Anna’s Movement is for a strong, comprehensive, and effective Jan Lok Pal Bill aiming to set up an effective mechanism to eradicate corruption from public life.
Deeper reflections bring to mind two ideas of the greatest importance:
It is quite likely that the anti-corruption movement would, for pragmatic reasons, annex more and more areas of our social, economic and political life. It can be reasonably considered that only a broad-spectrum approach can provide the right remedy. For doing that, we shall have to wade through the shark-infested waters about which I would say something in Chapter 29.
We are free to gather ideas from all realms in order to pursue our agenda. We believe in what the great Rigveda said: ‘Let Noble Thoughts come to us from all sides’. But here I am limiting myself to Anna’s ideas which I find no different from Gandhi’s, and also in tune with our cultural tradition. I am summarising a few points which, I wish, you carry in your mind when you think about the various steps and measures involved in our nation’s political restructuring.
(1) The structure of our polity should be so designed as to make our villages the grass-root matrix of our economy, and the effective units in our democratic organization. Gandhi had told us in course of our Struggle for Freedom:
“Independence must begin at the bottom. Thus, village will be a Republic or panchayat having full powers. It follows, therefore, that every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its affairs even to the extent of defending itself against the whole world.” ( Harijan 1-7- ’47)
This vision was expressed by our Constitution in: its Article 40says —
“The State shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.”
(2). Anna has, through his precepts and practice, worked against the hedonist consumerism surging up in our times. His life and ideas bring to our mind what Mahatma Gandhi kept on emphasizing, and what he expressed with excellent pithiness and resonance, in Young India of 5 February 1925:
“India is essentially karmabhumi (land of duty) in contradistinction to bhogobhumi (land of enjoyment).”
(3). Gandhi and Anna expounded the ideas which I would describe compendiously as our ‘constitutional socialism’ about which I have written in brief in Chapter 21 of this Memoir. These thoughts had been expressed by Gandhi with greater precision and emphasis: to quote from Gandhi —
“I suggest that we are thieves in a way. If I take anything that I do not need for my own immediate use and keep it, I thieve it from somebody else. It is the fundamental law of Nature, without exception, that Nature produces enough for our wants from day to day; and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world, there would be no man dying of starvation.”( Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi p. 384).
These ideas are pithily stated in the various Articles of our Constitution, but they are most assertively stated in the Directive Principles of State Policy which prescribe the normative principles for our government’s actions.
(4). Anna treads on the Gandhian path in emphasizing the ideas of Swadeshi, Gandhi had said:
“European civilization is no doubt suited for the Europeans but it will mean ruin for India, if we endeavour to copy it. This is not to say that we may not adopt and assimilate whatever may be good and capable of assimilation by us as it does not also mean that even the Europeans will not have to part with whatever evil might have crept into it. ” ( Young India, 30-4-’31)
(5) Like Gandhi, Anna emphasized on the importance of Charitrya (or ‘Chharitrya’ as Anna pronounces the word with Marathi accent), generally translated into English as ‘character’ though its comprehensiveness and moral vision are not captured by that word of English language.
We all know that Article 51A of our Constitution prescribes the Fundamental Duties of ‘every citizen’. It requires every citizen to ‘abide by’ the ideals of our Constitution; it mandates every citizen ‘to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom’; ‘to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so’; ‘to promote harmony and common brotherhood amongst all the people of India…’; ‘to value and preserve the rich heritage of our culture’; ‘to protect natural environment…’ ; ‘to develop scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform’, ‘to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective excellence’….. We have several cases decided by our Supreme Court which say that the duties prescribed for citizens, be taken into consideration even by our courts. Whilst framing norms for restructuring our polity, and the systems of governance, we must take into these duties. What is the duty for the citizens is also the duty cast on the State, and all its organs.
(iv). Charitra (Character ?)
At school, I had read in the Free India Reader Book IV, Mahatma Gandhi’s short essay on ‘What the Students can do’. He had stressed that without good character a man always falls, and a system that he builds up always collapses. Anna is perfectly right in holding that our country can grow under conditions of social justice and airplay only if we succeed in establishing a corruption-free, and accountable polity, in fact, the entire system of governance. But it is not likely to happen if ‘character’ is lost.
I think it is worthwhile to consider what Anna means by ‘character’, and how it differs from the concepts, like “character,” “duty,” “will,” “hard work”, and “thrift” about which we read in the Victorian literature. We all have found good ideas stated by Samuel Smiles in Self-Help (1859). To the Victorians, ‘character’ provided traits which helped them to acquire more power and amass great wealth for the Victorian upper crust, and to evolve institutions and norms to protect and promote such gains. The general run of the fortunate Victorians considered it their ‘duty’ to build up an acquisitive society which never had the qualms of conscience at the abysmal inequality, inequity, and social injustice. The Victorian ‘will’, ‘earnestness’, ‘hard work’ were at work to promote an unjust society in which the corrupt power elite ruled, and suffering masses sobbed unnoticed and ignored. You may read H.G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay (1909) in which “English society is seen as a large country house, with the lower classes concealed below stairs in the servants’ quarters, while the upper classes enjoy life in the elegant drawing-rooms.” In the novel The Man of Property (1906), John Galsworthy portrays the Victorian upper middle class, “whom he saw as reducing everything to property values, including life itself….The story is centered on two pieces of ‘property’: a country house Soames is building for himself; and his wife Irene, whom he is losing to another man.” The political and economic leaders of the Victorian era entertained the ill-informed notions about certainties and assumptions (which we find also being shared by the fundamentalists of the present-day economic liberalism). I would conclude my reflections on the Victorian culture with certain words from The Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. 29, at p. 81): “Many Victorians were as eager to read about crime as to read the Bible.”