The In­dian Spring

At long last In­dian civil so­ci­ety ap­pears to have risen to stem the tide of corruption.

Southasia - - Region - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

In­dia is go­ing through a mass up­heaval to­day. But, for­tu­nately, it is a tame af­fair in com­par­i­son with its Arab coun­ter­part. The rea­son is that the Arab Spring is about in­stalling democ­racy in place of ab­so­lute rule, whereas the In­dian Spring is about pu­ri­fy­ing democ­racy.

There dic­ta­to­rial and au­to­cratic rule suf­fo­cated the peo­ple till they rose in protest. Here, in spite of democ­racy, corruption reached epic pro­por­tions till it seemed noth­ing would move un­less greased with lu­cre. And, just as Mo­hamed Bouaz­izi’s self-im­mo­la­tion in Tu­nisia sparked the Arab Spring, it was Anna Hazare’s “fast unto death” that ig­nited the In­dian Spring.

As Bouaz­izi sud­denly be­came the sym­bol of re­sent­ment against op­pres­sion, so, “overnight Anna Hazare be­came the voice of the un­spo­ken anger against corruption.” In both cases it was as if they had “opened a hid­den wound and the loud roar of pain was heard from across the land.”

But if the par­al­lel be­tween Hazare and Bouaz­izi is stark, the dif­fer­ence be­tween how the states re­spec­tively re­sponded to the protest, is equally glar­ing. In Arab coun­tries, even where the rulers gave in to pub­lic ag­i­ta­tion, they first used force to put it down. By con­trast, the In­dian gov­ern­ment bowed to Hazare’s de­mand to pass the Lok­pal Bill.

Af­ter barely 98 hours of his “fast unto death,” a gazette no­ti­fi­ca­tion was is­sued con­sti­tut­ing a 10-mem­ber

Joint Com­mit­tee of min­is­ters and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists, in­clud­ing Hazare, him­self, to draft an ef­fec­tive Jan Lok­pal Bill. And Anna Hazare broke his fast on 9 April 2011.

The pur­pose of the Lok­pal Bill is un­ques­tion­ably no­ble. It seeks to cre­ate an in­de­pen­dent and em­pow­ered anti-corruption agency - om­buds­man, with whom com­plaints of corruption against all pub­lic ser­vants in­clud­ing the prime min­is­ter, other min­is­ters, and MPs can be filed.

In­tro­duced in 1968, how­ever, the bill has been pend­ing for 42 years. On the first oc­ca­sion it was cleared by the lower house in 1969 but got stuck in the Ra­jya Sabha. Since then it has been re­peat­edly tabled in “1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2008, but never passed.

Mean­while, corruption spi­raled to un­prece­dented heights. Dur­ing the past sev­eral months it has been a re­cur­ring theme in the UPA Gov­ern­ment, from the Com­mon­wealth Games through Adarsh build­ing so­ci­ety, Cen­tral Vig­i­lance Com­mis­sioner’s (CVC) ap­point­ment, to the mother of all scams, 2G. The pro­longed in­ac­tion of the ex­ec­u­tive on all these is­sues fur­ther com­pounded the is­sue and tainted the Gov­ern­ment.

The salient fea­ture of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption ji­had, how­ever, is the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Gov­ern­ment’s ver­sion of the Lok­pal bill and the one drafted by the civil so­ci­ety, called “Jan Lok­pal” Bill, which he sup­ports.

The key fea­tures, of the gov­ern­ment’s ver­sion of the Bill that Hazare has re­jected, are: • The Lok­pal “will not have any polic­ing (in­clud­ing in­ves­tiga­tive) pow­ers and will still de­pend on the Gov­ern­ment’s en­force­ment agen­cies to do its job. It will have no au­thor­ity to re­ceive com­plaints against MPs, min­is­ters and the prime min­is­ter di­rectly. Those would have to be routed

• through the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers of both houses of Par­lia­ment. It will not take up com­plaints against the prime min­is­ter that in­volve for­eign af­fairs, de­fense and se­cu­rity. • The se­lec­tion com­mit­tee for Lok­pal will com­prise of prime min­is­ter, vice-pres­i­dent, lead­ers of both Houses, lead­ers of Op­po­si­tion, law and home min­is­ters.” In con­trast ac­cord­ing to the Jan Lok­pal Bill: • “Lok­pal is not an ad­vi­sory body. It can in­ves­ti­gate and launch pros­e­cu­tion. • The anti-corruption wing of the CBI will re­port only to the Lok­pal and act as its in­ves­tiga­tive arm. It will be al­lowed to ini­ti­ate a probe suo motu, and can re­ceive di­rect com­plaints from the pub­lic. It can take up com­plaints on any as­pect of gov­er­nance, in­clud­ing for­eign af­fairs, de­fense and se­cu­rity. • The se­lec­tion com­mit­tee for Lok­pal will com­prise of CVC, Comptroller and Au­di­tor Gen­eral (CAG), ac­tivists, jour­nal­ists, win­ners of in­ter­na­tional awards and peo­ple with ju­di­cial back­ground.” The peo­ple are fed up. They want an end to these scan­dals. In a re­cent poll ninety-five per cent of the re­spon­dents said there is need for a strong law against corruption. This is there­fore the right mo­ment for the UPA gov­ern­ment to tap into this groundswell of pub­lic opin­ion and bring the cor­rupt to book.

Yet, ac­tion in­volves high risk to the UPA coali­tion. The ar­rest of A. Raja in the tele­com case has al­ready strained the Congress’ re­la­tions with the DMK to break­ing point; the next noose would be around the Karunanidhi fam­ily, while Sharad Pawar also awaits accountability. The ques­tion is can Man­mo­han Singh risk break­ing with the DMK and Karunanidhi and drop Pawar from the cabi­net, with­out se­ri­ously dent­ing the coali­tion? But Dr. Singh has to do some surgery be­fore the cancer of the sta­tus quo crip­ples the coali­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the no­ti­fi­ca­tion the Joint Com­mit­tee was to be­gin its work from April 16. The dead­line to sub­mit the draft bill is June 30. But it seems plagued with con­tro­ver­sies even be­fore it started its work. For ex­am­ple, on the very day the com­mit­tee mem­ber­ship was an­nounced, Baba Ramdev, a prom­i­nent anti-corruption ac­tivist, lashed out at the al­leged nepo­tism in the ap­point­ment of both fa­ther Shanti Bhushan and son Prashant Bhushan. Ramdev wanted Ki­ran Bedi on board along with Hazare, Ke­jri­wal, Santosh Hegde and one of the Bhushans.

Mem­bers of the Com­mit­tee from the gov­ern­ment’s side in­clude Kapil Sibal, Pranab Mukher­jee, P. Chi­dambaram, Veer­appa Moily and Sal­man Khur­sheed. Yet, the trust deficit be­tween the two groups presents a se­ri­ous chal­lenge. For in­stance, Anna Hazare’s praise of NDA chief min­is­ters Naren­dra Modi and Ni­tish Ku­mar for their hon­esty has alarmed the Congress.

At the end of the day, though, it is only strong po­lit­i­cal will that could de­liver, and not Lok­pal, for there al­ready are a num­ber of laws which, if they had been im­ple­mented sin­cerely and agen­cies given full power, could take care of the prob­lem. The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer edi­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

It is time to re­fine democ­racy

in In­dia.

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