Friday, December 30, 2011

Only two reasons why Anna failed in Mumbai…..

Since everyone seems to be writing about this topic, I think I should write one too! Different writers have given different reasons for the movement failing to draw the crowds in Mumbai. In my view, there are only two reasons for what happened. And given the serious nature of these reasons, I doubt if Anna’s movement can recover at all. Unless of course Anna makes a serious effort to correct what is wrong.

The first major reason why Anna’s Mumbai movement failed is that his movement has become totally political. Unquestionably, absolutely political. Worse, while everyone knows it has become political (and honeslty there is nothing wrong with that), Team Anna has constantly mislead (I find the word “lie” more appropriate but I will refrain from using that word for now) the nation into believing that it has not. Forget what Digvijay Singh accuses Anna of. Just look at the facts and decide for yourself.

Like frenzied illiterates, Anna’s team members have decided that the job of passing the Bill in Parliament is solely the Congress’s responsibility. So what if they don’t have enough numbers in the Rajya Sabha? If they don’t have the numbers, they should somehow get the opposition parties on board, “somehow” being the operative word. And if getting the opposition on board means sacrificing some key demands of Anna himself, then that’s too bad. That would mean that the Congress didn’t try hard enough and actually didn’t want to pass the bill in the first place! Basically, what Team Anna wishes is that the Congress should find some sort of a cocktail of intoxicants it can give to the opposition so that they become honest and start supporting the bill. And while they are at it, maybe they should also consume the intoxicant themselves so that they lose their mental capabilities to question the draconian provisions of Anna’s Bill. It is this kind of logic that convinced people that Anna himself was more interested in attacking the Congress than in passing the Lokpal Bill.

Then when he failed to accuse the BJP of doing a u-turn on the Lok Ayukta issue, it convinced people even more than Anna was a mere sidekick of the BJP. It would have taken the Congress two minutes to jettison the Lok Ayukta provision. But they resisted it as much as they could. In the Lok Sabha, they made it optional – but for states that opted to have a Lok Ayukta, the State Act would have to be the same as the one passed in the Lok Sabha. That’s why the BJP didn’t like even this provision (nor did Mamata – but that was just a bonus for the BJP). They wanted the clause totally dropped. They wanted that the states should be totally free to draft their own laws from scratch – perhaps so that their states could make laws that were more palatable to them. Anna should have figured all this out – surrounded as he was with so many Magsaysay award winners and the like, right? But no…..Anna was forever forgiving of the BJP.

I think Kejriwal’s campaigning against the Congress in Hisar and Anna’s threat to campaign against the Congress in the five states where elections are coming up made all Congress supporters anti-Anna (while still being concerned about the issue of corruption). Remember the Congress is the biggest party in the country. In the 2009 elections, it got close to 29% of the votes – almost 10% more than what the BJP got (it got 19% or so). Most of these supporters have been traditional Congress supporters (even in 1999, Congress had got 29% votes). They felt really cheated. Why would Anna support corrupt opposition candidates? After all, corruption wasn’t the preserve of the Congress alone. Mayawati has recently sacked 17 of her ministers – many on charges of corruption – but Anna is likely to support her in the UP elections (directly or indirectly)? That’s bizarre.

So irrespective of Digvijay Singh’s allegations, it is clear that Anna is anti-Congress and pro-BJP.

The second big reason for Anna’s movement failing is that Anna’s team and Anna himself had become too arrogant. And too clever by half. They were openly threatening the duly elected government of the day as if it were a foreign government; claiming that only their version of the bill be passed – with every comma, every full stop intact. They were misleading the public. They said that their bill had undergone 14 amendments – but all those changes were at their own level right? How do we know what feedback from the public they took or what international reports they considered? Public life is all about being open and transparent; Anna was as opaque as possible. Parliament saw only the final copy of the bill. NCPRI had a different view on the Bill. Many other organizations had a different view. Most intelligentsia did not agree with the Bill. But no….as far as Anna was concerned; his team was the most intelligent team in the world. No….make that “only” intelligent team. All the others were nutcases who were either corrupt or supporters of corruption. This arrogance was too much for most people. Those who had the guts to speak against Anna spoke. Those who didn’t slinked away.

Anna’s arrogance then escalated to a different plane entirely. He became the last word on all things – politics, social reforms, prohibition, 2G scam, Kashmir, Manipur, Mining, industrialization – everything. He was happy to recommend coersive methods against those who consumed liquor. He was happy to “belt” them if they didn’t give up drinking. Anna propounded prohibition all across the country, forgetting that this is a modern, 21st century nation that he is grappling with. All the youth who come to his rallies got pissed off. Take his views on “banjh” women – spoken unintentionally of course – but the deep inner value systems come out in moments when the guard is down. Then justifying the slap on Sharad Pawar – when many like this author who are staunch opponents of Anna’s methods had also criticized a similar attack on Anna’s team mate Prashant Bhushan – really was too much. What message was Anna giving to his folks? Then when he made the most outrageous statement that Chidambaram would be in jail if a Lokpal was in place, the game became clear. This is the way the Lokpal would function. That’s why he wanted suo-motu powers. On personal bias and gut, he would investigate Chidambaram, prosecute him and even pronounce him guilty. After that, Chidambaram could go to the High Court as a guilty person in appeal and wait for five-ten years for relief. Shekhar Gupta called this akin to what happens in North Korea.

Then the nautanki act of Kiran Bedi which wasn’t slammed by Anna. Why would he slam her? He also believed that all parliamentarian (or most) were corrupt. They were nincompoops. For Anna, the only social workers were the ones who supported him. The rest were all thugs. The preamble to the Constitution was also twisted to suit his convenience – “we the people” became superior to those we elected. It was hinted that the MPs we elected should listen to Anna and his team. Anna was the fountainhead of wisdom and people’s opinions!

Rather than having the humility that his popularity demanded of him, Anna became arrogant. He started hectoring people. After August, he was losing more people every day than gaining. But he was blinded – he could hardly see what was happening. He was backing the wrong people. Politicians sidestep controversies by removing those who have been targeted. But Anna kept up his support for Kejriwal, Bedi and Bhushan – all of whom had failed to disclose the many skeletons they had in their cupboards. Anna was happy to be partisan – forgiving his team’s sins while preaching morals to the politicians.

Let’s be honest. There are many reasons for corruption to exist in India. It’s beyond the intellectual capacity of Anna’s team to comprehend all of them. What Anna failed to recognize was that what he had started was a good thing. The Lokpal would be one of the tools in the fight against corruption. He should have focused on that and left others to think of the other tools. For eg., a small sized government would lead to less corruption. Use of technology – automation, digitalization for instance – would reduce corruption. Lower taxes lead to lower corruption. Paying bureaucrats higher salaries would lead to lower corruption and attracting better people. But as far as Anna was concerned, he wanted to be the one and only person who could solve the corruption problem and the one and only one solution was the Lokpal.

It’s really sad that we didn’t get the Lokpal Bill yesterday. We should have got it. Even a usually strongly pro-Anna person like Chetan Bhagat has given the Lokpal 7 out of 10. But Anna has been so blinded by his anti-Congressism that he cannot appreciate this. The BJP is a party with no ideals (remember the flip that the party did on FDI in retail?) – it merrily fooled Anna into thinking that it was a poor bill. Rather than fasting outside Sonia Gandhi’s house, Anna would be advised to do so outside Jaitley and Advani’s houses.

The real truth is that India may yet again miss the Lokpal date. If it happens, Anna himself will be at least partially responsible. By failing to put pressure on the BJP; by failing to realize that legislation in India moves in fits and starts; by failing to be pragmatic; by letting his movement become political. He was the original architect of the Lokpal movement. I hope and pray that he regains that position…..

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Politicians conspire to scuttle the Lokpal Bill…..what now????

For millions of people waiting for Parliament to pass the Lokpal Bill – in whichever form possible – what transpired late last night was utter disappointment and anger. The entire political class conspired not in support of a “strong” Lokpal Bill like they claimed, but in the rejection of even a so called “weak” bill. Not one party – most of all the NDA – was keen on passing the Bill. And as I had predicted a few days back, all the major parties that go to the polls in February have now earned talking points.

The commonest thing to do would be to blame the government for the logjam. But the fact is that they simply didn’t have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha. One can argue that they didn’t bend enough to accommodate all views. That they could not “control” their own ally, the TMC. Etc etc. But that would be being a little unfair to them. Yes, towards the end, they didn’t want the vote in the Rajya Sabha, but even if they had had the vote and the Bill had been defeated, the country would have not had a Lokpal. In the end, everyone knew that pure politics was being played out….nothing else mattered. It’s alright for the BJP to blame the Congress and call it “murder of democracy” or “fraud on the Parliament” – but honestly, they have their own brinkmanship to blame as well. If the BJP was that serious about the Lokpal, they should have passed this so called weak bill, and insisted on its improvement later.

Weak bill for the BJP, but it surely made progress over the present system. For the first time (after 42 years or so), a formal anti-corruption ombudsman was being set up. For the first time, constitutional status was sought to be given to this institution. For the first time, all MPs and Ministers could be prosecuted without any permissions being required from the relevant authorities. For the first time, confiscation of property and assets of the accused even before he/she was convicted was being introduced. For the first time, all states were being mandated to have Lok Ayuktas. For the first time, all categories of government servants were being covered either directly or indirectly under the Lokpal. Sure, the bill was a progress. Maybe that’s why all politicians wanted it scuttled!

The BJP has many questions to answer to the public – and to Anna. What is the reason for their u-turn on the Lok Ayukta issue when they appeared to be aggressive votaries of the issue and supporters of the Sense of the House Resolution which specifically mentioned setting up Lok Ayuktas as part of the Central act? What about the controversy around Article 252 and 253 – they raised the issue that states could not be given an “option” under Article 253 – forgetting conveniently that the The Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 was also set up under 253 (it had simultaneous provisions of setting up State Human Rights Commissions along with the National Human Rights Commission) and till date, many states have still not set up their State HRCs (including Uttarakhand which is run by the BJP). Even on the Lokpal selection issue, the Congress pointed out that when the NDA government had made the Lokpal Bill during its tenure, the selection committee was even more heavily skewed towards the ruling dispensation. And that the selection panel in all such appointments gives the ruling government a “slight” advantage. Why, the selection of the CAG is done purely by the PM – and yet we have seen that the CAG has become a thorn in the flesh for this government. So while the BJP claimed high ground at the end of the session, it really has a lot to answer itself. Yes, it was ready for a vote in the Rajya Sabha but that willingness is more indicative of the numerical superiority of the opposition in the Upper House.

The TMC is the party that really needs to do soul searching. I can appreciate that they had concerns on the Lok Ayukta. But surely they could have raised the issue in the Cabinet? They could have raised the issue in the Lok Sabha so that the Bill that was passed by that House carried the amendment the way the TMC wanted? For them change their stance in the Rajya Sabha – where its ally the Congress is numerically weak – is opening them to being branded disloyal.

None of the other parties ever wanted the Lokpal Bill passed in any form or shape. It was only that they had no way to block it in the Lok Sabha where the UPA was in a majority. They had their chance in the Rajya Sabha and they did what it took to block it. They were happy to gang up together – all of course under the garb of demanding a “strong” Lokpal. Strong my foot – they were not even ready for the so called weak Lokpal that the Lok Sabha had passed.

What should the Congress have done? By agreeing to delink Lok Ayuktas partially first and fully later (not even mentioning it in the Bill) from the Lokpal, they were already on the wrong side of Anna. Should they have dropped the minority clause? That would have upset the SP, BSP, RJD, LJP, the Left and many other parties. The Bill would still not have gone through. Should they have put the CBI’s investigation wing under the Lokpal? Well no one wanted that without conditions. The BJP wanted it but also wanted removing the Prosecution wing from under the Lokpal. No other party wanted the CBI to report to the Lokpal. All of them wanted an “autonomous” CBI – whatever that means. I thought There was just nothing possible at all…..

The blame game will surely begin. The truth is that the opposition was jittery because the Congress had passed the bill in the Lok Sabha. What if the Bill was passed – in whatever shape – in the Rajya Sabha also? No one wanted that. They were willing to forget their ideologies and gang together to protect their back sides. There is no truth in Arun Jaitley saying “The government has lost the moral authority”. Well if he is saying this on the back of their minority strength in the Rajya Sabha, then they never had the moral authority. By that logic, the Democrats also don’t have the moral right to have their President in the US– they don’t have a majority in the House of Representatives. This is just histrionics and should be deleted in any analysis of the issue.

What happens next? What should Team Anna do? In my mind, they have two options. One is to join electoral politics, set up a party, get elected and then clean the system from the inside. Maybe they can park the Lokpal issue on the side for a moment and focus on changing the electoral system instead. Alternatively, if they still want to retain popular support, they must get fiercely apolitical. They must complain against all politicians, including the BJP, not just the Congress. This is the fatal mistake they have already made. A good leader knows when to pull back – and start afresh. It’s time Anna did that.

What should the Congress and the BJP do? I think the two parties need to both rise above petty politics. They just need to find some common ground. I wouldn’t allow the CBI to be under the Lokpal if prosecution also was under it. But I would be happy to remove quotas. I also feel minorities needn’t be brought in since we don’t allow for religion based reservations. The BJP shouldn’t insist on the selection and sacking procedure of the Lokpal. A compromise has already been reached on most other points. Without the pressure of a deadline – and with the UP elections out of the way by March – the two parties can show the way.

What about the timing? The best hope is for the Bill to be re-discussed in both houses in the monsoon session (if possible it could be discussed after the Budget is passed in the budget session). The budget session is in any case likely to be delayed on account of the UP and other state elections. The priority in the budget session is the budget. That should be dealt with first so that we do not have a financial emergency. Once that’s out of the way, the Lokpal Bill should be discussed. In the interim, everyone needs to work towards a new bill.

What is my worry? My worry is that since fundamentally the politicians don’t want the Lokpal to be passed, there will always be opposition. Since both the Congress and the BJP have allies who don’t want the Lokpal, progress could get sticky.

The real truth is that no politician ever wanted the Lokpal Bill passed. It’s nothing about how strong or weak the bill was. Even the weakest bill would be stronger than the present scenario. But this doesn’t mean that Team Anna was right. Their bill has been rejected by one and all (including their favority party – the BJP). Maybe they should join politics formally. We cannot live without democracy. We need change from inside…..not outside…..

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Anna, the only party working to pass the Lokpal is the Congress…..

If you weren’t so overtaken by your bias against the Congress Anna, you would have noticed this fact. Your favorite party BJP – the one that always supports you in public but often stabs you in the back and whose games you are unable to see Anna – is the one that has a historical opportunity in its hands to give the country the much delayed Lokpal, but again it’s likely to do what it does best – play opportunistic politics. What’s surprising to me Anna is that you are putting absolutely zero pressure on them. It appears to me Anna that your goal was always only attacking the Congress, not passing the Lokpal. If this is the case Anna, you alone will be credited for bringing the corruption issue to the front burner but also held responsible for the country not getting the Lokpal now.

Maybe in your opposition to the Congress, you failed to notice Anna that it is the BJP that has done an absolute U-turn on one of your core issues that was captured in the Sense of the House Resolution: The setting up of Lok Ayuktas in the states alongwith the Lokpal as part of one single Central Act. All along, in public and on TV, the BJP supported this clause. They said the same thing from the stage on which a farce of a debate was conducted at Jantar Mantar recently. One of their staunchest allies – the JD (U) said in fact that they would honor every full stop, every comma of the Resolution. And see what they did in the Lok Sabha? Citing flimsy grounds of constitutional problems – grounds that were challenged by the Government – the BJP demanded and forced the removal of this clause. But have you complained even once Anna? No.

You have not expressed your views on whether you believe that maximum corruption happens in the states (both Congress and BJP ruled). Nor that more citizen’s grievances exist in the states. Yet, you appear to be alright if there is no Lok Ayukta instituted in the states as part of the Central Act. You are so worried about citizen’s grievances, but with no Lok Ayukta in a state, how will your citizen’s grievance redressal mechanism work? You seem to have conveniently ignored this major watering down of your “demand”.

Maybe you have also missed the fine print in the support that the BJP has given you on the issue of the CBI reporting to the Lokpal. Yes, the BJP claims that it supports you on this. But in reality all they are demanding is “autonomy” for the Lokpal. Today’s TOI says that no party except the BSP wants the CBI under the Lokpal. By your simple yardstick, you should love the BSP. Have you also missed the point Anna that the BJP wants to strip the Lokpal of the powers to prosecute and adjudicate (and I support this)? Imagine this – any amount of evidence you generate with your investigation wing may be found inadequate with a politically motivated prosecutor. What will you do then? You fail to understand that what the BJP is saying is the same as what the Congress is saying – that you cannot have all powers built into the Lokpal. But somehow your fail to appreciate this point.

The BJP also opposed the provisions of Section 24 of the proposed Lokpal. So now even that’s been diluted down. So now, even after they are chargesheeted, MPs (some definitely belonging to the BJP as well) will face no action from the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha till the courts pass the order. On the other hand, you do realize Anna, don’t you, that as per your JLP, ordinary citizens if chargesheeted would have been already handed down a penalty of jail, demotion, salary loss etc by the Lokpal. These ordinary citizens could then go in appeal to the High Courts, but that could take years. But have I heard you speak against this special privilege that the BJP has secured for its ilk? No. Instead, your colleage Arvind Kejriwal has gone on a misinformation campaign saying that 90% of all politicians are out of the grasp of the Lokpal. If this is true, who is responsible? The Congress or the BJP?

Ultimately Anna, the politicians have been wiser than you. By continuously saying that they support a “strong” Lokpal, they have made sure they do not even vote for a “weak” Lokpal. This is ideal for them. They simply don’t want a Lokpal. Some like Laloo are wickedly candid enough to accept it in Parliament. Others – the more wily kinds – just do it without much noise. All politicians are fooling you Anna – and you are not even aware of it. Your team is perhaps hand in gloves with these politicians. Why else would they not see through this so obvious game being played?

Anna, even media – without whose support your movement would not have gathered so much steam – has complained about your anti-Congress credentials. No less than Arnab Goswami – your most avowed supporter – was flummoxed when he asked Kejriwal “five times” about whether he and you held the BJP guilty as well, and all five times, he apparently refused to blame the BJP. Over the last few days, every TV channel has had panelists severely criticizing your movement and the anti-Congress slant it has taken. In fact, one of the main reasons why your movement has fizzled out is that you have made this into a political movement. The signs were there from the beginning Anna when you first praised Modi for development rather than complain about the absence of the Lok Ayukta for nearly eight years. After a small protest against Bihar’s Nitish Kumar, you gave up complaining about the “weak” Lok Ayukta Bill his state passed. Ultimately, it appears that Digvijay Singh was always right in accusing you on being an RSS agent.

Because if you aren’t Anna – and I am sincerely hoping that you are not – then why would you not do a dharna outside the houses of BJP MPs in Delhi today? Because if you did that, the BJP would get the message that the passage of the Lokpal is an important thing for you and the country. That even if they do not like certain clauses in the Bill, they cannot reject it. They can always seek changes a few months later. And if everyone believes the BJP/NDA will come to power in 2014, then that’s even better – they can make it exactly like you want it then. And in the meantime, Sushma Swaraj has already committed that she will get BJP to enact a similar law as you like in all her states.

Surely Anna you realize that if the Rajya Sabha rejects the bill today thanks to the BJP not supporting it, there will be no Lokpal for another few decades? The Feb-March period is fully busy with the budget and with elections in five states. After that, there will be a long break before the monsoon session starts. By that time, the momentum for your movement will all but have gone. Please do get the message that Mumbai has sent you. The people in this financial capital did not support you. Kejriwal is wrong with his bizarre accusation – there are thousands of autos available at Bandra station to ferry people to the MMRDA grounds. The fact is that if people wanted to come, they would have come. But they are a little fed up with this excess dose of fasting they have got; and they are disappointed you are not directing your ire at the BJP now. People in Mumbai are very practical – not politically alert like they are in Delhi. They saw you as an anti-corruption crusader; not as a BJP supporter. Now, they see you as the BJP’s B team; and in this city and state, the BJP is all but dead. You may have noted the results of the elections of the state-wide municipal councils that happened recently – they were swept by the NCP and the Congress. Earlier it was the government who missed the pulse of the people. It was their arrogance, you claimed Anna. Today, today, your people are missing the pulse of the people. Today, it is your team’s that is arrogant Anna.

Forget the Trinamool Congress Anna. At the right time – once the UP elections are over and the Congress gets into a deal with the SP – the TMC will be practically out of the alliance. Or will cease to matter. They deserve it. Time and again, they come in at the last moment to embarrass their partners. Whatever objections they had – why did they not raise them before voting in the Lok Sabha? Why did they support the amendment to the Lok Ayuktas clause then and help pass the Bill? Now if they move a further amendment to that clause, don’t they realize that the Bill will need to go back to the Lok Sabha and that won’t be possible at all for many months?

The real truth Dear Anna is clear. It is only the Congress that is pushing the Lokpal Bill. Agreed you may feel there are infirmities, but which law doesn’t have infirmities? Who says those infirmities cannot be removed in the future? But Anna, you are appearing to be more anti-congress than pro-lokpal. And that’s why people are disappointed. Please salvage this bill Anna. Only you can now. Please call Advani and Jaitley and give them some instructions…..

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

BJP holds the key as History waits to be made…..

Last night was historic in its own way. The Lok Sabha – for the second time in the last 42 years – passed the Lokpal Bill as proposed by the government with amendments introduced in a spirit of give and take. The BJP played spoilsport as expected, but was unable to block a bill whose time has come. The BJP’s poor numbers in the Lok Sabha prevented it from going the whole hog in denying the country the Lokpal. Given its relatively stronger position in the Rajya Sabha however, all eyes will be on it and other members of the NDA. Is it serious about the Bill or has it merely been mouthing pleasantries all along?

Another stunning conspiracy of the BJP came to the fore yesterday. Apparently, the BJP (through its President in his letter to the Government in April) had advised the Government not to engage with Team Anna so as to protect Parliamentary privilege in making laws. Wow. Immediately after writing that letter, and throughout much of the last nine months since then, the party has preferred to pretend to be a shadow of Anna – speaking every word that it did – and taking every position as it did – as if it were Anna’s spokesperson.

The other double-speak of the BJP was of course something that has been known for the last few days – over the subject of setting up Lok Ayuktas as part of the Central Act. Yesterday, the BJP managed to have its way – to delink the setting up of Lok Ayuktas from the Lokpal Bill. To think that this party had all along supported this strong demand of Anna’s – and had agreed to even include it in the Sense of the House Resolution in August – looked unbelievable. So now, the state assembly’s consensus would have to be taken before the Central Act becomes applicable to it. I am pointing out only the BJP here though some of UPA’s own allies also opposed this provision is because it was only the BJP that had claimed a high ground on this point.

Yet another shocker was when the party – along with others – rallied to drop important sections of Clause 24 – which would have compelled the Speaker of the House and the Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha to initiate action against those chargesheeted by the Lokpal. How strange – on the one hand the BJP has been asking for more powers for the Lokpal and when it came to it, they backed out. Frankly I agree with BJP’s view on this point – I believe that the Lokpal should have absolutely zero judicial or quasi judicial powers.

But credit must be given to Parliamentarians for the quality of the debate yesterday. I thought Sushma Swaraj spoke really well as always, focusing on specific objections that her party had with the Bill. Her objections to the Lok Ayuktas being set up under the Lokpal Act (the debate on Sec 253 v/s 252), her objection to the minority quota (in fact, any quota at all), and her objection to the penal provisions of Section 24 were spirited and logical. I thought Kapil Sibal’s rebuttal of Sushma point by point raised the standard several notches and was in line with what we expect in Parliament. Sibal appeared convincing when he cited specifics from the “Concurrent” List which allowed the Central government to enact a law on behalf of the states. After all, we were dealing with corruption, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Criminal Justice system – all of which allow the Central government to enact a common law across the country. He also clarified why Section 253 applied and not 252 since India was duty bound to pass a nation-wide legislation as part of it signing the UN Convention against Corruption (Remember it took India several years to ratify this convention after it signed it in the UN. At that time, the BJP had criticized the UPA for taking so much time to do so). Sibal took the issue of quotas and of minority sub-quotas head-on too. His defence of the CBI remaining under the government was compelling to say the lease; arguing that the Lokpal cannot be totally independent and not reporting to anyone. I have always agreed that in a democratic set-up, all police and army set-ups should report to the Executive – as happens all around the world. There was a lot of politics in Sushma’s and Sibal’s speeches – but that’s alright really.

I thought most other speakers indulged more in diplomacy than actual point-by-point defence of their views. One thing was clear – almost no political party really wanted the Lokpal to come. Had it not been for the Congress’s determination – and Anna’s pressure tactics – to have the bill go through, it would have been dropped in no time. The mood of the house yesterday indicated why the Bill had not seen the light of the day for four decades. Even today, one cannot be sure what happens in the Rajya Sabha.

So what happens now? Will the opposition – led by the BJP – show its collective relative strength v/s the government in the Rajya Sabha? Will the opposition prevent the Bill from seeing the light of the day? The BJP wasn’t able to press several of its amendments in the Lok Sabha given its weaker numbers there; will it now insist that those changes be made in the Rajya Sabha? And if that happens, how will the Congress respond? The Congress appears determined not to part with control over the CBI or with the quotas. But honeslty, apart from these two points, what other pointsof disagreement are left between the two major parties? None that I can think of. Whether the Rajya Sabha passes the Bill or not will depend on whether the BJP is serious about the Lokpal issue – or whether it prefers to play short-gain politics.

One sign that the Bill was the “best possible” one at this stage was the fact that no one felt entirely happy about it. Most politicians didn’t even want the bill to go through in the first place. This indicates that it does have a lot of strength. The BJP still retains a few grouses – enough to give it talking points in the political sphere. The Congress appears to have been forced to yield too much – and may have to go further in the Rajya Sabha. Besides, the Constitutional Amendment that Rahul Gandhi wanted has been defeated. Most other MPs are looking grumpy. Anna must be feeling really bad given the poor support his movement has drawn yesterday in Mumbai. But honestly, I have said this many times – the support for Anna has waned very seriously in the last few months. Anna has also been shown his place in the sun – with Parliament clearly stealing his thunder. At the end of the day, he is merely an activist. Nothing more, nothing less. If he wants to play a stronger role, he has to join electoral politics.

What happened in Parliament was a good debate – what happened on Anna’s stage at Jantar Mantar the other day was a farce. While everyone was upset in parts with the final Bill, everyone agreed that this was a step forward. This is the classic sign of an acceptable bill in a democracy. No one wins the day; and yet everyone yields ground. This is the compromise that I have been talking of for long….and my biggest complaint against Anna. If Anna appears to be the loser today, it’s because of his inflexible and undemocratic attitude.

In spite of the BJP’s several flip-flops, Team Anna refused to criticize the party, furthering the impression that they are hand in gloves with it. One of Anna’s key demands was the setting up of the Lok Ayuktas mandatorily under the Central Act wasn’t it? Why did Anna not complain against the BJP then? Now if this Bill goes through with an option being provided to the states, there will be no pressure on any state government to accept this Bill. Or even set up a Lok Ayukta. Like Justice Verma said: “Even Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, under which National Human Rights Commission was set up came through the Article 253 route. But, because option was given in there, so many states have not set up state human rights commissions till date,” How come Anna didn’t complain about the BJP moving an amendment on Section 24 – a provision that put pressure on Parliamentarians once they had been chargesheeted? Even in the past, as soon as the BJP said that the judiciary should be kept out of the Lokpal, Team Anna dropped the demand. Till then, it kept demanding the judiciary be covered. They stopped talking of phone tapping the day the BJP stopped supporting it. Anna’s looks like a well orchestrated front with the BJP – and that’s why Anna’s movement has lost credibility. Too many people now see it as a Team B of the BJP.

Too much was being made of the defeat suffered by the Congress on the Constitutional amendment that Rahul Gandhi wanted. I personally think all right-thinking parties should have supported the amendment. Giving the Lokpal constitutional status would have made it stronger. It would have made it directly accountable to the Parliament, rather than to the Government. No future government would have been able to play with the Lokpal. However, politics won the day. The BJP doesn’t want any pressure on the states to be forced to enact Lok Ayukta and this was clearly one other sticking point in the amendment. The floor management of the Congress has been criticized as well. In a way, it’s only fair that the Congress suffered a defeat yesterday. In a democracy, the spoils must be shared.

I thought Mani Shankar Aiyer made a good point when he said that all laws go through several changes after they are enacted. Even the Constitution has been amended some 115 times (the proposed Lokpal amendment was the 116th). So also, this Bill will see many changes in the years to come. It’s important this bill gets passed in the Rajya Sabha. It’s a step forward and there is no point in blocking it just because it doesn’t meet everyone’s expectations. In the deeply fragmented political set-up that exists these days, getting consensus is pretty much impossible.

The real truth is that the BJP holds the key to the Lokpal now. If it decides it wants to, it can ensure the creation of the Lokpal bill. If it decides it doesn’t want to, it can simply block the bill under some pretext or another. There is another possibility though. If the SP and the BSP abstain like they did in the Lok Sabha, and if all independents and nominated members vote with the government, the Bill could still be cleared. But if the Rajya Sabha rejects the bill, the country would have missed yet another opportunity of having a Lokpal. If the Bill fails in the Rajya Sabha, I doubt if the government will call for a joint session of both houses – it probably won’t have a majority even in a combined session. I will keep my fingers crossed – and pray that my earlier prediction that the Bill won’t be passed in the Rajya Sabha – is proven wrong…..

Monday, December 26, 2011

Just ignore Anna….

That’s the challenge that his team members are throwing at the Government. Just do it is what I am saying. After all, more than this particular piece of legislation that is sought to be shoved down our throats using coercive methods, it is the precedent that it will set that should concern us all. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that everything about Anna’s movement has gone foul. The methods are foul. The demands are foul. And most importantly, their belief that not a single person in this country is trustworthy is foul.

Just evaluate the four demands from what I just said. Anna believes no one is trustworthy – except of course his chosen ones.

Non-negotiable demand #1: They want CBI to report to them for everything. Now as I have mentioned earlier, I have no problem if the CBI reports to the Lokpal for investigation. But that’s not the end of the Anna’s demand. He also wants the powers to prosecute the accused and he also wants the power to pass judgments against the accused. Anna trusts no one – not the prosecutors, not the judges. In fact, his core team member Shanti Bhushan has gone on record to allege that half the Supreme Court judges are corrupt. Does he need to prove his charge? Heck, no! He is civil society after all! Anything that he says is gospel truth – any attempt to demand an explanation amounts to emasculation of the civil society.

Let me not get personal here. Coming back to the issue, I am completely against vesting all three powers into one institution. The fact that this institution is proposed to be one made up entirely of non-elected members gives me the heebie jeebies. I would rather trust a known devil (the politician) than the deep blue sea (unelected members). I would rather retain the right to punish the politician than surrender it to unelected members who want fixed tenures and a very complicated and difficult process of removal.

Am I exaggerating the point here? No. Team Anna has clarified recently that those who are “proven” guilty by the Lokpal’s judicial arm can go in appeal to the High Court. So the first point of appeal is the High Court. Typically, one goes in appeal to the High Court after a lower court has pronounced a verdict. It may be a lower court or it may be a special body that is quasi-judicial. For instance, appeals against the orders passed by the Copyright Board (a quasi-judicial body) go to the HC. Appeals against any arbitrator’s order in a dispute go to the HC. So one has to agree that the Lokpal has assumed judicial or quasi-judicial powers unto itself. My problem with this is that the High Courts are so burdened with cases that an appeal against the Lokpal’s orders may take years to come up for hearing. Suppose the police were given such powers? Suppose the police charged a person and pronounced a verdict and put the person in jail arbitrarily? This is totally unacceptable. Do read my earlier posts on this subject – the wording of the JLP is very very specific and clear.

Non-negotiable demand #2: Include Group C and D workers directly under the Lokpal: Clearly Anna doesn’t trust the CVC. What does he have to justify this lack of trust in the CVC? Perhaps the recent episode when the “wrong” CVC was attempted to be thrust on the nation. Now no less than Justice Verma has clarified this matter. He said that the only reason Thomas was removed from the CVC’s post was that his credentials were not “impeccable”. They wouldn’t be till Thomas was exonerated in the 20-year old case that was pending against him. He stated emphatically that Thomas had not been proved guilty; nor would he be ineligible for becoming the CVC once his name was cleared. He in fact, accused the media of going overboard and branding him “Tainted Thomas”. He found this to be irresponsible journalism.

Coming back to the issue, there is no way (if I was designing the law) that I would allow Group C and D workers to be put under the Lokpal. Please remember the reason why this debate on the Lokpal started in the first place. The reason was corruption in high places. That’s what the Lokpal should focus on. 100% of its time should be targeted at the few thousand big fish that have the powers to siphon away lacs of crores of public money. But Anna has got caught by the trap of populism. He has become like a politician. He wants to appeal to the aam aadmi like politicians do. Well, if his only aim is to protect the aam aadmi, why is he unhappy with a separate law for for just handling citizen’s grievances? Why is he unhappy with keeping Group C and D officials under the CVC? Is his concern the corruption at lower levels? Or is it that the institution he is helping father won’t be the one able to claim all the powers and the glory? I am dead against including lower rung officialdom under the Lokpal – and I am in fact worried that the politicians will only too happily hand it over to the Lokpal and claim the credit for having a compromising spirit of handling Anna!

Non-negotiable demand #3: Selection of the Lokpal. Anna doesn’t trust the judiciary. That’s why he wants the CJI in the selection panel replaced by the Lokpal. Wow. But it’s not surprising really, given Shanti Bhushan’s views and the brainwashing of Anna’s mind that he must have diligently indulged in. So the CJI is to be assumed to be corrupt too. Then why is Anna proposing to have so many judicial members in his selection committee for shortlisting candidates? I’ll tell you why. Because Anna knows that it is impossible to paint the judiciary as corrupt. People won’t believe that. That’s why he’s ok having judges in the shortlisting committee – so that people don’t accuse him of doubting the judiciary itself. My view: Do not concede the demand. Keep the CJI as the third member of the Lokpal selection committee.

Non-negotiable demand #4: Suo motu powers to investigate corruption. Again, Anna doesn’t believe in the people of this country. He believes that even if people know of corruption, they may not complain to the Lokpal. That’s why he wants the powers to investigate suo-motu. I am sorry I cannot support this. A nominated body, backed by a law created under pressure, simply cannot be given so many powers.

Much glory is being claimed by Team Anna for the jail bharo internet campaign of theirs. Apparently, 1.4 lac people have registered. Firstly, this is a really small number considering it takes 5 seconds to register and there are 100 million internet users in India and many more abroad. Had the number been 20-25 million, I would have agreed that there is a large degree of support. Secondly, even this number is highly inflated. Try this. Try registering twice. Keep all information the same (Name, place, comment). Just register ten times with ten different mobile numbers (even if they are not yours!). You will be registered ten times! This is the commonest trick that organizers play. They verify the registering person based on his/her mobile number – but they have no way of ascertaining if the number is right or wrong…..(Is this not a type of corruption?!)

Every right thinking person is worried about the specific demands made by Anna. Every right thinking person is upset with the pressure tactics being used by Anna. Every right thinking person is concerned with the political nature this movement has assumed. Every right thinking person is disappointed with the uncompromising attitude of Anna that could lead to the Bill not getting passed at all. Every right thinking person is saying: Enough is enough. This is not the only issue concerning the people. There are many other issues that need the attention of the law makers and the government.

The real truth is that the original fight against corruption has been overtaken by the dictatorial attitude and methods of Team Anna. Long back I had written that the movement had turned cancerous. The developments of recent times just prove that. I am all in support of the current Lokpal Bill and demand that Parliament pass it immediately with whatever amendments that get the support of the MPs. I am aware that the Bill may have flaws, but I am prepared to take them up at a later date. Whatever happens, I don’t want Anna – the one who started it all off – to become the reason why this country is deprived of a strong Lokpal Bill any longer….

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Another constitutional authority cautions Team Anna…..

OK it’s not quite a “caution” as the Chief Election Commission (CEC) itself clarified. But it’s still a “hint” that activities of Team Anna when it campaigns for or against parties in the ensuing state elections would be under scrutiny. Two days back, the Bombay High Court – it being another constitutional authority – had passed stinging orders cautioning Team Anna about the way it was going about the business of fasts and putting pressure on Parliament. Why are constitutional authorities becoming impatient with Anna?

Well…..Team Anna has itself to blame for this situation that it finds itself in. After winning the hearts and minds of people, Team Anna has gone overboard. All the adulation and support they got from millions of people has gone to their heads. Individual team members – Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Shanti Bhushan, and Prashant Bhushan – have floundered in terms of their personal credibility. Their language has been foul and in fact vicious, their conduct even more so. I am not sure the “ghoonghat” act of Kiran Bedi at the Ramlila grounds in August this year went down too well with people in the country. The canvassing against the Congress alone in Haryana did not go down well with many traditional Congress supporters – who are concerned about corruption issues just like anyone else is – but who don’t see it as a Congress v/s BJP v/s other parties issue. Corruption is a malaise that has corroded all our institutions, all political parties…..why then should Team Anna have focused its energies against one single party?

The CEC is right. If Team Anna canvasses against the Congress, it cannot do so in a vacuum. It will either directly or indirectly support one or more parties. Since the SP has also criticized several provisions of the Lokpal Bill, it is likely that Team Anna will oppose them as well. And since the BSP is a party notorious for corruption – Mayawati herself has sacked some 7-8 of her ministers in the recent months – Anna cannot be driving the voters towards it. That leaves the BJP and that’s where the problem starts. Most people believe that the BJP has been playing opportunistic politics on the Lokpal issue – forever supporting a single law that prevails over the entire country and that would create both the Lokpal at the Center and the Lok Ayuktas in the states, but complaining about it when the government finally brought that provision in. The BJP also has several other objections to Anna’s draft – they don’t support probes against the conduct of MPs inside Parliament, tapping of phone calls, including the judiciary or even the PM without conditions. And yet, Team Anna is excessively biased towards the BJP. Not one – okay make that very rarely – has Team Anna or Anna himself criticized the BJP. In fact, Anna has been caught with his foot in his mouth when he praised Modi for growth – choosing to ignore the fact that the state has not had a Lok Ayukta for a decade or so. Anna has also been conspicuously silent on the BJP’s mess in Karnataka. And when it does point out the cases of corruption found in lowly Group C and D officials in MP, it directs its energies towards building support for the inclusion of these groups under the Lokpal – not against the BJP in whose rule such incidents arose. Elsewhere, it is the Congress government that they target if something similar happens.

There is the question of legality also that has to be looked at. Essentially, if Team Anna spends money in supporting a particular party, then the spends should be added to the spends the party itself makes. And that is – at least supposedly – tightly controlled. Team Anna may get around this problem by campaigning “againt” a party rather than “for” any party. But then the question of “propriety” comes up. Surely, political spends of a party are directed as much towards eroding a competitor’s political base as towards building support for itself. If Team Anna canvasses against the Congress, surely that would be misconduct of some sorts? That’s what the CEC has pointed out.

In any case, I doubt if Team Anna has the capability or ground-level reach to canvas in five states at the same time. Hisar was one single constituency and even in Hisar, Kejriwal’s campaign against the Congress was driven more by media coverage than by actual people-to-people contact. Media support for Anna’s movement has declined considerably – thanks again to the issues that have bugged constitutional authorities. Media is also wary about the aggressiveness of Team Anna; about its disdain for Parliamentary processes and about it’s holier than thou attitude. The state of UP is another challenge altogether. Its huge size and difficult terrain would make it impossible for Team Anna to make much of a dent there. Without media support, Anna’s campaigning would be a dud in any case.

Anna must step back and look at the signals he is being sent. Every section of society that matters – the judiciary, the CEC, the intelligentsia, the media – all are cautioning Anna about the way the movement is going. No one is supporting corruption; or anyone the government in particular. But they are all upset with the way Team Anna is conducting itself. At times like these, it is important for the leader to step back a bit and look at the larger picture. The larger picture is one of caution. All the good work done by Anna – and no one denies Anna the credit for it – should not go waste because of the obduracy of key people. If for whatever reasons – and this blogger surely believes it is possible – the Lokpal Bill goes the Women’s Reservation Bill way (getting passed in one house; rejected in the other), it will be a terrible waste of a chance. This is where good strategic thinking is required. This is where being practical is required. The larger war cannot be won in one single battle. Sometimes, it is important to settle for less; only to come back with demands for more at a future date. Anna’s roots have been in the army – surely he knows what a strategic retreat means?

The real truth is that the way things are going, all may well be lost. It is for saner minds – definitely not the Kejriwal, Bhushan and Bedi types, nor the Narayanswami, Digvijay Singh or Manish Tiwari types either nor also the Nirmala Seetharaman or Chandan Mitra types – to take over. It is debatable whether the government’s Lokpal Bill is strong enough or not; but it is equally debatable whether the JLP is worth it at all. A decent middle ground has been achieved – and we must hoist the Lokpal flag there…..

The madness bug bites the Congress again…..

At a time when the Congress should have been sitting a little smug over the issue of the Lokpal Bill – now that it has been introduced in Parliament and has become its property – it is displaying signs of having been bitten by the madness bug again. In August also, this bug had stricken the Congress; and the results of that had been devastating for the party. But it looks like the party has not learnt any lessons at all.

Most people agree that the Congress had scored a self goal in August when Manish Tiwari went on TV to call Anna personally corrupt. No one believed him and he was forced to apologize to Anna for this goof up. Further, when the party arrested Anna and sent him to Tihar of all places, it made sure that a huge wave of support rose for him. A few days before the next round of fasting is to start in Mumbai, the Congress appears to be scoring a self goal yet again.

This time around, it is an inane charge that Congress minister Beni Prasad Verma is making – saying Anna had “run away” from the Army – calling him a deserter. As if this were not enough, Digvijay Singh is showing some “proof” that Anna worked with some senior RSS functionary – Nana Deshmukh – in the 1980s – thus painting him as a deceitful BJP/RSS politician. This is ridiculous – any political green horn would know that the consequences of such an attack would be disastrous.

At a time when there is a distinct turn in the tide against the movement, such political stupidities are bound to build support for Anna. The Bombay High Court yesterday gave a stinging order against Anna’s movement – going way beyond passing an order on the particular matter that it was hearing. Today, the Chief Election Commissioner has said that Anna’s movements during the election campaigning in the five states going to the polls in February would be monitored closely. If Anna campaigns against a single party, that would be a violation of the rules. Most MPs have sounded some sort of a cautionary note that Anna’s demands were impossible to meet – and that Parliament’s wisdom would be final. Most journalists are also displaying fatigue in covering the next round of fast – many are also critical of the attitude and the self-righteousness of Anna’s team.

At a time like this, why should Congress issue statements that provoke fringe – and tired – supporters of Anna or those who are getting a little wary – to rally in support of the old man? By calling Anna a deserter from the army – even if it is true – the party is extending an invitation to lay people to come out in support of Anna in huge numbers. Attacking Anna as an RSS agent, the Congress is again provoking many opposition parties to rally around the man. Recent developments have brought politicians together on the Lokpal Bill – but this round of inane statements is bound to give rise to another round of opportunistic support to Anna.

The ability to mobilize large numbers is an art well known to some politicians. For eg. Modi routinely provokes the Hindus in his state to come out and vote activel for him by making it appear that the Muslims have decided to unite against him. One remembers an ad that appeared in the papers a few days before a state election, apparently released by a Muslim organization urging Muslims to vote against the BJP. This was enough for the Hindus to vote for Modi. It is rumored that the ad was probably released by Modi himself! While Modi’s would be called smart politics, what the Congress is doing now would be called stupid politics. By attacking Anna personally at this crucial juncture, the party is helping revive the Anna movement.

Unless – and I am not sure at all if this is the reason – the Congress believes that by “proving” that Anna is part of the RSS/BJP camp, it can deflect the fall-out of Anna’s campaigning against the party in UP. The logic could be that if Anna was seen as an RSS agent, it would provoke the Muslims to vote en-masse against the BJP and hopefully for the Congress. Honestly, this looks like a far fetched possibility.

If the Congress wants the movement to fade away, it has to maintain a certain dignity in the way it handles Anna from this point on. By placing the Lokpal Bill in Parliament, the party has attempted to make it into a Parliament v/s Anna issue rather than a Congress v/s Anna issue as in the past. By giving a discount to Anna for the MMRDA ground rental, the party has presented a friendly face. The Congress has to appear gentle – leaving PR to the team of Salman/Pranab etc rather than Manish Tiwari or the new and aggressive minister in the PMO, Narayanswamy. The party surely needs a lesson in PR – and one in politics as well.

The real truth is that the Congress may well score another self goal in its struggle against Anna. And if that happens, it would give the fledgling Anna movement another lease of life. One wishes that the issue is amicably settled at the earliest – so that the country can go back to work. But such political ineptness is bound to make the state of policy jam linger on much longer…..

Friday, December 23, 2011

A slap on Team Anna’s wrists by the Bombay HC….

Thankfully, the courts have not been swayed by the extreme coercion practiced by Team Anna. Thankfully, the Bombay High Court showed it had the spine to severely rebuke Team Anna for demanding concessions from the MMRDA. In many ways, the word “demanding” summarizes all that is wrong with the Anna movement. Team Anna believes it is god’s gift to mankind and has a birthright to “demand” anything from anybody. In this specific case, they have been shown their place by the HC.

Why is it that Team Anna always speaks in a belligerent and abusive tongue? Why is it that Team Anna members believe that all their demands should be conceded? That if they aren’t, then that is tantamount to the oppression of an ordinary citizen’s movement by an all-powerful establishment. Why is it that Team Anna has forgotten basic decency – that which is required when speaking to any official of the Government of India or of any state Government? After all, ministers and officials draw their status from the Constitution itself – denigrating them is denigrating the Constitution itself, isn’t it? That’s why in communication with government officials, the word “Hon’ble” is put before the position, not the name of the individual (for eg., it’s Hon’ble PM, Shri MMS…..not Hon’ble Shri MMS, PM of India). Why is it that Team Anna’s language is so uncivilized when they claim their movement is exactly that? Even Anna’s personal language is so foul most people feel a little hurt.

Team Anna could have made a “request” to the CM of Maharashtra (as distinct from an individual called Prithviraj Chauhan who Team Anna may well dislike) for a reduction of rates for the MMRDA grounds in Mumbai. They say that politeness can make an arch enemy into a binding friend. But Team Anna was in no mood to make a request. For them, it had to be a “demand”. After all, they had many thousands of people supporting them. After all, they had so much of media backing their every demand (or so they think). Why should they bother about civilities? For them, a demanding, abusive and preaching tone it has to be.

The Bombay HC order itself is nothing out of the ordinary. Of course, the courts are not interested in directing the MMRDA to give a concession. Why should the MMRDA give a discount at all? But more than the order itself, it’s the tone of the court’s order that Team Anna should ponder over. Even if they don’t accept the court’s criticism in public, they must give it a good and deep thought in their internal meetings.

The Bombay HC has said many things. Some of these are reproduced here from today’s TOI and yesterday’s story:

  • The court cannot conclude whether the agitation is in public interest or politically motivated (Of course their movement is political. Of course, they are a BJP set-up. Why else does no Anna team member express shock or anger at the BJP’s u-turn on the Lok Ayukta matter?)
  • It might be Satyagraha for you but for some other factions it might be a nuisance (Absolutely right again – the entire agitation has become a nuisance for the country’s governance and for parliamentary working. Besides, what about different views that different sections of civil society have?)
  • Continue to agitate in your homes, gardens and maidans. (But then how would Team Anna get media support and fame?)

The court also brought out the Parliament’s supremacy with respect to law making:
  • Your elected representatives are already debating on your behalf. To allow a parallel type of canvassing to decide whether the Lokpal Bill has to be passed or not, we’ll be acting contrarily (Absolutely right…..but who’s going to drill this into Team Anna’s head?)
  • By allowing you to agitate, would it not amount to interference in the functioning of Parliament? (Indeed)
  • Passing a bill is a prerogative of Parliament. If we interfere it will be against the constitution (But does Team Anna even believe in the Constitution?)
  • The bill is being debated in Parliament. We cannot interfere in parliamentary function (Does Team Anna believe in Parliament? Kejriwal has stated that he has little faith in Parliament – today’s TOI).
  • Till now the bill has not been passed. No one knows what form and what features it will have. Is public debate permissible at this stage?
  • How is country's interest involved? We are a democratic set up. We have elected a government. Wouldn't your agitation interfere in the functioning of Parliament? The bill will be debated in Parliament where our elected representatives will plead our case (Harsh words indeed).
  • If the act is passed there is remedy available to challenge it (So many have been saying this…..but for Team Anna, it’s an ego issue now)

The courts observations in many ways summarize the mood amongst many sections of society – those who may not be organized enough to stage dharnas. There are many who carry strong views against the movement (at least now), but they don’t get the chance to express themselves on TV and on internet sites. These are the people who express their views by voting in or voting out their representatives. The ultimate proof of whether the people of India supported the Indo-US nuclear deal came when the voting in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections took place, right? Team Anna however believes that it knows best; it alone represents the voice of the people; those who oppose the JLP are corrupt; all Parliamentarians are jerks and even the entire Constitution is a piece of toilet paper.

The judiciary has given the rap that the Anna movement needed. The judiciary has done yet again what no politician could ever think of doing. Politicians want to be seen as being on the right side of Anna – even if they oppose the movement covertly. We saw how the BJP did a flip-flop on the Lok Ayukta business – all along; they had been saying that the same Central Act can bring the Lok Ayuktas into existence – now they have back-tracked totally. And like I mentioned earlier, Team Anna has not deemed it necessary to grill the BJP for this.

Most likely, Team Anna will say that the judiciary itself has an axe to grind – hence they are also against the Anna movement. That they are worried about Anna’s next agitation – which could be against them. But then hasn’t that been their defining characteristic? That they deride everyone who says anything against them? This is what has antagonized so many people – and definitely most of the intelligentsia.

The real truth is that it would be smart if Anna brought the movement to a quick end and salvaged whatever honor and dignity and support it still has left. The politicians are about to unite – and if they do so, there will be no stopping them from passing a law that will intentionally cock a snook at Anna. If Anna were smart, he would retract for now – and live to fight another day when he could “demand” improvements. Let’s see if Anna reads the writing on the wall…… or if he lets his wayward team drive the movement into a hole.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

BJP’s U-turn on Lok Ayuktas…..

This was totally unexpected. The BJP had been crying hoarse about the Central government violating the spirit of the Sense of the House Resolution passed by Parliament in August this year. One of the prominent points in the Resolution was that Lok Ayuktas would be set up in all states as part of a combined Lokpal-Lok Ayukta Act. Even recently, when Anna ranted againt the government for not honoring the Resolution, the BJP joined in in chorus with Anna protesting against the government. What happened suddenly? Why did the party do such a u-turn on an issue so important to Anna?

Quite significantly, no one from Anna’s team complained about this U-turn of the BJP. Why? Why is Team Anna’s behavior consistently forgiving towards the BJP?

The same question needs to be asked of the JD (U) whose leader Sharad Yadav also shared the stage recently with Anna at Jantar Mantar. I clearly remember his words: Every comma, every full stop, every word of the Sense of the House Resolution will be adhered to. Was this just a blatant lie spoken to please a restive and frenzied crowd there? By objecting to the inclusion of Lok Ayukta in the central act, is the JD (U) adhering to every comma, full stop and word of the Resolution?

Wasn’t TR Baalu of the AIADMK also on the stage with Anna? Did he mention there that his party was opposed to creating Lok Ayukta through a central act? No. That’s why I had called the entire debate that took place at Jantar Mantar as a farce (December 12th: A farce of a debate….).

Since the Congress was never in favor of creating Lok Ayuktas through a central act, should we surmise that almost no major political party wants that provision now? If the issue was removed from the Bill, wouldn’t that become a major area of political consensus – even if it was an even more obvious red flag to Anna? This is where we must ask the question: Who runs this country? Anna or Parliament? I had raised this precise question in my post on December 15th: Think of the country, not Anna, while making the Lokpal law…. If it is indeed Parliament that runs the country, let the politicians decide to drop the Lok Ayuktas clause from the Lokpal Bill.

Much noise was made about the minority quota being re-instated into the Act. No political party complained about the reservation for SC/ST and OBC though (criticism for this has come from Soli Sorabjee and other non-MPs). If the reservation policy itself is alright – and only the reference to religious minorities is a problem – where is the issue? If the courts rule this provision unconstitutional, only the minority reservation will be off. The overall Act will continue to operate. I can fully understand that the BJP is against minority reservations, but why take the lame excuse that the judiciary will reject the provision. Let it. If it does so, that provision will be off.

But then the BJP is a master at saying one thing loudly (the one suits the crowd) and the other associated by-line softly (the one that offends). When it talk of letting the Lokpal have the CBI’s investigative wing under it, it says so loudly. But it speaks softly about stripping the Lokpal of its prosecution (and judicial) powers. It speaks loudly of including the PM under the Lokpal, but it speaks softly of the conditions that should apply. In general, while it supports many clauses loudly, it speaks very softly about the clauses it doesn’t support.

There is a reason I think the government did a flip-flop on the minorities quota issue. Including minorities (even if it is later struck down by the courts) is one way of enlisting the support of crucial non-BJP opposition parties like the SP (22 MPs), BSP (21), RJD (4), LJP (2 in the Rajya Sabha) etc. Of course, the Congress would lose the support of the BJP on this point – but the Congress probably figures that the BJP will in any case not support the Bill. Under one excuse or the other, the BJP will oppose the government. If the non-BJP opposition parties could be rallied together, there is a good chance the Bill can be passed in both houses by the 29th.

From the discussions that happened yesterday (and the minute-by-minute coverage on TV), it appears that there are three points that are important at this present moment. First is the issue of minority quota which I have already discussed. Second is the issue of Lok Ayuktas which also I think was rightfully dropped to secure political unanimity. The third is the issue about “autonomy” of the CBI – whatever it means.

Like I argued yesterday, I would rather keep any police organization under the government made up of elected representatives than under an unelected body. Yes, it should be autonomous. As I understand it, the CBI director’s appointment method has been broadly accepted by all politicians (Anna doesn’t like it though). The PM, Leader of the Opposition and the CJI look like the right team to choose the Director. I have also argued yesterday that if the government were to try and influence the CBI in its investigation, a charge of corruption (since the attempt might be motivated by some form of corruption) could be brought against the DoPT. Since there is no permission needed to investigate or prosecute any minister any longer, the Minister in charge of DoPT would be in the line of investigation himself/herself in no time. As a further measure of reassurance to political opponents, the government could agree that for any corruption cases referred to by the Lokpal; the officer investigating the cases would not be transferred without the specific concurrence of the Lokpal. With respect to all other CBI officers, the government would have its own.

While politicians have been doing U-turns, Team Anna has been indulging in double-speak? On TV last night and elsewhere, different members of Team Anna (Abhinandan Sekhri; Kiran Bedi; Kejriwal) tried to build the impression that the Lokpal would not have judicial powers. Really? Then why is Team Anna complaining that the Lokpal has only been given only “recommendatory” powers against officials: Lokpal can only recommend action, not suspend or remove corrupt officials. If the Lokpal doesn’t have judicial powers, then how can it even recommend anything? That’s for the courts to decide right? And what about the very clear and specific wording in the JLP which I have highlighted several times in the past which clearly indicate that Anna does want the Lokpal to have judicial powers?

And what does Kejriwal mean when he says that 95% of all politicians and will be outside the purview of the Lokpal? And that “it doesn’t cover any political party”? As I see it, the proposed Bill covers 100% politicians; 100% MPs; 100% MLAs; 100% ex-MPs; 100% ex-MLAs; 100% Group A and B bureaucrats. Yes, it doesn’t directly cover Group C and D employees but it does so via the CVC route. So will Kejriwal please care to explain himself?

Also, on what grounds does Team Anna want MMRDA to give a discount on the venue for Anna’s fast? What about the hundreds of other protests that happen all the time in our country – should they get a discount also? What about the loss of income that MMRDA would suffer by giving out the grounds on discounted basis – after all, there is always another event waiting to happen on those grounds and willing to pay the full rates. And how come Team Anna suddenly wants the CM to exercise discretion in this matter. Aren’t we all saying that discretionary powers are what give politicians the scope to engage in corruption? But as usual, the defining characteristic of Team Anna is that whatever serves their interest is branded good governance. Whatever goes against their wishes is proof that the establishment is out to get them. We saw that in the Kejriwal case where he refused to pay Rs 9 lacs that he owed to the Government. We also saw that in the case of Kiran Bedi’s inflated travel bills case as also in Shanti Bhushan’s out-of-turn and discretionary allotment of the land in NOIDA.

I still feel that what I wrote yesterday – that the Lokpal Bill will clear the Lok Sabha and fail in the Rajya Sabha – will come true. So it won’t become law. Even a combined session of the two houses will not give the government enough strength to pass the Bill. What happens then? Anna goes on a fast. I am happy that there is a growing political consensus that if Anna wants to go on fast, it’s his call. The threat of the fast has been overplayed by far; the political class may make some polite gestures of support to him but in reality, it is unlikely to be bothered by it again. Three out of four journalists on Sagarika Ghosh’s show on CNN-IBN last night also felt that Team Anna had overplayed its hand.

The real truth is that there is a real danger that the Bill may not go through at all. If Anna is really interested in getting the Bill passed; and not just in rhetoric; then he should relent on his fast. And he should also relent on several sticky clauses that he wants. We should take this one move this time for sure – even if it is not entirely to Anna’s liking. All bills are amended – this one could be too at a later date. The alternate is gloomy – the bill doesn’t pass muster and many years later when another movement starts, we will all blame the politicians for not having enacted the law for maybe 50 years or more (right now its 42 years)…..

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CBI must not report to the Lokpal…..

An interesting fact was brought out yesterday by some journalists on TV last night. The American FBI and the CIA, and the British MI5 and MI6 all report to their respective governments. Not to any unelected ombudsman like the Lokpal. The FBI reports to the Department of Justice headed by the Attorney General, an appointee of the President; the CIA to the Director of National Intelligence, another appointee of the President of the US. Both the MI5 and the MI6 in the UK come under the purview of the Joint Intelligence Committee which operates under the Cabinet Office (something similar to our PMO). All these organizations – inter alia – are responsible for investigating charges of corruption against public officials (just like the CBI is in India). Since these two countries are amongst the original democracies in the world, isn’t there a lesson for India to learn?

Rather than making the CBI report to the Lokpal, there is a need to strengthen the government in a fractious democratic set-up like ours. If a democratic set-up were accompanied by a weak government, there would be complete anarchy. The government would be unable to take any important executive decisions either because the decision making would lie outside its domain or because it would be afraid of who was looking over its shoulders. We are already seeing the impact of such weakness today – decision making has almost stopped in the corridors of power because of fears of being under intense scrutiny of media and others. A weak government will lead to a similar stoppage of decision making – even in emergency situations. Take the economic challenge that India faces today. The government is weak as it is – thanks to the nature of the coalition. Decision making is already very slow or non-existent as explained earlier. If on top of this, executive powers of the government were taken away in bits and pieces, then the government would come to a complete halt. That is the reason why in all democracies, the ultimate power in all cases, vests with the government of the country.

What Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Yadav (unfortunately they are not the flag bearers of clean politics) have said is what I have said many times over. In fact, my post of Dec 13th was titled “License Raj, Police Raj….now get ready for the draconian Lokpal Raj….” so as to capture the precise worries that these two senior politicians have expressed. By ceding investigation, prosecution and adjudication to the Lokpal, that is what we will create – a Lokpal Raj far worse than even a Police Raj.

The Shiv Sena (again no flag bearer of civil liberties or clean politics) has compared the Lokpal to Gaddafi – a comparison I had myself made a few days back on December 12th (A farce of a debate…..): Imagine if the local cop who investigates a crime, also prosecuted the accused, and pronounced the verdict. Sounds similar to Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein or Hitler???

The BJP is being too clever by half in saying what it is saying about the CBI. The BJP wants the investigative wing of the CBI to go to the Lokpal, but it wants the Prosecution to be independent. This automatically means that the powers to pass orders will also be out of the Lokpal. So while it is not saying it clearly, even the BJP is saying that the Lokpal shouldn’t be the all-powerful body that Anna wants it to be.

None of this is music to Anna’s ears. But then the reality is that his demands on the CBI are unreal.

The games being played in Delhi raise the question of what will happen to the Lokpal Bill when it is put to voting in Parliament. What is the possibility the Bill will go through at all? The first point to note is that without either the BJP or another large block of the opposition (SP, BSP, Left all together) coming on board, the Bill cannot be made into law. The UPA simply doesn’t have even the simple majority that is needed in the Rajya Sabha to pass the Bill. So even if the Bill clears the half way mark in the Lok Sabha (since the UPA has a majority), it will fail in the Rajya Sabha. My cynical mind tells me that this may well be what the politicians have in mind. The Congress will want to get the bill passed in the Lok Sabha to prove its credentials (It’s a commitment the Congress has made as Sonia said). The BJP and other opposition parties will make sure the Bill is blocked in the Rajya Sabha – proving their pro-Anna credentials (they will claim they blocked a weak Lokpal Bill). Everyone will have something to talk about – and no one will have the Lokpal Act to worry about. Nice, smooth and clever!

It’s time for common sense to prevail. Even if the Lokpal were given all powers – the Supreme Court would most likely throw the bill out as it would fundamentally be contrarion to the Constitution. The victory, if any, of Anna would be shortlived.

Without doubt, the CBI Director should be independently chosen. The current formula is good. The PM, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the CJI. I am happy it is the CJI in the selection committee and not the Lokpal. I am against making the Lokpal any bigger than it has already been designed to be. It needs checks and balances. It cannot be the one choosing the CBI Director – who may then be obliged to act according to the wishes of the Lokpal. Someone pointed out on TV last night how J Edgar Hoover – the first head of the FBI – became a law unto himself. He would track and trap politicians of all kinds; do things that were unsanctioned in law; things were so bad that politicians started kowtowing to his wishes. The same could happen if the Lokpal was involved in the selection of the CBI director. The CJI is a person who everyone trusts – and much as there is a possibility of a conflict of interest here also, it is better than the Lokpal replacing the CJI.

Also with a Lokpal Act in place, the government will be unable to exploit the CBI. Let’s say that the government arm twisted the CBI into doing what it wanted it to do. There can be a complaint of corruption made to the Lokpal. The Lokpal needs no permission to start an investigation against the Minister looking after DOPT. Abuse of the CBI happened in the past because no investigation could be mounted against ministers unless the permission to prosecute was granted. And that never would be done.

The real truth is that this is the farthest we have come in having an independent CBI, a strong Lokpal and many other acts which will work together to eliminate corruption. This is not the last time the Lokpal Act will be discussed. Indeed, if there are infirmities, they can be addressed in the future. For now, politicians must unite to make the law a reality – rather than give it the kind of burial that the Women’s Reservation Bill has been given….

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thanks for showing some spine on the Lokpal…..

As details of the government’s proposal for the Lokpal emerged, I heaved a sigh of relief. Standing against severe – though fast depleting – public pressure, and far divided – though fast reducing – political opposition, the government has shown the guts to tread a middle path. In the true spirit of democracy, many points were conceded to Anna. Some dangerous ones withheld. The political fall-out and yet another round of fasting must no doubt have been factored in by the government.

Look at the ground conceded by the government (and the larger political establishment) to Anna. The PM and his office are now under the Lokpal. Of course with riders. The entire lower bureaucracy is in – including Group D. I had already predicted the government will concede to this demand – not because they particularly care for this demand of Anna’s – but because it helps them! With Group D also under the Lokpal, the ombudsman will spend 99.9% of its time investigating petty corruption – a scenario entirely suitable to the big corrupt daddies of politics! I am a little surprised the government didn’t agree to put the citizen’s grievances mechanism under the Lokpal but preferred to have a separate bill to handle the issue. If Anna’s interest was really in servicing the citizens, then why would he not be happy with a set-up like the one proposed – irrespective of whether it was within or outside the Lokpal? Or am I missing the point here? Is this a case of power play? That the Lokpal is sought to be set up as a power center and the more it controls, the better it is. If that is the case, then it’s an admittance of the fact that the Lokpal will be an undemocratic institution filled with self-annointed protectors of corruption. Even on this subject, I feel the politicians will eventually agree to put it under the Lokpal. If that happens, make that number I mentioned earlier in this passage as 99.99999% or more!

The government has already agreed to set up Lok Ayuktas as part of this law itself, conceding yet another demand of Anna. With this, all the three points mentioned in the Sense of the House resolution have been fulfilled. At least the politicians have not cheated Parliament. Now let’s look at what Anna does.

I have dealt with the CBI issue in several of my posts in the last few days. I am surprised by the extent of political unity on this subject. Different parties are saying different versions of what I have been saying for several days. The Congress is saying that the Lokpal cannot have its own investigative agency – but it can continue with the prosecution and penal powers. The BJP is saying that the Lokpal must have its own investigative powers, but prosecution must be separated out. That also implicitly means that penal powers must be taken out of the Lokpal. The JD (U) appears to be going with the BJP’s viewpoint (or at least that’s what it looks like). I haven’t heard the Left’s views on this yet. But with both the BJP and the Congress saying that all powers cannot be with the Lokpal, it’s a solid sign of political unity. And maturity.

At the same time, the government has agreed to make the CBI “autonomous” – a catch phrase everyone has been mouthing of late. What does autonomous mean? For starters, the selection of the CBI director has been made fairly representative with three people – the PM, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the CJI or his/her nominee – choosing the CBI Director as against the power lying entirely with the government at present. I have been saying this for long. We are a democracy and the only way to run a democracy is by electing the leaders who will rule us. Once elected, we have to vest these leaders with all the requisite powers. There is absolutely no sense in saying on the one hand that 75 crore people vote for these leaders – and then we emasculate their powers. Who do we give these powers to? To unelected members of the Lokpal? This is a devious plan of a brainless team that Anna has gathered around him. He should shed this team and become more practical.

Politicians have picked up a terrible reputation over the years. And we need to make sure they are taken to task for this. Going forward, they had better not abuse their powers. We need electoral reforms so that the scum doesn’t get to rule us. We need to clean up electoral funding so that the need to indulge in corruption reduces (of course, the greedy will still cheat). We need to improve salaries in government so that we can get better people into administration and also reduce the urge to be corrupt. And very very importantly, we need to shed this attitude – that Anna himself has promoted – of brandishing all politicians and bureaucrats as corrupt. If this is the prevailing mood, why will any politician or bureaucrat remain clean – if he knows that people anyways think of them as being corrupt?

Even as we set out to clean the political system, it’s important we don’t create a monster of an institution to do so. The Lokpal – as an unelected body – should have only limited powers. It cannot and should not usurp power from elected bodies. It is totally unaccountable to the people and giving it untramelled powers would be inviting dictatorship and tyranny into democratic India.

Anna should be given the option I have been suggesting for long. The Lokpal can either have investigation powers or prosecution powers or judicial powers – but not all three.

Before ending, I must comment on Anna’s repeated threats to our elected reps. I have always maintained that threats are a violent form of protest and it’s simply not allowed in a democracy. I am already seeing a huge drop in Anna’s popularity. An old man is expected to have certain decency in conduct and language and Anna has personally violated that. His supporting the attack on Pawar was like a slap across most people in this country. It’s ok for the youth of the country to rally behind anything anti-establishment, but many of the more seasoned citizens are starting to find fault with Anna’s style. If Anna wants to go on a fast, he should. But why make such a big deal out of it.

One last word on Anna’s team. The way Arvind Kejriwal speaks, it wouldn’t be tolerated in even the most liberal democracies. We saw how the US quietly stopped the Wall Street protests. Exactly who is Kejriwal to comment on the Food Security Bill? Is he India’s most talented, most honest and most intelligent crusader? He took years in paying the government (and therefore the people of this country) the Rs 9 lacs he owed it. And when he paid up, he made it look like he was doing us all a favor? He has the gall to dictate to much more senior and accomplished public servants? He has the audacity to question the credentials of other activists? Let him put his threat to test. Let him put Anna through another round of fasting. If anything happens to Anna, his followers will bay for Kejriwal’s blood.

The real truth is that the accumulated guilt of the past has made the government and the political establishment bend over too much to satisfy Anna. This is now a case of activists behaving like dictators. There is a limit to protests; and to indiscipline. My strong recommendation to the government is to do the needful on Lokpal and go back to work. There are enough and more Annas in this country. They have to earn their place in the sun. This is no way to do so…..