Friday, April 29, 2011

Lets keep identifying issues, action can wait !

The National Advisory Council thinks, we are told by newspapers today, that a bouquet of systemic reforms is required to curb corruption in the country. Did we really need a whole bunch of experts to tell us that? Had the government but taken the trouble of listening to the citizens of this country -----the beleaguered lot which pays the price for the all-pervasive corruption every day of their lives ------ it would have received this sage advice at no expense to the public exchequer in terms of the cost of hosting a meeting.
What are these systemic reforms that the NAC has identified?
 It talks about the Judicial Accountability Bill. Is there a citizen today who still reposes faith in our judicial system? The twin monsters of delays and corruption have eroded its credibility so completely that the structure could crumble any day.  The NAC talks about whistleblower protection and social audits. Ask the families of those brave men who have lost their lives because the government has been dragging its feet in these crucial areas what the necessity is . Has the government forgotten the heartless way that Niyamat Ansari was murdered because he was asking uncomfortable questions about the implementation of MNREGA? Or the murderous attempt on RTI activist Mangalaram? Does it really need to be told by NAC that there is need for reforms/new laws if more people are not to lose their lives to vested interests? The NAC thinks transparency in government appointments is a critical area. Perhaps we should begin with some transparency in the appointments of Ministers. Then there is mention of the Right to Services bill. That is the refrain on every citizen’s lips ----- I am paying taxes, where are the roads, water, power, traffic regulation, sanitation, parks, and libraries?
Perhaps it would have been not such a waste of the tax payer’s money if in its meeting the NAC had suggested a fail proof plan of action for putting in place these systemic reforms before systems collapse. It could even have rather daringly suggested that the citizens be informed every month of the progress made. 
 We all know what is required to be done. The challenge is to get it done. Now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Will you stand up and be counted?

Those with a vested interest in the status quo are trying every trick in the book to discredit the India Against Corruption movement. First, the principles were attacked. The movement is aimed at weakening and subverting Indian democracy, those leading the movement are contemptuous of the democratic processes and institutions, a fast-unto-death is no better than blackmail -----these and many other allegations were hurled by the so called intellectual class with a rapidity and ferocity that was quite stunning.

Simultaneously, there was an attempt to misconstrue the provisions of the draft Jan Lokpal bill, and to project the Jan Lokpal as a "supercop" which would have no oversight and would become a centre of unrivalled power and therefore a menace to democracy.

That all these arguments looked attractive but were false, baseless and factually incorrect soon became evident. It took only a  few right thinking people to present the facts in the right light for the hollowness of these arguments to be exposed. 

Then came the vicious attacks on the members of the Joint Drafting Committee. No attacks on the Government nominees, mind you, who no doubt are pure as the driven snow ! The targets of the vilification campaign were the representatives of civil society, as if they needed to be purged of even the hint of wrong doing before they could aspire to draft a law. Having vitiated the atmosphere, those responsible for all the venom then stepped forward and said rather sanctimoniously that the drafting of the LokPal bill was of the utmost importance and no controversy would be allowed to shift attention from the task at hand!

Now comes an attempt to confound matters by raising the bogey of the apparent conflict between the LokPal bill and the Judicial Accountability bill. It has suddenly been discovered by some politicians and highly respected former members of the higher judiciary that  judges need not be brought within the ambit of the LokPal. They say  the oversight mechanism proposed to be created through the Judicial Accountability bill will also be responsible for penalising corruption in the judiciary. I have only one question to ask those who have suddenly realised that the Judicial Accountability bill needs to be attended to on priority. Why was total silence being maintained so far? Was it because there was a hope that the people's movement against corruption would be prodded along to an untimely demise so that there would neither be the need for institutionalising the LokPal nor any urgency about putting in place an oversight mechanism for the judiciary?

The Joint Drafting Committe has met only once so far, a preliminary meeting where no substantive discussion took place probably. Between then and the second meeting on May 2nd, a fusillade has been let loose.More is yet to come, undoubtedly, from those whose conscience sleeps, whose love for the country is dead, who think and act for no one except their own selfish interest. Are we going to succumb, or will we brave the attack out and continue undaunted till the bill gets drafted, introduced and passed?

Will each one of us  step forward and be counted? Or will we continue to remain pre occupied with work and leisure, with earning more and spending more, with not a moment to spare for this our land? Will we pause for a moment, step back from the whirlwind of activity that engulfs us, and think about this country's future? A country ridden by corruption, where poverty, illiteracy, environmental degradation and deprivation of fundamental rights to some sections of society co - exist with untold wealth and privilige. Is this the legacy we wish our children to inherit? To build our futures, we plan meticulously, act assiduously, dream fondly. Are our futures not tied to the country's future? Can you and I live meaningful lives when chaos surrounds us?

Step forward, be counted in the people's movement against corruption. Sign up on Facebook (!/IndiACor ) to express your support, visit the website ( ), make a call ( 02261550789 ), volunteer. Read the draft Lok Pal bill, discuss it, make suggestions. This is an unprecedented moment when citizens have an opportunity to directly participate in the making of a law that will have direct and immediate impact on their lives.  Act !

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hysteria will not quell this movement

Tavleen Singh writes in the Indian Express (“Hysteria will not end corruption”) what is perhaps meant to be a strong indictment of the draft Jan Lokpal bill and the manner in which civil society has succeeded in wresting from the government the concession of a joint committee to draft a strong Jan Lokpal bill, to be introduced in the monsoon session of the Parliament. She terms the movement undemocratic, the institution envisaged by the Jan Lokpal bill despotic and the citizens who believe that this could be an effective anti corruption measure as naive and deluded, especially because they have not even read the draft Jan Lokpal bill.

Hysteria will not end corruption, the writer says. Journalistic hysteria will not quell this movement either, and the sooner those who are indulging in half truths and mudslinging realise it, the better. 

Nothing could be more democratic than the manner in which civil activists, supported by millions of citizens, have raised their voice against rampant corruption and succeeded in making a hitherto deaf government hear them. It is because ordinary Indians live in a democratic country that they feel free to express their support for a social activist who speaks their language while the elected representatives lie, obfuscate facts, hold out false hopes and delay and tarry on legislation that has been pending for more than 40 years. They are expressing support for an idea whose time has come ------strong institutional measures to root out corruption, to be taken immediately, not when our elected representatives decide to and not in the toothless form that they would like to. 

Nor do they need to read and comprehend the entire draft JLP bill before they express their support, because the draft bill is but a draft, and it will serve as the basis for deliberations in the joint drafting committee. In any case, does the writer imagine that every citizen who expresses his support for a political party or a candidate by casting a vote during elections actually reads and fully comprehends the party manifesto? If incomplete comprehension is acceptable at the time of the casting of a vote, what could possibly be the objection to expression of support for Anna Hazare even while the citizen does not fully comprehend the draft bill? 

It is the job of legislatures to make laws, says the writer. The irony of this statement escapes her, perhaps ------ no one has forgotten that it is the legislature’s job to make laws except perhaps the legislature itself. We are but reminding the legislature that there is one specific law, the Lokpal bill, that has been pending enactment for more than 40 years. Today more than ever before, we need that law, so please do your job. 

The Jan Lokpal will be a despotic institution, the writer says, for reason of the immense powers to investigate and penalise corrupt practices that it will be vested with. Does the CBI not have powers today to investigate and penalise corrupt practices? Has it ever been accused of being despotic? No. Does the CBI not find itself unable to exercise these powers, bereft of autonomy as it is? Has it ever been accused of being weak and helpless in the face of political pressure? Yes. That is exactly the situation that the draft JLP seeks to remedy by creating an institution with powers to investigate and penalise corrupt practices, just as the CBI is empowered, but with the autonomy that CBI does not enjoy. 

The citizens’ movement has been compared to totalitarian China! For citizens to give vent to their indignation, anger and frustration in a peaceful manner and for the government to not quell those voices but to hear them is the way of a democratic country. Would this happen in totalitarian China? The writer is unhappy too with Anna’s call for a Jail Bharo andolan, not realising perhaps that the Jail Bharo andolan is neither less nor more than a manner of expressing our anguish with the government’s indifference or even callousness in the face of mounting concern at the enormity of the scale of corruption that riddles the country today. It is a perfectly legitimate manner of making our voices heard ----and it can happen only in a democracy. 

A wide range of anti corruption measures are required to completely eradicate corruption, avers the writer. No one disagrees. We need administrative reforms, we need electoral reforms, and we need many, many innovative anti corruption measures. The draft Jan Lokpal bill is one such measure. The civil activists who have drafted the bill are well and fully aware of this, which is why comprehensive electoral reforms are on their agenda, as has been publicly announced. It is only so called intellectuals, academicians and journalists who are blinded by their biases and refuse to acknowledge this, or to even acknowledge that civil activists have as much right in a democracy to participate in policy making as the elected representatives of the people. Or that NGOs too have a right to be heard on anti corruption measures , even if several of them are corrupt, just as no MP, Minister, journalist and academician hesitates to make sage pronouncements on the measures needed to eradicate corruption, regardless of whether or not he can boast of personal integrity. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

By the people, for the people

For the past few days, the media has been enthusiastically covering the fast that Anna Hazare has undertaken to press the government to institutionalise a strong and autonomous Lokpal, a matter that has now been pending for more than 40 years and which has assumed grave urgency in the light of corruption exposes of unprecedented scale and the rapid decline in recent years of every democratic institution into a morass of corruption. This morning, the Indian Express carried an article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta which lambasts Anna Hazare's fast, civil society activists and the public in a rather thorough manner. The writer terms the movement behind the Jan Lokpal bill unreasonable, impatient, and subversive of democracy and questioning the morality of fasting unto death for a political cause, terms it blackmail. The Jan Lokpal is not the only and the best solution to the corruption challenge, he says, and is in fact an institutional nightmare which will weaken democratic institutions and create a centre of power with no safeguards against the abuse of power. 

I am stunned that any right thinking citizen of India could be so brazenly biased in his opinion on a matter that is finding greater and greater support among all sections of civil society with every passing day. Possibly, the bias springs from the inherent superiority that most intellectuals feel vis a vis the aam aadmi, gullible fool that he is !What else could be the reason why the the writer chooses to overlook the fact that it is unbridled vice which for several decades has so subverted democracy that all our institutions, processes and systems have completely lost credibility? Have the perpetrators of such vice been reasonable? Are they ever to be held to account, or are we to exercise infinite patience and wait for subverted systems to correct themselves? 

Does the writer believe that such extreme measures as a fast unto death would have been resorted to had the democratic processes and institutions that he so fondly cherishes responded to the deep concerns and anxieties of civil society? Is it the case that the Jan Lokpal bill has been sprung up on the government overnight? For more than 40 years, civil society has been attempting to make itself heard on the subject, but to no avail. Even now, when every Indian worth his salt is deeply agitated over the massive scale of corruption that riddles the country, has the duly elected government responded with the alacrity that it should have? Anna’s fast is an expression of the deep anguish that all of us are experiencing at the utter indifference and callousness of our duly elected representatives and the government. For it to be described as coercion and blackmail reveals a mindset that is seen today in large swathes of our so called democratic institutions ----- one of complete disconnect with the Indian masses. 

Under certain circumstances, the writer says, a fast unto death may be called for. Such circumstances exist today in the country. The government’s tyranny finds expression in many ways. In contemporary India, it finds expression as the colossal loot of the country’s wealth even while millions live in a state of deprivation. Not only is wealth being looted and carted out of the country, there is a shameless attempt to brush it all under the carpet, to say that the scams unearthed by constitutional authorities never took place, to brazenly challenge the reports and findings of all those authorities and organisations that are bringing massive evidence to drive home the inescapable fact that corruption is flourishing in the country like never before. If these are not the circumstances calling for unusual measures by civil society, what are?

It is no one’s case that the Jan Lokpal is the best and the only solution to the corruption challenge. The civil society representatives who have drafted the Jan Lokpal bill include people with long years of experience in different aspects of governance, and none of them could be said to be so lacking in intelligence and understanding as to harbour the delusion that the Jan Lokpal is the panacea for all ills. Corruption is a multi headed monster, and will need more than one weapon and more than one form of attack to be wiped out. The Jan Lokpal is one such , and it is nothing but obfuscation of facts to first present it as the architects’ fond delusion of being a panacea and then to tear it to shreds on that ground. 

Is the writer aware that many of our law enforcement agencies enjoy many and sometimes all of the powers that the draft bill proposes to vest in the Jan Lokpal? What is objectionable to the writer is not perhaps the fact that the Jan Lokpal will have these powers but that these powers will extend to bureaucrats and politicians and judges, to be exercised not with prior permission of these very institutions but suo moto. That a bureaucrat cannot be prosecuted without prior permission of the very government he is a part of does not strike the writer as incongruent, the fact that the Jan Lokpal will have the power to do so is seen as “concentrated power”! 

The fallacious argument is also forwarded that the incorruptibility of the Jan Lokpal is envisaged in the bill to be ensured by the selection mechanism. This argument is advanced perhaps to give the writer the opportunity to highlight what he imagines is a clinching argument ------ the selection mechanism cannot serve as a safeguard because it is a self serving device of the architects of the Jan Lokpal bill, envisaging as it does the inclusion of Magsaysay awardees, some of whom are associated with the Jan Lokpal bill! The writer forgets that the Magsaysay Award is given in such areas as public service, and no self - serving individual would conceivably be held eligible for such an award. 

In any case, the safeguard that is built into the draft bill is the provision for removal of the Lokpal on such grounds as corruption, misconduct etc which process can be initiated by any citizen, quite unlike parallel provisions for judges and bureaucrats at whose hands the citizen may suffer but whose removal he cannot initiate.

Having stated that the bill is work in progress, the writer proceeds with an attempt to demolish it. Would it not have been more useful if he had highlighted the strengths, and saved his constructive suggestions, if any, for the time when the drafting committee begins deliberations? That the bill must have its strengths, even if the writer doesn’t have the courage to state it, is an inescapable conclusion or else he would have summarily dismissed the bill, not trained his guns on a few provisions.

That representative democracy would be weakened by the Lokpal is a statement as misleading as the writer’s claim that the civil society activists who are desirous of institutionalising a powerful and autonomous anti - corruption body are contemptuous of democracy. Only those who aspire for a truly democratic country where the ill gotten wealth of a few is not instrumental in subverting democratic processes would work towards an institution that penalises the corrupt, deprives them of their ill gotten wealth, and strengthens the credibility of all democratic institutions by ensuring that only the honest flourish. If a corrupt Prime Minister is held accountable to the Lokpal and is no longer certain of remaining in office on the strength of supporters who are beneficiaries of a corrupt regime, does the democratic process get strengthened or weakened? Would an honest and incorruptible Prime Minister be in any way threatened by the Lokpal? In an environment where corrupt bureaucrats flourish because they collude and connive with their political bosses to rob the public exchequer, would representative democracy be weakened by a Lokpal who can act independently of the bureaucracy and its political masters to penalise such bureaucrats?

That the elected representatives alone must make policy in a democracy is a dangerous argument, because it overlooks the fundamental premise of a democracy which is that the source of all power is the people. The people may, if they so choose, make themselves heard on any policy matter. The elected representatives must hear them, and cannot put forth the argument that having once been elected, they have become the repository of all wisdom and know better than the people they represent. Under circumstances when some of the elected representatives are themselves not above the suspicion of having acted in a manner deleterious to public good, it is no surprise that people wish to participate directly in the policy making process. To say that an expression of the will of the people through public protests, including fasting, is tantamount to dictating public policy is itself tantamount to questioning the freedom of the people, in a democratic set up, to express their will except through their elected representatives. 

And finally, it is because the elected representatives have consistently and for more than 40 years ignored the demands of civil society to institutionalise a strong and independent anti corruption mechanism that people have lost patience, not because they are impatient per se with democratic processes and institutions. That the Lokpal when it is set up is well - designed is for all stakeholders including the writer to ensure. That it becomes instrumental in promoting healthier politics wherein all those decisions that are needed to work towards a stronger democratic set up are taken is the objective.