Kiran Bedi, Corruption and the JanLokPal

I see two equally illogical stands being taken. As usual, polarized by the original decision to support JanLokpal or not. This is not helpful. Thinking is always a good idea. Sharing some thoughts here.

  1. Accounts were released where Kiran Bedi is reimbursed for business class fares but has actually traveled economy. The balance amount is presumed to go to her or a cause she supports or JanLokpal.
  2. There are many factors which make this an unethical thing or not in my eyes. Main one being if the amount was intended as a reimbursement of a ticket or a travel allowance. Generally, if it is a travel allowance, you get paid according to a certain standard and are expected to manage your expense within it. If you buy a more expensive ticket, you can’t expect extra money, and if you buy a cheaper one, you are not expected to return the balance. Other times, you are reimbursed the cost of your ticket – whatever it is. In this case, it would be unethical/illegal to claim more than the actual cost of your ticket. It is not clear what kind of an arrangement Kiran Bedi had with her sponsors. There may be other factors too.
  3. However when people claim that she is being smeared, or she didn’t pocket the money, those are not factors into it being unethical or not. If she fooled anyone, that is wrong – regardless of the reason or who points it out. They are merely excuses to ignore this information. Similarly those claiming that she shouldn’t do it because she is a part of the JanLokpal team or that the Lokpal is a stupid idea because “these are the kind of people supporting it” also have no proof that what she did was indeed dishonest. Both sides are basically playing the outrage to their favorite tune. Illogical. The usual pissing contest.
  4. It is alarming that our lack of critical thinking as a nation is so great that the same people end up on two sides of the same line with no attempt at understanding or compromise. No matter what. Everything Janlokpal is evil or silence. Or everything JanLokpal is good or silence. Never mind that something as simple as their building watchman may have good or bad qualities. This decays capacity to think and get results, because it gives us a fence to think within.
  5. In my opinion, if Kiran Bedi did fudge accounts, it is wrong. If she didn’t that is very good, but it is entirely irrelevant to the JanLokpal campaign.

Which brings me to the other point. Many people have called me all kinds of things ranging from bigot to corruption excuser and what not. The good thing is that they have at least graduated to creativity from the earlier “mouthpiece of <insert name>” I think clarifying my stand is useful, because it is important the country in general learn to make distinctions and apply critical thinking skills. (yes, it is also possible I am being arrogant thinking that I am the logical one and others are not, but bear with me – you can always blast me in the comments)

  • The JanLokPal is a standard proposed to combat corruption in the country. To put it bluntly, it is nobody’s baap ki jageer – Nobody’s.
  • A standard is something that applies to everyone coming under it. No individual is above a standard. In other words, just like a standard cannot be compromised for someone, the actions of someone also cannot break it. The standard is a measure, not a quality of an individual.
  • To detatch it from politics and its warped loyalties. I advocate listening, openness, compassion, generosity, courage… etc as a standard to follow in life. In moments of anger, I may not follow that standard. I may become angry, defensive, unkind, narrow minded, etc. It is definitely wrong for me to act in such a manner, and I have fallen short of the standard in that instance. That doesn’t mean two things:
  • It doesn’t mean that I am always angry, defensive, unkind, etc and I am cheating people by recommending that to them
  • It doesn’t mean that listening, openness, generosity, courage, compassion, etc are bad things, or that I have no right to recommend them, or that they should not be made a standard because they are difficult to follow.
  • Now take the whole thing and apply to Kiran Bedi.
  • This instance of accounts being fudged (if true) does not mean that she is a dishonest person or that she is somehow cheating people by making a stand against corruption and in support of JanLokpal.
  • It doesn’t mean that anti-corruption or JanLokpal are bad ideas or that she has no right to recommend them or that they should not be made a standard because they are difficult to follow.
  • This kind of logic, where people go “oh, look at her, and she is recommending anti-corruption, how scandalous” is the real bigotted thinking, because there is no such thing as perfection. If you have lived, you have made mistakes, if you have not made mistakes, you are not worth following.
  • Saying that someone being corrupt disqualifies him/her to make an anti-corruption stand is a way of sabotaging calls for anti-corruption to happen, because perfection being a myth, no one is ever going to be the perfect candidate to make a call. A good journalist and good motivation will give you dirt on anyone, or they are fake identities. So this is rather like saying a home full of obese people should never diet, because none of them have the moral authority to tell anyone else to diet.
  • The other thing people criticize me about is that they see this as sanctioning certain kinds of corruption by admitting that people are corrupt. That is not true. A standard determines a certain level of excellence. The aim is not to regiment people, but to decrease dysfunctional actions. In my eyes, money that the person most likely budgeted for someone’s travel being used by the same person to through some discomfort and used for another person doesn’t really create any dysfunction as such. Sure, it is still a bad idea, but it isn’t the same scale as say defrauding people out of years of savings. Or one of the government scams. A standard must be functional. Micromanaging defeats that and bogs it down with inconsequential matters for obscure purposes. So, I am not interested in this as a debate on corruption in the country. Sure, I’d probably remember this if someone were talking about Kiran Bedi, but as an allegation among many other things. Is that sanctioning corruption? Frankly, your exact opinion doesn’t matter as long as you have arrived at it with thought rather than knee jerk loyalty.
  • To put it bluntly, while the movement for the JanLokpal was initiated by some people, it was owned by vast numbers of people. And now by the country. Exact attributes of the people are not important to me.
  • Like the judiciary being corrupt wouldn’t mean that a justice system is a bad idea, Lokpals, or Lokpal supporters being corrupt doesn’t mean the Lokpal is a bad idea. Understand that. That is crucial to any understanding of civics. People will come and go, systems running the country are the objects of the country’s trust.

That said, a large part of this mental clutter is because our thinking has become one of judging ideas by their origin rather than their merit – a product of our education and other things which need seriously addressed… but that is for another time.

It became inevitable when Anna was objectified into some kind of symbol for integrity and the “original” India because of his age and method of protest. But we must make an effort to retrieve our brains and understand the merit of the movement and its demand rather than idolize its icons – either as heroes, or villains.

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About the Author

Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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