Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Middle Class Awakening or Path to Banana Republic?

Of late, we are witnessing this new phenomenon, which we are told as the political awakening of the hitherto apoliltical urban middle class.  Though I am not very sure whether the group that supported Mr Anna Hazare’s Movement entirely consisted of the so called ‘apolitical urban middle class’, there is no doubt that a large chunk conforms to the described class.  Anyway, for the purpose of this discussion, let us merely address them as the Group. 

This extremely vocal Group is rejoicing their new found role to the hilt, with active support from the electronic media to which this group is the biggest market.  As a result, some fundamental questions which were limited to the academic circles till now, are being raised in the public debate.  Some of this questions strike at the very basic of our Constitution and therefore cannot be neglected.

The supposed victory of Mr Anna Hazare’s Movement has allowed this Group to taste blood against their long-time enemies, the Political class.   The war cries for similar movements to tackle various problems being faced by the country can be heard now.   In the normal course, there should not have been any complaints against such an awakening.  However, some of the the very basic premises for the Group are disturbing, to say the least.

Who is Supreme?

Having brought the political class to their knees in the battle for Jan Lokpal Bill (don’t ask me how; that is what is being told to us by the wise men of the TV channels!), the group is raising the question of supremacy.  They are not willing to accept anymore that the Parliament is supreme (it is altogether another matter that Indian Parliament was never supreme; even their law making powers being restricted by the Constitutional framework!).  Instead, they proclaim from all the available stages that People are supreme.

Is the Group right in believing that the people are supreme? Prima facie, it would seem logical and reasonable! However, in India, fortunately or unfortunately the people are not supreme. Supremacy in India is safely and strongly vested in the Constitution itself.  All others including ‘the people’ are expected and bound to function within the ambit of the Constitution.

The Preamble to the Constitution of India begins with the words “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC”.   Having so resolved, we the people have given up our rights to be anything otherwise, but to adhere to the provisions of the Constitution. 

Can People change the Constitution?

Indian Constitution has stipulated specific procedure for carrying out any amendments to its own provisions.  All other laws legislated in India must also conform to the provisions of the Constitution.  The power to amend Constitution is limited.  Mrs Indira Gandhi did try to make substantial changes to the Indian Constitution possible, by making validity of such changes beyond the purview of judicial scrutiny.  However, she could not succeed as those very provisions were struck down by the Supreme Court on the ground that they were not falling within the ambit of basic features of the Constitution. If it was otherwise, by now lot of our freedoms, now taken for granted, would not have been available to us!

So, the peoples’ power to change Indian Constitution so as to affect its basic features, whether exercised indirectly through their elected representatives or directly through mass movements, would be invalid and illegal.  For example, even if entire Indian population vote for an amendment making Judiciary subservient to the Executive, it would still be unconstitutional as ultra virus of the basic feature of Independence of Judiciary. 

Why is it important?

Indian Constitution is flexible enough to undergo changes to meet the needs of the time.  At the same time, it is rigid enough to protect its basic features from the shenanigans of politicians and other interested groups. This balance between flexibility and rigidity is what makes the Indian Constitution one of the best in the world.

If we hold that the people are supreme, that would mean people can change the laws and make any decisions.  That takes us to next level; what does the term people mean?  Is it the entire population of the country? Is it the entire voting population? Is it the majority of those who voted? Is it the majority of population? Is it the majority by religion? Is it the majority by language? Is it the majority by region?

These days we find every politician and every activist who makes any demand claiming that he is speaking on behalf of ‘millions of Indians’ or even ‘whole of India’.  I am surprised on such claims because I cannot understand how these people can measure as to what is in the minds of those millions or whole of Indians.

If these claimants are allowed to have their say, they will enforce changes that they consider as in their interest or in the interest of Nation. Merely because a large group consider it to be so, it need not be correct.  In India, we have number of leaders with enough money and muscle power to organise and manufacture public opinions, whether they use politics, language, regionalism or religion as their tool.

If majority has the ultimate say in decision making, who will protect the interests of the minority? The essence of democracy is balancing the majority decision making, with the need to protect the interests of minority.  

Majority supported Narendra Modi after the Gujarat riots; does that absolve him from the (yet to be established) criminal and/or moral responsibility for the riots? If majority demands independence in Kashmir or any other part of the country, should we keep allowing secession? Merely because majority Hindus demand certain religious custom to be imposed on the country, should we allow that? Merely because majority in the form of Khap Panchayat ordered honour killing, should we legalise it? If the entire population of Tamilnadu fall prey to the politicisation of execution of Rajiv Gandhi (and 16 others with him) killers and demand their release, should our legal system allow it?  This list can go on and on.

Once we open the floodgates, stopping it may not be in our control.  It is better to be conscious of the potential dangers before adopting measures that can have serious and long-term implications!


I am happy to note that a large chunk of the population (both influential and educated) of our country has finally shown some real interest in the affairs of our country, by actively supporting the anti-corruption movement.  However, if such awakening is not accompanied by discretion as to what is legal, constitutional and in the long-term interest of the country, then it would serve no productive purpose.  Since this Group is directly accessible by internet and media, the chances of they being brainwashed and misused by unscrupulous elements out to weaken India is very high, unless the groups become conscious of what is in the interest of the Nation.

Any awakening, to bring positive results, must be based on reality.  Political awakening cannot be achieved by discarding political parties and political ideologies, in a representative system of democracy.  The awakened Group must learn to distinguish between aberrations and norms, individuals and governments, government and the State. If our like or dislike for the aberrations, individuals or governments are allowed to control our visions for the State, then the result would be anything but nation building. 

We have agreed to adhere to certain conditions under which we constituted ourselves into a nation.  Unless we confirm to those conditions and use constitutional methods in our struggles, India will also soon end up as yet another banana republic.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lessons from Anna’s Fast- How to convert a Win-Win to a Lose-Lose Situation

Finally, Anna Hazare ended his fast.  

After crippling if not entire India, at least its electronic media, for 12 days it comes as a relief for all.  It would have done a lot of damage to the Nation’s psyche, had this 74 year old man succumbed to his fast, in his fight against corruption.

Now that the Fast has come to an end, let us ask some unpleasant questions. As much as I hate to be a spoiler for celebrations, one cannot stop asking questions, as that is the only way to ensure one’s balance in times of euphoria.

A Win-Win Situation

Team Anna and India Against Corruption chose a cause that is close to the hearts of almost all Indians.  The pervasive corruption has made all Indians to hang their heads in shame, no matter how much that hung heads are willing or not willing to introspect and change one’s own life to improve the situation!

As for Government, it had lost all its credibility in the recent mega scams. Unprecedented expose of spectacular scams (ironically often a result of Government’s own initiative, the RTI Act) in the highest level of the Government has made it imperative for the Government to undertake measures to claim back its credibility and trust among people.  Government and the ruling Party did promise measures to tackle corruption.

This was an ideal situation for a Win-Win for both groups.  For the first time in history of Indian Parliament, civil society representatives were co-opted into a committee for drafting legislation.  I have no doubt that Lokpal cannot make any difference in the lives of people or control corruption in society, unless it is followed up with major administrative and electoral reforms.  However, for the Government it provided an ideal opportunity to collaborate and use the moral authority of Anna to overcome misgivings in any quarters of ruling establishment and to bring a perceptible step to show case its commitment towards a corruption free India.

But it was not to be.  Both sides converted this Win-Win situation into a Lose-Lose one through a series of wrong words and deeds.  Let us see how each protagonist lost out.

Team Anna

First thing first, what is the achievement that made Anna to give up his indefinite fast and lot of Indians to celebrate with colours and crackers?  Well, Parliament passed a ‘sense of the House’ resolution by thumbing on the desks, to forward to the Standing Committee three of the contentious clauses missing from the proposed Lokpal Bill, for their consideration. 

Well, was that any achievement?  The Fast began by asking the Parliament to consider and pass the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by India Against Corruption (IAC), within four days (later changed to before August 31st).  Government responded by saying that all the draft Bills, including Jan Lokpal Bill, received by it will be forwarded to the Standing Committee for their consideration. 

Standing Committee on its part came out with advertisements seeking public opinions/ suggestions on the draft Bill, thereby giving the entire Nation a right to put their views before the Standing Committee for their consideration.  Government on its part assured that the Standing Committee is free to make any additions/ deletions/ changes in the final draft.

Nothing more than what was already the stated position has been achieved by Anna’s Fast and the agitation, in real terms.  Even assuming Government negotiators might have given certain assurances to the Team Anna to consider some of their points positively, any such assurances, including the sense of the House resolution passed by the House, will not be binding on the Members or the Government, while finalising / passing of the Bill.   

We have already seen the dissent (which Government managed to gloss over in the end through some deft moves) from sections of the Parliament which are bound to come out more prominently in future proceedings on the Bill.  A statutory body to conduct investigations against complaints of corruption has been made out as if it is a super government and therefore, those sections of the society and political class, which now enjoys affirmative actions like reservations, have been put to notice to have their piece of cake.

So, in my opinion Anna and his Team lost out in absolute terms, having built up a large public Movement and yet playing all their cards prematurely, losing out any advantage.  The biggest flaw of the Movement has been that the entire dissatisfaction against the State was reduced to one issue- corruption, in which no one is willing to give up anything but wants everyone else to do so.  Today, if a ‘satisfactory’ Lokpal is brought into existence, the people will forget the need for other reforms without which nothing will change, for a long time to come.  The gullibility of the public opinion is evident from the jubilation and celebration, as if we have won the ‘freedom’ at last.

Like some of the TV anchors want us to believe, has this Movement succeeded in converting the apolitical youth of this nation to a politically conscious force?  I am afraid not.  The lack of willingness among them to go below the superficial and see the reality of the demands as well as the ‘achievements’ shows otherwise.  The near complete focus on Anna as a personality (all with the ‘I AM ANNA’ caps and ‘Anna is India’ slogans) coupled with the bungling of his aids has reduced this movement to a great Indian Tamasha.  My reading is that having brought the political class ‘to its knees’ and having satisfied their hurt ego, they will go back to their apolitical complacency-  if at all, with an increased aversion and contempt towards the politics and politicians.

The Lokpal has now been reduced to a Trojan Horse that can be let loose into complacent public consciousness, to keep them off the more pressing needs of the time.

The Government

This Government which brought a law like RTI Act and is bringing a Law like Right to Food Act completely lost their grip on the demand for Lokpal.  In spite of including it in their Election Manifesto and in spite of making the first move towards drafting the Bill,  the Government stands painted today as an institution for the corrupt and against Lokpal.

This fall was brought about with a great apolitical sense.  As Arun Jaitley stated, too many lawyers really spoiled it all.  The lack of political wisdom and political initiative were evident all throughout this drama.  The tactical error in taking Anna into preventive custody even before he set out to Fast gave the Movement its biggest boost.  The flip-flops and confusions during negotiations also gave a feeling of lack of direction and lack of sincerity of purpose in the Government.

Indian Parliament has always sought and obtained Civil Society’s inputs while making laws.  The very institution of Standing Committee was introduced into the law making process to facilitate more and more public interactions while making laws.  There are number examples where bodies and individuals have contributed significantly in drafting laws, especially social legislations, at the centre. 

Yet, the manner in which Government and Parliament is perceived to have capitulated before the Team Anna has dented the very majesty of the State and made it vulnerable to similar tactics in future.

The Constitution

Public opinion has shifted from the ‘supremacy of Parliament’ to ‘supremacy of people’.   What we missed is the supremacy of Constitution.  In India, neither people nor Parliament, not even Judiciary is supreme; it is the Constitution that is supreme.  Any action, even if it is supported by the 120 Crore people, as TV anchors like to put it, cannot be legitimate unless that action confirms to the Basic Features of the Constitution.  This statement may sound anti-people, but believe me, that supremacy is what is keeping our freedom and rights intact from any motivated onslaughts. 

By this Movement, we have probably opened up a flood gate.  We are making our institutions susceptible to pressure tactics from influential groups.  Consider someone who can strike a chord with a large section of people undertaking such steps to force their not so benign demands on the collective and the State.  Can Government keep succumbing to such demands?

Gujjars used violence and Anna used non-violence to make State agree to their demands. The objectives are same; only the methods differed.   Remember it is easy to deal with a violent movement by using counter force, but to deal with a non-violent movement requires a lot of political acumen.

The only Winner

In this Lose-Lose affair, it is not like there was no winner at all.  The winner is Non-violence as a means for achieving one’s demands.  The only positive lesson that emerged from this Movement is the reinforcement of effectiveness of non-violence as a means of protest.  I am not sure how much this lesson can be adopted by the protestors of other countries and civilisations, but the effectiveness of it in India and Indian society is beyond all doubts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Justice Hegde and the Corrupt Postman

These days, with all the TV News channels competing with each other in promoting the ‘second freedom struggle’ (aka ‘Arnab Spring’ for the role of Media) being led by Mr Anna Hazare, I am forced to do reverse channel surfing.  With little news and an over doze of propaganda, it is impossible to stick to one Channel for more than 3 minutes!

Last night while surfing those Channels, I happened to see Justice NS Hegde, the respected Ex Supreme Court Judge and Ex Lokayukta Karnataka, speaking on the issue of corruption.  Being known as one of the saner voices of Team Anna and a man who had been in the forefront of fight against corruption, I was keen to listen to his words on the issue of Jan Lokpal.

To my surprise, he conveyed something like this (not the exact words but the true message): Jan Lokpal will eradicate all the corruption in this country. Today, if one receives a Money order the postman will insist on bribing him 10% of that amount and if one refuses to give that, he will return the Money order as ‘addressee not found’.  When the Jan Lokpal comes into effect we will be able to stop such practices’.

Really?!  Do you really believe that an institution like Jan Lokpal will eradicate such transactional corruption?  Justice Hegde, You seem to be carrying a very high degree of optimism about the results of Jan Lokpal, while holding very pessimistic views about the current system of governance! Some magical formula, this Jan Lokpal is?

Let us consider this.  Last month, when I was home in Kerala, the Postman (actually a lady... but do we call them Postwoman or Postperson? in any case, she referred to herself as Postman!) came home to deliver a letter from an Insurance company.  When my mother mentioned that it was second consecutive day that she is visiting our home, the Postman said to me, “It is the custom that if a Postman visits a home for two consecutive days, ‘something’ must be given”.   

I clearly understood what she meant.  However, considering her age and status, I just replied to her, “My God, you are a Central Government employee.  How can I even think of gifting you something as it can be considered as an attempt to bribe you?” We both smiled. She didn’t pursue or threaten to take my mail away. 

I probably did what I did because I am not one of those who wear the “I AM ANNA’ cap.  My apologies if anybody is appalled at my behaviour condoning of an attempt to indulge in corruption by that Lady.   

But I am curious what would you have done, Justice Hegde?  Let me make a guess on the available choices: (i) pay her some money and silently curse her (ii) pay and consider it as a tip to an underpaid employee, who had walked all the way to your home, in that rain, to deliver your mail (iii) pay the ‘bribe’ and then file a complaint with the Police or with the Vigilance Officer of the Postal Department, or (iv) undertake fast for the Jan Lokpal to be passed, so that the complaint against  her can be filed.

Oh, that brings up another question.  If one is to file a complaint against that Postman before Lokpal, can’t that person file the same complaint before Police or any other existing vigilance agency?  Is it because of lack of agencies that we do not report such matters? Or, is it because we do not consider it important enough to spend our time and energy on? 

I have always found it easy to avoid or smile away a situation of bribe, than to pay it or take legal actions against it.  I don’t know how many of the ‘I AM ANNA”s would use the option of filing a complaint with any authorities, including Jan Lokpal. 

As for the larger bribes, it is never demanded directly.  It is always a part of negotiation; a give and take between two parties, most probably involving a go-between, to appropriate undue benefits for both sides.  Again how many of those individuals, will prefer to go and complain to Jan Lokpal about a ‘crime’ that s/he is involved in/benefitted from?

That means only those instances, where a third party makes a complaint against corrupt deals are left for the Jan Lokpal to intervene.  Those are cases of high political potential, otherwise called as spectacular corruption, like 2G and CWG scams.   Our present systems are currently dealing with those spectacular corruptions. The need of the hour is to strengthen the existing systems and not create more and more systems.  

It is even fine for Justice Hegde to raise those demands for Jan Lokpal as one more layer of agencies to oversee the corruption cases at all levels.  But, for him to make misleading promises to the people of this country that Jan Lokpal will eradicate all the ills of this country is, in my opinion, not very noble and affects his credibility. That Postman will continue to seek 'something' and the life will go on as before. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Anna Hazare: The Second Gandhi and Danger of Political Bhakti

Till very recently, Gandhi was one name that made rounds among the educated middle class of India as the villain behind almost all the ills of this country.  Even the Gandhi film by Richard Attenborough could not make much difference in India, though that film is credited for increasing the awareness about Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violence, elsewhere in the world. 

 It took an Anna Hazare to change all that overnight.  The sequel to original Gandhi, named Second Gandhi or The Gandhian, Anna Hazare suddenly became a hero for the same educated middle class, not only in India but also in the Western world, for those who have already managed to get out of the ‘bloody country’, looking for green cards and greener pastures.  The Gandhi cap (though Gandhi had never worn one) has become suddenly a fashion symbol even in pageants!

While Gandhi’s role, in giving direction and leadership to India’s independence cannot be overemphasised, the role of his political ideology in post independence India was always suspect. Dr Ambedkar’s famous ‘Grammar of Anarchy’ speech clearly dealt with this issue in the following words, “The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us”.

In the words of the father of Indian Constitution, “we must hold fast to constitutional methods” rather than ‘holding fasts as a means of black mail’.  I salute that visionary in foreseeing so far into the future when Second Gandhi was to undertake fast unto death as a means of legislation!

Be that as it may, let us consider the defining ideological moorings of the Second Gandhi. From various reported speeches and write-ups on his life, we can deduce the following.  Let me start with the positives first.

Anna has done tremendous work in the field of development of Indian villages.  His projects of rain harvesting, at a very minimal costs changed the life of people in those villages.  These developments can be interpreted as his commitment to Gandhian philosophy which speaks of growth and self sufficiency of the villages.

Secondly, his life is almost like that of Gandhi.  Very simple and frugal, he lives in a small room of a Temple that he built in his village (whether one can use the property of a temple for his/her own personal use is a question that I will not go into).  According to him his worldly possessions are only a plate to eat and a room to sleep in.

Unlike the first Gandhi, this Second Gandhi is not a strict follower of Non-violence.  In his words, “Rural India is a harsh society; if you want change, it's sometimes necessary to be tough."  Not just mere words, as he had in fact tied drunken people to temple pillars and personally flogged them with his Army belt!  I am quite curious as to how many of his new supporters would find that ‘cool’!

Anna is very much in favour of death penalty for corrupt.  He publicly demanded punishments like chopping of hands etc, to tackle corruption and his Team finds it tough many a time to give a positive spin to his words, to make them more palatable to common people. 

Anna never had to think twice before warning the Government that if they did not understand the language of Mahatma Gandhi, he would not hesitate to use the language of Chhatrapati Shivaji.  No need to explain that the language of the great warrior Shivaji is of violence and not anything close to Ahimsa, the language of the original Gandhi!

For the Original Gandhi, the Satyagraha was a tool of self purification.  By undertaking the fast, he used to appeal to the moral sense of the opponents. He never used foul language against his opponents.  All the while he was involved in the freedom struggle, he kept his dialogue and relationships with the British people intact. 

Compare it with the Second Gandhi. He starts by holding his ‘opponents’ as thieves and rascals.  For him his opponents are way below him.  He has no problem in using foul language and generalised false accusations against his perceived opponents; in the present instance the political class.  He is Anna- the big brother and it is ‘My way or Highway” for others!

Anna does not believe in democracy or elections.  It is no wonder that he and his Team have ridiculed the suggestions of fighting election, winning them and then changing the systems/ laws.  He says the need of the hour is to ‘select and not elect’ people (at least for the Village Panchayats).  When Kejriwal says that they are now masters and they do not want to become servants by winning elections, he is in agreement with philosophy of Anna but in complete disagreement with the system based on representational democracy. Being servants is left to the lowly politicians!  This Team is drunk on the power of popular acceptance that is without any accountability!

The authoritarian streak is quite evident in this Gandhian.  While he has achieved economic success for his village, the villagers had to pay a price for that- he became their Anna.  He and his followers, according to reports, established a system in his village completely on authoritarian lines - prohibiting alcohol; tobacco; film music and contesting elections on a party platform.  Can’t you perceive traces of enforcing a Taliban like code of conduct here?!

Anna, unlike Gandhi, considers himself above questioning and reasoning.  What he says and what he thinks is only correct; it does not matter what others think or say.  This attitude which he successfully established in his village is sought to be now enforced over the entire country.  This applies even to allegations against himself.  Consider what original Gandhi would have done if an allegation was raised against him (or even against his followers).  Nothing of that sort for the Second Gandhi! Anna dismissed all the allegations of wrong doings against the Trusts under his control and his followers, with contempt. 

Finally unlike the original Gandhi, this Second Gandhi does not believe in introspecting and self correction.  He externalises the entire blame for corruption on to an outsider- the Government.  Probably is this the single most important trait that endears him to his constituency?

Even the participants of his fight against corruption are not willing to consider their own faults in the aspects of corruption. They readily justify their right to bribe and indulge in corrupt practices to the ‘compulsion’.  Even little difficulties like having to part with taxes, having to stop at a red signal, having to travel in an unreserved compartment of train, having to study in a college other than that of their first choice- these are all compulsions for these so called fighters against corruption.

During the build up to current agitation, Anna has not even once called upon his followers to stop bribing.  Never once he told them to stop indulging in corrupt practices. As someone tweeted, the fact that there is a banner at Ramlila Maidan , which says, ‘Chartered Accountants Against Corruption” is evident to the fact that for Anna and followers corruption is only something that is limited to an external agency called Government.  Otherwise, if all Chartered Accountants decide not to cover up any acts of corruption but to promptly report them in their audit reports, wouldn’t corruption be reduced to a great extent, in the corporate world at least? Instead, they will pass the buck to the Government!

Despite all its trappings, this Second Gandhi’s philosophy is closer to Fascism than Gandhism.  Gandhi and the cap in his name, just like the use of Bharat Mata pictures and Vande Mataram call, are only convenient accessories in the hands of Anna and his team.  Going by their acts and words, Anna or his Team are not people who believe or follow Gandhi or democracy.  Have Indian people forgotten, so soon, in whose company many of these worthies used to be till recently; until they found a better symbol and tool to weaken Indian democracy?!

Corruption needs to curbed.  It is the need of people like us who stayed back in India and tied our destiny to that of this country than the need of those people who are sitting on protest in Washington or London. Merely because some people do not support Anna that does not mean they are corrupt, anti-nationals or agents of ruling party. 

Unlike Anna and his Team, many people do realise that corruption is not a political but a social problem and that it cannot be removed without a change in the social mindset and sustained systemic reforms.  Anna who is against the liberalisation of the economy or his all powerful Lokpal are not the ones who will achieve that but only sustained reforms of administrative processes and removal of discretionary powers of the government functionaries.

Let me clarify that I am not against right to protest.  But I am against capitulation of democratic systems before any kind of blackmail (as Anna himself described his agitation).  We cannot accept laws that are not passed by the free will of our representatives but under some duress.

To conclude, let me quote Dr Ambedkar again, “Observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, “not to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions.”  This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country….. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship”. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What India needs now? My List of Demands!

India needs change, now and here.  It will not be possible to contain the increasing disenchantment of the people any more.  Like a dog that has tasted human blood, the Civil Society will continue to bite again and again.  

Unlike our neighbour China, India has adopted an open society, though none of us are willing to credit our politicians for making that possible.  We will only harp on the negatives like Emergency and dynasty and will never consider our freedom to talk, write, demonstrate and agitate against the governments and systems.  We will not credit the system for an independent judiciary that will protect us, even if administration violates any of our rights.  We will not credit our system for maintaining strictly apolitical armed forces that will never come out and crush our candle light marches.  We will not credit the system for affording us a vibrant media that can afford to go hammer and tongs against government in power, 24x7.

Well, we can always say these are nothing to be credited for, as they are our birth rights. But if we are still talking about a second and real freedom struggle, where is the question of rights?  Also, didn’t the people who were crushed to death in Tiananmen Square have rights?  In short, rights are only a function of the political system that a country is following.

Be that as it may, the vibrant media, social media revolution, increasing middle class population with higher aspirations, reduction of opportunities in Western countries are all contributing to the higher and higher demands from the Civil Society.  Politicians and political system can afford to ignore these changing aspirations only at their own peril.   They will have to show perceptible changes in the system to assuage the disenchantment among people.  A collective disenchantment of people is not good for any nation, irrespective of the political system being followed.

Let us look at the options that are readily available before us to make a positive change in our affairs.  Before proceeding further, I would like to confess that this is more of an expression of my confused thoughts than a researched paper.  The idea is to list out those changes that I feel practical and necessary, so that we can subject them to a larger debate and arrive at more solid suggestions.  

Right to Reject Candidates

We often hear the complaint, from people who are blaming our political system, about they being forced to elect the best among the available choices and about the insensitive political parties thrusting bad candidates down their throats.  While I disagree with the excuse of opting out of voting on such grounds, I agree with the problem of having to elect from bad choices.  The solution is to make right to reject all candidates as one of the voting options in the ballet paper or on the voting machines.  (For those interested to read more on this please visit my Blog http://confused-ambadi.blogspot.com/2011/06/indian-democracy-and-right-to-reject.html ) This will at least remove the reason for cribbing about our representatives not really being our choice.  Also, this will make political parties more vigilant while choosing their candidates for elections.

Decriminalisation of Politics

We must ensure immediate changes in the Representation of Peoples Act to reduce criminalisation of our legislative bodies.  While I am a firm believer in the maxim, “Innocent until proved guilty”, that presumption of innocence should not be carried further to those who have appealed against their guilty verdicts.  Once convicted in a criminal case, irrespective of the status of their appeals, these persons must be barred from contesting elections.   Coupled with the right to reject candidates, as discussed above, this change will clean up our politics to a great extent and restore credibility of our representatives.

All India Judicial Service

Independent and corruption free judiciary is a cornerstone of rule of law.  While Indian Judiciary has remained by and large independent and sensitive to people’s rights, of late some unfortunate tendencies seem to have crept into this section as well.  Having associated with our judicial system, I would be surprised if it can remain free from the general degradation of the social norms and resultant corruption. 

While judges of the lower judiciary are selected from the practising lawyers by conducting examinations (usually under advice from the State Public Service Commission and High Courts) the judges of the higher judiciary is mostly selected directly, with the remaining being promoted from the lower judiciary.  In either case, it is the practising lawyers who end up becoming judges.  This causes serious problems, especially in the case of direct entry High Court judges. 

The danger is not only in these judges being influenced by their relationships from their erstwhile practise but also being influenced by the high income (most of it tax free!) that they used to earn from their successful practice, before they became judges.  We have even heard allegations that certain corporate bodies were promoting the candidature of certain persons for High Court judges, with the expectation that some day in future they will become useful!  That apart, lawyers are always in the middle of almost all the major illegal happenings in the country, either as advisors or as counsels to the criminals and corporate bodies.  The more successful a lawyer, more likelihood of his/ her being involved in high end deals often involving violations of law.  Can we expect these individuals to turn pious overnight, just because they are appointed as judges?  Well, I am not suggesting that all these judges are corrupt, but pointing out the increased risk of at least some of them being black sheeps. 

Therefore, it is would be advisable to have a dedicated service for judges.  Selecting them on the basis of merits at a very young age (before being corrupted by worldly practices) and then training them to become successful judges, in the similar manner as other All India services, will be a step in the right direction.  They can start their profession in the lower courts and continue getting promoted till Supreme Court, based on performance records.

Judicial Accountability

Independence of Judiciary is one of the Basic Features of Indian Constitution.  By and large we have been successful in maintaining that. However, that independence has caused another problem of accountability.  In a democracy, every public authority must be accountable to people either directly or indirectly through their representatives. Judiciary is an exception to this generic rule, for obvious reasons. However, that exception cannot result in a ‘no accountability at all’ situation.

The challenge of ensuring accountability of Judiciary, while maintaining its independence is under consideration of authorities for quite some time now. The Judicial Conduct and Accountability Bill, now under consideration, must be made an effective law at the earliest, to ensure this objective. 

Right to Service

Another area that needs urgent reform is the people’s right to get timely service from government agencies.  One major cause of corruption is the lack accountability for the government officials, at all levels, to provide timely services.  Since the officer is not required to complete a work within a given time, he can keep it pending till his hands are greased by the beneficiary.  If you know your water connection is supposed to be sanctioned within so many days and the officer concerned is accountable for that, why should you pay any bribe at all?

Government of Kerala has taken the lead in this regard and is in the process of bringing a law to guarantee right to services in its offices.  Time limits will be set for each service and the concerned officers made accountable for any deviation therefrom.   This must be introduced in an all India level by passing necessary laws.

Strengthening RTI and Protection to Whistle Blowers

Right to Information Act was a revolutionary legislation that changed Indian administrative landscape forever.  The fact that all the major scams of today were exposed mainly with the use of RTI is the greatest certificate to this Act. 

However, the Act has brought out certain difficulties as well.  The life of activists is facing increasing risk from the vested interests, whose nefarious activities get exposed through RTI.  Adequate changes must be incorporated to ensure protection to the RTI users. 

Same is the case with whistleblowers as well.  We need adequate measure to ensure protection of those individuals who are willing to take the risk of exposing corruption.  This is very important in containing corruption because, unless someone blows the whistle, most corruption will not get exposed, as corruption is a crime in which both sides are beneficiaries and interested parties. 

Operational Freedom to CBI and CVC

It was with similar objective and fervour as that of Jan Lokpal that we created institutions like CBI and CVC in the past.  However, in the absence of adequate awareness and public vigilance, these institutions were made mere sidekicks of the Governments of the day.  Use of these institutions for political purposes has been rampant under most governments, irrespective of parties.

The balance between accountability and operational freedom must be institutionalised for these investigative agencies.  

Redressal of Public Grievances

The lack of effective machinery for Redressal of the public grievances is quite evident in most parts of the country.  Be it the demand for Telegana, be it the demands of Kashimir separatists or even the demands for Jan Lokpal- what is apparent is the lack of expertise and cohesive strategy to deal with the public grievances. 

The inefficient dealings of these grievances are aggravating the situation to an extent of the governments losing their credibility and goodwill among the people.  No doubt, such a development is not good for a healthy democracy.  For more details on this issue, you may please refer to my blog at http://confused-ambadi.blogspot.com/2011/05/redressal-of-public-grievances.html.

Administrative Reforms through induction of Technology

Constant efforts must be made to modernise the administration by resorting to technology as an effective partner.  I have personal experience of at least two departments that have become less corrupt and user friendly by adopting technology- they are Ministry of Corporate Affairs (Registrar of Companies) and Income Tax Department. 

Automation of processes, reductions of necessity for face to face meetings between officials and beneficiaries, better data creation and management on beneficiaries etc, are some of the practical steps that can be immediately ensured.  These processes will ensure the reduction of discretionary powers of officials, thereby reducing avenues for corruption.

Value Education and Change of Attitudes

Finally, no change in the system will be effective beyond the cosmetic level, unless we, the people, are willing to change our attitudes.  I was appalled to read in one of the news papers, about a Satyagrahi from Anna Hazare’s group, who openly claimed that when he is in Bangkok he pays his taxes and obeys traffic rules without any problem though he does not do either while in India.  Irony is that while he is fighting for a Jan Lokpal to ensure corruption free India, he does not consider his own violations as anything wrong.  Unfortunately, most of the people whom I interact with, on the subject of corruption do not consider paying bribe as wrong.  They justify those bribes in the name of ‘compulsions’ though many a time these bribes are paid for very little comforts or advantages over fellow citizens!

If we need a new India, this attitude must change.  The attitude of Saint I (I would request you to read this poem of mine, as I can’t demonstrate this attitude any better) existing in the new Indians will be a great hindrance in any systemic reforms.  We must admit that the bribe givers and the bribe takers are both from our own society.    The admission and recognition of how we contribute to the corruption is the first step towards changing our society.   

Our education must include human values.  I do not mean the religious values; but the values that make a good human being.  The priority of a large chunk of population of this country is changing from mere survival to quality life.  While ensuring more and more people are brought into this group, in terms of economic inclusive growth, we must also ensure the moral health of this burgeoning group.

Well... Let me assure you I have no plan to fast unto death for these ‘demands’. I believe these are just and logical demands that no government can ignore for long, merely on the merits of the demands itself.   I also believe this is not an exhaustive list of the desirable reforms.. Reforms are a continuous process and not a one time affair.

Finally, I have not dealt with the need for an Ombudsman (Lokpal) to check corruption at the highest levels of our polity for two reasons: (i) that a lot has already been said on the subject and not because I do not consider the needs for it, and (ii) ombudsman is for one more level of oversight only and what is preferable is reforms at the very operational level, to ensure lack of avenues for corruption.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Do not underestimate your Government!

I am really surprised at the way people underestimate our leaders and administrators.   These feelings are obviously fanned by the self-styled intellectuals of social media and the know-it-all reporters of the 24x7 TV channels.  Since this write- up is based on the reactions of certain groups of people and media, I would use the term ‘intellectuals’ to denote the group in general, though use of the that term is not in any way referring to the intellectuals in the real sense of term.

I am not disputing the fact that there are reasons to be aggrieved or even angry at our political leaders, though I may not agree with all of those reasons.  What I can’t understand is the contempt with which these intellectuals hold our leaders.  

Until few years back, the fact that lot of our leaders were not highly educated was used to denigrate them.  However, that does not hold anymore.  The average education of our political leadership has gone substantially high- with our Prime Minister himself leading the pack.  Now, the complaints have therefore, changed tack towards alleged lack of brain and smartness among our politicians!  Intellectuals have commented on their ‘gross misunderstanding of the public mood’, their ‘potency’, their ‘bravery’, their ‘intelligence’ their ‘foolishness’ and what not!

Look at the reactions to the preventive custody of Anna Hazare.  Preventive custody is something very commonly experienced by political activists in all parts of the country.  It is a legitimate tool in the hands of Police to manage any potential crowd related issues.   One may question the use of that tool in any particular case, depending on which side you are.  But to hold that the political leadership erred or that they did it in panic etc is clearly underestimating the ability of our Government machinery. 

Public memory is rather too short. Yet, we could not have forgotten the reactions to the unusually warm welcome and the subsequent eviction of Baba Ramdev.  We were outraged; we said the Government is about to fall; we said the Ministers have lost it.  Who had the last laugh?  Today Ramdev is a fallen hero and is trying desperately to climb onto the Anna bandwagon.

Like one tweet said, “Government is testing our patience by changing stands all the time”.  Yes, my friend, you are right.  Government is testing the patience of the ‘revolutionaries’ with the firm belief that the outrage of the intellectuals and the stamina of the people on streets will not last for long. 

Revolutions are conducted not by the Middle Class and intellectuals of internet, who have a lot to lose, but by the poor masses that have nothing to lose.   Anna’s movement is still a movement of the educated, urban middle and upper-middle classes.  Unless, it turns to a mass movement Government has nothing to worry.  In any case, these intellectuals hardly go out to vote on the elections day.  Government knows these people have their EMIs to pay, offices and colleges to attend, mobile phone and data card charges to pay.  They cannot afford to be on the streets for a long time.

Government will start worrying if this turns into a mass Movement.  When I say mass Movement, I do not mean accumulation of 100 or 200 people at isolated spots, to be focussed by the ever willing TV cameras; I mean the Movement in which that section of the society which has nothing to lose will dominate. It is only they who have the powers to bring down a Government.  How does a Government ensure that a Movement does not reach that stage?

Simple! Government  pre-empted the Movement, by detaining its top leaders.  Now Government knows how deep this Movement is.  It has drawn out the worst reactions and the outrage, with utmost finesse, by taking into custody and jailing of Anna Hazare, its mascot.   Government has clearly measured its adversary by taking the couple of early blows.  But nothing to rejoice there, for Government can now follow the remaining steps in its plan to quell this revolution, which at least some of them wanted to make the Indian spring! Surely they will have their contingent plans as well, in case the Movement get out of hands. 

If anyone is thinking that Government did what it did, without tacit support from the opposition, I am ready to bet with him/ her on that.  The reactions from the opposition are on the predicted lines- willing to hit but not willing to wound the Government.  They all know what is at stake; the very survival of the parliamentary system and the representative democracy. 

Political accusations will continue to fly.  But the Movement in all its likelihood will meet the same fate as the candle brigades of post 26/11 at Mumbai.  I hope the readers still recall the brave talks/tweets of the outraged intellectuals after that unfortunate incident?  The Government and its security systems are still the same, yet we don’t see the candles anymore.  Not even when Mumbai was rattled again from multiple bomb blasts! 

Why Government is being stubborn in this case?  In my opinion, it wants to call the bluff of the Civil Society.  When Government allowed the previous Fast of Anna to take root at Jantar Mantar and had to concede the Joint Drafting Committee, it learned its lessons.  It understood the danger in setting such precedents for future.  Democracy can only function in an orderly fashion and not in Anna-rchy.  If it becomes power to all, with no restrictions, it would become unmanageable.  So Government has no choice but to quell the dreams of any revolution!!

Secondly, the Government knows very well that the general elections are still far away, in 2014.  Even if Government make everyone happy in 2011 by conceding all the demands of Anna, the effect will not last till 2014.  The chances in 2014 will be determined on the basis of what happens very close to the elections.  Even in the opposition, the Members of Parliament will not be keen to face another election any time soon; and therefore no party will make any serious attempt to dethrone this Government.   Government knows that in case of a serious threat, it can beg/borrow/steal and maintain its majority.   

To conclude, you may love or hate your ministers and leaders; but do not underestimate them.   Most of them are really capable and much smarter than us... the very fact that they have reached those positions and have managed to retain those positions proves that fact.  Same applies for the bureaucrats.  Each one has gone through the daily grind of the public administration and has gained enough experience in dealing with every type of crisis.  To expect them to give-in without any fight is really naive.

I will wait to see who is having the last laugh in this case as well.  I hope it is neither the Anna Brigade nor the Government but the people of India that is going to have that last laugh by strengthening our systems and making our processes corruption free.

P.S:  Though unrelated to the above, I feel like to state here that the Jasmine revolution succeeded in Egypt because of the tacit support of Army and it failed in Bahrain because of its opposition.  Look at Libya and Syria- even with so much outside support the people in those countries are no where closer to any Arab Spring!