This week the citizens of India can look at themselves and say: It's going to be all right. The second freedom struggle – for freedom from corruption – is beginning to show some signs of a satisfactory solution. The rise of public opinion in spontaneous response to Anna Hazare's campaign was the first sign that our country had the inner strength to stand up to the corrupt. Now the judiciary has helped restore a sense of sobriety and balance to a scene vitiated by wreckless corruption. Not that the struggle against the evil men in power is over. But when public opinion is reinforced by judicial wisdom, the wielders of power can no longer do what they thought they could do with immunity. The days of accountability are here. And the days of punishment.
Wild animals are the first to sense the imminence of an earthquake. Ditto with politicians. How else can we explain the unusual spectacles in UP? On election eve, Mayawati dismisses nearly half her cabinet to show that she is against corruption. Mulayam Singh, proud possessor of a feudal mind that sees all females as inferior creatures, feels obliged to withdraw his “offer” to provide jobs to victims of rape.
Ordinary citizens are so enraged by corruption that sometimes their emotions get the better of their judgement. No one will support the man who walked up to a cabinet minister and slapped him. Shoe throwing is less offensive, especially when the throwers do not look like they actually want to hit their targets. Unlike Omar Abdullah and Rahul Gandhi, P. Chidambaram was within hitting distance, yet the flying shoe kept a nonviolent distance from him.
People have also used civilised ways to vent their anger at those suspected of involvement in deals. Like when Suresh Kalmadi was forced to leave a posh restaurant when fellow diners berated him for bringing shame to India. Let us not forget, also, that the disarray in the Anna Hazare team has in no way affected Anna's own standing as a beacon of hope for people who are disgusted with corruption.
The biggest boost to popular optimism comes from the Supreme Court's historical rulings last week. The requirement that public officials could not be prosecuted without the prior sanction of their superiors was imposed on the plea that, without such protection, there would be endless harassment of officials. In practice, it was used to protect corrupt public officials from legal action. More than a hundred officials have been basking under that protection and no doubt continuing their corrupt practices. In one stroke, the Supreme Court put an end to the malpractice. Now if sanction to prosecute is not given in four months, it will be deemed to have been given. A simple solution to what had been nurtured as a complex problem.
Equally historic is the court's verdict that every citizen has the right to petition for action against public servants suspected of corrupt practices. The argument that this might lead to frivolous complaints against honest officials cannot hold water; the courts have repeatedly pronounced severe judgements against frivolous complainants.
In terms of impact, perhaps the most important verdict of the past week was the cancellation of 2G spectrum licences given away by jailed minster A. Raja. It amounted to saying that the Government was collectively corrupt. We can add that the political class is collectively corrupt. Which is the fact of the matter. Which is also the reason why the story is not over. Bigger fish may yet be caught.
All of this is to the good. The manipulators of the system now know that the system is biting back. They know there is a climate change the world over and India is right in the middle of it. Public opinion is roused, activists are out, the judiciary is on guard, and the party is coming to an end for the thugs and pindaris of democracy. For once, we can say with feeling: Jai Hind.