The Civil Coup?
At Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, an architectural ode to precision and balance, Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death finally came to an end. On April 9, the Union Law Ministry announced setting-up of a 10-member joint drafting committee for the Jan Lokpal Bill—it is the first time in the parliamentary history of India that the government will be enacting a law in consultation with the civil society. It is a matter of pride that a 72-year young man has come forward to uproot the evil called corruption. As Gandhiji said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” The battle was to formulate a Lokpal Bill that would allow for impartial and effective inquiries into complaints against public officials. The civil activist camp was correct in pointing out that the official draft was weak and ineffectual. For instance, rather than allow the Lokpal (or ombudsman) to probe all corruption-related complaints against public officials received from the general public, it restricts such inquires to those forwarded by the Lok Sabha Speaker or the Rajya Sabha Chairman. The reluctance of the Centre to draft a tough Lokpal Bill has been coupled with a longstanding reluctance to enact it; one or another version of the bill has been introduced in the Lok Sabha eight times since 1968 only to find the House being dissolved before it could be passed. But this piece of legislation, although having much more teeth, is not without its share of serious flaws. For instance, it stipulates drastic changes in the existing criminal justice system by envisaging the Lokpal as something of a supercop, under whose jurisdiction a good portion of the Central Bureau of Investigation will be subsumed. I support Mr Hazare and congratulate him on his success. But I don’t believe that we can end corruption by passing the Jan Lokpal Bill. Mr Hazare’s crusade against corruption is commendable. But can corruption be eradicated by such symptomatic treatment accompanied by the boosting of generalised cynicism against politics and politicians alone? Unless the root cause of the systemic nexus of the rich and powerful, many of whom are apparent supporters of civil society organisations, is uprooted, how can corruption be eliminated? Is it not more important to lead a crusade for insulating the electoral system from the influence of the rich and powerful?
Furthermore, democracy has its own problems, which government and citizens attempt to solve in different ways. What Anna Hazare did for the country was certainly appreciable and will be beneficial for the country if he is really able to weed out at least some of the corruption from the top echelons. Any protest against any wrongdoing is not wrong and in fact should be supported but what Anna did was that he influenced the working methods of a democratically elected government and forced the government to go out of the laid procedures and this can also be termed as blackmail. Our Constitution has quite well laid rules and regulations and numerous stringent safeguards, processes and institutions which are for the sole purpose of maintaining the system and keep its working clean. If there is wrongdoing by any politician or bureaucrat then report it to the police or file a PIL. And if you are frustrated with the whole government then just don’t elect it. Even if the goal of Anna Hazare and civil society was a noble one, the way of violating the established method could actually add to the problem. For, there is a reason why Parliament and its politicians are empowered to make rules and bring changes and we should not forget that we are the ones who bring them to power, we are the ones who elect them to make these rules for us and therefore a little respect is necessary. But the claim that the “people” are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing. In a democracy, one ought to freely express views. But anyone who claims to be the “authentic” voice of the people is treading on very thin ice indeed. It is not willing to subject itself to an accountability, least of all to the only mechanism we know of designating representatives: elections. The demand that a Jan Lokpal Bill be drafted jointly by the government and a self-appointed committee of public virtue seems to be illogical. Most of us sharply disagree with elected government on matters even more important than corruption. But no matter how cogent our arguments, it does not give us the right to say that our virtue entitles us to dictate policy to a representative process. In an age of cynicism, Anna Hazare is a colossus of idealism. His sacrifices should cause all of us to introspect. It should be in the service of self-transformation, not a vilification of political processes. Virtue has an impatience with processes and institutions that needs to be checked. It is a dangerous illusion to pedal that badly designed new institutions will be a magic wand to remove corruption. All they will do is promote wishful thinking and distract from the myriads of prosaic decisions that will be required to get a better politics. Hence, the challenge is to formulate a Lokpal Bill that has the teeth lacking in the government draft and is free from the angularities of the civil society version.