Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Heads or Tails? : This farce of good governance vs. corruption

And so it has come to pass, that the contest for the constitution of the Goa State legislative assembly, has been cast as the choice between corruption and its alleged polar opposite of good governance. We should bear in mind, that this ridiculously simplistic and erroneous equation has been made possible as a result of that tainted agitation of some months ago, the Hazare drama. This equation is ridiculous not because the Congress-wallas are lambs bleating at the altar of the common good; after all, who can deny that they are, almost to the last of them, wolves. This equation is ridiculous because ‘corruption’ emanates not from a party, but from the political and executive process in which we are all immured. Should the BJP be elected, there is no doubt that one will be witness to similar levels of hand-over-fist looting of the public treasury. It is hilarious infact, that the BJP can make it sanctimonious positions when some of its candidates are not just miners, but builders as well, when some of the individuals contesting on the BJP-alliance tickets, were in fact indicted in the PAC reported tom-tomed by Mr. Parrikar.

To certain segments of the population, the BJP’s claim to Good Governance rests on the unsullied reputation (in matters of graft that is) of its ‘Chief Ministerial candidate’ Mr. Manohar Parrikar. They present a list of impressive developmental works that he undertook for the city of Panjim, both during his stint at CM and subsequently as MLA. In the course of his term (or was it reign?) as CM too, they point to the simplicity of his life-style and his blemish-less personal track record. Commonspeak has it that indeed Mr. Parrikar is above reproach, not a single paisa entered his personal estate. The same commonspeak however suggests that his position as CM influenced the coffers of the Party. On this front, there is a lot of suggestion that indeed, figures were hiked, and contracts offered to party favourites, so that the party coffers and favourites might prosper.

The issue that emerges therefore, and one that we should take seriously, if corruption is being made the issue, is not only of fiscal corruption, but moral corruption as well. While the above scenario, of using his public office to benefit the party would come under such scrutiny, one must also examine the political ideology of the BJP, which in itself is fairly corrupt. The reference ofcourse is to the saffron agenda of making India a Hindu state.

Now Mr. Parrikar has been reported to have publicly acknowledged that the sectarian actions of his previous tenure as CM, was the result of ‘bad advice’. He vows not to repeat this ‘mistake’again. This is a rather large herring to swallow however. Given the manner in which we sneer at the ‘uneducated’ persons getting tickets on the Congress train, one does not expect a focused and educated individual such as Mr. Parrikar to be so easily swayed by ‘advice’. Perhaps Mr. Parrikar is using a euphemism, and what he means by advice, is in fact pressure; from his associates, both from within the BJP as well as his parent organization, the RSS.

Let us change track for just a moment and have a look at the track record of the BJP in one of the two states that have been racked by communal tensions; Gujarat and Karnataka. A recentreport on the saffronisation in Karnataka in the Tehelka points out that in 2008, “Once the BJP government was installed, it had a choice between broad-based development of the state and consolidation of the Sangh structure. Four years on, it’s obvious which path was chosen. In its first year itself, the government had given evidence of its agenda. Bajrang Dal activists attacked churches, with the administration scarcely taking stern action. The question of whether the government would rein in extremist elements was answered in the negative.”  There is every fear of such a systematic consolidation of the Sangh structure taking place in Goa if it comes within the shade of the saffron umbrella. Hark back to episode, where on the course of his tenure as CM, government-run schools were handed over to the ‘NGO’ Vidya Bharathi. Vidya Bharati it turned out was an RSS outfit. An outfit prone to tailoring the teaching of history towards Hindutva designs, and cultivating all manner of sectarian myths about non-Hindus. Such actions are hardly the result of bad advice that one can ignore. It is the result of a deliberate, calculated policy of the entire Sangh structure that the BJP is a part of. Such a careful scheme of deliberately poisoning the social environment of the state and country, cannot be excluded from the ambit of corruption. On this count, the BJP cannot, under any circumstance excuse itself from the charge of being corrupt.

There is another count on which when examining the reputation of Mr. Parrikar, the BJP fails to match up to its rhetoric of good governance. Mr. Parrikar’s term in office was likened to a reign. Like absolute monarch, Mr. Parrikar is reported to have done exactly what he felt needed to be done. Of course, given our ‘democratic’ times, he would be more likely compared to a fast and efficient, CEO. Good governance however, is emphatically not only about efficiency, it is also about consultation and partnership, values that are widely felt to have been markedly absent in the course of Mr. Parrikar’s term in office. Indeed, it is not surprising that it is precisely the Catholic business (and feudal) classes that feel attracted to Mr. Parrikar, and would be willing to overlook his rightist tendencies. The larger neo-liberal environment within which we live privileges such autonomous action that favours technical and authoritarian resolutions of problems, forgetting the more important fact that institutions alone cannot resolve problems.  Take the na├»ve claims of the India Against Corruption, an in effect right-leaning association, that seems to think that corruption is some switch that people turn on to get jobs done, and all we need is a Lok Ayukta to turn that switch off and resolve the corruption problem. Social problems emerge from a plethora of social issues, and these must be addressed, one problem at a time.

A continued interaction between individuals and associations is fundamental to the elaboration of good governance. No matter how loathsome the politics of Mr. Digambar Kamat, the man has always remained approachable. One may not get a response, but one gets a hearing; a scenario which has markedly absent from the workings of Mr. Parrikar. This lack of a hearing bears out, given the kind of cultic image that has been built around the man. All-knowing, all-capable (and all-powerful) why was there a need for civil society when he knew what you needed and how it needed to be done? The absence of a space for civil society and the dominance of the cult figure is not a mark of good governance; it is a mark of the fascist polity.

There is another argument that needs to be made in light of this building up of a personality cult around Mr.Parrikar. The man is no longer addressed as just a man, but per force becomes, as in this column, the target for the large claims that are being made on his behalf. Such a depersonalisation is deeply unfortunate, tragic even, given that Parrikar the man, as I would personally be able to attest, when relating with an individual in need, is a profoundly generous person.
In conclusion, the point has to be stressed that this column is not an argument in favour of the Congress (I), it is a plea against reducing the upcoming election to just good –governance or corruption. To quote a friend, ‘elections are fought and won on multiple considerations which go beyond communalism or corruption’. This is to say that an election is not an either-or game decided between good governance and corruption. There are plenty of other considerations that we need to consider. To ignore these considerations, is to engage in a very dangerous game of simplification. A game that later generations will eventually hold us accountable for.

(A version of this post was first published in the Gomantak Times 29 Feb 2012)

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