Could India go the way of Tunisia and Egypt? The very thought was dismissed during the Jasmine Revolution because India is different. It is a working democracy whose citizens own the nation and can let off steam through protest. And yet, here is our Tunisia moment. India was actually a boiler fit to burst, and Anna Hazare just had to touch the valve to set it off.
We share two crucial features with the citizens of the North African nations — disgust at the careless greed of oligarchies which rule our lives and impatience at being held hostage by a culture of corruption that democracy has failed to address. In fact, illicit funding of elections is one of its sources. So now, ‘blackmail’ is going to solve a problem that four decades of protest, media activism and legal action could not.
Of course, Hazare’s fast amounts to blackmail, as his detractors have said. But in desperate times, when all other options have been exhausted, moral coercion becomes a valid political act. Now, even if the government keeps stonewalling, the movement has gathered the critical mass to keep going and force change.
But the quality of this change remains to be decided, by us. The Jan Lokpal Bill proposed by Hazare and his associates is far better than the government’s Lokpal Bill, which is so dazzlingly toothless that you want to hand it some dentures. But it remains a work in progress and the concerned citizen’s duty is to read it (at www.annahazare.org) and suggest improvements. This will be a landmark legislation, the first to be publicly debated and drafted by the people, not only their elected representatives. When it is tabled in Parliament, it must set a benchmark in perfection.
Personally, I am uneasy because the Bill jettisons the principle of separation of powers. In the office of the lokpal, it accumulates privileges accorded separately to the judiciary, the police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The success of an ombudsman like the lokpal depends largely on the probity and humanity of the person in office. Years later, when the lokpal has grown used to power, I don’t want to see some Judge Dredd on steroids becoming a factor in politics, like a super-CBI. The Bill provides for the removal of lokpals, but that’s not deterrent enough. The threat of removal has not prevented corruption even in the higher judiciary. We need an arm of government — or many arms — which the lokpal watches over to watch it in turn, if only in an advisory capacity.
My second objection is against the movement, not the Bill. It ignores earlier campaigns for even more fundamental change. Politicians stonewall anti-graft law because they need cash to finance elections. And they are not caught because the police and investigative agencies are their handmaidens. Campaigns for reform in electoral funding and the police system have been stonewalled just like the Lokpal Bill. Hazare’s current movement for probity in public life began with his campaign for the right to information, which opened a window on the working of government. Now, he wants greed to be punished. But to eradicate corruption altogether, the movement should absorb pre-existing campaigns which attack the root of the problem.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine n firstname.lastname@example.org .The views expressed by the author are personal