Anna’s Anguish And Augury
Anna Hazare and civil society activists supporting him have apparently won a battle with the government conceding to constituting a joint committee with ‘civil society’ representatives (announced since) to frame a Jan Lokpal bill to deal with public complaints against corruption in the government, but war against corruption has not even begun. Hazare has also issued a deadline of 15 August for this law to be passed. That India needs the institution of Ombudsman, certainly at the Centre and State levels, but preferably at district and panchayat levels too, is unexceptionable. The need for the offices of Lokpal (at the Centre) and Lokayukt (in States) was first mentioned in 1963 and was repeated in 1966 and since 1968 the Lokpal Bill has been introduced seven times, last time in 2001; except in 1985 when it was withdrawn, it has lapsed each time. Naturally, the ‘Anna action’ has come in the wake of acute popular frustration at the transformation of corruption in India into scam that has recently brought to notice massive swindling of public money with impunity and lack of any mechanism to deal with them.
Yet, a number of questions have been raised by commentators and analysts, who should be considered as much part of the Indian civil society as those who have compelled the government to concede fast tracking of the Lokpal bill, with regard to the manner in which the ‘movement’ has achieved its victory. After all, creating an institution is a serious business of public policy which must not be achieved with methods that Dr BR Ambedkar described in his penultimate day speech in the Constituent Assembly of India as ‘grammar of anarchy’, views that he expressed in 1930s as well. For record and for our further analysis on 25 November 1949 he said:
“If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact …. we must abandon the methods of disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the grammar of anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.”
To be fair to the public outrage that poured out in support of Hazare with slogans, placards and candle lights, governments in India, central and states over decades have really been insensitive to the spread of hydra-headed monster called corruption. Dr Radhakrishnan cautioned Nehru about corruption in high places in 1947 soon after he assumed office as Prime Minister. Nehru’s own spotless image and declaration that the corrupt should be hanged from the nearest lamp post could not prevent the Jeep scandal in 1949 when his friend VK Krishna Menon, himself known for his integrity, was India’s High Commissioner to England and later he shoulder the accusation of mismanaging India’s defence as the minister in the wake of the 1962 China war. Punjab Chief Minister Pratap Singh Kairon, eventually removed by Das Commission report in 1964 and assassinated a year later under mysterious circumstances, was defended by Nehru as a simple and dedicated man who apparently tended to ignore administration due to his tours of the state. The government did not act decisively despite the Gorwala Committee report 1951 and Santhanam Committee Report in 1964. Some where Nehru’s ambivalence reflected in what he mentioned as ‘folklore of corruption’ (referred by Gunnar Myrdal in Asian Drama) came in the way. Corruption took deep roots since 1971, when institutions were deliberately undermined and twisted to the whims of the ruling elite. Its growth since has been phenomenal, reflected in the use of American betting slang ‘scam’ to reflect large scale swindling that the nation has been witness to in the CWG preparation and 2G auctioning. Revelations by Shunglu Committee has been stirring people’s conscience. Yet, not only the Lokpal bill has lingered, the office of Lokayukt created in eighteen states has had a mixed record. Naturally, the impression of the apathy of the political class, BJP’s opportunistic support to Hazare notwithstanding, is overwhelming.
A major question that has been thrown up in this churning is what should the method of policy making in India be and where should it be located? Should it be street politics, what Ambedkar so aptly described as ‘grammar of anarchy’ (Kejriwal’s shirking it off as ‘meant for another time’); should it be located on the streets of Delhi (the politics of ‘Jantar Mantar’ and ‘India Gate’), or should it be taken up methodically by people’s representatives, elected and maintained in the corridors of power with privileged red lights on their vehicles and sophisticated gun-toting commandoes at great cost to people many of whom are homeless and have no human security worth the name, in the Parliament and thirty Legislative Assemblies in the country? Obviously, the political class, some of whom are trying to take advantage of the Hazare hurricane against the government of the day, has been consciously and brazenly remiss in attending to this issue despite early warnings. Obviously, the question has been thrown on the streets of India to be taken up forced with ‘fasts’ and slogans by those who should at best be advising the government and representatives with their expertise.
The second set of major questions has come up on the phenomenon of ‘civil society’. What is it, what are its representative credentials, whom does it represent, does it have the legitimacy to insist on law making responsibilities on behalf of the people of India, can it and should it force any ‘law making option’ down the throat of Indian citizens, who would be responsible if the legal instrument thus created turns out to be a case of a bad law, what if those select few who have taken this initiative as civil society ‘representatives’ tomorrow come up with another such agitation on another issue, do these self-proclaimed civil society representatives have rights to treat elected representatives the way they have been visibly doing in front of a TRP-hungry electronic media, and so on?
This is not the place to undertake an analysis of the phenomenon of civil society, which has been sufficiently analysed in academic literature. That it has always existed, even in India, from time immemorial and contributed immensely in building state and society is recognised. Two developments have lately given the phenomenon and civil society’s role added significance in social and political discourse internationally and in India first, its political reconstructive role in post-communism Eastern Europe and second, the growth of individual and collective initiatives in social as well as developmental fields, which eventually has witnessed emergence and growth of a non-governmental sector variously known as voluntary sector, civil society organisations, NGOs, et al. Eventually, a mish-mash collective of individuals and organisations have fed themselves on developmental and political deficits of the state the world over, particularly in developing nations like India. International donor agencies have buttressed their significance.
BJP HAS BEEN FIGHTING CORRUPTION FOR MANY YEARS —Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Vice President, BJP
ANNA HAZARE’S MOVEMENT AGAINST CORRUPTION ENDED VERY SUCCESSFULLY. THE BJP IS ALSO FIGHTING ON THIS ISSUE. DO YOU THINK THAT ANNA’S MOVEMENT HAS HIJACKED THE ISSUE OF CORRUPTION FROM YOU?
Anna’s movement is a very important development of our country. But the BJP has been running the movement against corruption for many years through dharnas, bandhs, rallies, public meetings etc. This has resulted in a mass awareness against corruption. Being the principal opposition party, it is the BJP’s national duty and responsibility to expose the corruption cases. Later the issue was also taken up by NGOs and media. Therefore, I think that this movement is the next part of the same movement which was initiated by the BJP.
DO YOU WANT TO SAY THAT THE MOVEMENT AGAINST CORRUPTION INITIATED BY THE BJP HAS MADE A BACKGROUND FOR THE MOVEMENT BY ANNA?
Yes, hundred per cent. We have prepared the ground. We have awakened the people and prepared their mindset against corruption. This is the main reason of the success of this movement that people were already aware of the corruption of the UPA government and were very agitated with that. Apart from this, media has also played an important role to highlight the movement.
THE BJP IS RAISING THE ISSUE OF BLACK MONEY VERY STRONGLY. IT IS BELIEVED THAT BLACK MONEY IS WIDELY USED BY POLITICAL PARTIES IN ELECTIONS. SO HOW IS THE BJP PREVENTING ITSELF FROM USING BLACK MONEY IN ELECTIONS?
Problem of black money has become almost incurable. In my opinion TN Sheshan was the person who became instrumental in promoting the use of black money in elections. He had bound this celebration of democracy through various rules and regulations. Jhandas, banners, posters, rallies, public meetings, motorcycle rallies etc were all almost stopped. People cannot hoist the party flags on their houses; for that they have to take permission. If you restrict any celebration, its black marketing is its very general outcome. Now people don’t assess the elections from posters and banners, they assess it by the amount of black money spent.
LIKE MORE THAN RS 150 CRORE WERE CAUGHT IN TAMIL NADU WHICH WERE SUPPOSED TO BE DISTRIBUTED AMONG THE VOTERS…
This is the first incidence that Rs 150 crore were caught, which is only the tip of the iceberg. So, you can imagine about the amount which is not yet caught.
THIS IS TRUE, BUT THE QUESTION IS HOW IS THE BJP PREVENTING ITSELF FROM THE USE OF BLACK MONEY IN ELECTIONS?
This is definitely a problem for us as we are a cadre-based party which believes in certain ideals. We are trying to overcome this problem with the help of our workers. And I believe that this phase of black money is a temporary one and it will end soon.
WHAT STRATEGIES IS THE BJP PLANNING FOR THE ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS IN FOUR STATES?
See, the main issue in these elections is the failure of Congress government and corruption cases against it. The result of these elections will be the referendum against it. It is true that we are not a big player in these states, but the opponent parties in these states including the BJP will be benefited. In Assam, we are in a very good position. We are hopeful that we will be in position to form the government. In West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, our vote percentage will increase and we are hopeful of winning some seats too.
YOU SAID THAT THE RESULT OF THESE ELECTIONS WILL BE THE REFERENDUM AGAINST THE CONGRESS? WE HAVE SEEN EARLIER IN THE 2009 GENERAL ELECTION, WHICH WAS ALSO FOUGHT ON THE ISSUE OF CORRUPTION, THE CONGRESS HAD COME BACK WITH MORE SUPPORT. WOULD YOU SAY THAT IT WAS REFERENDUM FOR THE CORRUPT UPA GOVERNMENT?
If this time too the Congress comes back to power, in my opinion, it will be a very unfortunate condition. And this will also put a curb on the movement against corruption.
TAKE THE EXAMPLE OF WEST BENGAL, IT IS ALMOST BELIEVED THAT THE CONGRESS-TRINAMOOL ALLIANCE IS GOING TO WIN. DO YOU SEE ANY OTHER ALTERNATE TO THE LEFT THERE?
We have seen recently in the centre, on the one hand, there is a very honest Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but on the other hand, his entire team is consisted of corrupt members. Similarly, Mamta Banerjee is very simple and honest, but her entire gang is very corrupt. Their people are being caught with crores of rupees, though their number is very few. But, there are a lot of cases involving corrupt practices behind the scene which are yet to be unearthed. If Mamata Banerjee cannot clean her own team, how can she clean the system of the state?
DO YOU SEE ANY FUTURE ALLIANCE FOR THE BJP?
I believe that the strength of the NDA will increase after the elections. The Congress-led UPA is a sinking ship of corruption. There are many good leaders and parties in the UPA; they have prepared their mind to leave this sinking ship. They can join the NDA in future.
Interviewed by Ravi Shankar
This also brings in the overlapping of civil society and political society with non-party political process. Institutional deficit in political parties in India, for example, has focused on civil society role in political process. Many of such institutions have sought to perform the role of aggregating public demands to be tackled by specific political institutions and governing process. Their acceptance in India goes beyond the state outsourcing development functions to them, constituting an advisory council to advise and monitor policy initiatives. However, while this seeking out should be considered a positive development, being remiss in large areas of responsibilities has proved state’s Achilles’ heel, where individuals and institutions claiming to be civil society ‘representatives’ have been slamming popularly elected government and its representatives disdain. A number of initiatives have been put on the government’s agenda by their action, though in many a case the government has still shied away from taking action, police reforms is one such area.
However, despite all this, while a campaign against corruption is indeed justifiable, but for a group of individuals to take on a ‘know-all’ ‘do-all’ mantle as ‘representatives’ of ‘civil society’ to cleanse the system and force legislative proposal that they think is appropriate, on which India’s elected legislators do not even have the right to comment, is undemocratic and undermines constitutional processes and institutions. Not only many of these people, including Anna Hazare, whose Ralegan Siddhi experiment is considered to have begun a process of voluntary movement in the country, have been issuing avoidable statements, showing insensitivity, if not undesirable belligerence. If Hazare’s statements that people do not know whom to vote and prescription of death sentence for the corrupt were bad enough, his arrogant snub to HRD Minister Kapil Sibal asking him to quit the joint panel if did not agree with them, was outright undemocratic. Of course, Sibal’s sheepish clarification showed how the government, nay the entire political class, has pushed itself in a corner on this issue. A course correction on without an institutional structure would be disastrous.
CONGRESS IS AGAINST CORRUPTION—Mohan Prakash, Congress Working Committee Member
WHAT IS THE PERCEPTION OF THE CONGRESS PARTY REGARDING THE MOVEMENT OF ANNA HAZARE FOR JAN LOKPAL BILL?
The Congress party believes in democracy and democratic institutions. Whenever a bill is presented in the parliament it is always open for public scrutiny and anyone can give his/her suggestions on it. So, it was not logical to say that the bill presented and passed by the government is not supported by public. However, the UPA government has accepted the demand of Anna Hazare and constituted a joint committee. Now the Bill will be tabled in the Parliament. It will have to undergo the process meant for making it a Bill and then it will come to the public.
IT IS SUPPOSED THAT THE HUGE MASS SUPPORT SHOWN TO ANNA’S MOVEMENT IS THE PEOPLE’S REACTIONS AGAINST THE CORRUPTION CASES OF UPA GOVERNMENT. DO YOU THINK THAT THE CORRUPTION CASES OF UPA HAVE CAUSED A LOT OF PUBLIC ANGER?
I don’t think so. We have already shown to public that the Congress is against corruption. We have taken action against corrupt politicians and officials. The Congress believes that this is not a problem of politics only. It is spread in the whole society and therefore the whole society has to fight against it. It is a social problem like dowry problem. There are laws for preventing dowry, but still it is present in our society. Therefore we cannot stop corruption by making some laws only. We need a mass awareness movement for that. We have to prepare a mindset of the people against corruption.
THERE ARE MANY OBJECTIONS RAISED ON THE SELECTION OF THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE CIVIL SOCIETY FOR THE LOKPAL BILL. DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE MORE DISCUSSION ON THE SELECTION OF MEMBERS?
This question requires a long debate. Government is exercising its duty but I think that the intellectual class should also give its opinion on it. For example, Bar Council of India and State Bar Councils must give their suggestions. Similarly, press organisations and universities should be consulted for it. Then it may be called the actual Jan Lokpal Bill. If a national debate had been organised, then I think it would have some good outcome.
ANNA’S MOVEMENT IS BEING COMPARED WITH THAT OF LATE JAI PRAKASH NARAYAN IN THE 1970’S. DO YOU AGREE?
No, you cannot compare it with the movement of JP. We have to think whether this event deserved 4-5-page coverage? This is a question for the media people, why should I comment on it? But it is an irony that the people, who run movements for abolition of death penalty, are using the terms like “hang to death” and “cut a hand”. This will not create any civil society. In a civil society like ours, penalties like “hang to death” and “cut a hand” cannot provide any solution to any problem. If there is any problem in the system, it can be resolved. You cannot defy the system for the sake of searching any solution. This will create anarchy but cannot provide any solution. No one should be allowed to harm the democracy and democratic institutions of the country.
Interviewed by Ravi Shankar
In the status conscious Indian society, where many individuals tend to carry imagined privileges of the feudal-colonial age a little too far with one or the other distinctive mark as their special status, has lately been putting undue emphasis on eminence of certain individuals. In a society where IAS and IPS becomes a life-time status, where if not blue or read beacon light people are prone to using various status-plates on their vehicles, it is difficult to equate eminence with fairness. Lately I have noticed a new status symbol poorva Lok Sabha pratyashi (former Lok Sabha candidate). Even many academics tend to display their perceived status achieved by holding an administrative position, which comes for a short period by rotation, more prominently than their academic achievement; this obviously is their beacon light. Under the circumstances the Jan Lokpal Bill draft by ‘civil society’ puts too much and unfair weight of fairness on eminent individuals. Both the process of their selection (not election) and responsibilities put on their shoulders are disproportionate. Even proposed Jan Lokpal is proposed to be endowed with undue power and responsibilities; the institution is not only sought to be a super cop, but also above even the Indian Constitution. Not surprisingly, one of the supporters of the Anna initiative actor Anupam Kher said that the Indian Constitution deserves to be thrown away. Further, despite all signs of unity, yoga guru Ramdev did sound a discordant note that was based more on personal displeasure than on merit. We need to watch out if more comes out in this status conscious group.
HISTORY OF LOKPAL BILL
After 42 years, the Lokpal Bill is still pending in India. The first Lokpal Bill was passed in the 4th Lok Sabha in 1969 but could not get through in Rajya Sabha. Subsequently, Lokpal Bill was introduced in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008, yet it was never passed and it’s pending. The basic idea of the institution of Lokpal was borrowed from the concept of Ombudsman in countries such as Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the UK and New Zealand. At present, about 140 countries have the office.
The Lokpal Bill provides for filing complaints of corruption against the prime minister, other ministers, and MPs with the ombudsman. Several commissions have examined the need for a Lokpal and suggested ways to make it effective, without violating constitutional principles. They include: the first Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) of 1966; the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution of 2002; and the second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007. The Lokpal bills that were introduced were referred to various parliamentary committees (the last three bills were referred to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs).
The Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) while recommending the constitution of Lokpal was convinced that such an institution was justified not only for removing the sense of injustice from the minds of adversely affected citizens but also necessary to instill public confidence in the efficiency of administrative machinery. Following this, the Lokpal Bill was for the first time presented during the fourth Lok Sabha in 1968, and was passed there in 1969. However, while it was pending in the Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha was dissolved so the bill was not passed at that time. The bill was revived in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and most recently in 2008. Each time, after the bill was introduced to the house, it was referred to some committee for improvements—a joint committee of Parliament, or a departmental standing committee of the Home Ministry—and each time it lapsed, except in 1985 when it was withdrawn. Several flaws were cited in the recent draft of the Lokpal Bill.
What has triggered the Anna phenomenon? Is it only a reaction against corruption? BJP leader Arun Jetley rued absence of a VP Singh in contemporary Indian politics and saw a Jayprakash Narayan in Hazare; surprisingly he did not mention any leader of his own party. Is this reflective of a leadership void in the country, is India looking for a leader? Obviously so! After all, so many, ‘eminent people’ rallying around Anna Hazare against corruption, who suddenly decided to move from his village to Jantar Mantar in New Delhi and after winning this battle issued a warning to the UPA government on electoral reform as a parting gift appears to be an attempt to project a leader. It is not a coincidence that Baba Ramdev harbours political ambitions and preaches creation of a clean political party in his ashram in Haridwar. This gives political parties in India to reflect on the issue of political leadership. Even the self-proclaimed ‘civil society’ representatives must consider whether a person who decries people of India for their political indiscretion, proposes death sentence for the corrupt and snubs people’s representatives could be a leader in the JP mould.
More important, however, is the fact that corruption in India has acquired deeper roots with violations of rules-regulations, laws and norms with impunity for personal gains not only by the influential people but also by the citizenry. What most citizens look for as privilege to them, resent as victims. Therefore, beyond Anna Hazare a consciousness of fair play and respect for institutions and norms have to develop in the Indian society. The ‘civil society’ and its leaders would do well to work simultaneously for this and decry any violation of any norm by anyone big and small and strengthen institutions in the country. The desire for an institutional counter to corruption is genuine, but we should keep ourselves alert to ensure that the processes and contents are in conformity with the processes of democracy as well as legal-constitutional norms in the country. It is the domain of Indian Parliament and parliamentarians should be coaxed to undertake the responsibility with a large public consultation. A solution on the line of what was shown in the movie ‘Rang de Basanti’ or any variation of that would be disastrous for Indian society and polity.
By Ajay K Mehra
The author is Director, Centre for Public Affairs