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Monday , April 11 , 2011
 
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Northeast Echoes
Social activist Anna Hazare breaks his hunger strike in New Delhi on Saturday. (AP)

When enough is enough

The fight against corruption is spreading like wildfire. Even the insouciant northeastern states where politicians are blasé about corruption and glibly explain away their malfeasance, resonated with the action at Jantar Mantar.

A good number of activists from the region is already in Delhi to show solidarity to Anna Hazare. Those who are unable to travel to the national capital are having their own protest meets in their respective state capitals.

Soon the winds of change will blow to the rural habitats as well and then the obstinate Manmohan Singh government shall have blood on its hands.

Why on earth would a group of elected representatives who are supposed to represent the popular be obdurate about passing a bill that meets the aspirations of the people it claims to represent? Why do politicians and bureaucrats fear a Jan Lok Pal Bill that gives enough teeth to punish the corrupt? Don’t they see the degeneration of India into a sort of banana republic where scams running into lakhs of crores are surfacing everyday and the people responsible for such corruption continue to deny any wrongdoing?

How long can we allow politicians or all who are entrusted with expending public funds, a free hand to loot the exchequer? And why should they insist that they alone make a bill to check corruption when they have been caught with their hands in the till? It’s pretty much like asking a thief to guard our family jewels.

And it is not as if politicians are serious about containing corruption. Until a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister of this country pleaded helplessness because of the constraints of “coalition politics”.

This statement came as a blow to the people of India. Should coalition politics be above the country’s interests? And if the highest authority of the land pleads helplessness to take things in control then who do people repose their faith on?

No wonder there is a sense of despondency which hangs like a cloud over the people of India. Look at the strong resistance of the UPA to book former telecom minister A. Raja who has given a new meaning to the word corruption. If the judiciary had not interfered, Raja and his cohorts would still have been cocking a snook at the citizens of this country. It is this scornful “what-can-you-do-to-me” attitude that has angered the nation.

The outpouring of hot rage across the length and breadth of India is on account of this repressed fury and a sense of utter helplessness.

Social catalyst

Hazare is the catalyst that has allowed this rage to be freely and unreservedly expressed on the streets of India.

The timing for Hazare’s fast could not have come at a better time. Five states of the country are in the midst of the Assembly polls.

In Assam, the poll plank of the regional parties has been “corruption, corruption and corruption”. The Congress party, which has led a coalition government for two terms, is extremely dismissive of allegations of corruption amounting to thousands of crores of rupees.

A sum of Rs 1,000 crore meant for development of a backward district of the state has been unscrupulously looted. The looting began at Dispur and the trail led all the way to Dima Hasao (former North Cachar Hills) district. Some people who are in the eye of the storm have been arrested but the irony is that one of those arrested persons has dared to contest the Assembly elections from prison. One wonders why criminal cases in this country take so long to be decided.

This is another reason why people have lost faith in the law enforcers and the criminal justice system. As an outsider looking in from the outside at the state of affairs in Assam, one wonders if it is possible to defeat corruption.

The Tarun Gogoi government has faced the corruption heat in many areas of governance yet when Gogoi speaks he appears to be on a self-deception trip, superciliously giving a clean chit to all his ministers and to the Congress party.

If this is the attitude of the man who has been at the helm of the state for 10 years, is there any chance for the people of Assam to see justice meted out to the corrupt, ever? Considering that the Opposition parties in that state are in such disarray and a disorganised lot and the other fringe parties are just like beggars waiting to get a share of the Congress crumbs, it is obvious that change is not going to be on Assam’s agenda in the near future. People just do not have a viable choice!

Hardest hit

And this is exactly what ails the country. Young people speaking from Jantar Mantar and other metros have scathingly castigated the present set of politicians. They have been more than outspoken in expressing their lack of confidence in politicians and their ability to deliver us from our predicament. Indeed people today are wondering why politicians speak of the high growth rate of the country when this very growth model has also brought about unprecedented inflation. This inflation has hit the aam janata (common citizen) with limited income the hardest.

Every time the UPA speaks of India becoming an economic superpower it is talking exclusively about the dollar billionaires of India who are not even a two-digit figure in a country of 1.2 billion people.

For the poor this is a cruel joke played by the powers that be on them. Their salaries are fixed.

They are not paid enhanced dearness allowances each time inflation shoots through the ceiling. Who will address the plight of this humungous constituency when the government of the day is already sold to the rich and catering to their every whim?

A solidarity protest by students and faculty of North Eastern Hill University (Nehu) last Friday, to join the fight against corruption, saw young students pour their hearts out. A student from Manipur said he has given up all hopes of ever getting a job in his state because he does not have the money to pay for the job. In fact, every government job comes at a price.

The police departments of the northeastern states are notorious for selling jobs to the highest bidder.

Bad karma

Even educational institutions are not immune from this plague. College teachers of Assam confide how they have to bribe the clerks in the DPI’s office at Dispur to get their bills passed to be able to draw their salaries. The system of corruption is so entrenched that people have started to accept it as their bad karma.

It is this deep sense of frustration which is now finding expression in a series of public protests that unites the hearts and minds of those at the receiving end of corruption.

This protest can have only one result — more power to the people.

The government of the day cannot go against the popular demand. It has no excuse to. And the earlier the Manmohan Singh government realises this the better it is for him and for his government. We must pray that this country produces more selfless and public-spirited activists like Anna Hazare. There is hope because even young schoolchildren are saying out loud, “I am Anna”.

Never since the World Cup Cricket, which ended recently, has India seen such a rallying together of forces. It’s time we took charge of our democracy!

(The writer can be contacted at patricia17@rediffmail.com)

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