I must admit the Anna Hazare hunger strike is one issue that has got me swinging like a yoyo. My first reaction upon hearing about it was that it was outright blackmail. Going on a fast was OK for Gandhiji during the British rule.....after all, the British were an occupying force unlike today’s government which is elected democratically by Indians themselves. Then I thought that while the hunger strike was wrong, there were a few good points in his movement.......he was specific about what he was targeting (corruption); he had a specific solution (the Jan Lokpal Bill) and he was apolitical. I thought this was a constructive approach. By the end of the day, I was again swinging the other way. Was Anna Hazare not willingly falling into the media trap? Was he not allowing his movement to become a platform for politician-bashing? If he claims to be a Gandhian, why wasn’t he ready to follow the Gandhian process of negotiations? Why was he painting all politicians as being corrupt? At the end of the day, I feel cheated that he was allowing the real issues to be obfuscated and hijacked by media.
As usual, two of the three English news channels sensationalized the matter. They did not know their ass from their elbow. One channel put together a panel comprising people who had a real intellectual deficit. With all due respect, I think Shobha De should write fiction and stay out of issues that require intelligence. College kids should first try and read up a little bit......do some research......get some maturity.....before coming on prime time TV and speaking like their brains were tucked deep inside their bums. The few intelligent voices – Swapan Dasgupta, Vinod Sharma, Harish Salve and Soli Sorabjee were totally drowned out by the loud rhetoric that this channel has become well known for. The other
English channel put up a similar show. The only channel which did a decent job of discussing the issue in a fair manner.....was NDTV and I think Barkha did a good job on her show.
We need to focus on the real issues here. Is there a need for an effective anti-corruption watch dog? Yes, of course. Are the present mechanisms of CVC and CBI and department-level anti-corruption units working fine? Of course not. Do the people have confidence in the present anti-corruption bodies? No. So this much is clear: There is a need for a new “system” that can address the corruption issues. The government has proposed the Lokpal Bill; Anna Hazare wants a different bill called the Jan Lokpal Bill. What is important is that the final bill taken up for voting should be reasonably strong; not who proposed it.
The government’s bill has a few loopholes which must be plugged:
1) The Bill does cover the PM and the Council of Ministers in its ambit. But if a corruption charge has to be probed, then the clearance has to be taken by the Lokpal from the Speaker of the House. This is obviously wrong. The Speaker is an involved person and is likely to deny the permission against ruling party MPs.
2) The Lokpal cannot take up matters suo-moto (on its own). This is a minor point really, but can be corrected.
3) The Lokpal has only recommendatory powers. Meaning it can investigate and make the final recommendations, but cannot prosecute on its own. Any action has to be taken by the political bosses.....this is obviously a major flaw.
4) There is an accusation that as the members of the Lokpal are proposed to be ex-judges of the Supreme Court, this will make the current judges curry favor with the ruling political party in return for a position in the Lokpal post retirement. This is inane and represents the same persecution complex I wrote about recently.
However, the alternative proposed by Anna Hazare also has its own loopholes. This much was pointed out even by Harish Salve and Soli Sorabjee:
1) It would like to make the Lokpal into an overarching singular body against corruption and vest it with huge powers. It misses the point that if this were done, then it would be a risky propositon. The judiciary is totally independent but we know how much corruption there is in the judiciary.....and we can do nothing to clean it up. The Ex-Chief Justice of India himself is an accused in a corruption matter. The judiciary is a supremely powerful body but it owes no explanation to any one. It is itself manipulated by interested parties all the time. So why won’t the same happen with the Lokpal? Shouldn’t there be checks and balances over the Lokpal also? What’s wrong if the Lokpal reports into the political executive? After all, the political executive is made up of elected people who face elections every 5 years? All over the world, the Lokpal or the Ombudsman reports into the Legislature....even while it functions independently. Even the Election Commission which is touted as an example for the LokPal to follow reports into the executive.....while still remaining independent.
2) Anna Hazare’s Bill proposes to close corruption cases within a year. It totally misses the point that delays happen today largely because the huge workload that enforcement agencies and the judiciary are forced to grapple with. It’s not to do with their intentions.....it’s to do with the quantum of work. If the Lokpal will look into each and every allegation made as proposed.....how much time will it take for it also to be inundated with cases? Will it then be able to deliver a verdict inside one year as it aims to do? Is this not a case of lofty goals not adequately backed up by a good understanding of the real situation?
3) Harish Salve said that the proposed act would be anti-development. It will make decision makers wary of taking decisions. After all, all decision making has subjective elements involved.....I know this from personal experience in my own job. If an IAS officer or a minister is going to be questioned suo moto for any/all subjective decisions he takes, then he would rather not take any decisions at all. Surely, we don’t want to become a nation free of corruption but which hardly grows at all?
My main complaint is that by targeting the political establishment, Anna Hazare is making a fundamental mistake. He assumes that corruption exists only in government. I dare say....each and every one of his fans is corrupt himself in one way or the other. How many of his businessmen fans pay taxes fully as required by law? How many of his followers pay bribes to get their work done? How many give wrong addresses when they buy cars so that they can illegally save on octroi and other duties? How many buy pirated CDs and DVDs so that they can save a few bucks? Is it his point that civil society is not corrupt and only politicians are?
My other complaint is with the way the matter has been hijacked by the media. And the people who stand in support of Anna Hazare have been hoodwinked. Very few media outlets have analyzed the pros and cons of the government’s bill and Anna Hazare’s version. An impression is being created that whatever the government is proposing is wrong and whatever Anna Hazare is proposing is right. How biased is this? What about the National Advisory Committee (NAC) headed by Sonia Gandhi which itself is unhappy with the Government’s bill and is about to make its recommendations? Is there a race going on between Anna Hazare and the the NAC? Why can’t they all sit down together and make common recommendations?
Anna Hazare has made his point. But just like he is shunning politicians, he should shun media as well. Instead, I get the impression that he is himself using and abusing the media. The same faces (from his audience) could be seen on multiple TV channels. One particular person kept saying “the government’s bill is like giving a cookie to a child”......I got bugged hearing and seeing him on all channels saying the same thing! If Anna Hazare wants results.....then he should engage in the democratic process of negotiations....no matter how much time it takes and how much effort it takes. After all, there are no short cuts to reform. He was immensely successful in bringing about social reform in Ralegaon Siddhi because of his perseverance......surely he can show the same perseverance again?
The real truth is that while the issues Anna Hazare has raised are commendable.....and his intentions noble....he has got totally hijacked by the media. Not by the politicians, but by media. Media which is in search of audiences. Media, which is petrified that another cricket tournament is about to start after one big one has just ended. Media projects itself as the conscience keepers of the nation....but can it answer charges of corruption against itself? What about the paid news scam? Has media done any investigations into it and come out with assurances to their readers and viewers? Honestly, media has no locus in this fight that Anna Hazare has taken up.....and he should realize this. Else this movement will fail to achieve its objectives.....