Thursday, June 09, 2011

Noble Ends Ignoble Means


Noble Ends Ignoble Means
This is something which has had me thinking for a very long time and is especially relevant to the anti-corruption campaigns which have become the hottest issues, dominating the headlines. Corruption has become part of our DNA, almost as if we cannot help but be corrupt. It exists in varying degrees, minor most are the so called “harassment bribes”, given to get things that we are rightfully and legally entitled to, not out of turn or for any other direct or indirect consideration. This is the first and most elementary example of noble ends achieved by wrong means. However, a fine distinction can be made, where we may feel that the alternative of not paying is so cumbersome and involves such a lot of trouble that we would rather pay. On the other hand the receiver is often a clerk or a poorly paid peon or orderly who while working in a government office has no incentive or scope for promotion. Often we cloak this “harassment bribe” in the garb of “baksheesh” or the ubiquitous “chai-panee” and justify it. The socialist license-permit raj coupled with very high tax rates made the climate impossible for any business venture to even start and individuals saw their hard earned money given away as income tax. To top it all the government and public sector functioned at best, inefficiently and often was guilty of gross corruption. Most of us were brought up to believe that some degree of concealment of tax and gratification of lowly officials was hardly scandalous and could be passed of as normal so as to enable one to function peacefully in life an example of good ends justifying the bad means. Even here there were rare breeds of persons, who never broke the law and paid all their taxes. These guys were considered freaks and worthy of medals but certainly not role models worthy of emulation.
Till the days of liberalization, and while we were still under the Gandhi-Nehru-Indira hang over we still saw profiteering and selfish acquisition of wealth as something undesirable and morally unacceptable while our millions toiled under the sun. So even while we had people who were corrupt, the broad principle of noble means were adopted to achieve noble ends. Corruption was there but the figures were smaller and caused shock when revealed. The guilty felt at least a sense of shame and at least felt that they had done wrong. After 1992, profit and grand life styles became not just acceptable but became the be all and end all of life. We were sold dreams and continue to dream and believe in super power status for India and for us Indians. A country which never failed to extol the Gandhian virtues of renunciation, sarvodaya and trusteeship of wealth, suddenly started counting its billionaires. Ignoble means, adopted to achieve material wealth and comforts were not only acceptable but desirable. The figures became astronomical and the corrupt become more and more brazen with a care a damn attitude. However, even as this went on and the middle class almost disconnected from the poor under belly of India. Profit and billionaires became the nations pride and people who were believed in values and adopting noble means to achieve noble ends were seen as obsolete Gandhians.
However, enough is enough and the massive corruption reflected in the recent CWG, 2G scam became the proverbial last straw that broke the camels back. Today, we seek role models who are Gandhian and at least must stand the test of noble means to achieve the noble end of making our country free of the scourge of corruption. While, we have persons of impeccable credentials, leading the anti-corruption crusade, we can see unsavory elements jumping on to the bandwagon for their own selfish motives. Civil society cannot and must not become autocratic themselves and condemn the elected leaders. Fortunately, India’s people and leaders do not need to look far away as we have the excellent example of Mahatma Gandhi where there was no conflict between thoughts, words and deeds. Means and ends were never divorced from each other, as we were the first nation which achieved freedom from our masters and yet retained friendship with them. The anti-corruption crusaders have every right to agitate and press for their demands, but they must adopt unscrupulously correct means. They must be conscious of the fact that they are speaking on behalf of the poorest voiceless Indian whose stake in the system is being diluted by the GDP model of growth represented by the corporatization of India. At the same time, the system can be changed by working with one and all including, government, politicians, bureaucrats and all shades of opinion.
While it will be almost impossible to find leadership of Gandhian stature, at least persons with reasonably clean records or who at least acknowledge their past mistakes and promise to adopt noble means at all times should be entrusted with the leadership of this movement. We as individuals should use our discrimination and choose our leaders wisely. May we guided by divine wisdom and may our nation regain its stature as a country which the world looks upto rather than looks down at.
Dr. Vispi Jokhi