I was fortunate to have learnt my concepts of democracy and reform while working with the highly organized and introspective JP. He was a brilliant IAS officer from Andhra Pradesh, who had worked in high position within the system. After many years of service, he realized that it was better to be outside the system and act as a pressure point for government reforms. I was heavily influenced by his deeply researched, rational solutions to improve the country.
Sometimes, I used to think: if only JP’s understanding of governance could be downloaded and transferred to Anna’s brain, the nation would really benefit! To make this fantasy a reality, I brought together Anna and JP. On my request, JP stayed back in Mumbai for many days to support Anna and his demands. For hours, the two would talk about the state of the nation, and I would listen to their fascinating conversations, feeling some proprietorial pride.
There was one particularly interesting conversation between Anna and JP that gave an insight into the way they thought.
JP said, ‘Annaji, people like you are born but rarely. Instead of working in one village, if you were to take up 100 villages, would it not be better?’
Anna replied, ‘I want to make one village 100 per cent, rather than spreading myself too thin and not doing complete justice to my work.’
‘But, Annaji, if you contribute 100 per cent to one village, your net value is 100. While if you contribute even 60 per cent across 100 villages, your value is close 6,000—sixty times more,’ JP reasoned.
These were captivating perspectives coming from two great leaders. Over time, I came to realize that there were two different schools of thought in civil society. On one hand was the Anna school of thought which proposed that to change the nation, one had to change people. The belief was this: because systems are made and run by individuals, if people change, then the systems that run the country will change, too.
On the other hand, there was JP’s school of thought—he (and others like him) suggested that systemic reforms were the only way to improve the nation. The system had to be designed such that there was an incentive for good behaviour and a strong disincentive to bad/corrupt behaviour. It wasn’t civil society’s role to change the character of people—that was best left to religion and parents. Civil society’s role was to force the system to reform.
I found merit in JP’s stance. In my view, India has some of the most wonderful individuals; offers excellent upbringing; and is spiritually inclined. If, in spite of this, our society as a whole is degenerating, perhaps it is because a solid system of checks and balances is not in place.We have easy proof that this is the missing link. Consider Indians in the Western world: they have been very successful and ethical in nations that come with strong administrative and judicial systems. If Indians were fundamentally flawed, and/or if systems had no influence on behaviour, this stark difference in approach wouldn’t emerge.
The fact is that robust systems make people behave in a moral and ethical manner. In any society, no matter the setup, 10 per cent of the population is generally honest, and 10 per cent is dishonest. The remaining 80 per cent behave as per the incentive and disincentive mechanism in place. If success is guaranteed when behaviour is upright, this 80 per cent segment will choose honesty. If the system offers an advantage to those who are unscrupulous, again, this 80 per cent segment will be immoral.
Thus it is my view that “instead of changing players, it is important to change the rules of the game”. It is a view that JP cherishes, too, and it is entirely possible that Anna’s support for the Lokpal Bill, a form of institutional reform, became doubly emphatic after his discussions with JP. ‘We are a first class nation with a third class government,’ was a slogan Arvind picked up from one of my speeches during the IAC days.
Book excerpt from my book “Aap & Down”