The office of the Jan Lokpal and some thoughts on Nivedita Menon’s post: Anish Ahluwalia
Guest post by ANISH AHLUWALIA
The Jan Lokpal
A problem lies at the very core of Anna Hazare’s anti corruption campaign. This campaign wishes to march ahead by defining ‘corruption’ in the narrowest possible sense. Monies illegally made by politicians, members of judiciary, babus while remaining dreadfully silent on corporations, upper middle classes, middle classes who form the bulk of bribe payers…
It also remains mum on SEZ policies, policies that made agriculture an unprofitable business for millions of small farmers, displacement of tribal, abysmally inadequate budgetary allocations for education and health while writing off thousands of crores as non-returnable duties to corporates. Who are the beneficiaries of these policy decisions? Only corporations or does the profit filters down to middle classes as well, in terms of relatively higher salaries and perks? Is this not corruption? Every government and political party has happily sat on police reforms recommendations put forth by at least two state formed committees.
These police reforms recommended freeing police and investigating agencies from the direct control of ruling politicians – was also aimed at the extra judicial actions of the police force. Is this not corruption? And more importantly, can any of the Lokpal bill versions address these? If not, then aren’t we proceeding with the cure without diagnosing the nature or location of the problem? An oversimplified idea stripped of complexities is in effect misrepresentation of the same and in essence falsehood. The idea of a Jan Lokpal is built on utter contempt for the peoples ability to choose their representative and reluctance to reform existing institutions because it’s a long-term exercise. How many times we have heard people in cities pointing towards rural India for electing corrupt politicians because of their alleged ignorance, lack of education and caste based priorities? By riding on the Jan Lokpal idea we are only legitimizing this contempt for people’s discretion and democratic rights to decide for themselves.
Let me also ask here how do we understand ‘middle class’? Is it just a fluid economic group or a value system, relatively more conscious of its interests and conveniently unaware of its conflict of interest with lower economic classes? Isn’t it the class that has benefitted a lot more than the urban and rural poor, through government investments in technology, health, education, infrastructure, free market, easier global access? Whatever was left out of the 8% growth dream by corporations and the rich, was mostly pocketed by this class… It’s the unethical short sightedness that has prevented it from identifying its interests with other classes, which is again being reflected in the demand for a Jan Lokpal and chipping away from democratic institutions that are crying for reform and not for dismantling. Hence the critique and suspicion towards the methods of this class…
Vis a vis, Nivedita Menon’s post
Nivedita, it seem has ignored ‘how’ this campaign came to be dubbed as ‘revolution’… I suppose that one has forgotten that a revolution means a change in almost all walks of life of people across the nation… so is Anna Hazare’s ‘movement’ a revolution? I disagree. One cannot ignore the possibility that sometimes large number of people can move from one misconception to another without bothering to examine its long term consequences. And 24X7 high money spinning TV news channels are not going to offer that space to reflect either. If numbers alone were to provide legitimacy then Mahinder Singh Tikait could get in much larger crowds with much compelling demands… except that it wont appear as carnivalesque to residents of the capital. Nivedita Menon seems so drawn by the mass mela at Ramlila, that she chooses to forget that Hitler could gather bigger crowds for his vision, Stalin did not lag behind either, Subhash Chandra Bose despite aligning with the Nazis and the Japanese Emperor could still raise a large army and much larger support base to pursue what he thought was the right method. He still is a hero for many. Ayatollah Khomeini’s movement too had corruption as a major plank. Even General Zia Ul Haq and Pervaiz Musharraf could boast the support of a sizeable minority, and a fairly large number of people in Pakistan disillusioned by the political classes thought rule of the army was the answer to their woes. One need not be a genius to see the fall-out of these shortsighted methods. A Jan Lokpal type institution, which is primarily touted as a solution to a very narrow spectrum of corruption, will do more to wreck democratic institutions and legitimize the perception of the urban elite that masses are actually incapable of reforming their political systems than solve any problems. The solution sounds more like a line from popular Hindi films – a doctor emerging from a patient’s room announces solemnly, “Meine injection de diya hai. Jaldi hi hosh aa jayega.” If anything has to be implemented, there has to be debate among as many people as possible rather than a celebration of number gathering and moving through the crowds of Ram Lila Maidan, and announcing self righteously, ‘Oh, I have found my five Muslims, three Christians, 100 women – some of them working class and some house managers from middle class, ifthar at Anna’s Rasoi’. Great – your carnival has arrived and other‘left minded, secular and non party non organized (how many nons do you need to make a perfectly harmless ghetto?) can drop their suspicions and join Anna.
I am suggesting extreme caution in making statements which imply that the campaign has ‘empowered’ people so that now they address their questions directly to the PM and other ministers… Mein Pradhanmantri ji se yeh poochna chahta hoon… They’ve always done it. I think Nivedita Menon has stayed away from UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, CG and MP for too long, and watched far too much NDTV. People in these and many other States do articulate in this fashion… She would have known had she watched their local channels and heard radio broadcasts.
To Nivedita’s anecdotes like that of a woman from Nasik who found the place cordial, warm and carnivalesque – I met a couple of families who after having Hyderabadi chicken at Andhra Bhawan and having shopped in CP came around to ‘check out’ the scene in Ramlila Maidan and also to lend support. What do our anecdotes achieve? They only prove that there are disparate groups with disparate motivations participating in this ‘carnival’. Of course there is nothing wrong if disparate interests, groups and people with disparate tendencies forming a front for/ against a cause.
But one needs to be running like hell from comparisons with Tahrir Square. Comparing nations like Egypt and Syria suffering from 3-4 decades of autocratic regimes to a democracy of inequality like India… Not surprisingly, in a crunch situation, nuance is the first casualty. In Egypt not just a regime but the whole constitution was sought to be changed which could potentially address not one issue like bureaucratic corruption but the entire system. Nivedita Menon should also realize that when one leaves self-analysis for too long, one sometimes feels compelled to do it too quickly… And an idea to piggy-ride a myopic campaign is its immediate outcome.
Nothing can remotely come in defense of this thoroughly corrupt and repressive government… but does the answer lie in this version of the Bill? Those critiquing Anna Hazare’s campaign are not necessarily puritans looking to align with like-minded groups and ideas. They too are aware of methods of political maneuverings and how these can be used to subvert causes.
I agree with Nivedita Menon that the government’s version of Lokpal Bill is rubbish but so is the idea of Lokpal because it stems from short sightedness. We cannot reform electoral process, we cannot reform judiciary, cannot reform police, cannot work towards strengthening CVS, CAG, cannot move to have right to recall public representatives – so we will have one super master to oversee all these. Of course we know if that master also happens to be corrupt we can ask Anna to go on fast to get us a dictator, preferably from the army, and if that’s not viable for some reason then Anna can become our dictator, officially. And if that too doesn’t work we can always pray to God.
Finally I also agree that this ‘movement’ doesn’t need us. It doesn’t need anybody who can question it.