Is this just a middle-class campaign?

The campaign by Anna Hazare demanding a strong Lokpal Bill has whipped up an anti-corruption mood throughout the country. As he sits on a two-week-long fast at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, crowds are swelling in the septuagenarian's support at Freedom Park in Bangalore too. In a context where corruption charges and scams have assumed epidemic proportions, people's euphoric participation in the campaign is no surprise.

However, there are questions to contemplate beyond this. What does it take to shape and implement a law that makes prosecution of the corrupt effective and quick? Are the demands of the Anna team practical? Is the current campaign inclusive or is it only a middle-class phenomenon?

Public Eye posed these questions and more to a cross-section of prominent people.

Sara Aboobaker, Kannada writer: A powerful bill is needed at a time when corruption has reached an unprecedented high and is affecting the last man on the street. In Karnataka, the arrest of a Minister and his son in a corruption case gives us hope that things can improve if there is a strong institution. Yes, a lot of people who are suspect and have their agendas have joined in, but that need not discredit the movement. Common people who have joined the movement were not brought there in lorries by any political party. Anna Hazare has given a voice to what everyone was grumbling about.

V. Balasubramanian, former chairman of the Task Force for the Recovery of Public Land and Its Protection: A Lokpal will definitely be an improvement over the present situation. I believe that it should confine itself to top bureaucracy and the political class, including the Prime Minister. It should not get lost investigating small-time corruption. However, there will be limitations to Lokpal in our Anglo-Saxon system of adversarial jurisprudence. The inquisitorial system, in contrast, would involve the magistrate from the investigation stage, which means that not everything is left to the investigators.

Prakash Raj, actor: Why doesn't our political class explain and convince people what in the Jan Lokpal Bill threatens our democracy? People have a right to ask questions and those who represent us have an obligation to explain. If the Prime Minister's conduct is above board, why can't he come in for scrutiny?

B. Suresh, film and TV director: The movement reflects a major concern of the people now finding articulation on the street. No doubt Parliament is supreme, but this movement shows that people have lost faith in their representatives. It is important that this movement, which has gathered steam, reaches a logical end. However, I do not believe that the bill alone will stop corruption, considering that it has so little in it to tackle the gamut of related issues, particularly corporate corporation.

Mavalli Shankar, chief convenor of Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (Ambedkarvada): Corruption is an important issue and any citizen has a fundamental right to mobilise people. Having said that, we should also note that casteist and communal elements, besides corporate interests, have a large presence in this movement. The same class of people who raised anti-Mandal slogans are here. Corruption is a symptom and not a disease and the fight should be against the disease. Why not a ceiling on property ownership? How can people who celebrate a corporate head's 27-storey building or never pay taxes also jump on to the corruption bandwagon?

A.K. Subbaiah, former MLC and senior advocate: The foolhardy action of the United Progressive Alliance Government has made Anna Hazare a hero. But his declaration of an indefinite fast was premature. Except bringing judiciary within its ambit, everything else could have been negotiated. After all, Parliament will not straight away adopt it without a debate. There should be a strong Lokpal, but it cannot have all-pervading powers. The kind of conditions put forth by the Anna Hazare camp only seems designed to ensure that the bill never materialises. Let us also remember that powerful people are behind bars in the 2-G scam without a Lokpal. It shows that corruption has not grown because of the absence of a law, but for the absence of a will to implement the existing ones.

Sabyasachi Chatterjee, Professor, Indian Institute of Astrophysics: The fact that astronomical scams have been surfacing and the government has been turning a blind eye to them has made people lose confidence in the system. I do not agree that all politicians are corrupt; we can't ignore the fact that these issues have been brought up by the Opposition in Parliament (though the Opposition is no angel). In some sense the middle-class appears to be gradually losing confidence. The vulnerabilities of this class, due to the very economic policies that it supports, make it disgruntled. This results in mass participation, but ridding corruption won't solve its woes.

Gauri Lankesh, Editor, Gauri Lankesh Patrike: Over the years we've seen scams get bigger and very few perpetrators punished. However, I do not agree that one law can set the entire system right, particularly one that merely creates another authority. What we need is more checks and balances in the democratic system. What we have is a flawed democracy, but the answer is not one Lokpal which is not accountable to the existing Parliamentary system. The media appears to have gone crazy in its hysterical coverage, and appears more interested in TRPs or pandering to its middle-class audience. Hysteria has set in, and there is no sense of balance or nuance in what is being reflected.

G. Ramakrishna, writer and editor of the magazine Hosatu: Anyone who believes that Lokpal is the saviour of the nation is living in a myth. The movement itself is misconceived with no vision of the modalities. I don't know who decided that a handful of people are the true representatives of civil society. There is euphoria over Anna Hazare's campaign, but let us remember that an Act has to be obtained through Parliament. We cannot find lasting solutions to major issues of corruption unless our economic policies change. However, at the Freedom Park, the entire ethos is saffron.

(Inputs by Muralidhar Khajane, Bageshree S. and Deepa Kurup)

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2020 5:46:38 PM |

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