An Anna for your thoughts

By Paul Lyngdoh

BY the time this appears in print, something conclusive would have happened to the tug-of-war between Team Anna and Team Sonia. All indications portend difficult times for the UPA ahead, and the quandary that its crisis managers find themselves in would ensure that UPA 2 will always be perceived as a confused army whose commander is missing in action, while the lieutenants do not have anyone to turn to for directions! The political ramifications apart, one must admit that tackling the all-pervasive phenomenon of corruption is far easier said than done. And that it requires more than drafting a particular piece of legislation to induce some sanity into a system- and a nation- wreaking havoc to itself by allowing the scourge to attain such monumental dimensions. Rather than sweeping the floors and cleaning up the dirt every time, one must try to locate and plug all leakages along the roof-top .

I belong to a profession that has been demonized because of the propensity of its practitioners to indulge in shameless acts of venality. Much of it can be attributed to the enormous powers that politicians wield without a corresponding amount of responsibility and accountability to those from whom those powers originate, namely, the people. Add to that the judicial system with its wheels within wheels , a parliamentary structure that is tinkered with at every available opportunity and a bureaucracy that often chooses the easier option of colluding than confronting and you have catastrophe with a capital C staring you right in your face!

That this country needs a strong and effective law against corruption goes without saying. That its Parliament has been debating on the issue for the last four years without a hint of a solution is characteristic of our penchant for unending arguments (reminds one of Amartya Sen’s argumentative Indian) leading nowhere. We can debate on, say, terrorism till the cows come home, while we continue to be generous hosts to hardened souls like Kasab and Afzal Guru, and all because of a system that is perceived to be so phlegmatic, weak and ineffectual that few take it seriously. The same logic applies to corruption. And let’s not forget that while dispensable actors like Kalmadi, Raja and Kazimodhi will cool their heels at Tihar for some more months at least, the Prime Minister, who presides over the team on the basis of collective responsibility, will continue to feign ignorance despite the established fact that he allowed A. Raja to have his way with Spectrum allocation for over three years! The inimitable M.J. Akbar has even coined a new word for the latest phenomenon : stinkflation, “a combination of stinking corruption and inflationary prices that is potentially fatal” from which the current Government suffers.

True to Lord Acton’s dictum, power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to do so absolutely. The only durable remedy, apart from a strong ombudsman in the form of a Lok Pal, is transparency at every level of the power hierarchy. This has been achieved, to a significant extent, with the arrival of the RTI Era. The regular reports of attempt to suppress the voices of those seeking information about Govt. schemes and projects in our very own state is a testimony of the potential of information- correct, verifiable, unchallengeable- as a tool that aids transparency and, by implication, a potent weapon against corruption. While the relentless efforts by whistle-blowers in this regard are laudable, one has to carefully sift the chaff from the grain. Often, in the haste for instant publicity, aided with liberal doses of the “I am holier than you” attitude, the objective is lost sight of, and we end up trivializing serious issues that should concern all right-thinking citizens . in essence, the fight for probity in our public life should be be based on a fair-minded, rational and intelligent discourse which would enable all stakeholders to decide whether a particular decision or deal is in the interests of the state, and which is not. Unfortunately, the flipside of the overzealousness of certain groups and of civil society to smell a rat whenever any development-oriented ventures are initiated has brought in its wake a paralysis of activities, a resistance to proactive measures and a general deep-seated fear to act amongst the state’s leaders and bureaucrats. And the results are there for everyone to see!

Legislation apart, I believe a fundamental paradigm shift has to begin at ground zero. Corruption cannot and will not thrive in isolation. Like any successful enterprise, it requires team work, co-ordination and cohesion amongst all stakeholders. Today corruption exists at different levels : the Dorbar Shnong,Dorbar RaId ,Dorbar Hima (How many Syiems still summon their Dorbars is another million-dollar question), the Govt. departments right down to the block level, and so on. The transparency or opacity with which these institutions function differs in varying degrees. For instance, the Dorbar Shnongs of Mawprem and Lumkshaid (with which I am familiar) observe total transparency in their financial accounts. The Dorbar of Hima Mylliem (to which I notionally belong), on the other hand, has not been convened for several decades and the citizens (Ki Khun ki Hajar) are pretty ignorant of the state of their Hima, including where its abundant resources are utilized given the decrepit condition of Iewduh! In fat, I would be surprised if many people residing within Hima Mylliem can name the Syiem and his Myntris, or have any idea how many myntris are there currently!In all these instances, the individual plays a decisive role, and a willing detachment or participation in the affairs of these entities will ensure their success or failure as institutions!

Finally, what is more worrying is the moral corruption that has crept into a society that swears by the credo of Kamai Ia ka Hok (Earn Righteousness). The same individuals who are ready to hang their MLA from the nearest lamp-post for alleged malfeasance and corruption will have no problem in asking the same MLA to finance their latest business venture with capital! And to dump him like a hot potato if another prospective candidate offers them the requisite monetary support! The Lok Pal Bill can at best be an attractive, fear-inducing piece of legislation but it takes a society rooted firmly in strong moral values to combat the evil of corruption in all its manifestations. Do we have that strength and vigour? Or are we simply ready to cast the first stone on alleged wrong-doers because of the sadistic pleasure that the act can give us?

Mawlynnong: Scripting the success story

This year’s Independence Day was spent far from the madding crowd of Polo Grounds in the deep, verdant forests of Mawlynnong village, roughly 68 kms. South of Shillong. The hamlet, with a population of about 500, has recently carved a niche for itself by earning the distinction of being Asia’s cleanest village, thanks to the indefatigable campaign of Tourism promoters like Aaron Laloo, son of D.D. Laloo. Although torrential rains played spoilsport, we made the best use of a two-hour respite to trek through the country paths and see for ourselves what was so enchanting about the village. For one, it was spotlessly clean, despite the footfalls of endless streams of visitors. Then there were the natural wonders: the living root bridge, the big rock precariously balancing itself on top of a smaller piece of rock , the cascades and idyllic scenery, the sweet-smelling earth and rich flora and fauna.

But more needs to be done to promote Mawlynnong as a tourist’s delight. The road leading to it is pockmarked with gaping potholes at several points. During the long monsoon, visibility is limited by foggy weather conditions, and the PWD has not done enough in making the driver’s task less hazardous by marking the road’s white divider clearly. Indeed, the drive from Laitlyngkot to Pynursla was a strain to one’s eyes.

Then there is the matter of sustaining Mawlynnong’s ecology. On approaching the village, I noticed the vast stretches of arable land being used for broomstick cultivation. What a potential danger to the ecology and the economy of the area, I thought. I posed the same question to the Rangbah Shnong of Mawlynnong when he turned up for a courtesy visit. He said that the cluster of villages in and around are seized of the problem and that, in fact, the water sources are fast becoming depleted! The villagers would need to give up broomstick cultivation and switch to some other plantation which would ensure sustenance for the soil and her children. But that has to happen soon, very soon. Here is a success story that should not come to a tragic end in order to hold our attention!

SIMPLY ASTOUNDING

When Fidel Castro fell ill a couple of years back, Cuba’s state TV issued bulletins of his health status and beamed his images throughout the day. When Libya’s Gaddafi was reported to have left the country, he came out on TV to speak to his nation. When the leader of the world’s largest democracy is supposedly unwell, we neither know her whereabouts nor the state of her health.

I still am confused by words like totalitarianism, dictatorship, democracy and transparency.

PARTING SHOT

Some years back, an official inauguration attended by a host of MLAs and officials was held amidst protests from some groups. There were black flags and sloganeering. On the way back from the function, the cavalcade of VIP cars was greeted with loud cries of “Nongtuh! Nongtuh!” (“Thieves! Thieves”!) Our car sped away and I was back at the Secretariat soon. As I was walking up to my room, I heard someone calling me out and turned to see the smiling face of one of the protesters I had seen earlier .I ushered her in and asked her if there was anything I could do. She took out a donation book and said she needed some financial assistance for some community project. I took out two thousand rupees and gave her. She issued me an acknowledgement receipt and thanked me profusely. She smiled again and left. I chuckled, happy at the turn of events that day!

I will elaborate more when I write my memoirs some day.

(The writer is MLA Jaiaw constituency)

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