Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Maken’s Bill is good…..sports need better administration

Maken’s Bill has been unnecessarily panned by MPs from his own party as well as those belonging to the opposition. On the face of it, the Bill intends to correct India’s pathetic showing in sports in general. On the other hand, the Bill could end up interfering in the autonomous workings of various sports federations. That’s why we must evaluate Maken’s suggestions objectively. Unfortunately, the Bill has got mired in controversies even before it has entered Parliament. Let’s evaluate the need for this Bill…..but lets first keep cricket out. We’ll cover that later in this post.

Of course, we need to have a clear and aggressive sports policy. Everyone knows that India fares poorly in almost all sports apart from cricket. Our results in the Olympics reveals it all. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, India won its best ever tally of 3 medals out of a total of 958 medals awarded. We got only one gold out of more than 300 Golds awarded. We finished 50th in the medals tally. We finished behind even countries like Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Thailand. India participated in only 13 sports out of the total 28 offered. In the biggest sport – Athletics – India did not get even one medal out of 144 awarded. In the second biggest sport – Swimming – where 108 medals were awarded, our four competitors could not even reach the Semi Finals. In the third and fourth most awarded sports – Gymnastics and Cycling – India did not even participate. Why, India did not even qualify for the Olympics in a sport that many in the country still love more than cricket – Hockey. We could not even participate in the weightlifting competition because of doping scandals.

It’s only in smaller games like the Asiads and the Common Wealth Games that India manages to put up a slightly better show. In the 2010 Asiads, India finished sixth, but with a medals tally of only 64 out of more than 1500 awarded. It’s only in the Commonwealth games, where the number of participating countries reduces hugely, that we do better. In the Melbourne CWG games in 2006, India finished fourth; in Delhi in 2010, we finished 2nd.

Forget the tally of medals won. Just look at the sporting infrastructure that exists in all these sports. There is hardly any facilities which match up to international standards; hardly any international tournaments played in the country; hardly any reasonable funding available. The only other sports that the country has done well in (relatively) are Tennis, Badminton, Snooker…..largely because of individual efforts made at a global stage. The government’s had very little to do with these sports.

The organization of sports has of course come to the centerstage with the CWG fiasco. Facilities were of poor quality; the execution was delayed and mishandled. The only real winner in this aspect was the corruption!

Now let’s turn our attention to cricket. Without doubt, India has done exceptionally well in cricket – especially in the last few years. We won the ODI world cup earlier this year and we have won the T20 competition in the past. Till very recently, we were ranked #1 in the Test league as well. The sports infrastructure has grown tremendously – Indian facilities are at par with or better than facilities available worldwide. India has ultimate suzerainty in the world of cricket – its word, the final word. The world’s business of cricket is funded by monies put in by Indian sponsors. No wonder then that the recent matches in the West Indies were played not to suit the convenience of local audiences but those of Indian prime time audiences! Of course, the IPL is India’s absolute pride. It’s the biggest cricket tournament anywhere in the world. Its popularity arguably as high as the EPL’s.

By and large, cricket has been well managed in India. Yes, there have been the routine scandals around selection of players; about tax problems; about internal politics; and more recently, around the conduct of the IPL. But, lets be fair – cricket has been a well managed game in India.

Even so, I feel BCCI should be brought under the purview of the new Bill. The obvious reasons – already stated in the media – are that the BCCI avails of many financial concessions from the government. Be it cheap land to build stadiums; or tax reliefs; or many other exemptions. And of course, the fact that BCCI has usurped for itself the right to represent the country officially at the ICC and the world stage must bring it under some degree of supervision. What has accentuated matters of course is the presence of powerful politicians in the administration of sports. Whether it is Sharad Pawar, CP Joshi or Vilasrao Deshmukh from the Congress, or Arun Jaitley from the BJP, politicians love cricket. And wherever there are politicians, there is bound to be politics!

But apart from these obvious reasons, here’s something else. Remember ICL? Indian Cricket League launched by the Zee group; headed by none other than the legendary Kapil Dev. I don’t care whether ICL succeeded or not. But what I do care about – and feel offended by – is the highhanded and overt manner in which the BCCI went all out to kill the ICL. BCCI had the ultimate trump card – they would deny any cricketer playing in the ICL the right to play for India. Even if the ICL unearthed good cricketers, they would not be given a chance to play for India. Their exclusive arrangement with the ICC ensured that it was only BCCI that could choose the team that represented India. Since when has it become the right of a private club (as BCCI likes to call itself) to become the sole representative of a sovereign nation? BCCI’s high handedness is seen in everything it does. Player selection is a process that leaves many baffled. Some players are given multiple chances; many others just fall by the wayside. Commentator contracts are mired in controversy too.

BCCI has to make up its mind. Is it a private body or does it represent the country. The two cannot go hand in hand. If it is a private body organizing private cricket tournaments, that’s fine. It then cannot come under the new sports bill. But if it wants to retain the right to represent India, it has to come under some degree of supervision. I am not at all suggesting that it must be controlled by the government. If there are any such clauses, they must be debated and replaced. Given the importance of cricket and the pride that Indians have about their performance in this sport, it is important to have some degree of regulation…..Of course the BCCI should come under the RTI if it chooses to represent India. Ultimately, BCCI is all about the reputation of the country and transparency is a must.

I cannot even understand why anyone should object to the other clauses in the Bill. Sports administrators must give up their office at the age of 70. Apparently, this is the norm worldwide. No one should hold the President’s office for more than three terms of four years each. It was Maken’s point that had this practice been followed, maybe the CWG games fiasco could have been avoided (I debate this point…..corruption had nothing to do with Kalmadi per se. The entire system of sports administration is corrupt at present. Anyone who headed IOA would have perhaps done the same thing. For cleaning up corruption in sports bodies, we need to remove the root causes).

Unfortunately, as often happens in our country, the controversies around the Bill have taken the attention away from the main point. Does the Bill have any concrete proposals to actually improve the sporting environment in the country? What does it propose in terms of building infrastructure for all sports? How does it plan to increase financial support for the games? How does it plan to take the culture of sports down to the schools and colleges from where talent can emerge? Unfortunately, these issues are unimportant as far as our MPs are concerned. What they are concerned with is protecting their own turfs in the business of sports.

The real truth is that we need an aggressive strategy to develop sports in the country. If the Bill does that, it should be welcomed. It’s not so much about control. It’s about taking charge of the situation and setting goals for the future. It’s about having the right people to run the sports bodies. It’s about professionalizing and de-politicizing the sports federations. That’s how Maken’s efforts must be looked at. Of course, the Bill needs more debate, but not on whether cricket should be included or excluded……but on what it has in store for developing all the sports in the country.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Demand for pardon for Rajiv Gandhi’s killers raises several questions….

Rajiv Gandhi’s three killers have received a temporary reprieve from the Madras HC on the grounds that they have already suffered enough – not having been hanged for the last 11 years while waiting for the President of India to decide. The case is being fought by no less than Ram Jethmalani – so a strong defence should always have been expected. Considering the fact that Nalini – the fourth accused in Rajiv’s murder case – was acquitted in the year 2000, this case has also raised questions about different rules of justice for different people. It’s truly a complicated matter….

The key issues that come out of this case are:

1)      The whole issue of capital punishment:

(This part extracted from my May 30, 2011 post on the same subject)
Frankly, I think it’s a demonic act on the part of any government or country to kill someone. Even if that person is guilty of the most gory of crimes. The key point here is about whether a country has the right to take someone’s life away. And a related point is whether the tit-for-tat principle should be adopted at all in these matters. Admittedly, murder, terrorism, treason and the like are very serious offences and affect ordinary peace loving people.....but is killing them at all within the powers a government should have? There is also the question of morality here. Who is man to decide when a person’s life should be taken away? Hasn’t society given that task to God? Can man decide to assume the role of God at all? Because that’s what man does when he/she decides for or against capital punishment. By acting now.....after so many years of waiting.....the President has acted like God and ordered execution for two people. Equally, by not taking a decision on several others.....she has again acted as God. Who gave ordinary human beings the right to behave like God?

Just look at the countries actively practicing capital punishment. Based on 2010 executions, the list includes China (2000+ executions in 2010), Iran (252), North Korea (60), US (46), Saudi Arabia (27), Libya (18), Syria (17) and Bangladesh (9). Except for the US, which of these countries inspires us to be like them? Most of these countries are notorious in any case. Many of them.....Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia......actually allow public execution. What kind of system is this? Is China going to be the inspiration for India in this regard? Everyone knows of the opaque justice system in that country. How do we even know that those killed deserved to be killed? Now look at countries that have legally abolished capital punishment. Or have stopped capital punishment in practice even though the actual abolition is still to happen. This list includes all the liberal countries in the world. All of Europe (except tiny Belarus), Australia, NZ, almost all of Latin America, South Africa.....this is the list of countries I would like to see India in. The US is an anomaly.....but the US is an anomaly in so many things. It’s the only liberal country that allows its citizens extremely easy access to guns....which other civilized country allows this? In this one instance, I would rather avoid the example of the US rather than follow it.

One of the main reasons why capital punishment is practiced is that it is supposed to be a strong deterrent against crime. But statistics shows that if this is true at all, it is only if death is CERTAIN in all cases of conviction. In most countries that allow capital punishment, capital punishment is rarely used and hence there is very little co relationship with lower crime rates. Just look at the US. In many ways, the US is the where maximum crime happens.

India should abolish capital punishment. More so because we have had a long term historical policy of forgiveness and non-violence. Capital punishment is violent. Research shows that there is no non-violent method of inflicting death on the accused. Mahatma Gandhi preached non-violence throughout his can India then allow this form of violence to continue? Besides, we must keep in mind the infirmities and frailness of our judicial system......not everyone is convinced with the judgments pronounced by our courts. Our forensics capability is rudimentary......the grounds on which we convict people is hugely suspect. Even in cricket, there is a provision for a 3rd umpire and the 3rd umpire looks at irrefutable evidence before deciding. In the case of real life, let that 3rd umpire be God.....who alone knows the real truth (apart from the author of this post!).

Life imprisonment is a strong enough sentence to be awarded in most crimes. In many ways, life imprisonment is a worse punishment than instant death. Just look at how suicide bombers are growing in numbers. What motivates them is the relatively peaceful end to their lives rather than living a life of continuous violence and hatred. Life imprisonment is as strong a deterrence as death itself is. Who wants to spend his life in the kind of jails we have in India! Of course, the flip side is that keeping a prisoner jailed for his entire life is an expensive proposition. This argument is not true in the case of India, where in any case, there are very few executions. That cost of holding prisoners is already being incurred.

2)      Power to pardon is nothing but political interference in the judicial process:

The President/PM/Monarch/Head of Church in almost all countries have the power to grant pardons. The basic premise in granting the Head of State this right appears to be that sometimes…..just sometimes….there may have been a miscarriage of justice. In such cases, there should be someone who could overturn the judiciary’s faulty decision. Historically, this power was with the Monarch of a country – and in those days clearly, the judiciary operated under the Monarch’s authority. But in today’s times, when most Constitutions of democratic countries allow for an independent judiciary, it’s a moot point if there is need to allow the Head of State the right to pardon. Most of these clemency petitions are decided on the basis of political considerations. For eg., in the US, President Gerald Ford granted a pardon to fellow Republican ex President Richard Nixon in spite of his proven involvement in the Watergate scandal. Likewise George Bush Sr granted pardon to six people of fellow Republican Ronald Reagan’s administration who were accused in the Iran-Contra scandal. The BJP accuses the Congress of not deciding on Afzal Guru’s clemency petition so as to benefit electorally from Muslim voters. The Congress counters this by examples of its own against the BJP’s six years of rule. In any case, the President is only supposed to decide basis the recommendations of the Home Ministry. So isn’t this a case of the government exercising – in a backhanded way – control over the judiciary? My recommendation: In cases of death, the SC’s word should be taken as final.

3)      How soon should the President decide on clemency cases?

Even if we do allow the President the powers of pardon, there has to be a timeframe prescribed. To the best of my knowledge, there is none right now. In April this year, the President pardoned two people who had been on death row since 1997 and 1999. What can possibly be the reason for so much delay? Are these delays intentional? Is it so that matters may “cool down” a bit, so that the President’s decision doesn’t raise many emotions? Most people don’t even remember these old cases now and in April when the President pardoned these two, there was hardly any media coverage also. My view: there should be a time limit of 2 years max for the President to decide. And the President’s decision should be independent…..not based on the recommendations of the Council of Ministers.

4)      Does a state assembly’s unanimous demand for clemency mean anything?

Pressure is often sought to be mounted on the deciding authority via the State Assembly or the Parliament. What is the relevance of this full-throttle support for clemency for Rajiv’s killers? After Karunanidhi raised this issue, did Jayalalitha really have any options but to support the demand in the state Assembly? Such pressure tactics should be criticized in media, so that such issues are not made into political games. The state assembly has no role to play in this matter and its unanimous support for Rajiv’s killers means nothing really.

The real truth is that we need to abolish capital punishment and regulate the President’s right to pardon. As the country progresses, we must move towards a more liberal zone – and be seen in the company of other liberal nations. And as we mature, we must allow our institutions to decide on matters of importance, rather than any one individual authority. In the case of clemency matters, the SC should be the final arbiter. Not the President or the council of Ministers……

Monday, August 29, 2011

Electoral reforms – yes, but can we have a more inclusive debate please?

Not only has Anna decided that the next agitation he is planning is in the area of electoral reforms, he has also decided what reforms he wants. The right to reject and the right to recall. Anything Anna says draws a lot of attention from media and the lay public and hence this announcement of his has also started an early debate on this subject. My humble suggestion to Anna is to desist from giving solutions upfront. And to allow a practical and appropriate solution to emerge after discussions in the public space.

Of course electoral reforms are needed. Everyone knows that. Our election rules and processes are responsible for much of the corruption that we see around in politics. But electoral reforms go beyond the two points that Anna has brought out. Let’s look at some of these points:

1)      Minimum candidate qualifications: At present there is no requirement for any minimum education. This may well have been justified at the time the Constitution was written when large sections of our population were uneducated. At that time, an uneducated junta was happy with an uneducated leader. Today is a different world. Today, a majority of the people are eduated and it would only be appropriate that the leader be educated as well. I think it is only appropriate that all contestants be graduates at the very minimum. I am not for a moment saying that education makes for a good leader; what I am saying is that in today’s changed world, an uneducated leader rarely inspires people. An uneducated leader becomes the butt of people’s jokes. An uneducated leader is not given a fair hearing. On the other hand, there are examples like Anna – technically not adequately educated – who have demonstrated the will and capability to inspire and lead. Many would argue that a leader needs to only inspire the people; he or she does not have to personally provide complicated solutions and ideas. So this is a good debate worth having; I am personally inclined towards minimum education standards being prescribed.
2)      Removing crime from politics: One of the primary problems with our democracy is that it attracts the criminal minded towards it. The criminal minded are attracted by the special privileges that MPs enjoy; the protection from criminal proceedings; the ability to abuse state institutions for personal benefit; the chance to be in charge of huge sums of governmental funds which can be diverted to more personally meaningful causes; the power that comes with politics. Now, if our justice system had been fast in delivering its verdicts, then we could have insisted that even if an FIR was filed against a candidate, he/she should be debarred from contesting elections. Unfortunately in our country, it’s easy to file FIRs against innocent people. Equally, it’s easy to prevent FIRs being filed against serious offenders. An FIR converts into a chargesheet if the initial investigation finds merit in the FIR. After a chargesheet is filed, the matter goes to the courts where it can stay unheard and undecided for decades at times. An honest candidate can be bogged down in this process by an astute political opponent. Till the time we can prescribe judicial timelines, it’s going to be very difficult to be able to use FIRs or chargesheets as disqualification criteria. Again, we need a lot of discussion on this point. Some people have suggested that “serious offences” should be grounds for disqualification at the chargesheet stage. But what is the meaning of serious offences? A murder charge is obviously serious; but are corruption charges serious charges? What about charges of rigging elections? We need a lot more discussion on all these matters.
3)      Election funding: This is a huge subject and I am only starting off a debate here. There are two types of problems with our present election funding norms. One is that most of the funding is in the form of black money. No corporate wants to officially state who it is supporting for the worry of inviting the wrath of the other party. In most cases, they end up giving contributions to both sides. Even here, they prefer to keep the amounts hidden so as not to upset one party or the other. The second problem is that even if a candidate manages to raise all funds legally, he/she is not allowed to spend beyond a certain limit legally. The limit for major constituencies is Rs 25 lacs or so; for smaller ones just Rs 10-15 lacs. These are arbitrary and unrealistic limits. How can you contest an election by spending just these measly amounts? But here is the loophole. Friends of candidates can spend as much as they want. Political parties can spend as much as they want on a candidate. This leads to unaccounted spending. And black money entering politics. We have much to learn from other countries – especially European and Latin American countries – on public funding of elections. But it is entirely possible that we may need our own rules to be developed. One of the earlier suggestions I have given is that the 3% education cess that used to exist till last year should be re-introduced as election cess. This would generate a huge amount of money. The EC may then decide whether we can do with less than 3% or not. Public funding of elections can lead to much lower levels of corruption in the election process. Here’s the very important side-effect: Good candidates, who are not well off, can also get a chance to contest elections. Today, political parties prefer to support candidates who can raise funds for the party. Another point worth considering is to give corporates tax concessions for political funding. This will actually bring out election funding in a much more open public arena – imagine shareholders asking for details on which parties their company supported. Basicaly, the idea should be to lift the veil on election funding…..
4)      Coalition politics – we have been in the era of coalition governments for nearly two decades now. And there is no sign that this is going to change. Coalition politics creates trouble in the functioning of a government. Small coalition partners are able to extract a much larger pound of flesh than they deserve; encouraging even more small parties to be formed. The main partner in the coalition is often subject to unfair pressures from small partners – to ignore their corrupt practices, to wrest better ministries etc. Besides, by threatening to quit the coalition and bring down a government, small parties enjoy powers they should not be entitled to. We need to change the rules here. Maybe we should only allow pre-election coalition partnerships. But what happens if pre-election partnerships fail to get the required majorities? If post-election partnerships are allowed, can we ban their dissolution before 5 years are over? This will bring stability to the running of the government. These things need to be discussed.
5)      National parties v/s regional parties: Should we have a rule that limits Lok Sabha elections to only national parties? Should we tighten the description of a national party? Today, if a regional party has a presence in a mere 4 states, it is called a national party. Even the RJD was considered a national party because it had made some gains in the North East (it was subsequently de-recognized). Likewise, the NCP today is called a national party because of its performance in the North East. Since the time this rule was framed, many more states have got created. Maybe today, the rule should be that the party must be represented in at least 8-10 states. Fortunately, in spite of the rather simple qualification criteria, there are only six national parties – the Congress, the BJP, the NCP, the CPI, the CPI(M) and the BSP. So in reality, there are only four groupings – the Congress and NCP as the 1st, the CPI and CPI(M) as the 2nd, the BJP as the 3rd and the BSP as the 4th. Maybe if the rules were tightened, the BSP would be eliminated. Maybe we should allow only the BJP, the Congress or the Left to form the central government. State parties could of course join any of these dispensations, but they would not be allowed to leave the coalition for five years.

As is clear, there are many areas of reforms possible with respect to elections. Right to Reject a candidate is a flawed concept as per most political analysts. Do we really vote for candidates at all? Or do we vote for political parties? Similarly, Right to recall a candidate is a flawed concept since even the winning candidate gets less than 50% of votes in most constituencies. So if a right-to-recall was exercised, almost all winning candidates could be recalled. Besides, if we can clean up our election system, we may not even need to recall our elected representatives.

The real truth is that we need debates on this subject; not a dictatorial declaration which prescribes at the beginning itself what the remedy should be. The methods of debate are as important as the debate itself. And let’s not start by assuming all politicians are bad and they will block reforms. Or that all civil society activists are noble hearted and have only the country’s good in mind. We need a new way of carrying out our public debates. Anna may want to revisit his style…..even though he continues with his substance.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anna’s struggle should be seen as the 2nd economic freedom struggle….

Anna himself called his movement a 2nd freedom struggle raising the hackles of many. What freedom struggle? Aren’t we free enough already? Don’t we breathe free air? Aren’t we allowed to express our views freely? Does anyone monitor our emails, Facebook updates and twitter tweets? Not at all. In fact, many have said that India perhaps needs less freedom, not more. What India really needs is a freedom from economic deprivation. Freedom from poverty. Freedom from hunger. Freedom from inequal distribution of wealth. The first economic freedom struggle was launched in 1991 by Dr. Manmohan Singh. Now, its time for the 2nd one….hopefully before Anna goes again on a fast-unto-death!

1991 was perhaps the turning point in the Indian economic story. Again, it was not voluntarily that we acted the way we did. We were forced into it. When our forex reserves were down to just 2 weeks of imports; when we had to surrender our gold reserves to get a temporary loan; the government had NO CHOICE but to do something. The same way that the government had no choice but to discuss the Lokpal Bill in Parliament. That’s the way we Indians work! Fortunately, the actions taken in 1991 were, generally speaking, very good for the country. The shackles of the License Raj were removed. Entrepreneurs were freed up from arbitrary restrictions. The private sector was unleashed. The Indian economy was integrated more strongly with the world. Import duties were slashed; exports encouraged.

The 20 years since 1991 have unleashed tremendous economic growth. Average GDP growth in the ten years prior to 1991 were under 5% per annum. In the ten years post 1991, the average growth rates have been 8-8.5%. Since some people do not know this, it’s worth mentioning that these growth rates are real growth rates – after removing the impact of inflation. India’s per capital income (simplistically GDP per person) has increased from some 300$ in the 10 years before 1991 to some 1200$ now. The Indian GDP today is the 10th biggest in the world in nominal terms (exchange rate terms) and 5th largest in PPP terms (on basis of ability to buy goods). Our exports have soared – touching nearly $250 billion in 2010 – 21st in the world. Our forex reserves are $319 billion as on July 2011. We also received nearly $36 billion in FDI in 2009-10. Whichever economic parameters we look at at an an aggregate level, we do exceedingly well. Take electricity production. At 723 billion kwh, we are the world’s 6th largest producer of electricity (yes….in spite of all the shortages!). In terms of oil consumption, at 3 million barrels a day, we are the 5th largest in the world. In telecom, we are the 2nd biggest and so on and so forth.

The first economic freedom struggle has gotten us so far that we have started getting included in the world’s best and biggest economic groupings. A place in the G20 was but obvious. An important part in the global environment control talks equally so. A place in the UN as a permanent member of the security council – give it another five years and it could be a reality. India is the “vowel” without which BRICS would have no meaning left at all!

The deficiencies of the first economic struggle are there for all to see. Primarily, we suffer from huge distribution of wealth problems. The lowest 10% of our population consumes just 3.6% of our production; the highest 10%: 31%. This income disparity is captured in the Gini coefficient. India with a score of 36.8 is rated 79th in the world. This is why almost 30% of the population continues to remain below the poverty line. The unemployment rate as measured by the government is upwards of reality, if disguised employment were taken out, this number could be much higher. Job creation is inadequate, even though the numbers released recently by NSSO have been debated furiously. Infrastructure in India remains woeful…..the most common symbols of inadequacy being the potholed roads and the bursting train compartments in Bombay during peak hours.

Much of the 1st economic freedom struggle has been waged by the private sector. The entrepreneurs of this country. In fact, the last 20 years have resulted in a major shift in the economic hierarchy in the country. A Sunil Mittal, a Narayanmurthy, a Tulsi Tanti, a Kiran Majumdar Shaw, an Anand Mahindra are all creations of the 1st economic freedom movement. While it is true that the economic growth has been led by the private citizens of this country, it is a shade unfair to say that the government had no role to play. It acted as a facilator of growth…..encouraging the private sector to perform. It’s because of government policies that the IT industry became the showpiece of economic progress for India.

However, the 1st economic freedom struggle failed to directly impact  the government sector. It can be safely said that wherever government is involved, it is fully drowned in inefficiency and corruption. Since huge parts of our economy are still dependent on the government (two of the top three most valuable companies on the NSE/BSE are government companies), its creating a severe drag on the overall economic performance of the country. The biggest casualty of course is what is commonly known as “governance” – the ability to efficiently govern a country.

The only real adjustment the government has done in the last 20 years has been in developing the framework of a PPP model (Public-private partnership). Essentially, this allows the government to allot contracts that they should have been doing in the first place to the private sector. Allowing them to sit back and relax. The private sector brings in the efficiency, capital mobilization and execution capabilities; all sorely lacking in the government sector. As a result of this model, we have seen progress in roads (yes, our highways have become better), city infrastructure, airport infrastructure, power supply etc. However, whichever sector the government is involved in directly continues to suffer. Take Railways for example. The quality of service is pathetic; the stations dirty; the journeys unsafe; the maximum speeds a shame. Take public education. Again, the quality sucks. Anyone who can afford it wants to go for private education – where also quality sucks but is much better than the public sector. Take ordinary municipal services – pathetic. Take the police force – riddled with corruption; misplaced priorities; uncouth behavior towards the public; pathetic. Take any interaction point with the government – Income Tax, Land Registration, Passport office, driving license issuancing authority, gas supply – anything that the government does on its own is in extremely miserable condition. And fully corrupt. This was the basic driving force behind Anna’s corruption struggle too.

The real gains of Anna’s struggle should be seen through a wider lens called economic freedom; rather than the narrow one through called removal of corruption. Sure, removal of corruption will be a big step in achieving stronger economic freedom. But the real objective should never be lost focus of. What Anna has launched hopefully is the 2nd economic freedom struggle. Hopefully, after 20 more years, we will be able to show an efficient, responsive and non-corrupt government sector. Should that happen, the economic growth of India would shoot into the 10% + domain and stay there for the next 20 years. That’s what the real importance of Anna’s struggle should be seen as. The government sector has to reform itself totally. Not only should it become less corrupt, it should become highly efficient. The best people must go back to working in the government. Projects must be completed on time. Thinking must be big. Quality of services should improve. Education, public health, hygiene, medical facilities…..all should improve dramatically. Poverty alleviation schemes should work efficiently…..subsidies must reach the people in their hands; not get eaten away by middlemen. The roads must be roads; not an apology. Raising efficiencies in the government sector should be the real focus of Anna himself going forward….

The real truth is that we will all be doing justice to Anna only and only if we keep our goals clear. Our goal is economic progress and a decent life to all our people. If we can treat Anna’s movement not merely as an anti-corruption crusade, but as a government-efficiency building one, then we would be doing great justice to him. This is a much bigger canvas than merely eradicating corruption…..I think its best we call it the 2nd economic freedom struggle rather than the just the 2nd freedom struggle….

Saturday, August 27, 2011

All’s well that ends well! A salute to the methods of conciliation……

Anna looks happy. He’s breaking his fast today. The politicians look happy. They have risen to the occasion. Parliamentary democracy has been protected. The hardliners on both sides were shown the door. A sort of “cleansing” of the entire system happened yesterday when Parliament first debated and then “resolved unanimously” to refer Anna’s three demands to the standing committee.

I want to share the euphoria of the people because the solution has led to Anna’s fast ending. I can now heave a sigh of relief that a well intentioned movement pulled itself out of a precarious direction just in time. Ultimately, sanity prevailed, but not before hardliners like Kapil Sibal and Chidambaram on the government’s side and Kejriwal and Bedi on Anna’s side were taken off from the table. Earlier, Anna himself had taken the decision towards conciliation when he apologized for the harsh words used by him against the PM – a man of unquestionable personal integrity. Very importantly, he chose to write on his personal letterhead and not on the letterhead of India Against Corruption. The new negotiators were the reliable and smooth-as-silk Pranab Mukherjee and mild-mannered Salman Khursheed on the one side and practical-and-politically-savvy Medha Patkar and a much-less-frenzied Prashant Bhushan. Ultimately, in any stalemate, it’s important to change the teams when the old teams lose trust in each other….

Parliamentarians need to be applauded for a few things. Firstly, they agreed to discuss the matter on hand without any disruption. That’s a high enough bar for the Indian Parliament in most circumstances. Yesterday, many many leaders actually spoke really well. Most of them with humility; agreeing to their mistakes of the past in not passing this bill for the last 42 years. Sushma Swaraj in particular spoke exceedingly well in the Lok Sabha – attacking the government allright – but also providing an extremely interesting and logical understanding of the issues involved. In one sense, she’s the true inheritor of Vajpayee’s oratory skills. Jaitley was terrific too, but Jaitley prefers to speak in English, and somehow the power of Hindi is totally different. If this debate was anything to go by, then Swaraj is the leader of the future for the BJP. In the past also, when there had been a logjam over the appointment of the CVC, she had tweeted that “we must move on”. That’s statesmanship. Again, this shows that its conciliation that works best in India. I thought Jyotiraditya Scindia spoke really well, though his speech also was intensely political. I thought Laloo was good fun and like Dileep Padkaonkar later said on TV, sometimes the bafoonry helps break the ice and build trust!

Was Parliamentary authority protected? In a very big way, yes. I don’t want to sound sceptical here, but all that Parliament has done is discussed the three specific points that Anna has raised. Each political party expressed its views on these three points. All that Parliament has resolved is to refer these three points to the standing committee. There is no surety that it will be captured in the final bill the way Anna initially wanted it. Some of the points remain contentious, and the “acceptance” of these points by various political parties has involved a play of words. For eg., getting the lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal has been interpreted to mean that the lower bureaucracy will be under “some” watchdog. It could be a stronger CVC as proposed by the NCPRI. The contentious issue of promulgating Lok Ayuktas along with the Lokpal has been dealt with equally innovatively. The Central Act would have the Lok Ayuktas built in, but it would only be an “enabling” provision – meaning that states were free to adopt it if they found it good enough. If they didn’t? I guess, they would be free not to accept it! Again, on the point of citizen’s charter – the 3rd point that Anna demanded a discussion on – all that has been conceded that an “appropriate mechanism” would be framed. Maybe it could be a different public grievances bill that has been talked about and that is part of NCPRI’s version of the Bill.

All the three “via-media” solutions that emerged finally were already in discussion for many days. A few days back, when I wrote a piece on “Point of satiety”, these solutions were already being discussed. The Jan Lokpal Bill – which contains the contentious points – had already been referred to the standing committee. The NCPRI version was also with the standing committee. The politicians had already conceded to having an “open-minds” discussion there. Nothing materially changed from that day till yesterday. But what did change was the players involved in the talks. And that brought about the trust that had dissipated away in the past. That’s what changed.

The House also asserted itself by rejecting a few of the other demands that were not specifically listed for discussion yesterday, but were part of the Jan Lokpal Bill. For eg., almost all parties rejected the demand for the conduct of MPs inside Parliament to be under the purview of the Lokpal. Almost all parties cited clauses of the constitution (Article 105(2) plus one more I think) to justify their position. If there was so much unanimous support, the sections could have been amended and the matter resolved as per Anna’s exact demands. But the Parliamentarians rejected it. Then the point about the judiciary had already been in the news. That was rejected by Parliament as well. Even the point about including the PM under the Lokpal was accepted more in an NCPRI form than in the original Jan Lokpal Bill form. The PM may be included but with several conditions attached – the conditions to be determined by the standing committee I suppose. And lastly, Parliament rejected very strongly the demand of Team Anna to allow the Lokpal the powers of phone tapping in the process of investigation. Also, the government held its own since the government’s Lokpal Bill didn’t have to be withdrawn. That is why I am happy with the proceedings yesterday. Parliament eventually discussed each point with reason. And there was relatively much lesser jingoism and “playing to the galleries”.

Where do we go from here? There’s a long long way to go before the Lokpal Bill becomes a reality. Parliament’s resolution should go a long way in ensuring that the standing committee doesn’t play games. But it’s in the actual fleshing out of Parliament’s “sense” that one will have to watch out for. In government dealings, it’s often the small endbits which are more critical than the large big ticket items. Many times, glitches are intentionally introduced in the fine print – by people trying to be too clever by half.  I hope both sides will keep up the trust that has recently been built up between them. Ultimately, it was Anna and the PM who brought trust back into the relationship. If that doesn’t change, then the final Bill will be as good as this country wants and deserves.

We also need many many more laws to be enacted and many many more things to be done before corruption can be reasonably controlled. Parliament should take advantage of this “almost pious” moment in time. They should extend the session by 2 weeks. They must agree to debate every bill in the same way. They must recover lost time. They must clear off a lot of the pending bills – the Land Acqusition Bill, the Mining Act, the amended Copyrights Act and so many more. The ruling party and the principal opposition owe it the people to discuss the GST and DTC bills in right earnest – again so that corruption can be removed very significantly from tax-related events. Have you noticed – after a naka-bandi which causes a massive jam, the road on the other side is usually extremely clear of traffic? That’s when motorists catch up with lost time. Parliament is now in a similar territory. Will it seize the moment and catch up on lost time? Or will it go back to its wasteful, bickering ways?

The real truth is that its only conciliation that works in India. Aggression doesn’t. This is what both the government and Team Anna realized in these negotiations. The absence of violence by Anna’s supporters was a conciliatory step. The exchange of letters between the PM and Anna was a conciliatory step. The removal of hardliners was a conciliatory step. The apologies to each other was a conciliatory step. The decision of Parliament to join hands and come together was a conciliatory step. In the end, that’s what made Anna a true Gandhian, Sushma the queen-bee and Singh the King!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Anna movement turns cancerous

Make no mistake. This so called people’s movement has turned into a cancer. Just like the dangerous disease has no solution, this movement has has also become extremely dangerous with no possibility of a solution. Just like the dreaded disease fights off every new medicine, this movement also fights off every new solution proposed. Just like the scary disease first grows in the human body and eventually eats it up, this movement also has taken roots inside our thriving democracy and is now eating it up. Just like the life-threatening disease dies only after taking the person’s life, this movement may also die only after taking the life of the body-politic of this country. Make no mistake; this protest is no longer an ordinary movement. This movement has turned cancerous in the last few days.

If this movement is not treated and killed immediately, it will devour and kill the the country very soon. This is not a time for games. This is not a time for politics. This is not a time for grandstanding. This is a time for crushing this movement with unprecedented force and vigor. I appeal to the political parties not to succumb to this pressure; equally, not to play around with this disease and instead take a tough stance. I also appeal to the media to stop inflating the reality of the crowds and bring it to an immediate close. I also appeal to all people of the country to stand up and say in one voice – I do not support Anna’s methods and I want Anna to stop threatening Parliament.

Whether it is Anna himself who has turned into a terror or his team members does not matter. Anna has himself behaved unstatesmanlike; calling all politicians “gaddars” (traitors). He’s pilloried the progress we’ve made in the last 64 years asking “see where these people have taken the country”. I am very happy Mr. Hazare with where these people have taken this country and with where this country stands today. It’s all set to take its rightful place in the world. It’s all set to become one of the top three countries in the world. This man – who started off as a saintly and humble character – has now started personally accusing senior members of the government including the genial PM himself. Anna, a Gandhian? You got to be kidding me. Anna has become a local thug who needs to be restrained. And restrained soon...

If the leader of this cancerous movement has turned so vicious, what can one expect from his team members? Kiran Bedi’s “nautanki” (drama) at the Ramlila grounds yesterday, while making that hate speech, has upset almost all sane people around the country and made them into opponents of the movement. There was so much viciousness in what she said that it prompted a usually diplomatic Harish Salve to declare “Today, after the Kiran Bedi performance, I declare myself as a member of UNCIVIL Society. And in these circumstances, if police use force, I will have no regrets at all”. Swami Agnivesh and Sri Sri Ravishankar – hitherto firm supporters of Anna are on record to say that they want Anna to become flexible and set aside his fast. Justice Santosh Hegde has crossed over to the other side and asked for this farce to stop. Except for the most fanatical, no one I know supports Anna’s stand any more. Every one I know calls this fast a farce….

At the risk of being called a UPA stooge, I must say that I found Rahul Gandhi’s speech extremely inspiring. His proposal of making the Lokpal into a Constitutional Body akin to the Election Commission was recommended by me on June 9th (that post is available on since the blog did not exist on at that time). That’s definitely one of the alternatives worth considering. Even Harish Salve felt that the idea was fresh idea and a damned good one at that. But then that’s the whole problem with this movement. It wants no alternative point to be considered. It wants no intelligent debate. It wants only the opinion of this small section of society – amplified by the frenzied media – to be heard over everything else. It’s much worse than blackmail. It’s a cancer.

If the BJP was opposed to so many points in the past, how has it turned around so quickly? Surely, they should have had a good debate in Parliament without a gun on their hand, and without any motivation of wresting political advantage before changing their mind? The BJP should realize that this disease could kill them. They should remember what happened yesterday when they sent Gopinath Munde and Anant Kumar to the Ramlila grounds; they got booed. In fact, the BJP is being too smart by half. By supporting the inclusion of the lower bureaucracy (thus putting a big burden on the Lokpal), it wants to earn the favor of Team Anna. At the same time, by burdening it so much, it is making sure that it becomes an ineffective law – a law that is impossible to implement – so that it doesn’t bother them in the future. Anna is burdening this country with a monster of a bill and the BJP is supporting it all out for its narrow reasons.

My own personal view is also getting crystallized more and more towards the NCPRI version. I believe strongly that a single Lokpal is a very bad idea. I am convinced that the Lokpal designed in this way WILL surely become corrupt itself. After all, the employees who work in the Lokpal will be paid the same salary as all other poorly paid government employees….and they will wield even higher power. It’s then only natural that the Lokpal will become corrupt. I am also against the lower bureaucracy being covered under the Lokpal – simply because it will make the Lokpal unable to deliver verdicts in under a year. People often forget that even when the Lokpal investigates a charge of corruption; it needs to look at the evidence presented. There needs to be an investigation; evidence needs to be collected; only then can a prosecution happen. What if there are lacs of corruption cases that come up all of a sudden….how will the Lokpal investigate and prosecute on all cases within a year? I am also against the judiciary being covered under the Lokpal. I am also against any legislative involvement in the judicial accountability bill. That’s a bill that should be drafted largely by the judiciary itself without any involvement of Team Anna or others. In short, I am simply not ready to accept the Jan Lokpal as has been proposed by the Anna team. I think it’s a draconian law that should be rejected – in large parts – by Parliament.

But today is not a day to discuss the merits and demerits of the Lokpal Bill. Today is a day to resolve that we will kill this disease. To remove a cancer, we know the treatment that is needed: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, gene therapy, hormone therapy etc. etc. What’s the treatment for curing this civil society disease? 1) Force feed Anna today. Forget the few thousand people at Ramlila grounds – many of them are there only for the free meals being doled out three times a day. The country at large will be with the government if it forcefeeds Anna. 2) Since the ball has been set rolling in Parliament, discuss the matter to the extent possible. Without any pressure. At the end of the day, there is no reason for any resolution. The bills – all of them – must be referred to the standing committee which should be asked to do a thorough job. It doesn’t matter if it takes three months or six. Parliament should then consider the recommendations of the standing committee and vote on it as they feel appropriate. 3) From Monday, stop thinking about Anna. Move on to other things. There are hundreds of other important matters pending. There are millions of other people to cater to.

The real truth is that this movement has become a cancer. And it needs to be treated now. If it’s not treated and killed right now, it will surely devour the entire country. I am with the government if it decides to force feed Anna. I cannot support a movement that divides people into two extreme camps – much like George Bush’s statement “you are either with us or you are with the terrorists” did after 9/11. I am against corruption, and I am also against Anna.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is Anna a crusader or an Invader????

Today is a day when no one can blame the government. An amicable solution appeared to have been worked out during the day yesterday with the PM himself taking conciliatory steps, but by the end of the day it was off. The solution was that Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill would be discussed in Parliament – and all MPs would get a chance to directly have a look at it. If Anna had any misgivings – unfounded as they were – that the full house would never get to hear his views, those were removed. The government also agreed to have a discussion in Parliament today……agreeing to meet the demand for passing the bill by August 30th atleast symbolically. When I went to sleep last night, I was hoping Anna would have called off his fast by the morning. However, when I read the updates this morning, I realized that the demand that only the Jan Lokpal Bill should be adopted had re-surfaced. The fast was very much on. The drama was going to continue for some more time. Anna’s team appeared hell bent on attacking Parliament’s prerogative to enact laws. Anna’s conduct appeared akin to that of an invader of the olden days; attacking the very foundation of India’s democracy. Anna was an invader; no longer a mere crusader. Anna the invader wanted to be bigger than Parliament.

This movement lost its direction many days back. It’s moved away from the central issue of corruption long back. It’s no longer about which bill is the stronger bill. And what’s best for the country. It’s all an ego issue now. Anna’s ego is making it impossible to find a solution. Anna’s demands keep shifting. I remember a few days back, his demand appeared to be that Parliament should at least consider their bill. Whatever Parliament decided was acceptable to him. Later, the demand shifted to become that the government must withdraw their bill and introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill. Still later, it shifted to a pure blackmail with the demand becoming that Parliamentary procedure and protocol must be given a go-by; so that the Jan Lokpal bill could be adopted in the next few days. And yesterday, after agreeing to withdraw the fast once Parliament passed a resolution promising to enact a strong Lokpal Bill, Anna appears to have shifted the demands yet again; now it appears he has gone back to his previous maximalist demand – his bill or nothing at all. I am sorry, but I as a citizen of this country, am extremely disappointed with Anna. What kind of a tamasha is this? Is this a fight for a corruption-free society or is this an ego issue for Anna? If I am pushed to choose (and I hope I don’t have to) between having a weaker Lokpal Bill (but with Parliament’s authority protected) and a stronger Lokpal bill (but with Parliament’s authority demolished) I would perhaps (and very sadly) choose the latter. I can wait for another movement to make the Lokpal bill stronger. But I cannot watch democracy being trampled all over. Who are these people who are so openly and unashamedly hijacking Parliament? Are they a bunch of invaders who have come to take over my country?

Is Anna the invader of has this saintly man been taken over by his team? Is Anna the real leader of the movement at all or is he merely a puppet in the hands of his team? It appeared that the solution brokered earlier yesterday was made possible because of Anna’s direct involvement in the talks. That meant that till then, Anna was not himself involved in the talks with the government. I find that impossible. Anna’s team is a well-oiled, well-knit unit, that keeps going back to Anna all the time. It is difficult to imagine that this obduracy is entirely on account of Anna’s team. In an age of so much media, is it all all possible that Anna was unaware of the developments? Of the growing criticism for his methods? If he had disagreed with his team, surely he would have known and he could have instructed it to mend its ways? Frankly, I think the problem is something else. The problem is that there is not just one leader in this movement. All of Anna’s team members want to be leaders. All of them want to be on stage waving the flag; speaking and inciting the audiences. All of them want to be on TV. All of them want to operate in the impractical realm that leaders often operate in. None of them has the practical sense that is required to bring a leader’s impractical demands to to a more practical solution. None of them have the gumption to figure out when enough is enough. Anna’s team is a drag; but not in the sense that it keeps Anna in the dark. It’s a drag in the sense that it is unable to add value and restraint to Anna’s movement.

It appears also that our politicians will never change. The BJP has got panned recently for its double-speak on the Jan Lokpal bill. Was it supporting it fully or was it also opposed to it in parts? Two days back, SS Ahluwalia, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha mentioned that there were points of disagreements that the BJP had with Anna’s Bill. We now know those points of disagreements. In essence, they are the same points that most people have disagreements with. Well, we would expect that in the Parliamentary debate today, they would bring out these disagreements. But no…..late last night, it appears that they have had talks with Team Anna and they have told them that they are OK with the Jan Lokpal Bill. That’s great; so will you please now state that in Parliament? Or will you say something to Anna and the people on TV; and later say something else in Parliament? One has to give credit to the Left for being consistent. They haven’t changed their position at all. But the BJP? Cant say that about them!

In any case, the time for such private parleys with Anna is long over. The day of reckoning is today. During the Parliamentary debate, each party should clearly spell out their points of disagreements and agreements with Anna. And the resolution must clearly capture the fact that no single Bill can be passed in its current form at this point in time; and that all bills will be referred to the Standing Committee. There is NO urgency to pass any particular bill without a proper discussion. Protecting Parliament’s authority is more important than passing Anna’s version of the Bill.

The real truth is that Anna is looking more and more like an invader. He’s morphed from being a well intentioned crusader to an invader who has huge disdain for Indian democracy and its Parliamentarians. It’s not the Lokpal Bill that he is interested in any longer; it’s the demolition of Parliament that he is interested in. That’s why he called all Parliamentarians “gaddars”. Now that this is obvious, Parliament should know what it has to do……

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Anna must be forcefed

I say this to Anna with utmost humility. With utmost respect for his noble intentions and his unwavering desire to serve his country. Your fast has gone on for too long already. You have made your point. Now you should have the faith that a strong Lokpal Bill will soon be promulgated. I say “a strong Lokpal Bill” and not “the Jan Lokpal Bill” knowing fully that this will only propel you towards a few more days of fasting. But Annaji, I have to tell you that by continuing on this fast-unto-death, you are now giving rise to a feeling amonst many in your country that you are taking this too far. You don’t want to look like an aggressor…..or someone who hijacked democracy.

There are several reasons why Anna must be forcefed. The most immediate of them all of course is that Anna’s health is most important and all of us – most importantly his own team members – need to recognize this. Anna’s fast is intended to be a non-violent way of protesting. However, if anything does happen to him, everyone knows that there will be chaos in the country. I am not sure if Anna wants that.

The second reason is that both Anna and the government know that suicides are illegal in our country. After ten days of fasting, it can no longer be his own decision. It has to be the decision of his doctors. If his doctors say that he needs to be hospitalized, then he needs to be hospitalized. It will then be time for the law to take over. The government will be duty bound to act to prevent a suicide. That’s why they forcefeed Irom Sharmila every time she crossed a threshold. I am not for a moment saying that the first attempt to forcefeed must be made by the government. That must be made by Anna’s team. But if that fails, then the government must take all necessary steps on its own. I do understand that uppermost in the government’s mind will be the comparison of this act with the act of arresting Anna ten days back. But if this is done with smartness, humility and honesty – without cops as far as possible – with respect and softness if cops have to be used – then the people will see the difference.

The third and most important reason is that Parliament cannot be allowed to get hijacked. No matter what the reasons, the authority of Parliament has to be protected. Yesterday, the government almost fully capitulated to Anna’s demands, compromising Parliament’s superior position. But Anna still didn’t respond with reasonableness. He did not give up his fast. In fact, he actually went on an attack against the government. In his speech at Ramlila grounds, Anna called the ministers “gaddars” (traitors). And that “they have finished off the country”. What rubbish is all this? This is sounding a political movement after all. I am sorry but it doesn’t suit Anna to make such speeches. In fact, there is no reason for him to be so obdurate; so untrusting of others. This is now becoming a case of Anna pandering to the crowds, all of whom have been led into a state of frenzy through inflammatory propaganda. Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan give speeches worse than even the most venom-spewing politician would be capable of giving.

For Anna’s sake, it’s time for the drama to stop. It’s now time for Parliament to regain its authority all over again. I was unhappy with the government’s capitulation yesterday. I am unhappy with the way they were bypassing Parliamentary procedures. No political party wants Parliament to be bypassed; law making to be passed on to the streets; the government to be handle hostage. This peaceful movement has long ago become a violent one – Anna’s and his team’s speeches and actions being acts of violence. There is no reason for the government to bow down any further. There is no need for an ultra-quick passage of the Bill. The bill MUST be referred to the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee MUST seek the views of ALL sections of the society. The Standing Committee should then make recommendations to Parliament as per usual practice. The bill MUST then be discussed in Parliament for as long as required. Other Bill not related to Lokpal also MUST be introduced in Parliament…..and the work of Parliament MUST continue as usual. And only then – after all processes have been followed – should the Bill be passed. There is no reason for the government to come under so much pressure that it becomes the one responsible for the breakdown of the constitution.

The government should also be prepared that it will get no cooperation from any opposition party. For them, it’s all a political game. The BJP can only keep saying that the government made a mistake by arresting Anna. Everyone knows that. There is nothing new in that. But having said that, does the BJP have any ideas on how this problem should be handled? I will give an analogy here which many may find inappropriate. When the country is under attack, does the opposition party tell the government that this is their problem? Or do they come together to fight? Leaving their turf battles to later? Is the BJP waiting for something to happen to Anna, so that it can ask the government to resign; probably with the hope that it will get a chance to come to power in spite of its miniscule number of seats in Parliament? The BJP likes to attack the Congress, but it refrains from giving its own views on the Bill. When grilled, it likes to talk about only those points where there is agreement with Anna’s Bill or only a minor disagreement with it. But it doesn’t like to talk about the points of major disagreements – where in fact its views are more like the government’s views. For instance, they also feel that the conduct of MPs inside Parliament must be outside the purview of the Lokpal. They also feel that the judiciary should not be under the Lokpal. They also feel that the entire bureaucracy must not be covered. They also believe that Parliament must not be held hostage. They also believe that deadlines cannot be prescribed to Parliament. It’s the same with all other political parties – all of which want to score brownie points against the government in this moment of crisis. The Left hasn’t forgotten the Congress for the Indo-US nuclear deal. And for the loss it recently suffered in Kerala and West Bengal. Ditto Mulayam Singh Yadav whose eyes are strongly glued on UP and who sees the Congress as a major threat there. If our ruling party acted irresponsibly in the past, the opposition parties are doing so now.

I find irresponsible even the conduct of Anna’s friends and wellwishers. It doesn’t help Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Swami Agnivesh and others to keep complaining about the past mistakes made by the government. They add zero value when they sound like politicians. We expect them to rise above the muck and help stop a crime from happening. That crime was committed by the government in the past. It’s now being committed by Anna. Swami Agnivesh was saying yesterday that “government has already conceded 80% of OUR demands” and it should concede some more. What rubbish is this? Show me one negotiation where one party concedes so much and the other one keeps pushing. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar keeps talking of government’s arrogance. Why? Because they are insisting that parliamentary processes be followed? I am sorry but my view is that it is Team Anna that is being arrogant. Sri Sri is a highly regarded guru and his attitude has to be one of finding a solution.

Arvind Kejriwal gave a speech last night threatening as usual that if anything happened to Anna, then it would be the government that would be responsible? Pray how? The government has bent over more than necessary. Let’s be clear here…..If anything happens to Anna, then it will be Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi and all the fanatical supporters of Anna’s who will be responsible. They are already responsible for not stopping Anna till now. They will be responsible if something happens to him.

In the meantime, the voices on TV keep rising against Anna’s methods. Even Times Now – the channel that has unquestioningly supported Anna’s movement from the beginning – has started presenting speakers who openly attack Anna’s methods. CNN-IBN and NDTV have been complaining against this fast for some time now. It’s a different thing that even those who complain do so after first paying obeisance to Anna. And even when they do complain, they complain with a little bit of fear in their hearts. Such is the tenor this movement has taken that it doesn’t allow for free speech at all. It’s reached into dictatorial territory long back.

Ram Chandra Guha – the author of “India after Gandhi” – was extremely vocal against Anna’s fast dragging on for so long. Anna’s supporters may want to take note of his little tutorial on Gandhi. Gandhi had gone on 14 fasts in his life but 13 of these were not against the British government at all. They were mostly against his own people – against communalism; against casteism; against violence etc etc. He also reminded everyone of one more of Gandhi’s most famous beliefs “The beauty of compromise…..” is that it is a step-by-step way to reach consensus. His clear message: Don’t compare Anna with the Mahatma. Gandhi wouldn’t have done this.

Dushyant Dave, eminent lawyer, reminded viewers of Dr. Ambedkar’s speech in 1949: “Now that the Constitution is in place, there is no place for unconstitutional methods like fasting-to-death” or words to that effect.

Tavleen Singh, eminent journalist tweeted that the Jan Lokpal Bill will create a totalitarian monster in the name of fighting corruption. It must never be passed. Again, she’s not one who supports corruption; but like many others, she also feels that this movement has hijacked the main battle. Anna’s team is misreading the mood of the people – the sentiment is against corruption – not for a particular bill. Even if the crowds say they want the Jan Lokpal Bill, what they really mean is that they want a strong Lokpal Bill.

Kumar Ketkar said the right thing when he said that the PM was one of the most “cordial” PMs we have had and that one of the reasons for the current impasse is that civil society has taken advantage of his cordiality. In contrast, notice the aggressive language used yesterday by the Gujarat Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Dilip Sanghani, in slamming the Anna movement. He called it “mobocracy”. The PM has many failings but we have to give it to him that he is a genial person. A blog on joked about MMS’s friends in college calling him “Microsoft”! Over the last few days, the PM has made several gestures to Anna. It’s time now for Anna to respond back with equal geniality…..

The real truth is that Anna’s fast is starting to stink. Anna is losing bit by bit the goodwill and the groundswell of support he’s generated – at least amongst the less frenzied lot. Someone on a blog yesterday called Anna a Gandhian suicide bomber. This is not what Anna should have to listen to. I sincerely urge Anna to give up his fast and allow Parliament to do its duty. If they fail in passing a good law, there will always be another chance…..

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Government capitulates. And gives Parliamentary democracy a go by

Clearly yesterday, the government capitulated to Team Anna. Faced with the failing health of Anna and the worry of widespread riots if anything untoward happened to him, the government found itself on the back foot. In the process, it agreed to most of Team Anna’s demands; including those that many felt were unjustifiable. For the many lacs who were supporting Anna, this was a huge victory. For many like me, who were supporting a strong anti-corruption law but were disagreeing with specific points in the Jan Lokpal Bill and the methods of Team Anna, this was a disappointment. This is not what was expected from a responsible government.

A dispassionate look at the turn of events last week would show that the government was itself responsible for digging its grave. It acted senselessly on 16th August by arresting Anna. This got thousands of ordinary people out on the streets. It shifted the focus away from the Lokpal Bill to the high-handedness of the government in disallowing people the fundamental right to protest. The government got panned by all sections of society – including those who opposed the Jan Lokpal Bill – for its insensitivity towards an old Gandhian. The government blundered further by hiding behind law and order procedures and claiming that it was the Delhi Police Commissioner who decided to order the arrest. This made the government look like a wimp. The last straw of course was when Anna was sent to Tihar. This is when the government completely lost any moral authority it had on the subject. It was deluged under a sea of criticism that followed. From this point on, though it made quick amends, capitulation was inevitable. The mighty sovereign government had been brought to its knees by Anna and his followers.

The government’s missteps made it vulnerable to pressure. The day Anna was arrested; I had written that it made me worried. The government would now be too weak kneed to hold on to some of its legitimate concerns about Anna’s Bill. That’s what happened yesterday. The government had to bow down to even the unjust demands of lacs of Anna’s supporters. But “lacs” is a relatively small number in a country where the size of the electorate is more than 700 lacs. The surrender raised several worrying questions: By capitulating, is it the government’s point that the views of Team Anna were more important than the views of the much larger electorate? Have the MPs who represent the electorate even gone back to the people seeking their views? Why couldn’t the government at least hold firm that the standing committee would debate and recommend changes? And that Parliament would be the final authority?  Why did it allow letting Parliament get hijacked in this manner? Maybe it should have dissolved Parliament and gone back to the people on this subject. Did it choose to rule rather than choose to go back to the people?

Almost everyone agrees that Anna’s Bill has several flaws. It’s not relevant any longer to list down what these flaws are. What is relevant is to ask whether these have been resolved through a meaningful debate or not.  The answer is obvious. There have been no discussions in Parliament. Nor in the standing committee. Nor have views of informed people been taken. Nor have other political parties been officially consulted. Nor have any of the established Parliamentary procedures been followed. A government that lost its credibility because of its own blunders has now compromised on Parliamentary democracy itself.

I must admit here that Team Anna played a masterstroke last night. On the one hand, they made sure that the Bill would not be presented to the standing committee, where the Bill could have faced criticism outside the glare of cameras (standing committee meetings are held in private). After all, we know that almost all political parties have problems with Anna’s Bill. It’s only in a private standing committee meeting that they could have expressed their views in a nonpartisan manner. On the other hand, as part of the deal, Anna’s team has forced the UPA to agree to actually support the Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament. How could the government agree to this condition? With the UPA in a majority, the Bill will now surely be passed. The government has been blackmailed into supporting a Bill that it does not intrinsically agree with. Surely at the very minimum, Parliamentary propriety could have been protected and genuine discussion and voting insisted upon? Surely Parliament could have decided whether the Bill should become law or not? Now, the debate in Parliament will happen, but it will be a mere formality as the decision to pass the Bill in an “as is” condition has already been taken. What kind of a debate can be expected under such conditions? Why would any MP or party want to take a contrarion position (on camera) on some points of the Jan Lokpal Bill knowing that in any case the decision has already been taken by the ruling government? Why would that person/party want to risk being branded “pro corruption” by civil society? Clearly now ….a) the many flaws of the Jan Lokpal Bill will find their way into the Lokpal Act and b) the flawed Bill will be passed by an overwhelming majority in Parliament with each party trying to outdo the other in claiming proximity to Anna. In the parlance of chess, Team Anna successfully checkmated the government.

In all this, the central government has come out as being spineless. It has failed to protect Parliamentary procedures. It has failed to listen to the divergent viewpoints that exist on the subject. By presenting the Bill directly in Parliament, it has given no opportunity for people with alternate viewpoints to interact with lawmakers. By settling for a “deal” with Team Anna, it has surrendered to blackmail. It appears Anna’s “my way or highway” approach has worked. Rule of Law has been sacrificed. Agreed Anna was hugely popular, but where is the evidence that he represented the majority view of the country? In fact, Anna showed huge disdain for Parliamentary democracy itself. None of his team members even wanted to contest elections. If they were so sure about their following nationally, why couldn’t they come to Parliament by contesting and winning an election? The government may try and justify this capitulation as a “majboori” to break the logjam or even as “statesmanship”, but the truth is that it is nothing but a sign of spinelessness.

What are the long term fallouts for the country’s democratic polity? Essentially now, how do we know that the same methods will not be used again in the future? In fact, it can be safely said that the same methods will be used again and by Anna himself. He has already made his plans clear. From electoral reforms to land acquisition policy to black money to farmer rights to maybe even economic, defence and foreign policies, Anna will pronounce his views and then use the same methods against Parliament’s will again and again. Having lost the game once, the government will keep losing the game again and again. And why only Anna, every single activist will now be motivated to follow the same method. And who will decide whether each such movement should become a national campaign or not? The media. It is the media that made the Anna movement so in-your-face. If the media decides to back another activist in the future; that movement will succeed. If it decides it is not the right movement for the country, the movement will fail. Parliament has no role left in policy making. It is media and small sections of civil society that will run this country…..

The real truth is that Team Anna has unfairly and undemocratically – by threat of a fast-unto-death – pushed its version of the Lokpal Bill down the throats of the people of this country. From being victims of the government’s aggression, Team Anna has now become aggressors. Parliament has been compromised. I am sorry, but I cannot support a Bill that has been passed in this manner…..

Monday, August 22, 2011

Point of satiety in Anna’s movement reached…’s the time to stop

In economics, the point of satiety is defined as the point when the marginal utility of any activity is zero. From this point on, the marginal utility actually turns negative. Expressed differently, the point of satiety reflects that point when the Total Utility has been maximized. From here on, the Total Utility actually reduces. Every extra effort leads to negative returns. Applying this analogy to Anna’s movement, the signs increasing emanating from diverse spheres indicate that the point of satiety has been reached in the struggle against corruption. If he continues any more, the country will lose, rather than gain. Here’s why….

Anna has already achieved his main goal. That a suitable and strong Lokpal Bill – which has been hanging fire for 41 years now – be passed without any more delays. Anna’s efforts, his determination, and his fast-unto-death have made sure that no politician plays any more hanky panky tricks to delay the Bill. Whether it is in this session or the next, the Lokpal Bill is set to become a reality. But now that the goal has more or less been fulfilled, many are questioning the continuation of the agitation. Many erstwhile supporters of Anna are starting to question the stubbornness of Team Anna in the face of several conciliatory sounds being made by the government. Many are also questioning it’s own arrogance now. Initially, the tide was against the political class, but slowly and gradually, the tide appears to be turning against Team Anna now. If Anna had good advisors, they would advise him to stop his fast now. Timing is everything…..and the timing appears to be perfect now.

Anna’s movement has dented the credibility of the entire political class. The first to be burnt in Anna’s fire was of course the Congress. Anna’s movement struck at the very foundation of the Congress – and even the upright, personally clean PM. A series of blunders by the Congress starting 15th August led to Anna calling his movement the 2nd freedom struggle – a catchphrase that picked up some currency in the next few days. Clearly, Congress had made a serious political blunder to arrest an unarmed, gentle and old 74 year old man. Once that blunder was made, there was no way the party could prevent the outrage against it. Since then however, the party has made amends. It has toned down its rhetoric against Anna…..calling him a hero actually; questioning only his inflexibility. The PM in his own mildmannered style has made some more positive statements about bringing out a strong Lokpal Bill. There is some indication that the party may agree to include the PM under the Lokpal. If Anna wanted reassurance from the Congress that it was serious about the Bill, it was there in abundance.

The next to be singed by Anna’s campaign was the BJP. The party has been thoroughly exposed. It has finally been forced to come clean and tell the nation where it stands on the three most important points of difference between the government and Anna – and in all three cases, the party’s stand is against Anna and similar to the government’s. One wonders why then the party was pretending to be against the government’s stand at all. The BJP wants to include the PM under the Lokpal, but it wants to leave out foreign affairs, national security etc – way different from what suits Team Anna. It also wants to leave the judiciary out. And it also wants to keep the conduct of MPs inside Parliament out of the purview of the Lokpal. So far, the BJP preferred only to talk about the inclusion of the PM, because it was more aligned with Anna’s version than with the government’s. So far, the party successfully ducked questions on the other points, saying instead that the discussion should happen in Parliament. It’s strategy appeared to be to isolate the Congress not for its difference with Anna, but for its rough handling of his arrest. Well, it worked for a while but now the truth is starting to come out. Today, there is nothing much left for the BJP in Anna’s struggle. Two things must hurt the BJP a lot. One, Anna’s supporters yesterday gheraod BJP leaders in addition to the Congress ministers. And second, the magazine “Governance” put out an ad on TV taunting the BJP for losing the position of the main opposition party to Anna!

But increasingly now, it is Team Anna which is starting to get burnt by its own agitation. There is a fair and growing degree of criticism the movement is facing for its inflexible attitude. Every single TV channel (with the exception of one – no prizes for guessing which!), every single newspaper, every single blog, every single expert is saying that while they support Anna, the Jan Lokpal Bill has its own weaknesses and those need to be debated. The threat of August 30th isn’t reasonable. Team Anna’s lack of trust in constitutional bodies like the Parliament and the standing committee is making the movement look dictatorial. Some of Team Anna’s members are sounding too rude; this list includes the old hands; Kejriwal, Bedi and Prashant Bhushan; it also includes several new faces like emerging on TV – the typical English speaking upper middle class Delhi-Bombay types.

The movement is also getting questioned for the support from questionable quarters – after all, how helpful is support from the film industry when it has so much to hide and explain about the black money that exists within it. There also appears to be some splitting of ranks in Team Anna. I was surprised to see Mallika Sarabhai do a volte face – a few days back; she was leading the agitation for India Against Corruption in Thiruvanantapuram. Last night on TV, she said that she was worried about the fact that most of Anna’s supporters indulge in bribe giving themselves! And that Team Anna should think about it! Justice Hegde has been saying “in his personal capacity” that there is need for a flexible attitude. And what about Anna himself? Anna is now apparently happy to negotiate with Rahul Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi? Why Rahul Gandhi? When I mentioned a few days back that it was time for RG to take over the Congress, many of Anna’s supporters ridiculed my idea. Now what will they say when their boss himself is happy to negotiate with him?!

If the political class is united against specific points in the Jan Lokpal Bill, the intelligentsia in the country is united against the methods being adopted. The intelligentsia is speaking in one voice – that Anna is up to dadagiri and it must stop. Most reject the comparison with Gandhi’s fasts-unto-death against the British. Most reject the gheraoing strategy that Anna’s team adopted yesterday. Most feel that asking the government to come to Ramlila grounds to negotiate with Anna is being unreasonable…..after all, there is something called the dignity of the government. Anna has already made his point – he brought the political class to its knees. But enough is enough. Senior corporate leaders including those with unquestionable credentials like Nandan Nilekani, Rahul Bajaj and Harsh Mariwala, senior lawyers like Harish Salve, Iqbal Chagla, Ashok Desai and Ram Jethmalani, senior ex-bureaucrats like Bimal Jalan, JM Lyngdoh and TSR Subramaniam, senior journalists like Shobhaa De, Kumar Ketkar, Rajdeep Sardesai, Yogendra Yadav…. and so many others are all saying that Anna is being too stubborn. Everyone agrees that while there is a role for protests; while there is a role for brinkmanship also; there is no role for cynicism in a public movement. Also, most people worry with the slant of the Anna movement – if it’s against ALL politicians, then who should rule the country? Are we suggesting we abandon our democracy itself?

There is also a little bit of surprise sympathy emerging for the police force. The cops in Delhi have been showing extreme restraint. In fact, some press stories have indicated that there is some hooliganism being seen in the crowds at Ramlila grounds. The crowds are largely male…..partly because of the general lawlessness against women in Delhi, but partly also because of the conduct of some of Anna’s young supporters. There are stories of bikers going around without helmets (yesterday’s TV report) and breaking the law. When grilled on this, Team Anna takes a bogus stance – arrest these hooligans, they say knowing fully well that if the police as much as touched these people, they would be blamed for high-handedness!

It’s not as if Team Anna doesn’t realize that their support is waning. They have been saying that they are ready for talks. Almost everyone is complaining that the government is not making any overtures. There is almost a plea in their voice. Please send someone to talk. We want to talk too. And yet, there are some extreme hardline elements who want to push further. These are the ones who must be removed from the dialogue now. It’s time for Justice Hegde to take a more active part; and for Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi to step aside. Just like it was time for Manish Tewari, Kapil Sibal and Chidambaram to step aside a few days back.

In the end, I want to compliment the effort made by Rajdeep Sardesai and CNN-IBN in recommending a solution. No matter how flawed or unworkable the solution may be, what mattered to me was that he made a serious effort to play a constructive role; unlike some in the media who want the trouble to continue longer in search of higher TRPs.

The real truth is that the point of satiety in this movement has been reached. The tide is turning against Team Anna now. It has to give up its stubbornness. I sincerely hope that that that happens before Anna’s health starts to deteriorate. Anna has to break his fast and bring the movement to a close. I must repeat what I said earlier – if anything happens to Anna, then Team Anna and India Against Corruption alone will be responsible. That cannot be the responsibility of the political class.