This post is my response to some common comments in the print and electronic media against Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill.
1) To those who say revamp existing institutions instead of forming Lokpal, I ask why didn’t we revamp the Police instead of forming the NIA?
If our Police had been modernized and independent, they would have had the forensic skills to investigate terror cases. But of course it’s not politically convenient to allow the Police a free hand, so we take the easier option and form a National Investigation Agency (NIA) instead.
Revamping existing institutions is no doubt essential, but this is a very complex and long-drawn affair and, given the nature of our polity, is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future without considerable public pressure. After all, the people who are talking about revamping these institutions today are the ones who are responsible for blunting them in the first place!
Bottomline: Revamping existing institutions, although necessary, will take at least a decade or more. Public pressure will not sustain for so long, which probably explains why our netas are proposing it! We need a more immediate solution.
2) To those who say Anna’s fast is not the way to push through crucial legislations, I say please come out of your drawing rooms and show us an alternate way.
The problem with armchair activists is there is all talk and no action from their end. If Aruna Roy and Arundhati Roy disagree with Anna’s methods, can they explain what their strategy has been to achieve the same and why it has not yielded any tangible results so far?
Fact is, no one has been able to convince the Govt. to form a proper Lokpal uptil now. Engaging with the Govt. is fine in theory, but the Govt. should be prepared to listen for it to work. Such a strategy is unlikely to yield results in the present Indian political scenario because there are powerful vested interests across parties who want the status quo to continue on corruption.
Bottomline: The fact that successive Govts. have not shown any serious intent to curb corruption leaves no choice for the aam aadmi other than to take to the streets. Jab ghee seedhi ungli se na nikle, to ungli tedhi karna zaroori hai.
3) To all those who say Parliamentary processes must be followed, I ask are we really a process-driven nation?
Where are these processes when dozens of Bills are passed by Parliament in minutes without even a proper discussion? Why are processes forgotten when Ministers want to have their own way in their Ministries? Where are these processes when flights are delayed because netas are late in reaching the airport?
The reality is that all this talk of processes is just an excuse to delay and defer unpopular decisions (remember Telangana?). Processes cannot become bigger than the purpose. After all, what process can justify a delay of 42 years in passing such a critical legislation?
Bottomline: Unfortunately, processes have become an excuse to kill critical legislations in this country. If credibility of Parliamentary processes is to be restored, there needs to be a lot more transparency about what goes on behind the scenes in the name of processes.
4) To those who say the Jan Lokpal Bill is draconian, attempts to do too many things, etc., I ask two questions:
(a) Have you heard about Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) which is equally “draconian” and very stringent on those found guilty of corruption? Ultimately, that draconian piece of legislation is what turned Hong Kong from a den of corruption into one of the Asian economic tigers today.
(b) Is there any rule which says that a law once enacted cannot be changed thereafter? If at all, after a couple of years, it is felt that certain provisions of the Lokpal Act need to be improved or amended, Parliament can discuss and debate and make any changes that are necessary.
And believe me on this, a draconian Lokpal Bill is actually going to spur the Govt. into improving our courts and jails as well. Why, you ask? Because a draconian law will ensure that more high and mighty people like Raja and Kalmadi will land in jail. Once that happens, the Govt.’s attention will automatically be drawn towards the poor condition of jails and slow pace of judicial proceedings, and there will be pressure to reform the same!
Bottomline: Given the seriousness and extent of the problem of corruption in India today, it is far more desirable to table a draconian Bill than err on the side of caution and table a weak Bill.
5) To those who say the Jan Lokpal Bill will create a massive bureaucracy, what’s wrong with it as long as it is put to good use?
People don’t have a problem with a large bureaucracy per se, as long as the institution is doing its job and people appear to have adequate work. Disenchantment arises not because an organisation is seen as bulky, but because it does not deliver on its basic charter of services.
Bottomline: People will not mind a bulky Lokpal as long as it does its job well and keeps an effective watch on the rest of the Govt. As for the costs of running this new organisation, that’s not even an issue. The money spent here will earn handsome dividends if it can even make a tiny dent in the extent of corruption in other departments.
6) And there are those who say that his kind of mass protest will harm India’s reputation as a business destination!
Yes, I heard this argument too from a panelist on Times Now! I really cannot emphasise strongly enough how silly and idiotic this argument is. It’s like saying that the protests in the Middle East have diminished the stature of the region!
Since when has fighting against corruption scared away business? If corruption is reduced, both individuals and corporates stand to gain heavily. Genuine business thrives only in the absence of corruption. A corrupt environment promotes only crony capitalism and oligarchies.
People making such arguments are so deluded that they forget this is a genuine public agitation for a positive cause. Moreover, it is being conducted peacefully despite the scale of the protest. If anything, today India can hold its head high in the comity of nations. After Gandhiji, Anna has again shown the world how change can be brought about in a peaceful manner.
Bottomline: We have to decide whether we want to create the right kind of business environment or simply promote crony capitalism.
Some other comments that I’d like to make:
The biggest question in my mind is, where are Sonia and Rahul Gandhi at this crucial time? It is quite unbelievable that the most important political leader in India today is simply absent at such an important time! I actually wonder if her “illness” and foreign visit is neatly timed to coincide with Anna’s agitation so that if things go wrong (as they have), the Prime Minister can take all the blame and she can come out with her reputation unscathed?
And the less said about the so-called “youth icon” Rahul Gandhi, the better! One expected him to step in and show leadership at this stage, but he has utterly failed to make even his presence felt. He simply pops up when and where he feels like it and takes up some issues, but remains silent on other equally or more important matters. Not what you’d expect from a PM-in-waiting!
But the biggest villian in this story, however, is clearly the BJP. They are simply sitting in the commentary box and giving a ball-by-ball critique. It’s easy to criticize the Govt., but what are you doing to show the way forward, being the principal opposition party? I can’t believe they are unable to understand that the agitation happening today is against the political class as a whole, not just against the Congress. Their stupidity and opportunistic attitude is undoubtedly going to cost them the next election as well.