One thing is clear from Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption — the people in this country are desperately seeking honest and upright leaders. The outpouring of support from all over the nation is a real demonstration of this need.
And while it is the right thing to do — support a cause and follow the one who leads it — this entire episode has raised some very important questions on the quality of citizenship we hold. We appear to be very happy being led — sometimes by bad men and sometimes by good men. But always led. Not questioning, not investing time in understanding what exactly the leaders are asking us to do. A case in point is this campaign against corruption.
While everyone instinctively responded to the demand to weed out corruption, very few people who were out on the streets had read the Jan Lokpal Bill being proposed by the campaign leaders. Further, as time went on, very few people were ready to listen to any arguments against the proposed Bill. If you are against the bill, you are with corruption and therefore unpatriotic.
How is this different from any other time that masses of us have been led by our leaders to speak their minds and not ours? When will the Indian citizen really find his own mind and speak it?
But this requires investing time and effort in our own citizenship. One step towards this is to understand our citizenship contract — the Constitution.
This is the most essential document determining our rights and responsibilities. It is also the document that determines the basis on which laws can be made and enforced. It sets out the scope and functions of the State.
For us to critically evaluate the Jan Lokpal Bill or any other proposal for law, we will need to understand the standard on which it will be tested. Without this understanding, we are just a chorus of excited voices. But once we have this knowledge, we can realise our power and stand up and be counted.
Another step is to get engaged and take action on issues of public concern. The RTI Act has made it possible for us to get information from any public authority. Filing complaints and petitions are ways of making our grievances and opinions heard. Look around you — poor sanitation, potholes, laws being broken. Small issue, big issue, any issue that you feel concerned about — be informed and take action.
And finally, reflect on the beliefs you hold as a citizen. Some of these beliefs are — I don’t matter, One person can’t make a difference, I am not responsible, Nothing will change. These are not beliefs that serve nation-building. And many of these beliefs simply do not hold water. Each citizen does matter and there is a deep connect between what you do and the system of governance.
Your own acts of breaking the law and bribing have added to the cumulative decay of the entire system. But the flip side of this is that every act of yours to own up and strengthen the system will add to the generative and renewal process.
In this context, it is important to recall the preamble of the Constitution which sets out the co-ownership of all people of this country. It starts with “We, the people of India…..” and ends with “hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.” These are powerful words — fixing ownership and responsibility of liberty, equality and justice on each citizen. Not on the leaders — political or otherwise — but on every citizen. It is also important at this time to recall the words of Ambedkar in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly in 1949. He cautioned all Indian citizens not to “lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with powers that enable him to subvert their institutions”.
(Vinita Singh works with We, The People, a citizens’ rights network)