Everything seems to be dank and dark today. Every political party is being exposed in corruption issues, some small, some large, some beyond comprehension. Inflation is rampant, IIP is down, GDP growth is shrinking, reforms seem to be in cold storage, the sovereign ratings of the country head south, the rupee is struggling, FDI inflows come down to a trickle.
There is nothing to cheer about, it seems.
Yes, there is, if you look hard enough.
Take the case of former BMC chief Subodh Kumar and his attempt to take a post-retirement job with Essel group. Hindustan Times, in a news report, linked Kumar to an approval that was sought by the Essel group, using his discretionary powers. That was the end of that.
The Subodh Kumar episode demonstrates that, in today’s environment, there is little that will escape scrutiny by media. It might be a small, insignificant episode, but it is a pointer of the state of the nation and the nation’s attitude towards corruption.
As far as media is concerned, there is no holy cow any more. News media, in all forms, does not hesitate to name wrongdoers and alleged wrongdoers, starting with the lowliest of government servants and rising to the office of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister himself.
“It is only a CAG who can fearlessly interrogate the government. That is why the founding fathers of the Constitution have provided that the CAG cannot be removed and he has to be impeached in the same manner as a Supreme Court judge,” says former Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam in The Hindu.
Institutions of government, too, have no fear of politicians and those in positions of power. It is now normal and routine for the government (central and state) to be pulled up by the CAG, by courts at every level, by news media, by social activists and ‘RTI’ activists.
There is no more ‘respect’ for the ‘sanctity’ of the office of the prime minister, as has been proven by the attempts to gherao his residence as if he were no different from the manager of a factory in West Bengal in the Left agitations in the 1970s.
Each of these developments point to an India that will be forced to become more accountable and less corrupt. Attempts by some sections, such as the BJP, to jump on to the anti-corruption bandwagon and project themselves as an honest alternative to the Congress have come to naught, with both activists and the media bracketing the BJP with the Congress when it comes to corruption.
Social media is playing a significant role as well, in amplifying the reach of the critics of the political classes. A constantly biased news media is close to impossibility – critics can reach millions of their followers in milliseconds, who in turn, spread the anti-establishment messages and debunk the official spin.
No political party is safe. As far as the business community is concerned, the Adarsh scam, the 2G scam and Coalgate all send telling signals. Corrupting politicians and bureaucrats is no longer a guarantee for quick and easy licenses and profits. The scams are exposed with regularity, and we see, increasingly, ill-founded decisions being reversed – which reverses the fortunes of the corrupter. We’ve seen this is the Adarsh scam and the 2G scam – and we’ll doubtless see this in Coalgate.
The frenetic pace of change, beginning with Anna Hazare’s fast in April 2011, has caught the political establishment off-guard. They’re unused to the intense and unrelenting scrutiny, in misdemeanors large and small.
The last few months, beginning with Coalgate, have underlined that this is the new state of affairs. Wrongdoing will be caught, sooner or later. There is nothing and no one that is sacred and out of bounds.
The toothpaste is out of the tube, and it cannot be put back.
This heralds a new India. Even without the Lokpal, the corrupt (in the large cases of corruption) are being exposed and brought to book. More will be exposed and more will be caught. This means that we will see more of such headlines, more politicians exposed and more of the corrupters finding themselves tangled in the web.
It’ll mean months of pain – perhaps even years of pain. But, in the end, we will see India becoming less corrupt and we will see politicians more accountable.
It may seem dank and dark today, but the thought that, as a result of all that is happening today, we could see a brighter and more prosperous India, is a spectacular sliver lining.