Chief economist at the National Council of Applied Economic Research, Abusaleh Shariff was member-secretary of the Sachar Committee, besides serving as an expert on many governmental committees and authoring several books. In conversation with Hardnews
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

How do you see this whole fight against corruption?
I really don't know what Lokpal means. However, the fact that Indian society is corrupt bothers me as much as it bothers the other citizens of this country. From a farmer who has to get a certificate from the Tehsildar, to the artisan who wants a permit – it affects everyone, everywhere.

Now, we have reached a stage where we consider corruption to be a systemic part of our society, something which is always there. What do Anna Hazare and his India Against Corruption team want to address? What kind of corruption? If it is about what concerns the general public – for instance, the cost of public goods whose face value cost is reasonable but the market price is much more – then I am with Hazare. However, corruption is not only this. It has many faces. It has many formats. I wonder if Hazare and his team are interested in the issue in its totality. In this country, we have rationalised and institutionalised corruption, and so we must the issue comprehensively. They might deny it and want to keep them out of the ambit of their version of the Jan Lokpal, but the fact is that there is corruption in civil society and the corporate sector as well.

How does one deal with corruption then?
Addressing corruption requires great thought. It cannot be done overnight by a so-called magic wand. We need multi-pronged strategies to deal with this menace. We need institutional reforms, administrative reforms. We have in the past seen how the Right to Information has been able to at least bring some kind of transparency in our system. So, it is wrong to say that nothing is happening.

Do you agree with the Jan Lokpal draft?
I have gone through both the Jan Lokpal draft and the government's version of the Lokpal Bill. To me Team Anna's version of the Lokpal seemed incomprehensible. It is like that wild card we have in certain sports. It takes a highly generalised approach to deal with corruption, and is weak in the specifics. It's not just a matter of bringing the prime minister into its ambit. The more serious flaws are about how it treats one of the great things about our democracy – the separation of powers, with the checks and balances that exist in the system. Judiciary has been kept independent and should remain independent. That is how it functions without fear from the political class or the bureaucracy.

Do you feel Anna was arrogant in his approach?
I could not understand when Anna Hazare invokes the people of India. Who are these people, I wonder. Anna looked dictatorial in his approach. You cannot say that these are my terms and you have to accept exactly what I am saying. And his was a middle-class movement. It wasn't a movement by the poor of this country. The same middle classes are corrupt in their daily lives. Even I had to take some money in black when I was selling my house, as there was simply no other way to do it. How can the corrupt themselves take part in an agitation against corruption?

What do you have to say about inadequate representation of minorities in the Anna camp?
Dalit and Muslim representation doesn't really matter to me, but still I don't approve of the composition of Team Anna.

Corruption cannot be limited to just the financial aspect...
Financial corruption is just one aspect. There are other types and kind of corruption. Sachar Committee has shown that Muslims have been discriminated against. Isn't that a form of corruption? Anna Hazare should have taken a look there as well. Denial of rights and violence against Dalits and tribals of this country is also a kind of corruption. Inadequate representation of minorities in governance is also corruption. We need to sit and define corruption before going ahead with ways to check and eradicate it.

Why do you think were Muslims wary of this campaign?
Muslims of this country are caught in identity politics. Even today they cannot think beyond the basics – square meals, jobs, primary education etc. They are in a way insulated from development. And then Anna only tried symbolic acts like having iftar with a Muslim girl. Plus RSS members were actively involved, so obviously Muslims had to be afraid.

Do you think Modi's candidature as PM would polarise Muslim votes in favour of one party?
Muslim votes can never get polarised in favour of one party. They are a very diverse group, and it reflects in their voting pattern.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: OCTOBER 2011