August 27, 2011 will be written in the history of India. Finally, the Indian Parliament has passed a resolution including the major points laid down by the team of Anna Hazare. The deadlock or the crisis is over for the time being. It includes the covering of lower level bureaucracy by the Lokpal, formation of Lokayuktas at the State level and the introduction of a Citizens' charter. Many have proclaimed this day to be a milestone for Indian democracy. It has refuted the allegation that public awareness and political education is at a lower level in India.
The journey has not been easy. This is one of the rarest occasions when the common man has been watching the proceedings of our legislature so eagerly, with strong hopes and deep faith. Although the “April March” of Anna was utterly successful, there was speculation that this might not be the same with his “August March.” Many expressed concerns over Anna's second effort, that the government might not be so tolerant in tackling it after the Baba Ramdev incident.
Will the public come? How much will be the intensity of public participation? What will be the government's strategy? These were questions debated very often. On August 15, Anna reached Rajghat with a few colleagues, in a humble assembly. Within hours, the crowd had become thousands and, in the next few days, it touched millions across the country and abroad. This was something expected and not expected. While Team Anna was expecting a mass assembly, the government was not surely expecting it.
Can we call it a victory? What kind of precedent will this movement set forth? Since Parliament is the supreme law-making body of the country, civil society initiatives and pressures on law-making are looked upon as a threat to the fundamental principles of the Indian democracy. Many have raised doubts regarding the ‘legality' of the movement, that it is a challenge for the very foundation of Indian democracy, that Anna was misusing his hunger strike to dictate terms on legislation and undermining Parliament.
There was speculation that if their demands were given space, it would encourage similar movements creating a huge obstruction for the law-making mechanism.
Although technically sounding to be correct, they have somehow missed the spirit of the Indian Constitution. Every democracy allows popular participation. Democracies also keep space for dissent. Conflicts, debates and deliberations are the basic feeds that keep on nurturing democracy and let it grow up healthily.
What is overwhelming about Anna Hazare? In a single person? He is not a film star, nor is he someone with great resources that can keep on attracting the public for so long. But the issues he addresses are his resources. Corruption has become an all-encompassing evil that evokes disenchantment all around.
While cynics analysed the legality of Anna's method, they never acknowledged the huge public awareness about his campaign. But for it, the Lokpal bill lying dormant for 43 years would continue to do so. If this movement is the hijack of democracy, as many prefer to call it, people had been waiting too long to get the Lokpal bill passed in an “un-hijacked democratic atmosphere.”
Other commentators have tried hard to prove that it is a middle class movement. The middle class, being opportunistic, wants to incorporate its own issues in this movement, they say. Since the issues of the middle class do not represent the entire society, this is a biased movement. But one look at the crowd assembled in Ramlila Maidan and elsewhere makes it amply clear this is a movement beyond the social and economic classes. People have come from all walks of life.
Cynicism is there among a substantial number of politicians. The smooth oratory skills and ‘ruler-arrogance' kind of mannerisms of the leaders of the ruling party make a mockery of the wider people involvement. It seems they are too unhappy to be accountable. Some of them indulged in character assassination, others had problems with the public sympathy for the movement. Somehow they did not seem to be comfortable with the support it was drawing without using the umbrella of any political party. It is understandable that there can be issues over which the government may not see eye to eye. But it is expected to fulfil the aspirations of the people.
And what about the way in which responsible Ministers spoke? Their tone full of sarcasm, they tried to make fun of a serious issue. In the Parliament debate on August 27, we saw some politicians cracking jokes. While an Opposition leader said that people go to Ramlila Maidan for light entertainment, another tried to divert attention to the “non-inclusion of Dalits and Muslims” in Team Anna.
The clauses of the Jan Lokpal Bill show that it has a systematic mechanism to remove corruption. It has a broadbased selection committee with two politicians, four judges and two independent constitutional authorities. The government version comes with five out of 10 members from the ruling establishment and six politicians on the selection committee. The presence of a greater number of politicians raises eyebrows. The Jan Lokpal arranges for an independent search committee consisting of retired constitutional authorities to prepare the first list. In the government version, the search committee is to be selected by the selection committee. It makes the Lokpal ineffective in its very foundation. In the government's version of the bill, a public servant accused of corruption is allowed to file a lawsuit against the complainant accusing him of filing a frivolous complaint. The government will provide a free advocate to the accused. But the citizen has to defend himself. If the complaint proves to be frivolous, the minimum sentence for the citizen is two years. If the corruption charges are proved, the minimum sentence for the public servant is six months. Will it encourage anyone to file a complaint against corruption under these circumstances?
The Jan Lokpal has a detailed, transparent and participatory selection process leaving little scope for irregularities. The government's version has no such particular procedure. Under the Jan Lokpal, complaints against the Lokpal staff will be heard by an independent authority while the government version provides for investigation against Lokpal by the Lokpal itself. Will it ensure a fair investigation? The Jan Lokpal provides that public office-holders need to announce their assets every year and it will be verified with their asset declaration before the Election Commission. We can go on making a comparative study clause by clause but the fact is that the Jan Lokpal provides for a far better mechanism.
Aruna Roy's argument that the Lokpal cannot be entrusted with the complaints of a population of 1.2 billion is not correct. The proposed machinery is hierarchical and all complaints do not go straight to the Lokpal himself. The structure has arrangement for the maximum settlement of cases at the lower levels. Most important, it provides a time-bound mechanism and years are not to be wasted waiting for one single judgment. The Jan Lokpal also promises to include the activities of all NGOs in its ambit. It gives hope for the rural population.
There is a view that this movement does not address corruption in the corporate sector. Let us start with a corruption-free healthy government and then we can move on to other points as well.
When large crowds turned unruly most of the times, Anna's maturity and his insistence on peace and non-violence kept the gathering extremely peaceful. The crowd composition in Ramlila and other places showed that people joined the movement cutting across all boundaries. The participation of a large number of youths showed their enthusiasm for fighting corruption. Anna Hazare has personified the protest against injustice. While breaking his fast, he showed his respect for the Constitution and its founding fathers. What he insists is that the will of the people should prevail.
(The writer is a Ph.D. scholar, Department of Political Science, NEHU, Shillong. His email id is: firstname.lastname@example.org)