The title of my blogpost is tongue-in-cheek, so kindly excuse me for that. It always helps to start with a smile, especially, if we are not going to end with one!
For the uninitiated with colloquial “indianisms”, a bit of an explanation of the title is in order. “Anna” is the old Indian equivalent of 6 paisas, and therefore 25 paise used to be called “char anna” (well, a close approximation to 24 paise). Hazare of course, implies “thousands”. “Lakhpat” alludes to both hundreds of thousands (lakhs) as well as “lakhpati”, i.e. a person who is worth lakhs of rupees. Finally “karore” alludes to crores. “Lakhpat karore” obviously implies the lakhs of crores that have been looted from the Indian exchequer, by the flurry of scams that we have seen in the recent past. I know that explaining it out, takes the charm away from the joke, but then everyone is not a Hindi speaker, and needs some appreciation of the play with words, when we want to understand the revolution that the honourable Shri Anna Hazare has started.
I have been watching the agitation led by Anna Hazare with interest, concern and disdain. I must confess that the current status of the agitation leaves me more concerned than happy, and I hope and pray that the final outcome is worth the effort and emotions that most Indians seem to have invested in it. Knowing the Congress, I am not popping the “bubblies” as yet!
Ok, a few basic comments to set the background of this “Gandhian” agitation led by Annaji.
- As Anna Hazare has himself clarified, he is not “Gandhi”, not even a modern-day watered down version of Gandhi, but just someone who is trying to walk on the path shown by Gandhi. Of course, he has been labelled a Gandhian because of the path that he has chosen for many years now.
- “Gandhian” has almost become an ideological term nowadays, with its own set of experts and proponents, with a plethora of disagreements and dogmas (sad that Gandhi, who was the ultimate iconoclast against irrational dogmas, has now himself become one).
- Everything that Gandhi did was not “Gandhian”. My quintessential example is about the “experiments with truth” on self control with his two nieces. Well, he may or may not have proved a point to himself, but I am sure that the two nieces must have been psychologically wrecked by these “experiments” (funnily no one knows what happened to them later on in life). If one were to do something like this today, at the very least, he would be put behind bars for being a “paedophile” (sorry I don’t know what their ages were when this happened, but if this was done today, it would be seen as wrong, and not acceptable to society). The main point is that these “experiments” are not a Gandhian edict to be emulated by all “Gandhians”!
- Everything that is categorized as “Gandhian”, is not necessarily “right” or relevant for today’s times, as there is something called “yug-dharma”, i.e. relevant for that period of time only, and not everlasting (which is sanatan). For example, Gandhi’s views on economics are not relevant today (or are they?). My problem is that there aren’t too many people who are of the stature to interpret Gandhi for today’s times, and therefore he has become a dogma.
- Gandhian tactics like fast-unto-death and civil disobedience (and even things like jail-bharo) were probably right when used against a brutal colonial power, and maybe even today, if used against an autocratic / dictatorial regime (like say Egypt, China or Saudi Arabia), but cannot be right in a democracy like India (even if an imperfect one, which one is). It was blackmail then (like a British officer had remarked to Mahatma Gandhi), and it is blackmail now. I cannot support blackmail, even if it is done for a “right” reason (means are as important as the ends – Lord Krishna notwithstanding). A prolonged sit-in (by Anna) and nation-wide protest marches would have been more acceptable to me (even if less effective). However, if I were the Congress, I would actually be very worried that why have things reached a stage that people have to resort to such tactics to get their government to listen to them (Telangana, Lokpal, etc., the list is long). People are now seeing India as an “elected monarchy”, led by an arrogant dynasty (Rajmata and Crown Prince), who are answerable to no one.
Now lets come to exactly what this agitation achieved.
Everyone who supported Anna’s agitation did not necessarily support the draft of the Janlokpal Bill in toto (most might not even have read it). Most don’t even understand it (I know I don’t, even though I have read it). Many supported the agitation merely because they were sick and tired of this rampant corruption, and the shameless UPA government which has been hell bent on protecting its important luminaries from the taint of corruption at all costs (besides the Gandhi family, it also includes Sheila Dikshit, Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel, Karunanidhi, Chidambaram, et al).
Despite Anna Hazare’s Gandhian nature and impeccable personal integrity (gosh, where have I heard that before), we can’t presume that everything he does or asks for is “right”! That was the UPA strategy with Manmohan Singh remember. Anna could be naïve (like I believe even Mahatma Gandhi was in certain aspects), and could even be manipulated by his over-zealous courtiers.
Nepotism is a very big thing for me. As it is said in jurisprudence, justice should not only be done, but must also be seen to be done. The fundamental principle of law is that not all thieves will be caught, but it should be demonstrated that if a thief is caught, what the system will do to that person. Anna nominating the Bhushan father-son duo on the committee on behalf of “civil society” makes me want to question his judgement. Why do all the five representatives on behalf of civil society have to belong to Anna’s camp (that is people who drafted to current Janlokpal Bill)? Isn’t this nepotism of another sort? Would it not have been better to get people from different points of view, so that a much better draft is prepared? Why aren’t people like Subramaniam Swamy, S Gurumurthy, R Vaidyanathan and Mahesh Jethmalani there? Lest it be seen as a pro-BJP list, I would have liked the Leftists to also nominate someone, maybe N Ram, or Ramchandra Guha. Anna lost me as a supporter on this issue alone.
I have seen extreme reactions to the Anna-led agitation. On one end people are saying that Anna’s word is their command, to the other extreme where people are saying that Anna has decided to banish democracy, and take over the right of the Parliament to legislate. The truth as usual, like Buddha had said, lies somewhere in between.
Those who are afraid that this attempt at joint drafting is dangerous and takes away the power from the Legislature, are just plain wrong! Even if you discount the precedents of seven bills from Maharashtra, the RTI act and the Land Acquisition act, to provide inputs on what kind of law the public wants to be governed by, is the democratic fundamental right (actually responsibility) of every citizen (for Pete’s sake, we send our representatives to Parliament for that reason only, because all of us can’t collectively be there). Frankly, my dog has the right to draft a bill, if sensible, and give it to the legislature to consider and pass it, as appropriate, and as per due process. As a matter of fact, I don’t agree with Pranab Mukherjee’s offer that the draft Lokpal Bill will not be sent to the Standing Committee of Parliament, if the Opposition so agrees. There should be no variance in the procedure as far as passing this bill is concerned, or any other bill for that matter.
Anna has promised that they will collect views from the public in finalizing the draft of the bill. I hope they do that, as I definitely want to contribute as a citizen.
Till such time, the list of non-negotiables for this bill from my side are that the Lokpal should:
- Be focused only on corruption and nothing else. Taking a view whether due process was followed in a government decision is the domain of the Executive. If money was made anywhere in the system, then and only then the Lokpal can come in.
- Be able to act on the basis of complaints by the public as well as take suo moto cognisance of an act of corruption based on any source of information (whistleblower, media, CAG reports, etc.)
- Have the power to investigate and prosecute in a court of law, but not adjudicate (that is it cannot be the judge). This is like the concept of District Attorney in many foreign countries, and I see nothing wrong with it.
- Have the Anti-Corruption Bureau merged with office of Lokpal and take away the responsibility from CBI to investigate cases of corruption (transfer some CBI officers to the Office of the Lokpal, if needed)
- Be accountable to a standing joint parliamentary committee (parliamentary oversight in a democracy is supreme and a must), but given the obvious conflict of interest that the Legislature has in this, all hearings of this JPC should be public hearings and not in camera (transparency is the only way to control corruption).
- Be selected by a committee of people (which should be defined by this act), but please, let it not have stupid and laughable clauses like Nobel Prize and Magsaysay award winners. The capability of the drafters comes into question when such stupid clauses are inserted.
- There should be an annual printed and published report released by the Lokpal to the people of India (after it has been approved by the joint committee), as the people have a right to know what the Lokpal has done on its behalf
Having said all of this, as citizens, let us realize that passing this Lokpal Bill (which I conceptually support), does not mean that corruption will come down. Yes, what it does mean is that the Executive will not be able to as brazenly ride rough shod over allegations of corruption and protect its own (UPA government gave the permission to prosecute Raja not when the allegations came out but only when the Supreme Court forced it to do so). There are many things that need to be done additionally, if we want to see a visible impact on corruption, which has already become a hydra-headed monster that will eat India up.
The biggest reason why the politicians don’t give a damn about what the Middle Class says or feels is because they are not a “vote bank”. They are very smart, and they are always alert to the demands of their vote banks (like say the minorities, backward castes, etc.). They know that middle class anger asserts itself for a few days (like during 26/11), egged on by a “hungry-for-any-drama” media, and then within days, subsides, and they go back to their jobs, cricket, TV shows, and other forms of entertainment. Most of them do not even come out to vote, and even if they do, there is no consistent norm on the basis of which they vote (habits, caste, “secularism”, perceived good looks of Rahul Gandhi, etc., I know I am being facetious here). If allegations of corruption against Pawar were so important, why did we keep on voting for him? We’ll know soon what they think about 2G and DMK, with the Tamil Nadu results, but don’t be under the illusion that DMK will be wiped out, which it should have been, right? The politicos get messages very very quickly! We have taught them that we are an unreliable vote bank, have a very transient and superficial interest in national affairs, are very pliable (with help from a more than pliant media), and always have other more important things to do.
If we want to be taken seriously by politicos, we need to give them a message that we are serious about how the country is governed, and will vote on that basis! Uptil now, frankly, we haven’t given them that message!
Our politicos don’t give us forums like say the town-hall type of meeting that Obama had with the students of St. Xaviers College, because they don’t think we want it. Have any of our “media worthies” ever asked a Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Advani or even Karat, why don’t you interact directly with the people of this country, as opposed to “talking at” them during political rallies, and only during elections?
Some of the other things that need to be done, in order to move towards a more corruption free society in India, are as follows:
- Ban higher denomination notes (500 and 1000 rupee notes)
- By linking it with UID numbers, ensure that each citizen of India can have only one bank account anywhere in India (a temp bank account should be allowed for salary accounts, but only as pass-throughs to the main bank account which is linked to the Income Tax account). A person can change the account, but only after closing the previous one.
- General electoral, administrative and police reforms (enough has been said about this, but including state funding of elections and right to recall)
- Elimination of duplication in electoral rolls and linking with UID database.
- Facilitating net-based or mobile based voting, as most middle class people move around in jobs, and then don’t vote, because getting registered in a new place is cumbersome!
- Direct elections of PM / CMs, and also devolution of powers to the Panchayats, local bodies and directly elected and empowered Mayors for cities.
There are quite a few more suggestions that have been around for some time and will obviously help.
One of the major issues that India faces is frankly the meltdown of the Executive. In school, we were taught about the necessary balance between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. There is design fault in our system as there is no distinction, let alone balance between the Executive and the Legislature. This is what has led to a collapse in the Executive, where it moves either when the judiciary gives it a kick, or when a crisis forces it to act. I will write more on this in a future blogpost (the ideas are under formulation right now).
I do want to end on a lighter note (despite the promise of a serious ending). I am happy about one thing post this Anna Hazare agitation. All that one needs to do now to get the government to act is to tell them, do this, “warna Anna Hazare aa jayega” (else Anna Hazare will come)! He is the new Gabbar Singh for the Indian political class!
But this has its own disadvantages also. The Executive is so scared that it is willing to sign-off on almost anything that Anna says (and I don’t want that).
Anyway, hope that at least this time round, the middle class awakening is of a more permanent nature, in the interest of India’s future. This will be the biggest gain from this agitation, if it were to happen!