Choose votes over flags 'n' caps

The First Examples of Corruption will be helped by a strong Lokpal at the Centre as well as state bodies. And the second and third examples need the rest of us to change the way we look at ourselves

Let's get this out of the way right in the beginning: corruption is a menace in this country. It's not just about the lakhs of crores potentially lost in the allocation of 2G spectrum bandwidth or the thousands of crores pocketed while the national capital was being readied for the Commonwealth Games.

It's also about the money you have to pay to get property registered or to get a ration card. Or the money meant for starving children which is siphoned off by a callous administration. But it is about something else as well. It is about the money that you don't have to pay to a traffic cop so that he lets you off for breaking a red light. It's about the money you don't have to pay to the Income Tax officer to get some money docked off your liability. It's about the money you don't have to pay to the regional transport office to get a driving licence at 15.

Warding off social evils: Hazare while on his hunger strike at
Ramlila Maidan

And then, there are some other things too. The exorbitant amount you pay for vegetables so that middlemen can make their profit. The crippling cost of medical tests, where commissions to doctors for referrals can reach up to 40 per cent. Auto rickshaw and taxi drivers who refuse to use the meter and charge whatever they feel like.

And there's the magic of the Jan Lokpal Bill and the Anna Hazare movement. In a move not envisioned by Merlin the magician or even Chris Angel, one bill through Parliament and we will have been saved by this band of merry men.

You believe it? There are many problems with this country and there are enough problems with Hazare and his movement. The current UPA government certainly is a major part of the problem and handled the movement with as little finesse and intelligence as it could manage.

The Hazare group on the other hand, emboldened by public response and the grand number of between 50,000 to 100,000 people at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi and a few thousand across the country, decided that it spoke for all of us.

Cut the emotional response out of this and look at the issue. Big government corruption can and should be handled by a separate entity since existing mechanisms have done precious little so far. But get practical about it. The Jan Lokpal Bill has flaws and this 'my way or the highway' threat imposed by the Hazare movement on Parliament is also a limit put on the rest of us -- the 1.2 billion  give or take one lakh -- who were not out protesting.

It is also wise, while castigating the UPA, to look at the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party's response to state lokayuktas. It protected the Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa for as long as it could, in spite of an impending indictment from the state lokayukta. It is now fighting to protect Gujarat chief minister from another lokayukta. Fine speeches in Parliament and in TV studios are all very well but �

Self-righteous posturing is not going to help us. The first examples of corruption will be helped by having a strong Lokpal at the Centre as well as corresponding state bodies. And the second and third examples need the rest of us to change the way we look at ourselves. That might be the toughest of all.

It's nice and easy to slam politicians but very often, they deserve our disdain. But we still need a mechanism to measure public response and so far, voting is the best way to do it. Not TV opinion polls.

Ranjona Banerjee is a senior journalist.

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