Thursday, September 01, 2011
It was Anna, not Janlokpal Bill
Arvind Kejriwal, one of the activists behind the Janlokpal Bill, in his interview to The Hindu said, “People wanted the JLB”.
That is a patently wrong assumption to derive from the popular anti-corruption movement that we witnessed in India over the last few weeks. Most people who showed up at the Anna Hazare Movement gatherings in various cities of India have not read Janlokpal Bill created by these activists. They do not know that these activists are bent on pushing their version of the bill onto Indians riding the popular mood than sitting down to discuss and debate the issue with others. Many Indians came to show their support to Anna Hazare who, according to them, is fighting the corruption in India. These people wanted to express their solidarity with any anti-corruption campaign, not necessarily the Janlokpal Bill. Kejriwal himself admits in the interview:
When we conducted referendums on the JLB, we used to try and explain its contents to people. But they said they did not want to understand the details. They just wanted to put a mohar [stamp] on Anna.
Kejriwal and his gang of activists are using Anna Hazare to promote their version of the bill which is not very different from the bill proposed by the Government, except that these activists want sweeping powers to one single body without any accountability. If people were to read various versions of the bill, they would get confused because they all look very similar, except that the devil is in the details. Looking at the bill proposed by the government, it seems as though Government of India is as keen as these activists to root out the corruption; so why all this hullabaloo and tamasha, one may ask?
When the fast got on the way in April 2011, Anna Hazare camp made the people of India believe that their key demands were inclusion of PM and higher judiciary in the purview of Lokpal, and moving CBI and CVC under Lokpal. But now Anna Hazare’s camp claims victory when the Parliament decided to ‘consider’ three completely different set of provisions. So, what were the Indian people fighting for in the first place?
Inclusion of lower bureaucracy into the ambit: So, how can a fight which started off wanting the PM, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court judges to be covered by Lokpal, thereby focusing on the highest echelons of the government and judiciary, suddenly become victorious when it included the lowest echelon? Many of the lower officers in states are already covered by the existing Lokayuktas.
Forcing all states to have Lokayuktas and putting them under Lokpal: Nearly 18 major states in India already have Lokayuktas while other states are making provisions to have one of their own. Manmohan Singh gave an excuse that imposing Lokayuktas by the Center onto the States would go against our federalism. There is already a controversy in Gujarat on this as we speak. So, what has Anna Hazare Movement achieved? Do they want to put all those Lokayuktas under one central organization so that they can be controlled and manipulated by New Delhi thereby making state level units become ineffective?
Citizen grievances charter under Lokpal: The Government of India had earlier indicated it’s desired to set this up but outside the ambit of Lokpal to avoid unnecessary bloating of the organization. With Anna’s demand, they are ready to consider including that charter under Lokpal without losing much.
Janlokpal Bill as promoted by these activists or for that matter Lokpal Bill as promoted by the Government of India has serious issues which have far and wide repercussions on the democratic institutions that we have carefully built so far. We have been quite enthusiastic in the past to pass certain laws which later became draconian, only to be used by the political leaders to punish and harass their opponents, by the rich to harass the poor, by the majority religion to persecute the minorities. TADA, POTA, AFSPA, were all passed with good intentions, to curb terrorism, but they ended up creating autocratic systems within the country targeting certain weak people, certain poor people, and certain minorities.
When Kejriwal was asked: Why did you ask for Parliamentary due process to be suspended? You didn't want the JLB to go to the Standing Committee. He answered:
The JLB was drafted after wide consultations; it underwent many revisions based on feedback. Where is this kind of discussion in the drafting of any sarkari Bill?
Janlokpal Bill did not include wide consultations. Actually some of the controversial bills from the Government in the recent times were far more inclusive eliciting opinions from various sections of the society. When they don’t want the debate, it shows the arrogance of these self-appointed activists trying to impose one version of the bill onto entire people of India using innocent mask of Anna Hazare. The opposition to the Janlokpal Bill comes various sections – like Aruna Roy and the editors of print media who have already vocalized their thoughts against the bill.
It should have been the responsibility of TV media to bring some sanity to the debate. Instead, they just joined the jingoism and started demanding that Parliament should pass the bill without due debate on the topic. The media did not do their homework on the topic. None of them read the bill. They blindly support Janlokpal Bill just because they support Anna Hazare Movement and they are not necessarily the same.
There is an immediate need to decouple Anna Hazare Movement and Janlokpal Bill to treat them as two different issues with different agendas. While one of them is a movement expressing the outrage of people against pervasive malaise called corruption, the other is an elitist agenda with very narrow outlook that appropriates unlimited power with little accountability.
Just because we Indians supported Mahatma Gandhi in our fight for freedom from British does not mean it should be seen as a support for his version of constitution (if it existed). Our support for Gandhi cannot be equated with our support for his version of how this country should be governed. If Gandhi had his own constitution, then we would have no industry, no standing army to protect ourselves from Pakistan or China, and our national pastime would have been giving each other enema.
Indian Constitution was not pushed onto the people as an agenda by Mahatma Gandhi. Instead, it was drafted by lawyers and politicians, debating and discussing various issues which are recorded and available for people to read; and in fact those debates makes an interesting read and shows the maturity of the architects.
No such debate took place in framing Janlokpal Bill. No such maturity is seen in the architect’s discussion and debate. In fact, the debate is being suppressed by the activists of Janlokpal Bill now riding the popular sentiment. They want no discussion on the bill and demand that it should be passed by the Parliament as it is. All such demands backed by popular movements designed to impose an autocratic law with narrow interests onto the people of India should be rejected and discredited before they become a menace.