A lot has happened since April, when Anna sat on his first fast-unto-death. At that time, the nation was ill-informed about the specifics of Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill, even though most people supported Anna’s general fight. Today, after many debates in public and in media, many people are starting to form opinions on the specifics of Anna’s Bill. Today, support for Anna is calibrated. There is a section of the masses that still supports Anna but there is also a different section that would prefer a more calibrated approach. For any civil society movement, it is important to take stock of the situation every now and then, and now looks like a good time to do so.
Here’s why I think Anna must not go ahead with his August 16th fast-unto-death:
Pure blackmail: Most people I have spoken to including ordinary people as well as the intelligentsia are clearly of the view that there is a hint of blackmail in Anna’s approach. Most people still feel that his cause his right. Most people appreciate his commitment. Most would attend a rally if he organized one. Most believe that the government has been slow and grudging in its acceptance of Anna’s points. But at the same time, most also believe that fasting-unto-death is an illegitimate method of protesting. The purpose of a fast-unto-death should be to bring important issues to the mainstream; to everyone’s consciousness. That’s already happened. The Lokpal Bill is the most important piece of legislation in Parliament today. It’s been introduced in Parliament in time as committed by the government to Anna’s team. It’s being taken up by the Standing Committee on a priority basis. It is entirely likely that the Bill may well be passed in this session itself. Clearly, the Parliament’s attention has been drawn. Clearly, this time the Bill is likely to be passed. The 40 year-old battle is coming to an end. Between April and August, there has been a tremendous amount of progress that the movement has brought about in the government – from being an unwilling and disinterested one to one that has introduced the Bill in Parliament (it doesn’t matter if it has done it willingly or grudgingly).
Many of Anna’s demands are wrong: Now the lay public may not understand these points. Or may not want to. This is where they must get off and let the better-informed do their job. I am not talking about Parliamentarians – against whom Anna seems to have personal bitterness. I am talking about sane legal voices like Harish Salve and Soli Sorabjee, judicial voices like Justice Venkatchalliah, media voices like Vir Sanghvi and now apparently, even thought leaders like Swami Agnivesh. Most people agree that the judiciary should not be brought under the Lokpal. The real reason for this is that everyone is scared that the Lokpal would become one gargantuan bully. The Indian Constitution believes in checks and balances and one of the key tools of doing that is to keep the judiciary totally free from any influences. Or supervisions. None of the political parties also wants the judiciary included. Now unless Anna’s allegation is that the political class and the judiciary are scratching each others backs, he would be considered too cynical. Likewise, the inclusion of the lower rungs of bureaucracy draws a mixed response. Many naysayers feel that it will make the Lokpal bloated and will lead to corruption within the Lokpal itself. Further, if all government employees were included, then there is no way that the time commitments as proposed in both versions of the Bill (investigation within 6 months; trial within a year) will be met. Do we want Lokpal cases to drag on for decades? Remember, it is not the judiciary’s wish that they take years to settle cases; it just has got so badly inundated with cases, that it is unable to deliver justice faster. We don’t want the same to happen to the Lokpal. The essence of the Lokpal Bill is that the superior positions must be rid of corruption. They are the people who use their authority to block corruption cases against them. That’s already been conceded by the government. And this will surely have a trickle down beneficial effect on the lower levels – if the seniors are not corrupt, the juniors will be automatically forced to correct themselves. Everyone knows that there is so much corruption in lower levels of police only because their seniors are on the take too. Once the senior cops are cleaned up, the lower ones will be cleaned up automatically. When it comes to including the PM, I personally think he/she should be included under the Lokpal. But the opinion even on this point is divided. The BJP is making much noise on this point, but even they believe that sensitive issues handled by the PM must not be included under the Lokpal. Further, in states where the BJP has ruled for long, either the BJP has not even introduced the Lok Ayukta Bill (Gujarat) or not bothered to cover the CM (
Bihar). So they are the last ones that Anna should listen to. Many in the intelligentsia also feel the PM must not be included. Frankly, I feel the standing committee should discuss this and take a final view after considering all points of views. It’s not the biggest issue really since – as I have written in the past – most fears of Anna’s teams are unfounded. A Bofors scandal can be investigated by the Lokpal (it comes under the Defence Minister who is covered). Even the worries about the conduct of MPs inside Parliament are ill founded. A cash-for-vote scam can be investigated by the Lokpal since the plot was hatched outside Parliament. So net net, most people feel that there are enough successes that Anna’s team has already achieved and people are now saying: enough is enough. Anna’s team should recalibrate its definition off success. They have already achieved most of what they wanted.
Lokpal by itself is not the solution: Most people – including members of Anna’s team – concede that the Lokpal Bill is only one step in removing corruption. In a larger battle against corruption, one cannot afford to get stuck on any one single struggle. There will be another time to correct the errors of the Lokpal Bill that is enacted today. That’s why there are so many amendments made to existing laws. Anna’s team should now focus on other issues – the root causes as it were – of corruption. The first issue should be the electoral process. There is need to have stricter eligibility criteria for candidates. There is need to be able to recall MPs if people are unhappy with their performance. There is need for cleaner funding of elections. Then there is the issue of correcting the laws that lead to corruption. The Mining Act is one such. Experts agree that there is corruption everywhere there is mining. Other laws also need to be cleaned up. Then there is the view that the government must shed much of its discretionary powers. There is need for another battle there. Maybe the size of the government should reduce. The lesser the interface with government, the lesser the corruption. I personally also feel there is need to overhaul the salary structure of our MPs and bureaucrats. If we need the best people to work for the government, then we must pay them adequately well so as to attract the best. I am not talking of paying private sector salaries; but should they not be at least half decent?
The real truth is that Anna’s own behavior should never become undemocratic. He must learn from Gandhi. Even Gandhi had to negotiate with the British and concede when they thrust the partition of
on him. He must learn another thing from Gandhi. Gandhi spoke to his own people first to correct the many mistakes in them. Anna should likewise speak to his people to remove corruption from their own lives. Today, one can safely assume that most of his followers – if not all – are corrupt in one way or another. Most avoid paying taxes that are due. Most pay bribes under the excuse that their work would never get done otherwise. Most are willing to cut corners to gain favors. Lastly, there is this concept of knowing when to end a fight….that Anna needs to learn. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a good team to guide him here. Maybe he should listen to others….. India