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Sri Sri Ravishankar on The need for sustained activism and a healthy dose of paranoia
In response to my recent article on Parliament vs. Team Anna, some readers responded by expressing their sense of despair and helplessness over the failure of the anti-corruption struggle in achieving a strong Lokpal bill. “Our corrupt political system is not going to change overnight. Our politicians are not going to turn righteous and pass a strong Lokpal bill. How do we get to our desired end-goal?” This seems to be the popular sentiment among those who genuinely care about change and reform. At the other extreme are the pessimists who say without mincing words, “This country will never improve for the next several generations!”
Sri Sri Ravishankar, in a recent article in the Huffington Post, advocated a two pronged approach. To pass the Jan Lokpal bill, on the one hand, and to create awareness among public about ethical and moral values against corruption, on the other. He rightly says, “An individual alone cannot fight the menace of corruption. Without strong community support, individuals are likely to succumb to corruption. Strong community which would help the weak and vulnerable is most essential.” This sounds like a worthy plan, but getting past the first hurdle of passing strong anti-corruption laws still seems insurmountable.
Firstly, those who are engaged in the anti-corruption movement must be prepared for a long and sustained struggle that is likely to evolve over time and probably spread over years. As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. Our very own independence from the British was the culmination of decades of struggle ever since Gandhi returned to India from South Africa. The situation we find ourselves in today is the result of sixty-plus years of our home-brewed democracy, which is clearly in need of a systemic overhaul. Secondly, a general sense of paranoia needs to develop among the people. For this, a deep realization that the country is headed in the wrong direction combined with a fear that if we continue to accept the status quo the future of the country will be jeopardized for good, needs to spread among the people.
If you observe the US carefully, you will find that both sustained activism and a general sense of paranoia among the intelligentsia are always part of the political process. You will find many Americans who can’t recognize the Vice-President by name, let alone name him. But those who are politically engaged often go the whole nine yards. There is plenty of sustained activism on an issue-by-issue basis. In fact, people from all ends of the political spectrum constantly develop and purport strong views on the overall direction of the country. Think tanks and prominent journalists constantly analyze the state of the country vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Very often, you hear everyone from the President to fringe politicians refer to competition from India and China. India a threat to the U.S? Seriously? Given all the troubles and challenges that India is faced with, can you imagine the US even contemplating the idea of India being a threat? It goes back to what Andy Grove, former Chairman of Intel, characterized as “Only the paranoid survive.” These days, the paranoid class in the US also worries about the lack of progress on green technologies, fighting the addiction to Gulf oil, the rise of China, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and the general decline of American power around the world, to name a few.
In a recent book, “Why Countries Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty” the authors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue through a whole host of examples that political and economic institutions which are primarily man-made determine success and failure of a country to raise the prosperity of its citizens. Countries that fare poorly are plagued by corruption, controlled by a nexus between big business and political power, run by governments which are not held accountable for their actions, and are not responsive to citizens, as a result denying the vast majority of people economic opportunities. While the scenario described might automatically be ascribed to some of the lesser developed countries, India is unfortunately down this path but under the garb of democracy. Our ability to stem this decline will depend on like-minded individuals coming together over time to orchestrate a peaceful mass movement.
Continued from above:
Ultimately, change has to begin at the grassroots. Clearly, we don’t have a sufficiently paranoid class. The Anna movement represents the most visible form of sustained activism. But unfortunately, despite the need for reform being widely accepted, there are many who prefer to tear down the activists rather than take concrete steps to fight the menace of corruption themselves. Team Anna’s “Charcha Samuh” efforts to get conversations going across the country among everyday citizens seems like a creditworthy approach. If we discuss, think and introspect, perhaps it will inspire us to act and change the system for the better. Even if many among us don't turn into activists, we will have developed a healthy sense of paranoia about the country and its future prospects. This, by itself, should serve as a catalyst for change.