Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sorry, but I cannot support Anna’s Lokpal movement beyond a point.....

The reason is simple. It’s not as if I don’t support the Lokpal concept. It’s not as if I don’t think Anna is a great visionary. It’s just that I don’t believe Anna is going about this issue the right way. There is too much of emotion....even drama and the movement (remember slogans like 2nd freedom movement. What rubbish). But the real issues that lead to corruption are being skirted. The Bill – whicheve version you take – is hardly the solution to corruption. The real solution lies in cleaning up the root causes that cause corruption. But even apart from this fundamental point, there are many more flaws in Anna’s movement.....

The first thing I cannot grant nor give in to is the way that Anna’s team has usurped the space of civil society. Exactly what are the credentials of Anna’s team? Who gave them the authority to become representatives of the entire civil society? The 25000 odd people who came to Jantar Mantar? The few lac “likes” they must have got on social networking sites? Maybe even a few thousand who joined special anti-corruption groups on Facebook? Let’s not be silly here. Suppose I make the accusation that Anna’s team represents only the urban middle class youth? Can he prove that it is not so? Because I really believe that apart from students – who tend to be revolutionaries by nature – not many people really support Anna’s team. They surely support Anna, they want to see corruption weeded out.....but they don’t support his team or his style or several of his proposals. Each of his team members has been hand-picked by him or someone else. Why not have some sort of elections to choose the team members? I am really scared of unaccountable, extra-constitutional elements trying to drive the country their own way with no consideration to the diversity of opinions and views that exist in the country. This is a small movement of a good-intentioned but wrongly-motivated section of the society – eagerly egged on by a mass media which is itself in a crazy rush for TRPs.

The second thing I don’t like about the Anna movement is the complete feeling of superiority they have about themselves. Anything that Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal say is the gospel truth. Anything that the government says is utter nonsense. Exactly, who gave these people the right to take such a supercilious and arrogant stand? Last night, on TV, when Kiran Bedi was all worked up, she was being sarcastic to the bone. Would she mind being a little decent when talking to others who may perhaps have a different point of view? This is the tragedy in today’s media-built world of celebrities. Their celebrityhood gets ahead of them and they start believing they are the real super-stars. The focus is on them and not on the issue. They forget there are many others who may not be as media savvy as them; but are nonetheless more committed and effective. I include myself and millions of others in this group of people. I am convinced that this post of mine will be construed to mean that I am pro-corruption or pro-Congress or pro-politicians or anti-Anna or some such nonsense. No one is willing to concede that there may be alternate points of view to the ones that Anna’s team has.

The third thing is that I don’t like several proposals in Anna’s Bill. There are so many obvious flaws in the proposal. But fundamentally here is what I don’t like. It assumes that the entire institution of the Lokpal will itself be above board. From what I can make out, Anna’s proposal would like the creation of an entire bureaucracy that is totally independent of all that exists today. So it would have its own investigation wing, its own prosecution wing and a whole bunch of other departments. All put together, this organisation could be as strong as 10-20-30 thousand people, especially if we assume that every single institution in this country must be covered under the ambit of the Lokpal. The budget of the Lokpal – again if I remember correctly from the discussions that were happening 2 months back – is proposed to be limited to 1% of the GDP. Wow. 1% of the GDP is approx Rs 75000 crores. That’s per annum.....This again indicates that the proposed Lokpal body would be a massive bureaucratic set-up. Now my question is why would this body itself not become a fully corrupt organization just like other government departments are? The same reasons that make politicians and bureaucrats corrupt will also make the Lokpal organization corrupt. The pay scales of the Lokpal organization will be the exact same as that of the rest of the government. The powers they wield will be as enormous as any government department. Why will this not lead to massive corruption within the Lokpal? Can we assume that the people who work in the Lokpal will all be Annas? To solve the problem of corruption, are we not setting up another corruption-prone organisation? That is why my approach to removing corruption is different (more later).

The fourth flaw is that I hate the method of blackmail that Anna is personally adopting in pushing for his reform. Now, this is not the British Raj, when Gandhiji used this powerful tool to pressurize an alien government. Today, we have a vibrant democracy with huge participation of the common people in the election process (the cynics should check out just how many % of people voted in the recent WB elections). This government (or any government – in the Center or the state) is a legally elected government and it truly represents the aspirations of the people of this country. When Anna goes on a hunger strike against a legally elected government, then he is using extreme pressure tactics.....akin to blackmail. But why is this surprising at all? From what I read in Hindustan Times some months back, Anna had the habit of whipping erring people in his village (liquor store owners etc) with his military-issued belt in an attempt to coerce them into agreeing to his terms. This is no different. The entire hunger strike drama is one of punching the opponent in the face – knowing fully well that the other person cannot fight back. Cannot fight back – not because he is incapable of.....Cannot fight back – only because of the peculiar position he finds himself in. A position where media will eat that person alive if he were to as much as even raise his hands in defence. Lets be honest here – Anna carries extreme personal credibility and anyone who complains against him is seen as a villain. So, the government is expected to take the slap on its face, and do nothing about it. I am sorry, but I want to see my government being strong. Not subjected to humiliation by anyone. My suggestion to the government: Even before you introduce the Lokpal Bill in Parliament; introduce a Bill that disallows fasting-unto-death. Fasting as a method of protesting against the government is alright.....but fasting beyond five days should be taken as illegal. After all, suicides are illegal in this country. Why not fasting-unto-death?

The fifth flaw is that the movement does not even bother to understand why corruption happens. It attempts to solve the externally visible signs of corruption and believes that this will cure the deep rooted problem itself. Nothing can be further from the truth. Let’s look at the first major cause of corrupton. When a politician cuts personal deals, we call it corruption. But do we know why he/she cuts those deals? Well, there are two types of politicians here. One....those who are inherently clean....but are forced to do a few deals so that they can fund their next election campaign. Have no doubts in your mind – fighting elections is an expensive business. This is one of the root causes of political corruption. Then there is the other type. Those who are just plain greedy. They recover their cost of elections and then they go on to fill up their pockets. This group includes people like Yeddy, Raja, Pawar, Kalmadi.....but I believe this is the smaller group. My view is that Anna’s team must provide some good suggestions for removing electoral funding problems. The second major cause of corruption is the pathetic salaries we pay our bureaucrats and ministers. Imagine this: even the Cabinet Secretary (the seniormost bureaucrat) makes a “take-home” salary of less than Rs 1 lac per month. Please don’t include the lavish perks – the home in Lutyen’s Delhi, the unlimited air tickets, the phone calls, the electricity connection.....all these are useless after retirement. If need be, cut all these out, but make the salary of the Cabinet Secretary at least Rs 1 crore per annum? Likewise, the ministers and the PM. Let the PM make at least Rs 2 crores per annum? Now when I make this suggestion, most people will shout and say “Do you know how much our poor people make? 80% of our people earn less than Rs 20 a day”. Blah. Blah. Blah. The point is that if we want the best people to run the country and these people don’t come cheap. All the best people today join the private sector because the private sector pays much much better. If our pay scales were better, many of us would have been in government. If we want corruption to go, we have to have better people in government.....The third root cause of corruption is the huge size of our government. Over the last 20 years, the size of the government has come down quite significantly. With the License Raj being dismantled, there is a visible reduction in corruption in that area. If the tax laws were simplified, we would need a smaller bureaucracy and that would also reduce corruption. So we need to work at reducing the size of the government.....There are so many other reasons for corruption. But Anna’s movement is totally ignorant of these. In many ways, Anna’s movement is a movement in naivete. And the worst thing is that they don’t even want to listen to others who may want to bring up these points....

The last complaint I have is that the movement fails to understand how India’s government works. Here, things move one step at a time. Take any government policy. The government will open the door a little bit.....wait for the reactions.....then open a little more. Take FDI in retail. First, there was zero FDI allowed. Then they allowed FDI in cash-and-carry stores (those that sell only to retailers....not to the general public). There was no public reaction. Then they allowed FDI in single-brand retail. Again, there was no adverse reaction. Now they are allowing FDI in multi-brand retail. Take import of luxury goods. From never allowing imports, to allowing imports but with steep import duties to reducing the duty rates to Asean levels is all a gradual process in the government. Why can’t Anna’s team appreciate this? Why do they want it all done in one stroke? Why can’t they get in one act now and keep changing it over the next ten years? Is it that they themselves don’t have the confidence or patience or determination to persist with their focus on removing corruption? Do they believe it’s just this one chance they have got? Are they in a rush to go on to the next movement? Why can’t there be improvements going forward?

The real truth is that Anna is a good man who has been hijacked by a poor quality team. This is the difference between Gandhi and Anna. Gandhi had a great team with him in the form of Nehru, Patel and many others – who would negotiate with the British in a language they understood. Never giving up on their demands; yet doing things the appropriate way. Anna’s team is no comparison to Nehru and Patel. They all want to be Annas. But what Anna needs is not more Annas in his team; but more Nehrus and Patels. That’s what is sadly missing. And that’s why, while even I want to root out corruption as much as anyone else, I cannot support Anna’s movement beyond a point.....


  1. Am very impressed..... u almost wrote my mind out there... excellent ...happy to see atleast ppl r sensible.... few cannot represent all..and i bet even 10% of those supporting this bill would not know what it can generate..hats of man !!

  2. U r surely a congress agent without any doubt.

  3. Very well written. This is truth told in a logical way

  4. ha ha.. what a joke.... I this its biggest crap I came across..... Problem with Prashant and arjun u Narrow minded mentality people is that u cant withstand changes.... have u ever attended any of movements till date.. I am sure... I thank guys like u didnt born in Gandhi time.. naii toy kabhi aazaadi naii milta.... Bagwaan tumhay and Congress hoy Sadbuddhi dey..... Kapil

  5. I believe that not even 5% of people, who are protesting against givt, have even read the two bills or even know the diff...its pure jingoism where cong is unlucky to find itself in power at the wrong time...that said they are also being quite stupid in their handling of the situations...another point i strongly feel about is that weak opposition is one of the primary reason why we are having such a situation...BJP/Marxists/others have remained silent spectators as they know that this kind of situation is awkward for any party in power to handle...what they couldn't do in last 7-8 yrs, anna has done for themselves i.e. turned atleast few lakhs middle class people against them most of whom will anyway don't vote in elections...i am no fan/supporter of congress, but i largely agree to your point of view and would have liked media to give a balanced perspective instead of filling airtime with false sense of activism.

  6. The best ( I think the most effective way) to remove corruption would be to change the mindset of the people. I would have to disagree with the author on the point that increasing salary would help in decreasing corruption cause "Money is never enough" you could do anything if you have few millions, ppl still steal a few hundreds of millions. We will have to stop differentiating between a 100/- corruption vs multi-crores corruption. We will have to teach our children the virtue of moral uprightness. Don't take anything which is not yours, Don't steal (be it money, or someone else's place in a queue). It would be a tedious but I think the most effective way to deal with corruption.

  7. Bull shit.
    Can you tell me how much we right now spend on CBI , CVC, vigilance offers and currupt judiciary? Does it come for free now. NO NO NO.

    Even after spending money on them it is dysfunctional because they work under the currupt. Democracy without breaks... is worse than dictatorship of China.

    Lokpal bill says that why do not they move people from "these disfunctional" departments and move them under lokpal to monitor it properly

    We need a structural change here

  8. Prashant, indeed a well expressed feeling of the truly literate.

    Gaurav - Expenditure allocation for CBI is Just Rs. 318 crs ONLY. So much in point to the knowledge people have and this is nothing but an outburst of emotions.

    Coming back Prashant, objectively spoken. Need to draw attention that the the Lokpal’s budget was altered from the original proposed 1% of GDP to less than 1 ⁄ 4 % of the total revenues of the Government of India. The total revenues budgeted this year are Rs. 10, 57, 675 crs. That is
    Rs. 2644 crs. EVEN then it is HUGE when you compare to allocation on CBI or that this Lokpal budget is;

    12% of The Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) allocation
    100% of provision under Rural Housing Fund
    18% of allocation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
    10% of Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana allocation

    Indeed we all need a think sans emotion

  9. Pointing out to Abhishek "I believe that not even 5% of people, who are protesting against givt, have even read the two bills or even know the diff...its pure jingoism where cong is unlucky to find itself in power at the wrong time."

    To be writing anything on a sophisticated topic like this i believe you're well versed with every law and amends mentioned in our legislature? But am sure u don't know as much. Now consider the same comment applicable to what you wrote. Not many may know the EXACT details of the bill yet they realize it well enough that Anna's standing up for them and not for any Personal benefits. Its time we realize that the elected people we choose ourselves are not corrupt by birth, Its the powers that instill these feelings in them. Looking at the fake list of promises and faces, you cant tell if one's corrupt or not. If at all there's a joint government and public body who can keep a check on the elected members throughout, we may get out of our "Elected Monarchy" and probably establish more meaning to "Democracy"

  10. Man u almost expressed what was there in my minds :)
    only thing is, i didnt have the courage to pen this down to the many ppl on the internet who are EASILY spoilt by the media and internet. am really happy you wrote this on your blog.