Finally, it has arrived. The day when there are mass demonstrations for change. As a social activist working in rural areas and in urban slums, I had fantasised about the time when citizens would demonstrate their power and demand a better India.
Yet, there is disquiet.
We are united in our fight against corruption. The torchbearers of the movement for urgent action on corruption have to be applauded for centre-staging this critical issue. They have to be congratulated for making the government work overtime and pressuring Parliament in taking legislative action to curb corruption. If this kind of mass mobilisation had not happened, perhaps the laws needed would not have been discussed and evaluated.
Yet, why aren’t we all clapping?
It is because the end does not justify the means the movement has used. The Bill is not the only acceptable version, and the government should consider other versions. There is disregard for consultation and dialogue. This, ‘It’s my way or the highway’ approach is undemocratic as the government’s action in arresting Anna. So, if we must slam the government for their action, we must also question the means being used by the movement torchbearers.
Why is no time being given to the Standing Committee of the Parliament to consult with various sections of civil society? There is a version being proposed by the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI). No doubt, there may be several more versions and inputs available from a number of people and organisations who have worked on these issues for many years. Why is the movement not allowing time and space for consultation?
We all want an effective law or set of laws to remove corruption. This will need diverse experiences and views to be considered and incorporated. Civil society, thank goodness, is not some homogeneous monolith. It cannot and should not be. It must represent the diversity and unique circumstances of the so many different sections of people that make up India. These voices have to be listened to and consensus drawn. So that we have a set of laws that can work.
If this requires more time, so be it.
Dialogue and debate are at the heart of our democracy. This process may be time consuming, deliberative and slow but it is the only way to ensure laws that are effective. Our Constitution itself was a product of intense debate and discussion by nearly 300 Assembly members, over a period of three years and a total of 165 days of sittings! And despite all odds and many foretellings of doom, (including the British journalist Don Taylor who wrote in 1969, “when one looks at this vast country and its 524 million people, 15 major languages in use, the conflicting religion, the many races, it seems incredible that one nation could ever emerge”), the Constitution has served us well as the mother of all laws.
Additionally, the laws that have been passed by the Parliament even in the last few years — born after deep discussions, consultations and pressure from various groups — have been path breaking and used effectively on the ground with far reaching impact on society. The RTI Act, the RTE Act, the NREGA Act, the Forest rights Act are all examples.
Today again we stand at a historical juncture. We have brought pressure to act. And act the lawmakers must. Let us now allow for debate, consultation and consensus so that we have a set of laws that can truly work in removing corruption and moving us towards the change we seek.
(Vinita Singh is a resident of Andheri and an activist with We The People)
The Reader’s Editor column will return next week.