Unlike before, the ghost is looming larger than ever before, and the reasons are not far to seek. From the "jeep scandal" during V K Krishna Menon's time to "Bofors scandal" during Rajiv Gandhi's time -- it was all about individuals currying favour and benefiting in the process. That's no longer the case. The feeling now is about the entire nation being looted.
The protests that Team Anna is spearheading go beyond mere individuals making money. It has struck at the root of India's administrative machinery. It's not just about a few contracts being given out of turn, and a minister getting a few crores. It's now about how the nation's governance process is being subverted.
Earlier, though people knew they were being taken for a ride, they seemed to take it in their stride. "O, what can we do about it", was the refrain. But now, no one seems to be ready to take it lying down. The perception has changed from "they are making money" to "we are being looted".
The huge disconnect between the rulers and the ruled now lies exposed. And this gap only seems to be widening. The inability of the government and Team Anna to resolve the stand-off is making matters worse, and has dangerous portents.
NEED FOR INTROSPECTION
Sadly, this has dragged on for too long. The whole movement, which started with good intentions, is in danger of descending to a game of one-upmanship, if it has not become already. It's high time both the government and Team Anna paused and did some serious introspection on the path they are racing down. They run the risk of being carried away by the momentum and losing control.
There's a huge groundswell of support for the fight against the corrupt system, putting at stake not a few individuals but the entire system and the governance processes. The government must not underestimate people's discontent and must see the writing on the wall. For example, if PM's post has to be brought in the ambit of Lokpal, why not? If he is above board anyway, why hesitate? Manmohan Singh himself had offered to be brought under the Lokpal.
Team Anna should also realise that Lokpal per se won't end all problems relating to corruption. Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in States are at best powerful watchdogs. The state of Karnataka, for example, has had two very proactive Lokayuktas – Justice N Venkatachala and Santosh Hegde. But has corruption in Karnataka been brought down to near zero?
Corruption exists at many levels. The one question that needs to be asked is: why do have corruption? People take bribe because they need money. People give bribe because they want their basic necessities. In our society, these two factors perfectly suit one another.
The administrative systems are so complicated, that for the simplest of necessities people have to run from pillar to post, and get permission from so many people, who themselves are in no way accountable. And on the other side, so much is the deprivation that people, especially at the lower levels, are looking at every opportunity to make a few rupees.
Lokpal and Lokayuktas are powerful deterrents. They have to go hand-in-hand with all-round development of the society which will improve the life-style of people, so that the root cause of corruption itself is eliminated. One hopes that the current debates, finger-pointing and scoring of brownie points won't dilute the overall objective of having in place a transparent and accountable administrative system.