The post-LokPal world

I have refrained from joining the chorus of discussions because, in times such as this, there is more noise than information or substance. But, when learned friends who ought to know more start talking in binary terms – either you are with Hazare or with the UPA – then it is time to make a few things clear. There is no expectation or arrogance that these views are the right ones. Just exercising my right to belt out a few words. The right to delete or ignore or castigate is very much yours.

Those of us who have been expressing light or deep concerns with both the Hazare camp tactics and goals have missed out one thing. We have consistently under-estimated the groundswell of public opinion against politicians and, especially, the Congress and its coalition partners. In the absence of a credible Opposition party that could tap into this sentiment, Mr. Hazare and his team have stepped in to harness this anti-politician sentiment. They have done well in giving a form and outlet for the frustration of the Middle-Class India. Merely because some one is against Indian politicians, they cannot and should not be placed above criticism or scrutiny.

Also, it is very unfortunate that if you questioned a proposed solution, then you are branded as being indifferent to the problem or that you are part of the problem-creators.

For instance, the US economy is deficient in demand. The proposed solutions are either to print more money or to spend more government money. I have expressed doubts on the efficacy of both and pointed out the costs of both these proposed solutions. So has Raghuram Rajan, among many others. That does not mean we do not recognise the problem of unemployment in the US or weak economic growth or that something could be done about it. But, it does not need rabble-rousing to come up with patient solutions. As Raghuram Rajan wrote in one of his recent columns in FT, patience might be a key ingredient of any solution.

Our experience tells us that most things in life are never black or white. Yet, any criticism of Mr. Hazare, his methods and his goals invites such venom that one wonders what is the difference between the disdain shown by politicians towards rules and norms of behaviour and conduct expected of them and the disdain shown by Anna’s internet and on-the-street followers for any alternate point of view?

Why even otherwise sensible Indians should suspect the critics of the methods and goals of team Hazare to be lacking in integrity, to be agents of the Congress Party or that of the UPA or to be applicants to replace Digvijay Singh?

Yes, TGS concedes readily – again – that the issue of corruption has never before been brought to the front burner in India as has been now done by Mr. Hazare. He has unleashed tremendous energy and has aroused expectations sky-high. Unless properly harnessed and channelized constructively, these forces could turn against the idea and integrity of India and could become the Basmasura to Mr. Hazare.

Mr. Hazare has called the politicians traitors – technically, he is right. Any one who betrays the trust reposed in them is a traitor. That is true, by definition.

Is it possible that a situation could arise that today’s followers of Anna Hazare and his team would call them traitors down the road? Yes, it is possible because they (Team Hazare) have given rise to the expectation that they (Team Hazare) have all the answers to the problems of corruption and governance. That is the trust they (the Middle Class) have reposed in these people (Team Hazare) and tomorrow, if they (Team Hazare) fall short for want of acumen or competence or good intentions or a combination of all three, they (Team Hazare) too will have betrayed the trust of the people who followed them.

It should be apparent to a High school student that where there is discretionary power, it is abused. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Two off-shoots of this well-known fact are: (1) If you wish to eliminate corruption or reduce its incidence and impact, you reduce discretionary power and (2) if, in the process of eliminating such corruption, you create some other structures with absolute power, you are ignoring this fact that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Hence, the logic of de-centralisation and elimination of discretionary powers in reducing or eliminating corruption is unassailable. The logic of information being used as a sunlight/disinfectant to eliminate the abuse and the virus of discretionary power is equally powerful.

To give credit where credit is due, the Jan Lok Pal Bill Draft 2.3 available on the website of www.indiaagainstcorruption.org is a considerable improvement over the drafts formulated last year. The powers of the LokPal are less draconian than before and there are more provisions for accountability. I do not know wish to go into details. Little bit of homework  – as I did – would make many readers arrive at the same conclusion.

But, if there are three features of the anti-corruption agitation – the LokPal Bill, the tactics and the post-Lok Pal governance agenda – what the draft 2.3 conveys is that Team Hazare has listened to public feedback on some of the most draconian provisions of the original Lok Pal draft. But, concerns over the other two elements of their agitation remain and have become deeper. Their tactics have become more arbitrary and unconstitutional at the same time and their governance agenda is deeply worrying.

It is the middle class – that is frustrated deeply by bribes paid to get driving license, to get a seat in an educational institution of choice, to be able to buy a property at affordable prices by paying out of their savings in a bank account rather than by cash, by having to pay a bribe to collect their income-tax refunds, etc. – that now backs Mr. Hazare to the hilt. But, the frustration of the middle class with the reform process is not that it was undertaken but it has not been completed.

But, they should remember that the agenda of Team Hazare is – intentionally or otherwise – roll back reforms, concentrate power in State hands and have a Lok Pal to check that abuse of expanded State power!

Prashant Bhushan’s remarks made in May against economic and policy reforms are most troubling. That those remarks were made in May flanked by Ms. Arundati Roy should be deeply worrying to all the right-thinking Indians. See the blog post at TGS of April 30th.  The Middle Class camp followers of Team Hazare should read the excellent blog posts by ‘Offstumped’ here and here.

Further, the remark by Kiran Bedi that Anna is India and India is Anna should not be ignored. It is a reflection of the mindset that pervades Indians, in general. It is just that the cast and the crew of the drama are different. But, the drama is the same – power and hubris.

The world is in the midst of unprecedented uncertainty, strife and potential conflicts. India is likely to be whipsawed by these developments in the coming months. What is the worldview of team-Hazare?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his two governments since 2004 have done many things that are going to hurt India in the years to come. I sincerely hope that the Hazare phenomenon does not join that list.

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12 thoughts on “The post-LokPal world

  1. I tend to agree with all that Tarun Pall says except for the part where he says he did not exercise his franchise. If you go deep good people exist. One has to support our democracy and freedom and I believe it a duty of every citizen to at least choose a lesser evil, if you will.

    And this summation by Mr. Nageswaran is one of the best I have read about the agitation taking place.

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  2. I have a neighbour who went and joined a day long fast to support AH. The irony was lost on him – he is a real estate broker who collects his commissions in cash!

    It will take a couple of generations (I am an optimist) for the abject lack of probity among us Indians to change. All the noise is just pent up angst of being left behind and nothing more possibly.

    UPA could have disarmed the guys through engagement and dialogue. But attitude of the UPA seems to be set by Tewari, Chidambaram, Sibal and Singhvi and they seemed to hijacked discussion to further their own careers. If the UPA (ie MMS and Pranab) come out and even say “we have done what we can” and that camp Anna is being unreasonable, I feel that this bunch will buckle. Anna seems a good man, but has been fully wound up and manipulated by the bunch behind in. The UPA is experienced in brinkmanship and will most likely stoop to kickback!

    Unlikely that anything meaninful (and sustained change) will come out this. The law when passed will have its consequences and introduce one more layer of arbitrariness in the way in which it is administered in India.

    We are bereft of good people. Our masses are amorphous and our standards entropy-ied away to lowest levels!

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  3. This is one of the better articles I have read on this issue.

    I acknowledge the dangers emanating from “the movement”, but public movements always have a life of their own. Some events would be far from ideal and possibly even counterproductive. The public is all too ready to suffer the wrongs at hands of saints and do-gooders, as their actions are sacrifical. The cocktail of good intentions, no-profit & personal sacrifice intoxicates masses into suffering injustices willingly.

    However, it is an unambiguously good development to see the citizens agitating against a corrupt & repressive government. The biggest danger to India today is this ruling class that is abandoning even a pretense to any morality. It needs to be humbled and my sense of the crowds at Ramlila Maidan (not those shoving themselves into camera & reporters but the “silent” majority I saw for myself on Saturday) was that their biggest desire is to humiliate their government and see it bend to people power. It is high time the “rulers” learn the basic principles of democracy and come a bit closer to be the public servants they are supposed to be. One more ordinary piece of legislation and a group of less than perfect heroes is a price I am willing to pay for this.

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    1. That is a compelling point of view too. This is from an email I received:

      “I have been reading your blog posts regularly. All I know is that due to Mr. Hazare and his agitation and his remarks on corruption within government, I got the birth certificate of my new born daughter within 30 minutes of entering the Municipal Corporation ward office at Nana Chowk. The officer whose sign I took on the certificate did so immediately as I took my ten freshly printed certificates to him. I thanked him and he said “that is my duty”. Then he laughingly commented “That is what Anna says, doesn’t he. See, I am not taking any money from you.” My response was “Yes, we pay our taxes and you get paid your salary, don’t you.” Then he said “Of course, we support Anna too.” (I doubt the sincerity in that statement). But I definately see a change for the better, which just a month ago seemed unimaginable to me. I had imagined all the worst things that one does imagine when they enter a government office. Somewhere where you can complain is something one would look for when you encounter government offices in this country and whatever the other faults people are inspired by Annaji, the man on the street just automatically speaks of him with respect. I hope the negative you talked of does not manifest itself, but one thing is certain. The Lokpal institution is a neccessity to atleast put fear into a person who previously openly asked for illegitimate money. We ordinary Indians, even in the upper class require a place we can complain when we encounter corruption. That is the level to which corruption exists in this country. The judiciary too needs to be covered under this institution.”

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  4. Fine, and well put. But we also need to give allowances to the “way things are” in India, before jumping the gun on empty slogans like “Anna is India and India is Anna”. They are just slogans and nothing more as was “Garibi Hatao” or “India Shining”. You know.

    True, Anna and team are pursuing the same drama of power and hubris (wonderfully summarized). But they are not going to appoint themselves as Lokpal, remember. The danger of this is possibly elsewhere, in that a leader in waiting would suddenly move in in the midst of chaos and usurp power, prolonging the darkness.

    The tragedy is, we Indians seem to be capable of only venerating and prostrating in front of icons. We are still searching for the next icons, the next ‘avatar’. The seeds of danger are right there.

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    1. Yes, your last paragraph is an worry. Icons that would wave magic wands like our film heroes do and solve India’s problems. We do not seem to have the patience for or the awareness of the complexities of nation-building through sustained and persistent initiatives.

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  5. Sir, Having said, the draft is not too bad, – you wrote . Can you please substantiate, where in the Jan lokpal bill, do we have anything about rolling back reforms ?? Also how does What Prashant Bhushan/arundhati roy thinks about reforms is relevant, if it is not enshrined in the bill?? Methods might be wrong (but is there really a choice ? ), but if the bill is good enough, why kill the whole idea

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    1. Your comment gives me an opportunity to clarify. There is nothing in the Jan LokPal Draft that is against reforms. The Jan LokPal bill is a better version than the versions initially prepared because it provides for greater accountability of the Lok Pal. There is clarity on the selection committee and search committees. Proceeding against the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court requires the consent of the full bench of the Lok Pal. There is a commitment to make the functioning of the Lok Pal transparent. Of course, I am presuming that the draft I saw and read was and is the authentic one. I now read that the IAC team has presented another draft to the government last night. I have not seen that yet.

      The comments against reforms were made in other places, in other contexts. That is why I said that there were three aspects to the whole issue: the draft of the bill, their tactics and the post-LokPal governance agenda. I now give them more than pass marks on the draft of the bill, taken in isolation. But, the point is this solution is circuitous. Why empower the government and then set up monitoring and surveillance mechanisms? It seems more logical to whittle down government’s discretionary powers where such powers are not necessary at all, for economic, political and social governance of the country.

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  6. I think one of the reasons for vehemence in responses to criticisms of Hazare, is the this odd, nay, bizarre reference to the whole ‘unconstitutionality’ of this agitation.

    1) We (apparently) elected these people to parliament. (I, for one, did not. This is not a mark of pride – I was not presented with a set of credible alternatives, and barring coersion, it is perfectly rationaly to not exercise your option to choose).

    2) We elected these people and therefore…we should now go back to watching Shahrukh Khan on TV? They are supposed to represent us – and they never do. They represent, very clearly, themselves – or a very narrow bunch of constituents who have some kind of hold on them – be it money/violence something else. For a change – we are telling them very clearly what the agenda is.

    3) While I am not in favour of the LokPal bill, and very much in favour of free markets, free trade, individual liberties, yada yada yada nobody has yet stepped forward to articulate that – and will find it _extremely hard_ to find a constituency that also agrees with this – because the system is set up to dissuade one from daring to go against socialism at a variety of points. Our constitution – the one critics claim this agitation is going against enshrines Socialism in its preamble. It teaches socialism to Indians as children, through college, on the news, and even at work. It may seem like a contradiction, but you will find staunch socialists working in very purely capitalist multinational companies across this nation. This inability to connect the dots prevents a free markets/pro-reform constituency from forming – so scratch that.

    4) For some reason, the critics continue to choose to focus on the narrow issue of this bill. This bill is irrelevant – but the few issues this agitation have raised should warm the cockles of your heart. Corruption, Accountability, and a desire to change the system! A politically active – and non-violent, non-entitlement-demanding middle-class! Isn’t this what INI has been talking about since its inception???? Instead of sniffing at this whole debate – we should be trying to engage the masses! Yes there is a concern about what damage this bill will do – but what makes anyone think it will make it past Parliament? Either way, the government of the day is on notice, regardless of how this plays out.

    There is nothing unconstitutional about soliciting feedback from the people one claims to represent before passing legislation. This whole – leave the legistlation to the legislators is the most bizarre argument I have seen thus far.

    The worldview of Team Hazare is actually a lot more sane, rational and lucid than you seem to have absorbed from the media. There was an excellent interview conducted by Rajat Sharma on Aap Ki Adaalat or whatever it is called now on (shudder) India TV, with both Hazare and Kejriwal in the dock. Not only were they not shrill or strident, but they made boatloads of sense in what they said, and answered each question coherently and politely. Somebody show me a politician that can do that in our country? Till date – nobody from the ruling government has acknowledged that Corruption is even a problem. We have the so-called Prime Minister of this country telling us all to behave as though we are children – the same goes for commentators on the left AND right! Folks, you need to stop getting your information from the 24-hr news cycle / Times of India and see the Wood, not the trees!

    A little bit of agression was necessary to make our current bunch of politicians see sense – a reminder if you will , of what their source of power is. They seemed to have forgotten.

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    1. Thank you for the detailed comment. I had given links to posts by ‘Offstumped’ on Mr. Kejriwal’s remarks on Delhi Metro and the policy implications of Delhi Metro. Those post are worth reflecting on. If I am wrong on their instincts on economic liberalisation, on reducing the discretionary powers of the government where feasible and desirable, then I am very glad that I am wrong.

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