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Encouraging engagement in the fight against corruption…

December 13, 2010

The way in which people are rushing ahead with their lives here is amazing! All of them seem to be in such an undue haste. They hardly seem to have time for anything. Some people that we tried to interact with curtly asked us to be brief. Some bought our RTI book more to end the conversation and see us off rather than out of genuine interest in the subject. Life in general seems to be so superficial and shallow. I even get the feeling that these people are manifesting cynicism, apathy and indifference more as coping mechanisms; as a veneer to cover up their superficial existence and inaction.

Without sounding judgmental, one does feel that people are escapists and are constantly running away from something; something, which they do not have the time to identify and resolve; something that they are actually afraid of and hence are running all the time. Freedom from fear is not just a lofty concept, but I think a practical way to live. But this would be possible, only when we have the strength of our own convictions, our positive values, and our ethical lifestyles. Again Gandhi and Vivekananda are people who have lived them and demonstrated to us that this is not just possible, but also immensely practical. But again, in this world of such haste, would anyone listen?

We also are handicapped by lack of material in English. Bangalore is so cosmopolitan that knowing Kannada seems now to be the exception rather than the norm. As we come closer to Bangalore, people are not willing to accept our unselfish intentions. Many people probe to understand why we are doing what we are doing. They cannot reconcile to the fact that our intentions are pure and unselfish. Today, for mankind, helping each other seems to have become the exception.

I wrote the above lines in my blog more than 2 years ago. I was then nearing the end of my 420 km long walk, talking about RTI and how we could use it to fight corruption. The reception, encouragement and participation that I had received in the 120-odd villages I had walked through was unbelievable. This possibly raised our expectations of how people of Bangalore, who are closer to the center of power and corruption, would receive us. I was convinced that however large the voice from rural India is, it is only the urban voices which have decibel value and attract the attention of the media and the powers that be. It was indeed important for our struggle to capture the attention of the average Bangalorean. Well, disappointment would be a polite word to describe what we had felt on reaching Bangalore and it was then I wrote the above lines. I bring this up to set the context of what I am going to share now.

Things have changed so much in the last 3 months. There has been one major scam after another breaking out in different parts of the country. While many may feel despondent and frustrated at what is happening, I am actually excited. People are now getting restless and agitated and I am sure that out of this anger will be born positive community action. Corruption in all its forms has always existed, but what the last many months have shown is the ability of the citizenry and media to expose different acts of corruption, especially with the use of RTI Act.

Bangaloreans have also changed since 2008. Hundreds of passionate and committed people from all walks of life – academia, business, students, homemakers – all want to come together and do something. What they need is some direction and leadership to take on this mighty battle. What we need today are not individual crusaders and whistleblowers who are so exposed that they could easily be marginalized and taken out of the game, but groups of well-meaning individuals who can strategically think this through and make sure that the efforts will not fail. I saw the beginnings of this happening last week. Using the ‘Anti Corruption Day’ as an opportunity, many groups came together to start the process. Whether it was the seminar on anti-corruption organized by the ‘Coalition against Corruption’ and Public Affairs Center, or the press meets and statements issued by many civil society groups – the message was clear. It is now time to take action.

What impressed me was the quiet way in which another coalition was built. A group of around 10 civil society organizations under the invisible leadership of some wonderful friends decided to do something meaningful. They went to some of the major schools and colleges in Bangalore on a ‘Baton March’ and educated the youth on joining this battle. On the 11th (Sat), more than 500 concerned citizens from Kanteerava Stadium to Shantinagar Grounds, raising slogans and distributing literature and creating awareness along the way. Many a cynic asked me the question – will this have an impact?. For them, I can only say that reaching the end of a long and arduous journey begins with a small step. After the walk culminated at the Shantinagar grounds, Arvind Kejriwal, Dr Jayaprakash Narayan and I spoke on the issue and how each of us could get engaged. MD Pallavi added colour in her own melodious way, singing some songs relevant to the theme. The rock-band ‘Thermal And A Quarter’ enthralled and inspired the group. Each of them doing their bit to what they saw as a great beginning…

With some members of the 'Saaku' team that organized the walk

While all this may still seem too small compared to what needs to be done, I am seeing it as a huge change in the mindset and intent of the people of Bangalore. From indifference to apathy just 2 years ago to such active engagement and clarity of purpose today – it is indeed a long journey. It is this initial inertia that is the most difficult to break. What we need now is to continue the struggle and take it further, and tell the powers that be that we will not rest till we usher in Good Governance.

It is no longer our privilege but our entitlement.


Categories: Musings