Venky Vembu Aug 16, 2011
By a curious alignment of planets, Anna Hazare has captured the imagination of an India that is crying out for fundamental change. Gurinder Osan/AP
The events of recent weeks, culminating in Anna Hazare’s detention this morning, mark in many ways a defining moment in India’s evolution as a democracy. The upsurge of popular sentiment in cities across India this morning in solidarity with Team Anna’s detention is stunning. And the readiness with which people who normally go to elaborate lengths to avoid engagement with “dirty” politics are now courting arrest or are otherwise organising public protests – or even just quietly observing a day’s fast at home — to give expression to their sense of disgust with the UPA government’s handling of the Lokpal Bill exercise is quite unprecedented in independent India.
I know of professionals who have taken leave from their investment banking jobs abroad, where they earn six-figure dollar salaries and bonuses, just to be in India today to be part of this movement. One of them has even prepared his young wife for the inevitability of his arrest – which in his family would normally be considered a shame and a scandal – and has been organising protests in Mumbai for the past few days.
At NRI gatherings of Indians Against Corruption, the energy of young Indians sharing ideas to make India corruption-free has been palpable. The extent to which they are ready to step outside of their 9-to-5 grind and donate time and money for the biggest public cause that confronts India is a surprise – even to them. They say they used to think of themselves as apathetic to politics. But now, they’ve found a cause they believe in.
Watch images from the protests
This is the second time in the past few months that Anna Hazare has convincingly demonstrated the popular, mass-based nature of the support that his campaign enjoys, across class, caste and religious distinctions that normally divide us. We first saw it in April, when he launched his fast at Jantar Mantar, and electrified India. Since that time, he and his team have had the entire political establishment — and, to be honest, a cross-section of media commentators – clueless about how a man with little or no financial resources can command so large a following with only rustic simplicity and the power of a message that has great resonance with millions of people.
So, the fact that Anna Hazare and his team enjoys enormous goodwill with a large-enough constituency of people who are sick of corruption and jaded with politics as usual and who have completely lost faith in the political establishment in its entirety is blindingly obvious.
The question then arises: how can Team Anna now leverage this goodwill? Should it continue to remain the “outsider” calling the political establishment to account? What are the odds that it can succeed? How can it channel the deep-seated distrust of the political establishment and bring about demonstrable change.
To address that, it helps to assess the extent of “success” that Team Anna’s campaign has had. It’s beyond dispute that Team Anna’s one major success has been in giving voice to and amplifying the popular disgust with the top-down, 360-degree corruption that pervades our public life — and in showing up starkly that for all the power games that go on with the various political parties, they are pretty much united in their opposition to a strong Lokpal institution.
Yet, while Team Anna gets full marks for elevating the issue of corruption to the top of the agenda and for creating mass awareness, its attempts beyond that have only met with limited success. For instance, the Lokpal Bill that’s now before Parliament is a mere shadow of the strong anti-corruption agency it envisaged. And even those who are willing to stand up and be counted along with Anna aren’t fully convinced that Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal is the answer to corruption. If you can’t convince even those who support you, what chances do you stand against those who oppose you?
It is in that context that Team Anna needs to formulate a forward-looking political strategy.
Since it’s the current UPA government that is now doing its damnedest to water down the Lokpal Bill, it’s fair to say that it will pay a big political price when general elections are due next in 2014. By default, an alternative political formation could then come to power. But even in the event of, say, a BJP-led grouping coming to power, there’s nothing to suggest that it will work to change the system because it’s now too entrenched in the wily ways of electoral game-playing (as was demonstrated most strikingly in its handling of affairs in Karnataka). The BJP has thus far adopted only a wishy-washy stand on the Lokpal Bill, which validates the suspicion that it doesn’t want to alter the rules of the political game too drastically.
Enter the political arena
In any case, why should Team Anna do all the grunge work only to see another status quo-ist party ride on its back and come to power? Why not bite the bullet and enter the “dirty” political fray yourself?
It’s true that Anna Hazare has a disdain for electoral politics as it is practised now, where – in his words – people sell their vote for a bottle of liquor. He also considers himself “unelectable”, given the reality of the political arena. Yet, the biggest criticism that cripples the movement today is that since it is not elected – “or electable” – it has no right to influence the discourse on the Lokpal Bill, now that it is before Parliament.
It’s not just Congress lackeys who make that criticism. Even non-Congress politicians andinsightful commentators make that point.
On that count, Team Anna’s best days as an agent of change from the “outside” may be already over. From here on, it only risks elevating its politics of confrontation, which could erode the political goodwill it now enjoys. It’s perhaps time for Team Anna to enter the political arena and work for change from within.
Even if it does that, it doesn’t have to become just another political party. With the goodwill that it now enjoys and the energy it has infused in its supporters, it can change the way politics is played in India. What it lacks in money power, it can make up for with a bottom-up movement that, as has been already demonstrated, enjoys great resonance. In any case, as we saw with the routing of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, money power stands no chance when a people are set on throwing out a corrupt regime.
The challenges to becoming a mainstream political party are formidable, particularly when you’re (for now) only a one-issue party. But that issue – corruption — is one that is right at the top of people’s consciousness. And as the only political force that today enjoys a nationwide profile, is untainted by corruption, has a vision for changing the system – and a volunteer force that can more than compensate for the money power of its opponents with boots-on-the-ground campaign, Team Anna has enormous strengths in this battle.
Moments such as this come only once in a generation. By a curious alignment of planets, Anna Hazare has captured the imagination of an India that is crying out for fundamental change. It is time for it to seize the moment, stop being an outsider that has exhausted its influence as a change agent, enter electoral politics, and recreate an India in its own image.
EDITS | Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 2:03:11 AM
A Surya Prakash
The Congress’s fascist reaction to the anti-corruption movement shows the party still remains unchanged. Its misdeeds remind us of the 1975-77 Emergency.
The Congress-led UPA Government is sadly mistaken if it thinks that its ruthless Gaddafi-style midnight operation to evict Baba Ramdev and his supporters from Ramlila Maidan in the early hours of June 5 will crush the movement against corruption in the country. The Government’s action, which is reminiscent of the response of Mrs Indira Gandhi to charges of corruption in the mid-1970s, only goes to show that nothing much has changed within the Congress. It continues to function like a family-owned private limited company whose promoters have fascist tendencies and remain extremely vulnerable to charges of corruption.
Apart from ending the mass satyagraha at the venue in Delhi, the Congress has launched a vituperative attack on Baba Ramdev, calling him a “thug” and a “fraud” and raising questions about the funding of his organisation. There is nothing new in this. These very tactics were deployed against Anna Hazare and his team members in April. An identical operation is now on to paint Baba Ramdev in ugly colours.
The Government is rattled by Baba Ramdev’s movement because it strikes at the root of the problem — money stashed away in Swiss banks by politicians and businessmen. The Anna Hazare movement got confined to the limited issue of establishing a national ombudsman (Lok Pal) to deal with corruption at the highest level. But, the creation of such an institution is just one of the many initiatives that need to be taken. Since corruption is a hydra-headed monster that has affected all aspects of politics, governance and life, what is needed is a comprehensive anti-corruption agenda that seeks to tackle the problem at the root and throw up permanent remedies.
For example, money power has vitiated the entire electoral process since the beginning and the humongous amounts spent by candidates in State Assembly and Lok Sabha elections has made a mockery of the spending limits imposed by the Election Commission. Over the last two decades, the permissible spending in a Lok Sabha constituency in a large State has more than trebled.
Just three monmths ago, the Conduct of Election Rules were amended yet again to enhance the maximum election expenditure in Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies to Rs 40 lakh and Rs 16 lakh respectively. However, those who track election-spending are aware that even this revised limit will be observed more in the breach than than in the observance because in recent years the average spending by serious candidates in Lok Sabha constituencies is between Rs 3 crore and Rs 5 crore.
All of this is black money — some generated within the country and the rest brought back fromSwitzerlandand tax havens likeLiechtenstein. Therefore, any anti-corruption initiative must first deal with the issue of black money vitiating the electoral process and making a mockery of the democratic system. We need to accord high priority to this problem.
The second most important source of corruption is Government contracts. It is long established that those who run the Government and the ruling party get kickbacks on every deal. In the early decades after independence when the licence-permit-quota raj held sway, bribes and commissions were paid in Indian rupees. Later, after Mrs Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, the Congress chose a new route for political funding — kickbacks from international deals which are paid into secret accounts in Switzerland and other tax havens.
Those who have worked in Government at senior levels — for instance, Mr BG Deshmukh who was Cabinet Secretary during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister — have noted that since the 1980s, the Congress has found it more convenient to take commissions from foreign companies in international deals rather than pass the hat around among Indian businessmen and industrialists to collect party funds. This way, huge sums can be collected to fund the party without any obligation to industrial houses within the country. It was presumed that there would be no whiff of corruption if discreet payments were made to Swiss bank accounts.
This grand plan, however, went for a toss when the Swedish Audit Bureau reported that arms manufacturer AB Bofors had paid ‘commission’ to certain individuals in connection with the sale of field guns to India in 1986. Despite that embarrassment, there is no indication of any change in the attitude of the Congress towards collecting funds. This is also the reason why the party is dragging its feet on the black money issue.
When the pressure from the Supreme Court became unbearable, the Government cleverly announced the setting up of a “high-powered committee” to keep the court at bay. This committee is supposed to examine the problem and outline a plan of action to bring back the loot. The Government offered a similar bait to Baba Ramdev the other day, offering to set up “a committee” to draft a law to bring back black money.
After making this offer, the Government claimed that it had met “all the demands” of Baba Ramdev and wanted him to end his satyagraha. When he failed to oblige, the Government responded with police brutality. The use of brute force to end a peaceful agitation is reminiscent of the Emergency days. This was exactly how Mrs Indira Gandhi responded to Jayaprakash Narayan’s campaign against corruption 36 years ago.
In fact, the parallels between 1974-75 and 2010-11 are striking. Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement began with the campaign against corruption in Gujarat and with the demand that then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi probe the allegations against LN Mishra, a senior Minister in her Cabinet. Mrs Indira Gandhi did none of this. Instead, she used brute force to crush the movement.
Mr Manmohan Singh, too, has resorted to an Emergency-style operation to crush the satyagraha at Ramlila Maidan. Also, in typical Mrs Indira Gandhi fashion, he has defended the midnight police raid and said the Government had no option but to resort to such action. There are other eerie coincidences. It should be remembered that Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed her dreaded Emergency in 1975 after a massive Opposition rally which, incidentally, was held at Ramlila Maidan and in June.
This only shows that more things change, the more the Congress remains the same. The party continues to be extremely vulnerable when corruption is discussed and the party’s fascist tendencies come to the fore whenever its Government is cornered on this issue. That is why all those who believe in democracy need to be on high alert after Mr Singh’s Ramlila Maidan operation. Needless to say, eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.
FRONT PAGE | Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 2:02:55 AM
PNS |New Delhi
A day after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee launched a frontal attack on anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and his team, the civil society members hit back at the ruling dispensation in the Centre. Accusing the Congress of behaving in an “autocratic” manner, they decided to brief the UPA allies and the Opposition parties about the goings-on in the meetings of the Joint Drafting Committee (JDC) for Lokpal Bill.
“The Congress is not only excluding its UPA allies in the talks for the Lokpal Bill but also the Opposition parties. It thinks as if only the ruling party is important. It shows the Congress’ concern for parliamentary democracy,” said activist Arvind Kejriwal, while talking to mediapersons on Monday.
He said the civil society members would now brief the non-Congress parties on the issue. “We will brief them as to what all is happening at the JDC meetings,” he said.
The civil society would write to the political parties with details of the deliberations that have taken so far at the joint panel meetings. They would also attach the documents circulated during the meetings.
Kejriwal, a member on the joint panel, quoted Mukherjee as saying the MPs were elected representatives of the people and they had the powers to legislate laws. “But the MPs cannot become dictators if they are elected once in five years,” he retorted.
Replying to Mukherjee’s attack on Hazare, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said it was a proof of the Minister’s skewed understanding of democracy and arrogance of power. They have also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying an honest person like him should not be scared of being investigated by an independent Lokpal.
In turn, without naming Hazare Congress went all out against him by alleging that the Gandhian was an “unelected dictator” who was acting at the behest of “forces attempting to destablise the country”.
On Sunday, Mukherjee, who is the JDC chairman, had stated that the civil society’s agitations and fasts were undermining established institutions of democracy such as Parliament. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, both members on the joint panel, spoke to the mediapersons on Monday to trash the charges made by the Finance Minister.
Responding to Mukherjee’s charges, the civil society members, in a statement, said, “Such statements betray a distorted understanding of democracy and an arrogance of power.
They show a mistaken understanding that the people have no role to play in governance and law making once they have elected their representatives and they have formed a Government.”
While Mukherjee had taken a dig at the fast undertaken by Hazare in April, Bhushan retorted that fasting, as Gandhi had demonstrated, was the most non-violent and civilised means of expressing oneself and exerting democratic pressure on any Government. “Unfortunately, a party which considers itself as the political legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, is reviling civil society movements and fasting as anti-democratic,” he said.
Bhushan also objected to Mukherjee rejecting the demand of civil society to televise live the proceedings of the JDC and calling it a circus. He asked whether by this logic it meant that Parliament was also a circus and the MPs were animals in that circus.
Kejriwal repeated the points made in the letter written by all five civil society members to Manmohan Singh to buttress their argument that the PM should indeed be brought under the purview of Lokpal.
He reminded the Government that Mukherjee himself as the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Lokpal Bill in 2001 under the NDA rule had recommended that the PM should covered under the ambit of Lokpal. Later, in January this year, in the draft law prepared by his Ministry, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily suggested inclusion of the PM in Lokpal’s purview, he said.
Kejriwal went on to state that the draft law was sent to Home Ministry under P Chidambaram, which also concurred in March with this view. Even Manmohan Singh had advocated the inclusion of PM in Lokpal’s ambit, he said, adding that in the last 10 years the Government’s view has been in favour of bringing the PM under the purview of Lokpal. Incidentally, three out of five Ministers – Mukherjee, Chidambaram and Moily – are on the joint panel for Lokpal Bill.
Kejriwal asked, “Now, all the three Ministers have suddenly taken a U-turn and they appear to be adamant on keeping the PMO out of the Lokpal’s ambit. We are wondering what happened post-March, which prompted the Government to suddenly take a u-turn on the issue?”
On the other hand, stepping up its attack on Hazare and BJP-RSS, Congress charged that the greatest danger to the democracy is from the unelected dictator. “If democracy faces its biggest peril, it is from the tyranny of the unelected and tyranny of the unelectable,” party spokesman Manish Tewari told mediapersons without naming Hazare or BJP or RSS.
Apparently sending the message to Hazare and his colleagues not to take the engagement with the Government for granted, he said there can be only one veto in Indian democracy and that is in the hands of people and “not any one individual”.
Taking strong exception to Hazare’s threat to go on an indefinite hunger strike from August 16, Tewari wondered whether it was democratic to talk about such threats when one is engaged in a dialogue with the Government.
June 13, 2011 10:52:12 AM
Whenever politicians are caught with their hand in the till they cry foul and claim innocence. M Karunanidhi’s defence of Kanimozhi demonstrates this point.
The paterfamilias of the first family of the DMK which was routed in the recent Assembly election, has said that his daughter Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP who is in jail for her alleged role in the 2G Spectrum scandal, has been imprisoned “either because of an instruction from the Centre or due to the negligence of the Centre”. Earlier, Mr M Karunanidhi, had also said that “bad friendship” would end in trouble.
According to the CBI’s chargesheet, Kanimozhi was arrested along with the managing director of Kalaignar TV for allegedly receiving `200 crore in the 2G Spectrum allocation scam. Mr Karunanidhi, however, claimed that the investigating agency had arrested his daughter as it needed someone to take the blame.
Having seen the CBI work from close quarters, I know for a fact that whenever a politician involved in a scam or a scandal is arrested, the standard response is that he or she has been falsely implicated and that it is a part of vendetta against an innocent person. I have also noticed that politicians and the truth rarely go hand-in-hand. Moreover, if the politician has held a position of power, his or her approach has generally been to loot as much as possible as if there is no tomorrow and he or she would never be held accountable.
In this context, I am reminded of a dialogue between dharma and the eldest Pandav brother, Yudhisthir. dharma asked Yudhisthir, “What is the biggest wonder of the world?” Yudhisthir replied, “The biggest wonder of the world is that people should see others dying and still somehow believe that death will bypass them.” In other words, people tend to forget that nature too works along Newton’s Third Principle: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
In the name of coalition dharma, partners in a coalition tend to become law unto themselves. Minority partners hold the majority party at gunpoint and the latter conveniently looks away so that they may all continue to remain in power. Yet, no dharma permits such adharma that allows the evil of corruption to thrive. In our country, the laws have been so framed that any investigation may be strangled by the Government at any step.
For example, according to the CVC Act the CBI cannot start any investigation against any officer of the level of Joint Secretary and above, which would include Ministers, without the Government’s sanction that can come only after the matter has been investigated. Thus, the CBI or any anti-corruption agency is left to deal with peons and clerks or junior officials at best, when everybody knows that the rot starts at the top.
The UPA Government went all out to save former Telecommunications Minister A Raja for nearly14 months, till such time the Supreme Court took over the monitoring of investigations into the 2G Spectrum scam. Only after that was A Raja arrested and a case registered against him. Three months later, Kanimozhi was also put behind bars. Now, the politicians are making a fine distinction between what is moral and what is legal as a subterfuge to escape punishment for their crimes. The Government, of course, is still doing its best to save the thieves and robbers, especially if they happen to belong to the ruling alliance. The only barrier that stands in its way is the judiciary.
This is not the case only in India; it is the same the world over. The famous American journalist Frank I Cobb once said about the US what is now equally applicable to India: “If the author of the Declaration of Independence were to utter such a sentiment today, the Post Office Department could exclude him from the mail, grand juries could indict him for sedition and criminal syndicalism, legislative committees could seize his private papers … and United States Senators would be clamouring for his deportation that he… should be sent back to live with the rest of the terrorists.”
The system today continues to be unjust to the masses with the result that people with lots of money and the ability to afford expensive lawyers often go unpunished. Regarding the Government’s indifference to the criminal justice system, the Supreme Court recently said, “The criminal justice system has been destroyed by the Government. They are not providing (adequate) funds to the police and the courts.” The observation only proves that the Government has actually done more than enough to bail out criminals, contrary to what Mr Karunanidhi would like to believe.
Moreover, by ensuring that the CBI remains under-staffed and hamstrung, the Government has significantly weakened its main anti-corruption agency as well. According to the CBI’s data, some 915 posts at the executive officers level — these include positions for Inspectors, Sub-Inspectors, Deputy Superintendents of Police, Superintendents of Police, Deputy Inspectors-General, Additional and Special Directors, Law Officers — are currently vacant. Hence, Mr Karunanidhi’s charge that the Union Government has not done enough to save his daughter does not stand up to scrutiny.
The only reason why Kanimozhi is in jail is because her case is being directly monitored by the Supreme Court. Once a case comes under the scrutiny of the judiciary, the Government has no say and cannot even direct the CBI. However, the abuse and misuse of the police and other law enforcement agencies will continue unless they are given a constitutional status. But we can only dream about such things since no politician would like to place a noose around his or her own neck. The State Governments have not even implemented the September 2006 directives of the Supreme Court for minimum reforms within the police department.
Mr Karunanidhi’s statements thus reflect the mindset of today’s politicians who, like our erstwhile colonial rulers, are habituated to using the police as puppets to implement their wishes as was evident during the eviction of Baba Ramdev and his supporters from Delhi — they had gathered to protest against corruption and press their demand that the Government should bring back the black money stashed in safe havens abroad.
It is a fact that fighting corruption has never been on the agenda of any political party. Though there are some honest politicians, most others use black money to fund their election campaign. This is done with the explicit help of the Government. Therefore, it is the Government’s duty to ensure that everyone declares their source of income. But perhaps it is never going to happen. So anybody who leads a movement against black money and corruption would be doing a signal service.
Many people say that democracy does not work. Of course it works. But we are the ones who have to make it work.
We appeal people in general and youth in particular not to allow this government in power anymore. Do not forgive such arrogance of any government . (8 june 2011)
National Organising Secretary, ABVP
Central Secretariat, ABVP