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Tilting at windmills

Anna Hazare's movement is anti-politician. It has nothing to do with the masses and is only destabilising the foundations of our democracy, writes Lalit Uniyal.

india Updated: Jan 22, 2012 09:34 IST
Lalit Uniyal

The people are not always right - though they usually are. Socrates was sentenced to death in a direct democracy by popular vote in a popular jury. He was the greatest man Athens ever produced and was unquestionably one of the noblest men of all time. The Treaty of Versailles was a link in the chain of events that led to the decline of the great civilisation of Europe. Yet that insane treaty was made under pressure of public opinion in two democracies, England and France.

Slogans like 'Hang the Kaiser' and 'Make Germany pay' dominated the British general elections of December 1918. The demand arose that every single war expense incurred by Britain must be paid for by Germany. It's not that the British or French people were bad. It's just that they were temporarily overcome by a passion for revenge; and they had never really understood the nuances of international politics and international economics.

The lesson to be learnt is that every movement must be subjected to criticism and must itself possess the capacity for self-criticism. If it lacks the latter quality, it will tend to be irrational, hysterical and dangerous.

Everyone agrees that there should be a lokpal. But an environment has been created by Anna Hazare's movement, and now by the Opposition parties as well, that we need a 'strong' lokpal. So, in effect, a crisis has been created on this issue.

The main aim of a government is not to fight corruption, but to take decisions for the welfare of the people in complex and changing circumstances, and to ensure the proper implementation of those decisions on the ground. It is only insofar as these primary tasks (decision-making and implementation) are subverted by corruption that it becomes a matter of concern. If there is a continuous witch-hunt for the corrupt, it is the honest official who will be paralysed. We should not lose our balance, no matter what the provocation; we should stand by sound, time-tested principles.

The lokpal (like the Comptroller and Auditor General) should have constitutional and moral authority, but not punitive powers. The lokpal should have limited powers and his jurisdiction should be confined to top political and bureaucratic authorities. Given the fact that our political class is highly faction-ridden, it would be sensible to keep the prime minister outside the lokpal's ambit. This will also ensure that the lokpal's secretariat remains lean, manageable and clean. If the lokpal is required to deal with the entire bureaucracy of the Government of India, his secretariat will not only become unwieldy but will also be exposed to temptations.

After the lokpal submits a reasoned report on a matter, the moral forces within society should take over and do the rest. Despite the lokayuktas not being 'strong', indictments by them in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh have led to the dismissal of one chief minister and at least five ministers. It is not necessary to send every corrupt politician to the slaughterhouse. If, on the other hand, the moral forces are thought to be weak, Hazare's movement can provide new energies to them by following the suggestion given below.

The mistake which Jayaprakash Narayan had made is being repeated by Anna. Certain socialists had advised JP to turn the youth towards the village and work for the implementation of land reforms in Bihar - instead of targeting Indira Gandhi. In the same way, it would have been far better if Hazare had chosen a tehsil to, say, fight corruption in the implementation of welfare schemes for the poor. With the media behind him, he would surely have succeeded. He would also have created a youthful cadre of active workers (not mere windbags) and shown the way to people in other tehsils all over the country. The poor would feel liberated; fresh moral energies would be released; and the people would learn how to fight corruption where it actually affects them - instead of tilting at distant windmills. It would also become obvious that there is a requirement of district-level (even tehsil-level) structures to combat corruption in the delivery systems.

But Hazare is obsessed with politicians. The main aim of his movement is to harm them. He does not love the people; he hates politicians. So his 'mass movement' is doing nothing at all for the masses. But it is unwittingly causing injury to the very democracy which he claims to be seeking to strengthen.

Democracy is being injured because the people are being led to believe that every politician is corrupt and an enemy of the people, and that every bureaucrat, policeman, and judge is corrupt. Idle chatterers perhaps indulge in such loose talk. There could even be some relation between the reality of things and the loose talk evoked by that reality. But that is not the point. The point is whether such idle talk can be the ideological basis of a putative national movement. Such propaganda erodes the very possibility of trust between the people and state functionaries, and thereby knocks out the foundation of democracy.

When the declared aim is to strengthen democracy, one cannot but be alarmed at the prospect of the movement becoming a vehicle for the dissemination of irresponsible thinking. No revolution will ever come out of this. But the anarchy of distrust could eventually lead us to the system of governance which does not require the trust of the people - namely, a dictatorship.

Lalit Uniyal is a social worker based in Aau village, Banda district in Uttar Pradesh. The views expressed by the author are personal.