What will happen if people start similar agitations seeking to get their demands passed as law within a given time?
While I support all possible measures to stop all forms of corruption and black money, I do not support the method adopted by the team led by Anna Hazare. I do not want to destroy the constitutional mechanism and institutions of which I am proud of, notwithstanding their shortcomings. If Parliament is not reflecting and acting as per the interest of voters, we need to elect candidates and parties which will meet our aspirations and directions. We cannot destroy the Parliamentary system, just as we cannot destroy the judiciary, the rule of law, the bureaucracy and a free press. While many other countries which got freedom from colonial rules during the last few decades could not organise such constitutions and institutions like ours, this is a matter of pride for us. Could we throw the baby out with the bath water?
Comparisons with Gandhian struggle are not correct. Gandhiji was fighting a foreign ruler and his mission was to send out the foreigners and get Independence. He mobilised the common people as well as the educated and, often, his fast was against his own people when there was communal flare-up, or when his people killed Britishers. I will not belittle or ridicule our Independence by saying that “we have no independence, just the goras (whites) have gone and kalas (blacks) have come,” as Anna has declared. I felt sad to hear that comment from someone who claims to follow Gandhiji. He also says the electorate do not know how to elect, that elections are a sham and that Parliament does not represent people. One of his followers, who was also a senior central service officer, declares that “Anna is India and India is Anna.” Yet another says the notification of the standing committee inviting comment from the public at large on the Lokpal is eyewash and a diversionary tactic.
Anna says he will fast till death unless “his” bill is passed by August 30. All these make one terribly worried about the democratic path we have chosen and of which we are all very proud. An imperfect democracy is far better than a perfect dictatorship. The claim of Anna and half a dozen people that they represent the Indian public is nothing but dictatorial. We cannot be fooled by the few thousand people who are gathering on the Ramlila grounds. They are angry with corruption, but do not understand the nuances of democratic institutions. For many, it is a picnic, fun and getting a chance to be on national TV.
There are several issues that can be pushed by similar individuals and groups who can draw a much bigger crowd. Some of these issues are recognised as desirable in the Directive Principles of our Constitution and have been dormant since 1950. The women's reservation bill appears to have the backing of all major political parties with a two-thirds majority in Parliament but it is yet to come up before the Lok Sabha and far from becoming a law. What will happen if some people start similar agitations seeking to get these measures passed as law within a given time? What will happen when someone goes on a fast unto death at Jantar Mantar asking “total independence” for Kashmir and someone else sits on a similar fast demanding abolition of the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir?
Will the Jan Lokpal bill stop all corruption? It is only a mechanism to punish the guilty who are caught. What about those who are not caught and where there is mutual approval of giving and taking bribe? Remember that a large part of bribe-givers are happy and willing to chase officials privately with money to escape lawful punishment, avoid paying taxes and dues or to jump the queue to get benefits not due to them or to get ahead of those who are waiting. They are not going to complain to anyone. I believe a major part of the bribe given to government servants is in this category and a smaller part is where government servants harass and demand bribe. I was in government service for long and the bribe “offer” is higher than the bribe “demand.” How will a highly placed institution like Lokpal stop such cases?
Do not NGOs and private enterprises indulge in corruption? Companies take bribe and even individual entrepreneurs demand bribe from their suppliers and contractors to create black money. A company gets a supply or work done for Rs. 1 lakh and asks the supplier or contractor to give a bill for Rs.1.1 lakh, give him a cheque for 1.10 lakh and take back Rs. 10,000 in cash, or else he will not get work. This money is pooled as black money to be used for a luxurious life, holiday abroad and to buy liquor. What about those who do not pay tax? Is it not corruption? What about private schools taking money on the pretext of donations and other funds without issuing any bill and asking small children to collect unaccounted donations from their locality? What about advocates, doctors, and professionals taking a huge fee in cash, and not paying their full taxes? Most of the advocates including seniors take astronomical figures as fees.
Corruption has to be attacked with systemic changes, using information technology, reducing discretionary powers, reducing personal interface with government servants, and such measures. Simultaneously, we should have a strong legal framework to quickly punish the guilty. And under no circumstance, can we ridicule the freedom struggle and our achievement of building institutions. We need to strengthen the institutions by electing capable people and educating voters. Dictatorial methods of agitation saying that “this is the bill, pass it or else” will not do.
What Hazare has achieved is to awaken a large number of urban populace to the urgency of curbing corruption, and he should now give Parliament and the government time to come up with their solution and keep up the awareness campaign till the next election. He should contest the next election with his followers or force the political parties to adopt his solution in their manifesto and then canvass for them.
(The writer's email id is firstname.lastname@example.org)