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A fast is not enough

Political and judicial reforms are integral to the fight against corruption. HK Dua writes.

india Updated: Aug 31, 2011 01:28 IST
HK Dua

The best of victories are those in which neither of the combatants suffers defeat or a loss of face. Anna Hazare and the government can claim some credit — the former for pushing the government to the backfoot and the latter for refusing to yield ground on the essential demands.

While Hazare's movement has placed corruption high on the national agenda, it will be for the government to decide how best to tackle it. Also, it will be in Parliament, not Ramlila Maidan or Jantar Mantar, that laws will be enacted.

Hazare realised that people are fed up with the way corruption is affecting everyone's life and that the government is not willing to do much about it. His movement brought out people's anger over corruption and, at times, even challenged the legitimacy of Parliament, the executive and the judiciary. But it could not force Parliament to enact the Jan Lokpal Bill, which has been drafted by a handful of self-appointed people.

The naïve usually oversimplify a problem and believe what they prescribe is the only solution. This prescriptive psychology is natural to evangelists, but it can arouse passions among people that a leader may not be able to control later. However, it goes to Hazare's credit that no incidents of violence were reported from Ramlila Maidan or elsewhere in the country. This is because of the Gandhian approach that he adopted to press his demands, as also the readiness of the government to engage him in talks to find a way out.

For his colleagues to claim that this was a second freedom struggle or a movement of the kind Jayaprakash Narayan led in the 1970s was sheer hyperbole. Hazare is neither a Mahatma Gandhi nor a JP. His lieutenants strangely equated what they called 'civil society' with the entire country, although large sections of adivasis, Dalits and OBCs kept out. Though they are also victims of corruption, these communities seem to fear that Hazare's attack on parliamentary democracy is aimed at undoing the guarantees that the Constitution promises them. Therefore, the movement was essentially an urban middle class phenomenon, meant to voice the concerns of the city-bred.

When Hazare and his men jacked up their demands, many in the intelligentsia felt that forcing deadlines on Parliament to pass the bill was undemocratic and a threat to Parliament's supremacy in framing legislation. It's not that people should not put pressure on the government to demand reforms, but dictating laws to Parliament amounts to acquiring extra-constitutional authority, which no reasonable citizen can accept — it is a sheer case of overreach.

The crowd at Ramlila Maidan was making the organisers somewhat intolerant of people who didn't share their opinions. An atmosphere of arrogance was fast developing and Hazare's fast constrained the government's strategy. The attitude and inexperience of some of the Union ministers further complicated the matter for the government. Hazare's arrest and his subsequent transfer to Tihar is a case in point.

The political system and politicians in general were under attack. So were the institutions, particularly the Parliament, which has been procrastinating over the Lokpal Bill over the past four decades.

The demand that Parliament must pass the Jan Lokpal Bill by August 30 made Members of Parliament (MPs) come to believe that the authorities of Parliament and the Constitution were under threat. The overbearing attitude of Hazare's colleagues resulted in the coming together of these MPs from various political parties.

The final resolution was the result of negotiations between the Congress and the Opposition parties, and it was aimed at ending Hazare's fast. By this time even Hazare had realised the limit beyond which the movement could not have been stretched. There was also the risk that the movement may go out of hand or, worse, be hijacked by wrong people.

There are a couple of lessons that Hazare's agitation has thrown up for the country. First, in order to end corruption, it is necessary to bring about major reforms in the political and judicial systems to make them more responsive to the people. Second, we can achieve much by evolving a consensus among political parties inside and outside Parliament than by confrontational politics.

A consensus on political reforms and the working of vital institutions on issues like national security, terrorism, foreign policy, and pluralism can be achieved if members of various political parties show the kind of wisdom they did in both Houses last Saturday.

HK Dua is a senior journalist and Member of Parliament. The views expressed by the author are personal.