Reflections On Anna Hazare Episode

[I received this article, nay, reflections, from Dr. Pravin Patkar who needs no introduction. Not just an eminent social activist, he is also a thinker whose analysis of events, law and various issues shows his deep understanding of various issues confronting Indian Society. I am publishing this with his permission.] 

Saluting the great artist Shree. Anna Hazare
Pravin Patkar
8 April 2011

Shree. Anna Hazare was always a hero! Right from his early experiments in rural development, Ideal Village, or watershed area development work. He always fascinated me. In the beginning of my anti trafficking initiative I had gone to Raleganj Siddhi with my network member Dr. Girish Kulkarni of Snehalaya and taken his blessings. The great creative artist made great paintings but laid down the brush before signing the canvas. He always left to someone else to pick up the award for his own painting. I have always held his ‘right to information’ mission as the greatest political innovation of the century after the idea of checks and balances.  In India you need special PR skills often including proficiency in English to be liked by the media. Anna didn’t care a straw for that department. That is the reason why many TV channels are now exploring this man and his mission and disseminating it wide. We congratulate the media for that important work letting the world know about him.

First and foremost, let me make it clear that I treat Shree Anna, the mass awakening and its expression of disgust, the media frenzy, and the idea of Lokpal  as distinct things for the sake of this reflection because I am able to see and analyze them distinctly.

It may sound strange, but it is true! The future and potent promise of the nascent anti corruption movement symbolized by the leadership of our beloved Shree Anna Hazare is partly harmed by the very all inclusive and indiscriminate support it has received from all political and economic quarters including some of the most unholy. I thought and hoped that the movement was against the corrupt. The public frenzy projected by the electronic mass media rivaled the mass mania witnessed during and after the latest World Cup semifinal against Pakistan. It had an obvious snow ball effect driven by the accumulated frustration, anger, and helplessness among the common Indians caused by their day to day experience of rampant and apparently incurable corruption in public life as well as the expose of some of the high profile scams. The support letters from the corporate leaders and the presence of the bollywood stars; some sitting right on the dais was like the last straw on the camel’s back. This sadly turned the focus of the TV camera away from the common people who actually created the movement and who were till then brilliantly projected by the TV channels, to the bollywood stars. Sad!

With everyone right from Smt. Sonia Gandhi, almost all political parties, corporate leaders, unions of engineers and architects supporting the movement, the obvious question arises as to “Who is the movement and its all out attack against?”  There was no enemy! Apparently Kapil Sibbal who in fact looked extremely sober all throughout and whose wit beat one high profile TV anchor hollow looked like the only target. In the end, I was only waiting for our PM Mr. Manmohan Singh to send a support letter to Anna or to straight away reach Jantar Mantar and sit next to Anna declaring his support as well. At the end, it looked like a movement against no one.

If everyone is supporting the ‘action’ then who exactly is in the defendant’s box? Or, was the prompt act of support on the part of many suspect enemies an attempt to preempt being summoned as the accused? The only thing that remained unsuspicious and overwhelmingly convincing (as usual for us who have known him for decades) was the single man in the centre; Shree Anna Hazare (surely not the satellites.) The promising feature of the episode however was the expression of frustration by the common Indians.

The delicate difference between democracy and mobocracy or demagogy is determined by the presence or absence of and the role played by the middle level socio-political structures and institutions. These structures and institutions are expected to function as buffers and mediators between the masses and the central elite. It is their job to ensure that the elites are not allowed to indiscriminately and directly mobilize the masses (parties mobilizing people on religious, parochial, communal, and to some extent the ‘sons of the soil’ issues). They also have to ensure that the central elites are not pressurized by the raw, inarticulate, and unedited demands thrown up on behalf of the mass that is politically mobilized (the Jaat and Gujjar Andolan?). When the middle level structures are absent, break down, or fail; the result is the end of democracy.

In the recent years, the electronic channels have outsmarted the potency of the erstwhile and seasoned middle level political institutions and structures. The most serious question here is – Will they understand and accept the critical role bestowed upon them by history and doctrine of democracy or will they prefer to be driven mostly by the TRP indicators? In the coming years this factor will be one of the most powerful factors which will decide the nature of political systems.

Let there be no doubt that an all powerful and feebly accountable or unaccountable Lokpal will facilitate the decline of democracy.

When democratic institutions fail to deliver and frustrate the people, the solution is to cure their ailments and strengthen them and not to throw them out of the window.

The role of visionary political elites and statesmen is critically important in creating and strengthening democracy. The paradox is that often masses do not demand or create democracy. They are most likely to be driven by hero worship. They have to be initially persuaded to accept a democratic system and eventually made to develop stakes in its sustenance.  The universal sentiment of envy that fuels and keeps alive the intolerance for unjust inequalities is an important resource for democracy but by itself, it is not a proof that people have accepted and liked democracy.

Seasoned politicians regardless of their party affiliation used restraint cultivated through years of experience in public life. They stayed away from making any unpopular comment (including some of the most rational and deserving ones) which could have fuelled the high voltage sentiments and targeted them. But they seemed confident in sabotaging the anti corruption idea eventually. This will become visible as and when a sensible draft of the Lokpal Bill is placed freshly for public discussion. As of today, the government sponsored Bill is completely toothless while the Jan Lokpal Bill is extremely shabby, impractical and potently anti democratic.

The most beautiful part of the four days highly charged drama was witnessing the innocence, romanticism, as well as anger of the ordinary youth, school children, men & women, and the poor villagers who were flocking to Jantar Mantar like devotees thronging to a place of worship. These people and their emotions are the ultimate source of legitimacy of any political system.  These emotions are expected to be raw and inarticulate as they were. But finding that level of inarticulateness and innocence among the activist is surely a danger alarm.

When emotions are a little settled it will be time to critically analyze the Bill point by point from various angles.  We must expect from the magician Shree. Anna Hazare to offer some truly path breaking institutional innovation to cure the ailment of the Indian democracy ‘corruption’. We all know that one Lokpal Bill whichever way it is drafted will not be a sufficient measure. It could be just a small beginning.

It is also important at this stage before the tax payers are burdened with a yet another heavy weight political institution, to first audit the performances of the structures which we have already created such as the NHRC, the various Commissions for women, the various Commissions for the protection of the Rights of the Child, and the office of the Chief Vigilance Commission, etc. Some of them are already in the centre of controversies clearly defeating the very purpose for which they were so passionately created, As regards the others the common complaint is that some of them are sheer rehabilitation centres for the retired lackluster government officers and unelectable political party leaders while some others are dolls for a few politically connected and well placed NGO leaders. Would it truly make any difference if they are scrapped? Surely not to the public except saving the tax payers’ money!

Below I have just picked up a couple of points from the Jan Lokpal Bill (the alternative to the Govt sponsored Bill) for a cursory look and commented quickly thereon.

Chairperson and Members of Lokpal

4. The Chairperson and members of Lokpal not to have held certain offices – The Chairperson and members of Lokpal shall not be serving or former member of either the Parliament or the Legislature of any State and shall not hold any office or trust of profit (other than the office as Chairperson or member) or would have ever been connected with any political party or carry on any business or practice any profession and accordingly, before he enters upon his office, a person appointed as the Chairperson or member of Lokpal shall –

(i) if he holds any office of trust or profit, resign from such office; or

(ii) if he is carrying on any business, sever his connection with the conduct and management of such business; or

(iii) if he is practicing any profession, suspend practice of such profession.

(iv) If he is associated directly or indirectly with any other activity, which is likely cause conflict of interest in the performance of his duties in Lokpal, he should suspend his association with that activity.

Provided that if even after the suspension, the earlier association of that person with such activity is likely to adversely affect his performance at Lokpal, that person shall not be appointed as a member or Chairperson of Lokpal.

Every serving or former member of either of the Parliament or State Legislature is disqualified.

If I read correctly, then it is not enough that they leave that position while taking up the office of the Lokpal, a facility offered by this Bill to other professionals.

Every person connected with any political party is disqualified to be a Lokpal (whether chairperson or member).

If I read correctly then it is not enough that they leave that position while taking up the office of the Lokpal, a facility offered by this Bill to other professionals.

The Bill does not spell what is meant by being ‘connected’ with any political party. Does that make party membership compulsory or sufficient disqualification? Does that include wives, children or other family members of politicians?

Does that include the activists who conveniently and shrewdly campaign for the election of important political party candidates by presenting the excuse that a full time political candidate contesting for a public position on a party ticket is a nice person?

So, if any genuine person who might have in the beginning of his/her career joined a political party and later on getting disillusioned with party based politics left it and dedicated oneself to the highest public service with ultimate sacrifice, is still disqualified for once having committed that sin. Obviously the original Mr. M.K. Gandhi and Shree. Jayprakash Narayan would have stood no chance had they been around.

4(i), (ii), (iii), state any professional can become a Lokpal if he/she is prepared to suspend the professional practice during the term of the office of Lokpal. I am not clear if this also includes the profession of social work which is almost 75 years old in India.

It is also not clear as to what is meant by 4(ii) “sever his connection with the conduct and management of such business”. Does that mean temporarily stepping down from the Board of Directors or selling away one’s shares/holdings in any business? Or will temporarily transferring the shares in the name of one’s spouse be sufficient?

How about those who do modeling for detergent powder for money?

Why is the JL Bill so lenient to businesspersons?

6. Appointment of the Chairperson and members:
1. The Chairperson and members shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a selection committee.

2. Following persons shall not be eligible to become Chairman or Member in Lokpal:
(a) Any person who was ever charge sheeted for any offence under IPC or PC Act or was ever
penalized under CCS Conduct Rules.

Almost all honest activists worth the salt have sometime or the other in their life been arrested and charge sheeted by the police.  Every time you stage a protest march, Dharna, Satyagraha, Rasta Roko, you are bound to be picked up by the police and sometimes you are charge sheeted too, unless you have an unwritten contract with the ruling party leaders.

When poojya Anna will launch the Jail Bharo Andolan, is there any assurance that the participants will not be chargesheeted under the IPC? (although looking at the history of the modern day civil disobedience in India, that looks more likely.) Will they all get disqualified for the office of Lokpal?

Aren’t such people more qualified to be the Lokpals? How can they be disqualified for that post on this point? Strange!

Is there any system under the police manual/IPC/Cr.P.C. to make separate entry of the IPC offences when committed while a person was actually furthering a genuine public cause? To my knowledge, no! So it is quite difficult to distinguish between the cases..

(b) Any person who is less than 40 years in age.

You have to wait for one or two more years for Sachin Tendulkar to qualify for this post even if he secures the Bharat Ratna this year.

What an irony? Practically every mass uprising against a corrupt and unjust establishment in modern human history has become possible only with the young people joining it. But they are disqualified from the running of the new order. Sheer ungratefulness! Someone has rightly said that the mass is the gunpowder to bring down the edifice of the ancient regime but it is not the architect of the new order.

The youths make a movement possible and the bollywood stars highjack the eyeballs!

3. At least four members of Lokpal shall have legal background.

What is legal background? Graduation in law? Practicing  lawyer? There are many people who don’t fit either description but are still good at law and at times better than the law graduates or practicing  lawyers.

4. The members and Chairperson should have unimpeachable integrity and should have demonstrated their resolve and efforts to fight against corruption in the past.

5. A selection committee consisting of the following shall be set up:

a. The Chairpersons of both Houses of Parliament

Who is essentially an elected member and connected with a political party member/politician who is disqualified to be a Lokpal but is considered essential to select a Lokpal. That sounds contradictory.

b. Two senior most judges of Supreme Court

c. Two senior most Chief Justices of High Courts.

It is quite intriguing to learn that someone like Ad. Prashant Bhushan was a party to making this draft.  Wasn’t he in fact the one who often raised the issues of lack of judicial accountability and his father former Law Minister Ad. Shanti Bhushan presented a list of a few corrupt former CJs of India and dared the government to take action against him if he was wrong?

Don’t you think this way, as their retirement will come close, the judges will start wooing the selection committee members and fielding for their post- retirement posting? In fact, this is one criticism against the Government sponsored Lokpal Bill.

d. All Nobel Laureates of Indian Origin

The one who got that Prize in Chemistry recently? He might not be even interested in coming down to India for the second time, I suppose.

e. Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission

Are we sure we want something like that? Some people believe that some of these offices are in fact rehabilitation centres for the retired government officers and unelectable party leaders.

f. Last two Magsaysay Award winners of Indian origin

Is it a new ‘caste in the making’? Basically, why award winners and why Magsaysay awardees alone? Why not other awardees?

There are many great people who don’t send in their application for any award. What about that?

Even the insignificant ones like us too, mostly don’t send in their applications or stand in a queue for any award. Of course, we have learnt over time. To avoid being arrogant, we do accept them respectfully when given without having to apply. The Government pestered us for almost 5 years to send in our application form and when we didn’t, finally gave away the Ahilyabai Holkar award to us last year without our application. Same is the story about the IIM Lucknow-Singhania Award. After requesting us to send in our papers for over 3 or 4 years, they finally didn’t wait and gave the Award to us last year out of their own conviction.  

And there are the others for whom international lobbying for the Nobel Award starts so much in advance. See the Clinton & Mohammad Yunus story [If I am not wrong, the campaigning begins on the 9th year from starting the work and continues beyond a decade, to be precise 14 years – (1992-2006)]. Pl correct me if I am wrong!)

There were truly noble souls like Saint Vinoba Bhave who received the Magsaysay but in all probability and knowing Anna he might not have bothered to even consider the Magsaysay although he deserved many more and higher awards.

There is yet another difficulty. Magsaysay is also given to government servants (the GS category). Will they be qualified to be on the selection committee? Are government officers free to follow their conscience? Do they? Can they still be in the service if they do?

g. Comptroller and Auditor General of India

h. Chief Election Commissioner

And who appoints them after all?

i. Bharat Ratna Award winners

Is this a height of innocence or depth of ignorance?
Sachin must wait. Chatwal might join the rank earlier than him.

i. After the first set of selection process, the outgoing members and Chairperson of

6. The senior most judge of Supreme Court shall act as the Chairperson of the selection committee

There is a more basic and serious issue – ‘the accountability of the Judiciary’.

The Bill further disqualifies the person for ever from certain other positions having once served as the Lokpal. Won’t that be a great disincentive to many deserving and qualified people?

As stated elsewhere democracy has an inherent tendency to degrade into demagogy or mobocracy.  Some ideas and inventions have made democracy possible and strong. The system of checks and balances is one such invention. Putting a cap on the expenses on elections by the candidates and political parties is yet another great idea that has strengthened the system of democracy. But I am convinced that the ‘right to information’ is the greatest political invention of the last 100 years that has consolidated the idea of democracy. Anna’s contribution is, thus, simply unmatched.

No democracy can function in an economic system where economic inequalities are sharp.
The Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution have placed a responsibility on the State to minimize economic inequalities. I feel surprised that Anna has not come out with yet another profound theoretical solution to cover these basic vulnerabilities of democracy.

Making an all powerful Lokpal denies a scope for checks and balances. That in itself is a threat to democracy. It is difficult nay impossible to get people of great moral characters. That reminds me, Acharya Vinoba Bhave I think had suggested the Acharya system to supervise public governance. Acharya Vinobajee was a great inventor. Take for example his suggestion of ‘Chalanshuddhi’ (the purification of currency) as a remedy for the growing menace of black money.

The popular anger and uprising against the widespread corruption in public life in India is not just understandable. It is, in fact, an inordinately delayed expression. This should have happened long   ago. Many people may see something very romantic in it and may try to find a parallel to what is happening in Egypt, Libya, and other dictatorships in the Middle East. In my opinion, taking the risk of being unpopular, I say that I feel in fact exactly the opposite is happening here. Enraged with a justifiable frustration with the non performance of a democratic political institutional set up instead of attempting to correcting and strengthening it, we are attempting to abandon or undermine it further and seeking solutions through the benevolent acts of an exceptional individual. This is yet another weakness of democracy. With highest and unstinted respect to the exceptionally selfless person Anna, this conclusion is inevitable. He is right in his place. His trust in the goodness of people is boundless and unconditional although he has been all the time fighting against the evil tendencies of human beings.  He has a childish innocence which is divine! Ultimately virtues must grow extensively and stay deeply rooted in the human characters so that external controls must become unnecessary. But until that happens external controls are necessary just the way he is himself demanding the institution of Lokpal.

The unanswered question doesn’t start with ‘whether’ it starts with ‘when’ “When will the Lokpal become a corrupt agency?” When it happens then what? Checks and balances are indispensable!

There are some more serious issues which should be discussed when the emotions are not high and the tv channels are a little less noisy.

Pravin Patkar