Karela Fry

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Why they didn’t join Anna Hazare

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Here are three authors whom I quote because their writings encapsulate the views that a large number of concerned citizens have expressed. There seem to be two kinds of misgivings about Anna Hazare’s movement amongst people who are against corruption. The first is that highly communal forces seem to be deeply entrenched within Hazare’s khwaishen. The second is an uneasiness over anti-democratic conditions in the draft Jan Lokpal Bill.

Harsh Mander

In an article in HT, Mander sets out in two short sentences a political philosophy that embodies the ideals of a democratic republic:

My notion of good governance includes but extends beyond cleansing governments of bribery and financial malfeasance. It is of a just, compassionate, democratic State, which is fair to all citizens regardless of their faith, caste, gender or wealth.

The rest of the article sets out Mander’s misgivings about Hazare’s movement against corruption:

For four decades, repeated governments have demonstrated bad faith in failing to pass a law to constitute a Lokpal. All political parties demand it when in opposition, and subvert it when in power. The UPA’s draft Lokpal Bill was another weak-kneed attempt. But I worry that the alternative Jan Lokpal Bill would instead create a statutory dictator, by bringing investigation, prosecution and recommendation for punishment under the Lokpal. It would sacrifice ‘due process’ of justice in its anxiety to ensure powerful policing of official corruption. There are few checks to prevent a dominant Lokpal from becoming oppressive.

I support the more general demand of the demonstrators that citizens must be consulted before laws and policies that affect them are framed and passed. The government conceded this in small part by constituting the National Advisory Council (NAC). But of course there are innumerable shades of opinion in civil society beyond those in the NAC. The governments must institutionalise a mandatory process of pre-legislative consultation with citizen groups before any major statute is considered by Parliament.

And yet why could I not actively join the demonstration at Jantar Mantar? First, the symbols and allies that the campaign chose disturbed me: the stage was decorated with a picture of Bharat Mata, almost identical to that propagated by the right-wing RSS. Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the two ‘god-men’ who dominated the campaign and whose followers contributed the largest numbers at the protest, endorse many Hindutva causes including the construction of a Ram Temple. RSS leaders like Ram Madhav were welcomed on to the stage. My fears were further confirmed when Anna Hazare declared that Narendra Modi was a ‘model’ chief minister. It’s difficult to comprehend how a campaign that claims to be Gandhian can extol a government responsible for the slaughter of its religious minorities. Is the condoning of violent retribution against communities, the complicity in slaughter of the official machinery, the systematic subversion of the criminal justice system to protect those guilty of the massacre, or extra-judicial killings not signs of corruption?

Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Mehta’s article in IE takes an unbiased look at the methodology of the protest and finds it unrepresentative:

[T]he claim that the “people” are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing. In a democracy, one ought to freely express views. But anyone who claims to be the “authentic” voice of the people is treading on very thin ice indeed.

Mehta then argues that the same fallacy of being unrepresentative and insufficiently democratic carries over to the draft Jan Lokpal Bill:

The various drafts of the Jan Lokpal Bill … amount to an unparalleled concentration of power in one institution that will literally be able to summon any institution and command any kind of police, judicial and investigative power. Power, divided in a democracy, can often be alibi for evading responsibility. But it is also a guarantee that the system is not at the mercy of a few good men. Having concentrated immense power, it then displays extraordinary faith in the virtue of those who will wield this power. Why do we think this institution will be incorruptible?

[T]he demand is premised on an idea that non-elected institutions that do not involve politicians are somehow the only ones that can be trusted. This assumption is false. Institutions of all kinds have succeeded and failed. But the premise of so much accountability discourse is not just contempt of politicians, but contempt of representative democracy. This contempt is reflected in two ways. There are several mechanisms of accountability in place. They have not worked as well as they should; vested interests have subverted them. But interestingly, despite those interests, governments are being called to account. Most of us are as aghast as any of the agitators about the evasions of government. But it does not follow that creating a draconian new institution that diminishes everything from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Supreme Court is a solution. The net result of a “Lokpal” will be to weaken the authority of even other well-functioning institutions.

He also sets forward his own views on coercive methods in democratic politics:

The morality of fasting unto death for a political cause in a constitutional democracy has always been a tricky issue. There is something deeply coercive about fasting unto death. When it is tied to an unparalleled moral eminence, as it is in the case of Anna Hazare, it amounts to blackmail. There may be circumstances, where the tyranny of government is so oppressive, or the moral cause at stake so vital that some such method of protest is called for. But in a functioning constitutional democracy, not having one’s preferred institutional solution to a problem accepted, does not constitute a sufficient reason for the exercise of such coercive moral power. This is not the place to debate when a fast-unto-death is appropriate. But B.R. Ambedkar was surely right, in one of his greatest speeches, to warn that recourse to such methods was opening up a democracy to the “grammar of anarchy”.

I find it interesting that Mehta uses the word “daft” for certain provisions of the bill. Good to find that I’m not alone.

Javed Ahmed

In an article in IE, Ahmed sets out an interesting historical background:

Haven’t we lived through two nationwide anti-corruption movements before, the JP movement in the early ’70s, the V.P. Singh movement in the late ’80s? Neither of them succeeded in rooting out corruption. But both, however innocently and unwittingly, contributed to the poisoning of national politics. JP’s movement and the Janata government that followed gave respectability to Hindu communalism. The V.P. Singh government, opportunistically supported by the BJP from the outside, paved the way for the meteoric rise of the BJP — from two seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984 to 79 in 1989 — which in turn laid the foundation for the first ever Hindutva-led government in New Delhi. No one in his right mind would accuse JP or V.P. Singh of being communal. I admired and identified with the movements they led. But do ponder the outcome of their movements.

The substance of Ahmed’s problem seems to be a common thread with many: in endorsing a stand against corruption, does one have to shake bloodied hands?

A few weeks ago, I received a call from Mayank Gandhi, Mumbai coordinator of ‘India Against Corruption’, invting me to be part of a panel in Mumbai to address a press conference on the then upcoming fast by Anna Hazare. “Your name has been suggested to me by Swami Agnivesh. We want Muslims like you, not fanatical Muslims. So please join us and suggest other Muslim names”, I was told.

I called back two days later and said I was keen on joining the movement against corruption but conditions apply: I would be keen on the company I would be required to keep. For example, I was happy to know we wouldn’t have to rub shoulders with “bad Muslims” but what about “bad Hindus”? Or, for that matter, would I find myself sharing a platform with people known for their promotion of “Mr Clean” Modi as prime ministerial candidate? If so, do I have the freedom to declare from the same platform that to me, sponsorship of mass crimes was the worst form of corruption?


4 Responses

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  1. […] corruption in public office. On the one hand the opposition supports the likes of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare by asking for the prime minister’s office to be brought under the draft legislature on the […]

  2. […] people agree with the idea that there should be a check on corruption in the government, there is wide disagreement with the draft bill initially presented by Hazare and his co-workers. The article has a paragraph […]

  3. Congratulation to Anna Hazare & his Team for this Victory of the People over their own Representatives & Public servants, who have for all practical purposes become their Bosses & started demanding & getting unlawful/illegal Gratification from the people for each & every work ,which they are otherwise suppose to do as a part of their duty. .But , this Victory is just a beginning & We have a long way to Go to get it implemented in its true spirit to enjoy the fruits of this Bloodless struggle for Second Freedom.


    August 28, 2011 at 6:19 am

  4. […] having one. Almost everyone that one talks to has this opinion. In spite of that, there are many reasonable people who do not agree with Anna Hazare and his […]

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