New Awakening and Confidence in
the Battle against Corruption
Is it a threat to democracy and democratic process for people, through democratic protests, to demand a say in what kind of law a Government introduces? Many critics of the anti-corruption movement that emerged around the fast by Anna Hazare on the Lokpal Bill issue seem to believe so.
Protest Enriches, Not Undermines Democracy
The entire movement has been variously branded as ‘blackmail’, as a ‘putsch,’ and as an attempt to subvert ‘democratic process.’ One analyst opined that the fast amounted to ‘blackmail,’ and that demand to include anti-corruption campaigners from civil society in the Lokpal Bill drafting committee was “absurd,” because people cannot be allowed “to dictate policy to a representative process.” According to these critics, it seems that people’s rights in a democracy are confined to the right to elect representatives. Having done so, have they no right to hold those representatives accountable to people’s wishes? Have they no right to ‘dictate’ what kind of policies those elected representatives will make? Must they watch passively while the Radias, Tatas, Ambanis and so on ‘dictate policy’ to elected representatives?!
Anna Praise for Modi and Nitish Unfortunate
Anna Hazare’s remark praising Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar on their rural development work is highly unfortunate and unwarranted.
Anna Hazare has got widespread support on the issue of corruption, and is now a member of the drafting committee on the Lokpal Bill. Statements from him seeming to legitimize NDA Chief Ministers like Modi and Nitish Kumar are not in the best interests of the anti-corruption movement. Such remarks are liable to be used by discredited rulers while undermining the spirit of the fighting people.
It is strange that most critics who accuse the anti-corruption campaigners of arrogating legislative powers to themselves, have seen no threat to democracy in the process whereby Bills (on Right to Food, Right to Education, Right to Information, NREGA and so on) have been drafted by the NAC. Surely the members of the NAC headed by Sonia Gandhi are also ‘civil society’ activists and not elected representatives? If they can draft Bills (which are then debated and passed through due process by Parliament), why can’t non-NAC members of civil society similarly play a role in drafting Bills?
Recently the Allahabad HC has issued a notice to the Government questioning the constitutionality of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, suggesting that the presence of civil society members amounts to an “extra-constitutional authority.” Such a response is quite strange. The UPA Government has several key projects headed by CEOs – the UID project headed by former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani and the NATGRID project headed by Mahindra CEO Raghu Raman, for example (see ‘What’s the ‘Aadhar’ of the UID Scheme, Liberation April 2011). Further these projects are going full steam ahead without any monitoring or green signal from Parliament! On the one hand, such sweeping projects with far-reaching consequences are being carried on in a hush-hush way, headed by CEOs who are not in any way accountable to Parliament. On the other, civil society representatives who have asked for full transparency (they have asked that drafting committee be videotaped and made available to the public) are being accused of violating Parliamentary and constitutional process!
Critical Engagement Needed
In any democratic movement, however, leaders cannot afford to be sacred cows. Anna Hazare’s remarks in praise of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar rightly came in for criticism. He clarified that he was not supporting communal violence, and that his praise was on the limited question of ‘rural development’, and subsequently said that his remarks were based on media reports, and in case he was misinformed, he withdrew his praise.
Stop the Smear Campaign against Anti-corruption Campaigners
A scam-tainted UPA Government, opportunistically making common cause with the dubious Amar Singh to target such public-spirited individuals as the Bhushans, only further lowers its own already beleaguered credibility. Those responsible for the fabricated CD should be identified and sternly penalised
Even if Anna is concerned with the single issue of corruption, he should know that both Modi and Nitish are in the dock on this question. Modi’s government is implicated in the Sujalam Sufalam scam (Rs.1700 crores); the NREGS Boribund scam (Rs.109 crores), and the Fisheries scam (Rs.600 crores). His claims of employment generation are undercut by the evidence of massive displacement and illegal land grab (see box). Successive CAG reports have implicated the Nitish Government (as well as its predecessor) in massive swindling of public funds and Nitish has blocked even a CBI enquiry as ordered by the High Court. Neither Nitish nor Modi has appointed a Lokayukta in the states ruled by them.
In any case, the question of ‘rural development’ or corruption cannot be divorced from that of democracy. Modi’s government is reviled the world over for having perpetrated a massacre on the minorities. Top Gujarat police officers have been held responsible for the fake encounter of Sohrabuddin, alleged to have been done at the behest of marble mafia. For Anna to hand out certificates to such leaders can only erode the credibility of the struggle against corruption.
A police officer has recently testified in the Supreme Court to Modi's direct role in ordering the state machinery to foment violence against minorities, and the Government's and SIT's role in intimidating such honest officers. Should the anti-corruption movement not hail such a whistleblower who refused to sell his conscience and upheld the constitution at personal risk?
Anna Hazare has also remarked that voters in India lack awareness and are ready to be bought. He should remember that it is those same voters who are part of the anti-corruption movement today, and who have time and again shown corrupt governments their place.
Popular Anti-Corruption Mood
The presence of those from the saffron spectrum – from Baba Ramdev to Ram Madhav – on Anna Hazare’s platform too have caused secular and democratic forces to be uneasy. While the concerns are understandable, it must also be recognised that the movement led by Anna Hazare cannot be conflated with Baba Ramdev’s organisation. Baba Ramdev has been trying to make a political debut as a crusader against black money, building on his popularity as a yoga guru. But in the anti-corruption movement that has emerged, it is quite apparent that Ramdev and his agenda fail to command centre stage. Instead it is the Lokpal Bill (never very prominent in Ramdev’s campaign) that remained the focus. No doubt, the Sangh Parivar forces, failing to command credibility on their own thanks to BJP Governments such as the Karnataka Government being mired in corruption, will try to ride piggyback on the back of the wider anti-corruption agitation. The movement needs to be vigilant about attempts by Ramdev or the RSS to take advantage of it. But the movement as a whole is not stage-managed by the Sangh.
Myth of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’
We can share more information about the Gujarat. Annaji visit Gujarat to know the reality at grassroots level about 'destructive development' in Gujarat.”
Those dismissing the movement as a Sangh conspiracy or a Congress ploy to defuse anti-corruption anger or a media creation are seriously undermining the prevailing popular mood against corruption. The Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption campaign, as well as 24-hour media channels, tapped into this mood, but certainly did not manufacture it. We should not miss the wood (of people’s new-found determination and confidence to challenge corruption) for the trees (of media hype, ill-advised utterances and ideas of certain leaders, etc).
This mood was palpable in small towns and big cities alike, and reflected the great anger and outrage of people against the impunity enjoyed by the corrupt. The anger was directed especially at the corrupt in high places, and as a result it did sometimes articulate itself as a rejection of politics and political leaders. Because of this, some have jumped to the conclusion that the participants in this movement were apolitical, careerist types, capable only of candle-light vigils on fashionable issues and liable to melt away if the TV cameras left (or if the police arrived with batons). Such assumptions are quite premature and lack basis. In fact, it seems quite possible that the Government capitulated, anticipating that the ‘jail bharo’ (court arrest) called by Anna Hazare for 13 April might receive an overwhelming response and result in an intensified agitation.
Binayak Sen on Anti-Corruption Struggle
His response: “Iron Sharmila (in Manipur) has drawn attention to the fact that her fast of 10 years had not brought about change. She is making an important point. But I would not like to decry what the anti-corruption people have tried to do. What they are doing is very important and very necessary.”
People’s anger against and rejection of the dominant image of politics (ruling class politics) is quite understandable. To those disillusioned with the ruling class model of politics, we need to reach out with an alternative model of politics. For many thousands of young people, this anti-corruption movement was their first experience of public action, of people’s movement, of politics. Some months earlier, a considerable degree of similar popular awakening could be seen on the Binayak Sen issue too. Those who march against corruption and for a Lokpal Bill today can certainly come to recognise the linkages between their own concerns and Binayak’s and Irom Sharmila’s.
Possibly some leaders of the movement do indeed aim to confine the whole issue of a corruption to a narrow legal framework, relegating the entire agenda of corporate loot and plunder to the background and defusing the explosive potential of mass anger with the healing touch of bourgeois reform and Gandhian agitation. Yet it cannot be denied that the fast did strike a chord with large sections of the people and it did reveal the potential of a popular anti-corruption movement. There is tremendous mass anger on the issue of corruption – both because of the scale and the degree of impunity enjoyed by the corrupt – and the demand for an effective anti-corruption legislation undoubtedly helped mobilise and channelize this anger into various forms of citizen activism across the country. Already, more progressive and radical trends within the movement have begun exploring the possibility of expanding the horizons of the movement beyond just the Lokpal Bill.
Lokpal Bill and Beyond
It is apparent that the process of drafting a Lokpal Bill too is not likely to be smooth. Already, the Congress, firing from the shoulders of the infamous ‘fixer’ Amar Singh, has launched an underhand smear campaign against drafting committee members Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan.
Other commentators, while appreciating the need for an effective Lokpal legislation and agreeing that the Government draft is toothless, have cautioned against creating a draconian ‘super-cop’ that would endanger democracy. It must certainly be ensured that the Lokpal Bill not only be effective but also transparent and accountable. All concerns regarding democracy and accountability are genuine and must be fully addressed while drafting the Bill. But care must be taken that corruption is not condoned or legitimised as a necessary cost of democracy. A super-cop is not wanted, but an effective and independent cop, accountable to the people rather than beholden to the very people it is meant to prosecute, is certainly needed.
In a recent article (see box), Prashant Bhushan has pointed out that an effective Lokpal Bill, while an essential tool to fight corruption, is no magic wand. Rather, corruption can be fought only if the policies of privatisation are changed, which create incentives for large-scale corruption by handing over vast tracts of natural resources and monopolies to corporations. The anti-corruption movement, while continuing to struggle for a genuine, effective and accountable Lokpal, must take the struggle forward to challenge the policies that fuel corporate plunder and corruption. That is the way forward!
Challenge Privatisation – Root of Corruption
[Excerpts from article by Prashant Bhushan, ‘Jan Lokpal Bill – Addressing Concerns,’ The Hindu, April 15]
...Corruption in India has grown to alarming proportions; because of policies which have created enormous incentives for its proliferation, coupled with the lack of an effective institution which can investigate and prosecute the corrupt. Under the garb of liberalization and privatization, we have adopted policies by which natural resources and public assets (such as mineral resources, oil & gas, land, spectrum, etc) have been allowed to be privatized without any transparency or public auction. Hundreds of MoUs have been signed overnight, by governments with private corporations, leasing out large tracts of land rich in mineral resources, forests and water; which allow those corporations to take away and sell these resources by paying the government a royalty which is usually less than 1% of the value of resources. The Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde, has pointed out in a report on mining in Karnataka, that the profit margins in such ventures, is often more than 90%; thus leaving a huge scope for bribe giving and creating huge incentives for corruption. The same thing happened when Raja gave away spectrum without a public auction, to companies, at less than 10% of its market price. Private monopolies in water/electricity distribution, airports, etc; have been allowed to be created where huge and unconscionable profits can be made by corrupting the regulator and allowing the private monopoly to charge predatory prices. Tens of thousands of hectares of land have been given away to corporations for commercialization in the guise of airport development, construction of highways, SEZs etc. at prices which are less than 10% of the value of the those tracts of land.
Apart from creating huge incentives for corruption, such policies have resulted in involuntary displacement of lakhs of the poorest people, rendering them on brink of starvation and forcing many of them to join the Maoists. They have also stripped the country of its natural resources(a good deal of which are exported), destroyed the environment and most ominously, resulted in creating monster corporations, who are so powerful and influential that they have come to influence and virtually control all institutions of power as we see from the Radia tapes. In fact it is the corporations which have become the fountainhead of corruption, with Ministers and public servants having become their agents.
While adopting policies which create huge incentives for corruption, we have not setup an effective institution to check corruption, investigate and prosecute the corrupt and bring them to justice....
It has been said that this (the Jan Lokpal Bill) would create a super-cop with enormous powers and no accountability. There is a misconception that the proposed Lokpal will have judicial powers; there is no such provision in the bill. The need of the hour is to have an effective cop who can investigate and prosecute the high and mighty without interdiction from the very people who need to be prosecuted. ... One must not however be under any illusion that the Lokpal law itself would solve the problem of corruption. Unless we also tackle and change the policies which are creating enormous incentives for corruption and creating monster corporations, which become too powerful for any institution to control, our fight against corruption will be incomplete. The judiciary too is in need of comprehensive reforms. But, an independent, credible and empowered Lokpal is certainly a necessary though not a sufficient condition for effectively controlling corruption. Let us work to at least put that in place.
CPI(ML)’s Solidarity Initiatives
The CPI(ML), extending support to the movement led by Anna Hazare for an effective Jan Lokpal Bill, held a solidarity dharna at Jantar Mantar as well as daylong solidarity fasts at several places all over the country on 8 April.
Party General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya participated in the solidarity fast against corruption at Ranchi, while Comrades Rameshwar Prasad, President of the All India Agricultural Labourers' Association (AIALA), Rajaram Singh, General Secretary of the All India Kisan Mahasabha (AIKM), Comrade Saroj Chaubey, Vice President of the All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA), Comrades Satyadev Ram, Arun Singh and Kamlesh Sharma sat on the solidarity fast at Patna.
In Uttar Pradesh dharna, hunger fast and marches were organised by CPI(ML) on 8th April in different districts including Lucknow in support of Anna Hazare’s hunger fast for Jan Lokpal Bill in Delhi. In Lucknow Party activists and members sat on a dharna at the Jhulelal Park on the banks of Gomti. A Dharna was organised at Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s statue in Allahabad and at Ramashray Park in Kanpur. Party members held similar programmes at Varanasi, Chandauli, Mirzapur, Sonebhadra and Lakhimpur Khiri among other places. An anti-repression and anti-corruption march was held at Jamania in Gazipur which was addressed by Party’s State Secretary.
In Gorakhpur, the CPI(ML) held an anti-corruption fast and dharna each day from 5-10 April. In this town where the Sangh Parivar has a dominant presence, our dharna site became the rallying point for secular, democratic anti-corruption protestors.
In Delhi hundreds of students and workers under the banner of All India Students' Association (AISA) and All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) joined the CPI(ML)'s solidarity dharna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. The dharna was addressed by Delhi State Secretary of the CPI(ML), Sanjay Sharma, Central Committee member Swapan Mukherjee, AISA National General Secretary Ravi Rai, AICCTU leader Santosh Ray and many others. Following this, the gathering marched through Jantar Mantar, raising slogans against corporate plunder and corporate-driven polices and distributing leaflets outlining the party's perspective on anti-corruption struggle.
Hailing the popular awakening against corruption in the country, the CPI(ML) called for the anti-corruption movement, for which the starting point has been the agitation for Jan Lokpal legislation, to take the struggle forward to challenge the policies of privatisation that are the breeding ground for ever-bigger scams and corporate loot.