Has the battle between good and bad been lost again? Can we remain silent at the insidious adventures of some elements trying to scare away public-spirited people?

The national capital is an excessively pampered city. Mindboggling amounts of money have been poured into it for improving infrastructure. This exercise has undeniably yielded dividends. Supreme among the additions to the average citizen's comfort is the metro built by Sridharan who, incidentally, is a phenomenon of sorts. The swanky new airport Terminal 3 is also something to crow about. Thanks to a judicial fiat a few years ago and the mandatory use of CNG for public transport buses, the quality of air has also improved. There is a constant attempt to beautify the city that has made Delhi really attractive. On the whole, it has become a more agreeable city than many others in the country to live in and raise a family.

It is an irony and tragedy, therefore, that Delhi is now polluted by the machinations of a small number in the polity who are hell-bent bent on destroying our faith in civilised living. This group of influential people with a somewhat shady past is scared of the critical mass that social activist Anna Hazare has picked up during the past few weeks. It would somehow like to derail his movement to promote ethics in public life.

Dismaying are the events of the past few days surrounding the circulation of a mysterious CD that contains scurrilous material against a few who are associated with Mr. Hazare. There are conflicting views on the genuineness of the CD. I wouldn't like to pronounce my views on this contentious matter. Let us wait for the opinion of a credible and reputed expert. The unfortunate feeling that has been generated is that there is possibly now an orchestrated endeavour to damn everybody who desires to inject some ethics into public life.

The vital questions that legitimately arise are: Has the battle between good and bad been again lost? Can we remain silent at the insidious adventures of some unscrupulous elements who are trying to scare away public-spirited men and women? These are the issues that are uppermost in the minds of a large number of people, who recently started looking upon Anna as a messiah, much to the discomfort of some inside the establishment and many outside.

I am no friends of the controversial personalities now being assailed for the alleged slander of a judge. I barely know them. I am, however, appalled by rumours that they are being targeted because of their closeness to Anna Hazare. Another rumour doing the rounds is that this is a masked operation aimed at persuading a senior judge to recuse himself from hearing a sensitive case. Both conjectures, irrespective of whether they have a basis or not, speak volumes of the quality of public life in the country.

No institution and no public official now seem exempt from calumny at the hands of those who themselves are unabashed violators of law. In such a miasmic atmosphere, the trend of good people shunning public office is likely to become stronger by the day. This development can be reversed only with the help of persons with a strong will and fire in the belly. It is nearly certain that it is not enough to be clean. It seems equally important to have the guts to hit back at detractors with a dubious agenda. Nothing else is likely to work in defusing persons with a questionable agenda, whose main strength is the sly support received from those who are close to power centres.

A somewhat specious argument, put forth by a few vested interests, runs along these lines. How can Anna Hazare and company stifle discussion on the format and future of the anti-corruption campaign? This is with a view to damning them as anti-democratic and fascist. Nothing can be farther from truth. The impression sought to be circulated is that the crusade against lack of integrity in high places is a brand new development and that a lot of time and opportunity need to be given to lawmakers to ponder over the subject and come to deliberate and calculated conclusions on how corruption should be fought through a foolproof law. This stand borders on the ridiculous considering that the proposed law has been debated for more than four decades.

If Mr. Hazare sounds impatient, and possibly irascible, it is because he is convinced he has waited long enough to see his lifetime objective fulfilled. It is not the ranting of a selfish old man who aims at self-glorification and is itching to embarrass the establishment. What his critics are trying to propagate, with unmistakable dishonest intentions, is that he is being exploited by vainglorious egotistic individuals who have jumped on the Hazare bandwagon just to settle scores with their adversaries.

I feel it is dangerous to ignore this ill-advised and vengeful group as inconsequential. We know that untruth repeated ad nauseam comes to be looked upon as the gospel. It is my experience that in modern India it is not enough for you to have a decades-long track record of honesty and goodness. In the past, an unsullied reputation for integrity and desire to help the common man stood by you when brickbats were thrown at you. The present situation is so ugly that every time somebody challenges your honesty of purpose and unwillingness to bend to those in power, you will have to prove that you have nothing to hide from society. There cannot be a worse time in Indian history for good people in public life. This is why I am worried about the future of the Hazare movement. If good people in massive numbers do not now come out boldly to express their solidarity with him, he will become just a footprint in the sands of time.

Mr. Hazare has announced that he will abide by the wishes of Parliament when it comes to passing a Lokpal law. He is being clever and correct so that he can carry all MPs with him. I, however, perceive a slight contradiction here. Mr. Hazare knows that across the political spectrum there is absolutely no will to install an omnipotent Lokpal who will fear no one. This absence of consensus on the subject among people who matter when it comes to law-making is the bane of the system. To expect Parliament to agree upon a strong ombudsman is a pipe dream. Hence, when Mr. Hazare says he will go by the wishes of our legislators, he is being unrealistic.

But then, does he have options? This is a real catch-22 situation. He has to carry Parliament with him. At the same time, he knows he will have no staunch backers on that forum for an effective Lokpal. Does this mean he should desist from asking for the moon and settle for mother earth? Not at all. Whatever he chooses to do, it is for the common man to continue to exert pressure on the polity for framing the most practical yet deterrent law. The media's role in maintaining public focus is crucial. Nothing else will help.

(Dr. R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director.)

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