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‘Failed’ state infection spreads in South Asia

23 Jun. 2011 11:26 PM IST

It is disturbing to learn from a media report that almost every nation in India’s South Asian neighbourhood is in the list of virtual ‘failed’ states because of their considerably weakened state authority, failure to tackle issues like poverty and unemployment and the fragile state of their democracy. It becomes more distressing as developments in India during the past few months point to the possibility of India too inching in that direction as people’s discontent rises and the parliamentary system is reviled and challenged.
The Indian government looks increasingly vulnerable and paralysed, unable to find a way out of the various storms it has been facing and the phenomenon of spiralling prices neutralises the real or imaginary benefits from the ‘impressive’ rate of economic growth. The law and order situation in many states, including the national capital, is anything but satisfactory. The number of poor people in the country is about double that of the middle class which enjoys parity in purchasing power with the West.
The worst that can befall the present government is that it is booted out. That in itself will not be a disaster. But there is no certainty that things will look up with a spurt when a new dispensation comes to rule. Whatever the hue of the next government, it will almost certainly face storms of equal magnitude, may be found wanting in keeping a high momentum of growth and successfully dealing with problems of the ‘aam adami’ (the common man), including the scourge of corruption that is now seen as the problem number one.
The initiative taken by Anna Hazare and his band of ‘civil society’ members for enacting a strong Lokpal (ombudsman) law in the country would not have captured the public imagination had the government and political class not been found to be sincere in fighting corruption while being contemptuous of transparency. The UPA government is being attacked because of it inaptitude in handling, apart from inflation, issues like corruption and respect for accountability.      
Allusion to ‘paralysis’ in the present government and questioning its will and determination to negotiate dexterously through stormy weather may have a basis, but it is becoming clear that there are other factors in play that devalue India and take the ‘shine’ off its name. No less worrisome is the failure of the Opposition in making itself relevant to stem the rot because all it believes in is trading charges, sometimes wild charges, when not disrupting parliament.
There is no disputing the fact that corruption, especially at high places, is a national shame. It must be wiped out. But that is not the only reason that constricts the pace of India’s development and tars its image. People are ready to rally behind the call to eradicate corruption. But it will not go if the moral fibre of the country remains as thin as it is today and no cogent alternatives are in sight to right the wrongs of the government.
The irksome laws and procedures have survived the demise of the so-called Licence-Permit Raj nearly two decades ago during which the country has been ruled by parties of virtually all persuasions. It is an anachronism that bureaucratic hurdles, a major cause of corruption, still thrive in the era of ‘liberalisation’ and ‘globalisation’.
Lately, the smug claim that democracy has taken deep roots in the country has come under questioning. A handful of ‘civil society’ members, backed by shrill voices from the media that at once supports and denounces them, has all but debunked the institution of parliamentary democracy. The task was made easy, no doubt, by the poor performance of parliament and its members.   
The odd thing is that the euphoria generated by Anna Hazare last April when he sat on a fast at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar seems to be ebbing. Yoga Guru, Baba Ram Dev, may have contributed to it by turning his ‘fast unto death’ at Ramlila Ground in Delhi into a drama.  Compared to last April, the enthusiasm for Anna Hazare’s campaign has wavered. And so has the support for the idea that the supremacy of elected representatives should be replaced by that of a handful of self-appointed society members.
Corruption may be the most discussed problem at the moment, but it is only one of the myriad of problems that the nation faces and not all of them are related to or arise from corruption. There are indications that of late the country’s image, at least in the eyes of the prospective foreign investors, has started to take a beating.  FDIs are said to be slowing down.           
The slide in the country’s image, if true, cannot be arrested when the government and the ‘civil society’ seem to be moving on a collision course. The politicians are playing an ambiguous game in the fight against corruption. But by becoming stubborn, the civil society ‘leaders’ are not likely to emerge clear winners in the current fight. The politicians who may stand exposed for their half-hearted approach to tackling the problem of corruption are crafty enough to save themselves from downright rejection by the people.   
Anybody who knows politicians in India will question their commitment to stamping out corruption. But the politicians, like the rest of the population, are drawn from a common stream of society. Despite knowing all their shortcomings, the people of the land have repeatedly elected politicians to speak on their behalf and rule over them.   
In such a situation the so-called civil society ‘leaders’ risk their present high moral ground and popularity when they insist that they will not accept anything other than a legislation (the Lokpal bill) they have drafted since they alone know what is best for the country. They have overlooked the fact that the ‘give and take’ spirit is important when differences on important issues are to be reconciled. A handful of civil society ‘leaders’ cannot aspire to become the supreme body in a democratic country, unless it is moving fast in the direction of a ‘failed state’.
(Syndicate Features)

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Sound and fury over corruption
6/17/2011 10:52:43 PM