Sunday, August 28, 2011

How to reverse the trust deficit - Chetan Bhagat answer to the charge that Anna Hazare was trying to subvert the significance of the Parliament.

I am glad that Anna Hazare's fast ends today and that both sides have reached some sort of an understanding.

Anna achievements are monumental. He managed to spur one of the most unapproachable governments in the world into positive action. Anna lit a desire for change in the youth's hearts. He also started the much-needed process of restoring good values in Indian people. Yes, many of us are still corrupt, whether forced by the system or otherwise, but a part of us yearns to be good. That part just became stronger. This mass booster shot of morality is the biggest contribution of the movement, apart from the Jan Lokpal.

Of course, these achievements did come at a cost. We saw a relatively long period of unsettling turmoil. We saw ugly, unpleasant human qualities like stubbornness, insolence and over aggressiveness on both sides, out for public display. In an ideal world, people would be reasonable, and irrespective of their position or power - do the right thing. However, we live in a far from ideal world, and given the circumstances, we came out relatively unscathed. This time, our youth did not come on the streets to hurt people from another caste or religion. They came to simply demand a more fair and just society, in a peaceful manner. It is a proud moment for all of us. India's class of 2011 is different, and a salute to that.

However, i was shocked, and disheartened by the intense criticism of Anna from certain sections of the English-speaking Indian intellectual circles. If the elite had backed Anna stronger, we could have had a faster and better consensus. Of course, people have a right to an opinion. However, i often found the opinions seemed more like a generic negative bias towards Anna, perhaps because of his background, rustic methods or sudden rise to fame, all irrelevant to the issue at hand.

The strongest anti-Anna argument was that Parliament cannot and should not be subverted. There is no doubt that Parliament and the Constitution are important and to be respected. However, these work on a basic assumption -confidence of the people. If confidence is lost, the institution does not work. And that is what we have to restore in Parliament now, before we ask people to respect it.

To give an example on the importance of confidence, even a currency of the country works the same way. The paper notes we carry in our pocket have value, only if people believe they have value. In many global instances, people have lost faith in a country's currency. This normally happens when the government prints money without care, thereby devaluing it at a rapid pace. The most recent example is Zimbabwe. At one point in 2008, prices were doubling in Zimbabwe every 24 hours. The profligate government printed money in higher denominations. The price of a loaf of bread reached 10 billion Zimbabwe dollars. Eventually, people dumped the currency and switched to a barter system. Now imagine if elite Zimbabwe intellectuals came on TV and said that the monetary system of the country must be respected - and the government and their currency are above all. Would anyone have bought the argument? I don't think so.

What was needed was steps to ensure confidence. The government needed to commit that they would print money responsibly and put checks and balances in place. Zimbabwe didn't. People over there have now switched to foreign currencies.

Similar is the nature of the confidence crisis with politicians in India, particularly the government. Their constant lying has only made it worse. They keep saying corruption needs to be fixed, but do little. Even the PM says 'coalition compromises'. What is the compromise? On the truth, isn't it?

Lying is something politicians got away with for a long time. It came at the cost of losing people's trust. A good Lokpal Bill will actually bring back people's trust in the government. In fact, the government needs a Lokpal Bill almost more than the people. It also needs to be more open and approachable. Party spokespersons need to be people with personal conviction, who place what is right above the party, even if it means accepting mistakes.

And while we love telling politicians how to do their job, we as citizens have to do our bit to restore confidence as well. We can't vote for candidates only because they are from a particular caste, religion or region. We have to place only one criterion - is he a good person? When we all send capable, honest people to Parliament, the trust and respect will return.

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