think about", is a ready answer. Exactly! As virtuous and noble as it may sound, it's an easy justification. Technically speaking, the various incentives that companies shower on employees for overtime, etc qualify under corruption, but how many of us will admit this and forego? Taleb is right when he said not to trust those in corporate confinement, for they will do anything to provide for the family. This tells why such campaigns, regardless of how regionally wide they spread, are shallow and useless.

Behind all the noble talk is the demand of petty need for survival. As the classic prisoner's dilemma suggests, it makes sense to cooperate only till the other is cooperating. So we always look for a win-win situation, which is the rational approach, as many behavioral scientists would agree. Effectively, we tend to change the external factors first. "Let the world change and I will change, too", is the stand of the majority. It doesn't work.       

The Bill
However good the intentions, as long as we don't improve the implementation process, it doesn't really matter what's there in the bill. We already have a very strongly framed rulebook. The law simply says corruption is a punishable offence, no matter who you are. Is this single statement not enough to bring the corrupt to the book? How does it matter if we frame the same statement in 20000 different ways, and brag about a 1000-page bill? We have the police, we have the CBI, we have the courts. Why do we need another group that wants a supercop status? Cops have screwed us enough. Do we seriously need supercops? Two decades hence, if we sit on a pile of complaints against these supercops, will we again ask for a super-supercop team? Are we sane? 

The government and media are unecessarily making a fuss about it. The government has nothing to fear even if it passes the bill as is, blindly. For, the rules by themselves are nothing. It's people who implement them. People are corrupt. Power corrupts. If tomorrow I must file a complaint, I have to go to some chap who represents the team. It won't be Anna or Kejriwal himself. It will be some local representative. Being the kind of body it is, the chap will have his own network. Just like the cops. If the guy I want to file a complaint against happens to be a friend or relative of this chap, will he pursue the complaint fairly and objectively? That's the whole point. Merely having a foolproof rulebook is useless if people are not taught the values of being objective and upright. 

Assuming that the chaps are, by some miracle, objective and fair, the problem is not over yet. The case ultimately must go through the judiciary. But is the judiciary under the purview of the bill? By a further stretch, even if one wins the case and ensures that the guy is behind bars, he can still bribe the courts and get away. Which is what is happening even now. So, what the fuck? Why do we need another bill or nationwide team to repeat the same circus? 

Rules and clauses are meaningless. Given the powers that the team is seeking, we are up for screwing ourselves more. More innocents will be screwed. It will be a very big price to pay to being a few culprits to the book. True, a few goons might be convicted, but a hundred innocents will get screwed. Is this what we want? If we do push for this bill to be passed, it will be a big fucken mistake that we will regret two decades later.

When cops introduced the grievance cell for complaints about autos, everyone thought there will be no more problems with autowallahs. The grievance cell is still active. Only, the complaints are too many and the staff are too few. Over. It came full circle. The auto fellow will give the grievance cell's number himself, if you threaten him.   

Frankly, how does it matter to a citizen if a certain minister had fleeced a few crores and put it in a swiss bank? The guy never gets to deal anything directly with the chap in high-office. It's fine to discuss the macro processes, but it's more academic than pragmatic. If the guy uses only 8 bucks for every 10, and pockets the remaining 2, but does the work for me, I am fine with it. He may have a fat swiss account, but that's irrelevant for me. So long as he has used the other share for public, it's fine. So the point to push for is that he should be doing the tasks he is expected to. If that isn't done, there's no use even if we bring all the black money in swiss accounts home. I may have to pay 2 bucks for every task of 10 bucks, but so long as it's a win-win situation, I shouldn't have a problem. If I justify my giving 2 bucks, but expect the other guy to be clean, it's sheer nonsense.    

The Team (Team Anna)
I don't pretend to know much about the team. If doesn't quite matter. If they are upright, it's great. If they are not, well, it's nothing shocking. However, going by how it did in the past few months, the team comes across as despotic and shrewd. And why has the team been targetting only Congress? 

Anna: He has no direct answers to any questions. All he has is references to his stint with the Army, as if it's a qualification in itself for saving the country, or hyperbole. He believes flogging is right. An idealist. When someone slaps Pawar, he quips, "only one!?" on national television. Complete with a Nehruvian cap, he assumes a grandfatherly role and talks in the tone of "my way or highway". This man is the Gandhian saviour? The most surprising point is that even The Economist had praised him! If Anna was a young chap in tees and jeans, would the media and the masses have taken him as seriously, even if he was as earnest, if not more? It's not by accident that Kejriwal is not at the helm.  

Kejriwal: Did a fabulous job about RTI. IIT, Magsaysay and all that. Brilliant! But Lokpal is a different ball game, sorry. His illogical statements about congress goons have made a few writers doubt the standing of the IIT joint entrace exam! That says it all.

Kiran Bedi: Magsaysay again. Great. Give another and ask her to be happy with her guest lectures, inflated bills, and her organisation. If she really believes she is up against corruption, she should first understand what 'entitled' implies. If I am entitled for second-class AC fare, it just means that that's the maximum I can avail of. It doesn't mean I can claim by default, even when I travel sleeper-class. To come up with the reason that, "but I have been using that excess for running my charity organisation", is a fucken sick excuse. Simply put, to claim more than my spend amounts to corruption. If all the corrupt come with the same excuse that they inflated the bills to use the excess for their family, extended family, relations, neighbours and social service, will we accept it, as we accepted Bedi's? If we so generously accepted Bedi's, why do we have a problem with the goons?

It is these people that we put faith in? No wonder country has gone to the dogs!

We have bills and rules aplenty. As good as they come. Enough! We don't need more. What we need is that the extant rules are implemented fairly and objectively. We have enough teams and groups. Another team is redundant. If we go on adding supercop bodies, there'll be no end to it. We need to push for accountability and responsiveness of the state. Black money is a secondary issue. The country isn't bankrupt. It's sitting on a huge pile of cash. The goons spend crores for just dinners over inconsequential sessions. We need to push that the existing money is used judiciously. We need to push that the goons be stripped away off all privileges. Cut the crap of VIPs and VVIPs and VVVIPs. Everybody is important. They better realise they are just doing a job like anyone else and not doing some fucken favour.

The needs of documentation and layers of approval are infinite. The common man gets sick of this. The poor get sick of this. This is the problem. Cut the layers. Simplify the processes. Make them more transparent. Hire more people to expedite the process, not to further complicate. Incentivise the employees on the basis of efficiency, not on the basis of targets. Importantly, incentivise. Make the transactions off cash. Reward the employees with commissions. Mandate that the goons visit their constituency at least once every month. Mandate them to design KRAs and status updates every quarter. Appraise the goons, and fire them if they don't meet expectations. Teach cops and lawyers to be upright. Punish them more severely if they transgress or exploit. Expedite the trial process in courts, tighten the judiciary. Thousands of innocents are slogging in prisons. Ensure justice for them. Tipping informers for information is also corruption. If you cut that, what’s the incentive for them to crack and share the information? 

How do liquor licenses work? How do companies win contracts? How do companies route their money through tax havens? How many employees inflate bills? Who is complaining about corruption then? 

None of these is foolproof. For, it all starts with education. It all starts at homes and schools. But that comes later. First, if we must change some things, we must change the existing processes and structure and not add more.  

Money is not the problem. Reponsiveness is. 

To compare with other countries doesn't make sense. So long as we worship success and power, and measure these on the basis of money, there's no solution for corruption. Our system encourages private ownership and the practice of dowry still exists in the institution of marriage. Support from state is negligible either in education, unemployment or healthcare. So no matter how many such bills, people will continue to find ways of making money. Of saving money. For someone, chairty may be an excuse, for another, family is.     

India ranks 39th on the Democracy index. Content with fuss about shallow issues and avoiding reflection, we seem to be doing no better. 

25 Dec 2011

Seeker and the King

Posted by Oblivion in Philosophy | 10:24am

A sannyasi in search of truth, sought various teachers. In his wanderings he was told that a certain king was enlightened, that he was teaching wisdom. So this sannyasi went to the king. The king had everything, palaces, jewels, courtiers, power; and the sannyasi had only two loin cloths. The king instructed him concerning truth. One day, while the king was teaching him, the palace caught fire. Serenely the king continued with his teaching, while the sannyasi, that holy man, was greatly disturbed because his other loin cloth was burning.

One may be living amid riches and yet be utterly free of it all, and another may have renounced everything and yet is living within a prison of his own making.