Citizens' Issues
Anna Hazare’s hunger protest a peaceful struggle against corruption in government

A large section of the people’s representatives and some of the regulators are so steeped in corruption that we urgently need a strong, independent, effective Lokpal that can investigate and punish speedily. The Jan Lokpal proposed by Team Anna Hazare meets these requirements. Corruption may not vanish, but at least it will become a very risky business

It seems like the entire world is undergoing winds of change. First, the United States-the unchallenged superpower-was thrashed by the financial crisis in 2008 and the resultant economic downturn, and only recently lost its prestigious AAA global credit rating, triggering fresh shock waves through world economies. That situation is more than matched by India which has seen rising inflation, rampant corruption, inefficient administration, terrorism and a Maoist insurgency that is pushing people's patience to the limit. Thanks to the inroads made by telecom technology, the general awareness and aspirations among common people all over the world have expanded exponentially. People are now asserting themselves more vigorously, particularly in developing countries, to make governments responsive and people-friendly. The uprisings in North Africa and West Asia, where angry protests has seen corrupt and callous regimes toppled, must serve as a warning for us in India.

Ironically, India's healthy growth story in the private sector is in sharp contrast to the falling standards of probity and accountability in governance. In the 'Corruption Perception Index 2011', compiled by Transparency International, India scored a poor 2.7 out of 10, which is worse than the scores of even Honduras, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. In fact, the score is a huge dip from the 3.3 in the previous year. India not only tops the list of nations with tonnes of black money stashed in Swiss banks, but its cache of black money there ($1,546 billion) is far more than the combined total of the next four countries in the list of black money creators, namely Russia, the UK, Ukraine and China ($1,056 billion) as reported in The Times of India (Ahmedabad), on 8 June 2011.

Moral decline

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India in 1928, "Corruption will be out one day, however much one may try to conceal it; and the public can, as its right and duty, in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court or appoint an arbitrator or inspector to scrutinise their conduct, as it likes.' Do our leaders think like this today?

Of late, there has been a qualitative decline in our political discourse and debate in and outside parliament. Whenever cornered by logic and fair argument, politicians lack the capacity to absorb criticism and accept a point; and what is worse, they do not hesitate in turning abusive and raking up irrelevant details from the past, in no-holds-barred mudslinging. The virtue of magnanimity and tolerance has disappeared from the political scene. There is an increasing breed of leaders today whom people know more for abusive language and arrogance, rather than their contribution to the public good in any sector. They are like the mischievous hockey coach who taught his players, "hit the opponent if you can't reach the ball".

The first batch of Indian parliamentarians considered the Lok Sabha subordinate to the People of India, for, it was "We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved … and do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution." The Constitution of India subordinates the government (the executive) to the parliament, which in turn is and will always remain subordinate to the people of India on whose mandate it runs the affairs of the state. It is the people's aspirations that must be respected by their representatives-the members of parliament-while enacting laws in parliament. But having tasted blood in an increasingly corrupt environment where election to parliament too can be traded for cash, it is logical for politicians to behave in such an irresponsible and arrogant manner because they 'paid' to get elected and the people have no right to demand more from them!  This drift in public morality has added to the malaise.

It is an insult to every proud Indian that nearly a third of our elected representatives in the Lok Sabha (162, plus latter additions A Raja, Kanimozhi, Suresh Kalmadi, and more to come) face criminal charges (ranging from trespassing to murder). This is a more than 27% increase over the record of the previous Lok Sabha. Nine ministers in the central cabinet face criminal charges, including one for 'theft'.

According to National Election Watch, 76 members of parliament (MPs) are involved in serious criminal cases. We are inching towards a situation when criminals will have the majority and form a government of their choice too! In times of coalition governments, if Madhu Koda could become chief minister of Jharkhand, on the strength of being a lone independent MLA at the time, this sitting MP who is attending the Lok Sabha session from Tihar Jail, could well become the prime minister too. Then why should they vote for a strong, independent and effective Lokpal?

Dangerous forebodings

The appearances that our leaders put on while answering questions on television, betray their insincerity and smugness towards issues vital to the nation. There is an obvious disconnect between the people and the government and the drift is taking them far apart. It is a dangerous trend and calls for immediate change in the way our political masters think.

Now, union ministers P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal are redefining 'democracy', calling Anna Hazare's peaceful hunger protest "undemocratic". The Constitution, on the contrary, bestows upon every citizen a fundamental right "to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association or union, movement…"  The government's attitude towards Anna Hazare's peaceful hunger protest-cum-rally is ominously similar to how Hosni Mubarak chose to deal with the Egyptian people when they protested peacefully in Cairo's Tahrir Square in January.

Police brutalities range from uncalled for lathi-charge on crowds of sleeping women and children at Ramlila Maidan to trigger-happy cops shooting and killing unarmed, innocent kisans protesting peacefully against injustice in Bhatta Parsaul in Uttar Pradesh and over the Pune-Mumbai Expressway in Maharashtra. These incidents bear a grim resemblance to what Muammar Gaddafi's forces did in Tripoli when people rallied against a corrupt and callous regime. Activists and journalists who voiced public disgust and suffering were hounded, and either put in jail or killed, leading people to take to arms that turned into a bloody civil war.

While Anna Hazare's peaceful pleadings have been spurned and ridiculed by senior Congress functionaries, including cabinet ministers, there exists a plethora of evidence to show how our political parties have been holding unruly rallies, demonstrations and bandhs with scant regard for law and order and public convenience. In fact, almost always, the government has bowed readily to violent mobs on the rampage.

Many of India's political leaders have risen through riots and have no idea about Satyagraha, a higher, nobler form of protest. The message is clear: the government yields to threats and violence more readily. Shiv Sainiks have been deftly employing such tactics in Mumbai every now and then. In Delhi, even a Congress workers rally blocks traffic and causes a public nuisance, ignoring the rules and permits which Team Anna is being taught to seek today. Now, it is easy to understand how insurgencies are aided by governmental apathy and stubbornness.

Of course, there were differences while drafting a joint Lokpal Bill that could not be resolved in the joint drafting committee formed by the government. Both sides finally presented their own drafts. In all fairness, the government should have placed both the drafts on the table of the House for an open debate. Withholding the draft Jan Lokpal Bill and the deliberations of the joint drafting committee from parliament and the people, appears inappropriate and unjustified and makes a mockery of the decisions taken by the government at the highest level.

Law is above you

Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi faced serious corruption allegations in the Bofors case, until then the worst in the scale of corruption. Prime minister Narasimha Rao also faced allegations of corruption in the JMM votes-for-cash case. Preventing the Lokpal from looking into such cases will in no way enhance the prestige of the high office of the prime minister. In fact placing himself for scrutiny by the Lokpal will only go to serve as the highest example of our faith in the basic principle of jurisprudence, "Be you ever-so high, the law is above you."

And why not bring the higher judiciary under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal too? On 17 August 2011, the Rajya Sabha is set to take up the case of the impeachment of a sitting High Court judge, Justice Saumitra Sen. Another judge in the higher judiciary, PD Dinakaran, chief justice of Sikkim High Court, has resigned after he failed to stymie the pre-impeachment inquiry by a duly constituted inquiry panel.

There have been allegations of impropriety on credible evidence involving judges in the lower as well as the higher judiciary, including chief justices of the honourable apex court. Former chief justice KG Balakrishnan's name is remembered for the wrong reasons rather than his uprightness as an honourable judge. The list of corrupt judges taking bribes, seeking undue favours and going to the extent of misappropriating provident fund deposits of junior employees is increasing by the day.

Failure of regulatory institutions

The various sectoral regulatory bodies have failed to deliver due to vested interests that have helped foster a fraternity between corrupt officials and investigators.

Even after the arrest of Dr. Ketan Desai, former president of the Medical Council of India (MCI), corruption at the MCI is continuing unabated. According to union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, 80 cases of corruption against officials of MCI and various medical institutions were being probed till May this year. No wonder human organs are being traded illegally and poor patients continue to suffer and die for want of medical care.

Similarly, people were shocked by the revelations about fake pilots (not one or two, but many) flying unsuspecting passengers, although the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) monitors and controls the standards of flying safety and certification.

The appointment of persons with questionable integrity to head institutions like the Central Vigilance Commission (the PJ Thomas case) has seriously marred the credibility of such institutions in whatever their limited sphere of functioning. The Enforcement Directorate functions under the Department of Revenue in the Ministry of Finance and therefore remains a hand-held tool for undertaking only specific cases assigned to it by the ministry. States also have anti-corruption bureaus, but corruption in states is increasing with some highly-placed beneficiaries continuing to reap gains with fearless arrogance, like we have seen in Mumbai, Delhi and recently in Karnataka.

Thankfully, a few institutions like the Lok Ayuktas (in Karnataka and Delhi) and the Comptroller Auditor General of India (CAG) have performed laudably in their bid to instil some fear and caution against corruption. What does this prove? This is strong evidence that India is in dire need of a strong, independent and effective Lokpal with enough powers to investigate and punish speedily in a specified timeframe. The Jan Lokpal Bill proposed by Team Anna Hazare meets these requirements which, if enacted into law, will change the way government offices function. They will have to be responsive, efficient and people-friendly-an environment where the corrupt will have much to fear about. No doubt, corruption may not vanish-yet it could well become a very risky business. Why is the government scared? Is it the premonitions of losing a lucrative business?

(The writer is a military veteran who commanded an Infantry battalion with many successes in counter-terrorist operations. He was also actively involved in numerous high-risk operations as second in command of the elite 51 Special Action Group of the National Security Guard (NSG.) He conducts leadership training and is the author of two bestsellers on leadership development that have also been translated into foreign languages).

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COMMENTS

RAMESHKUMAR

6 years ago

chidambaram and sibal and congress should be taught a. lesson for their arrogance and manmohan singh should resign for being rubber stamp prime minister in whose tenure all mega scams happened they should accontable to indian public ,we feel this last opportunity for all of us fight against corrupt politicians &burocrates ,for that jan lokbal is onl;y starting point ,otherwise our future genaration will not forgive us ,let us be like Anna not like manmohan singh.Rameshkumar

a v moorthi

6 years ago

Simple things like effective implementation of Public Service Act with provision of making public servants accountable for timely delivery of service will be sufficient.
Some examples already effectively functioning like penalty of Rs 100/- per day if the dispute of non delivery of cash by ATM is not settled within 9 working days. This has resulted in number of un settled disputes down to less than 100 in almost all 27 Public Sector Banks, when compared to the fact that more than 25 lakh ATM transactions take place daily.

Similarly like issuance of Passport within 30 days of application (however since no penalty is imposed for delay - still on an average PP gets issued in 90 days).

So if Public Service Act is effectively implemented than getting power connection, water connection can be made totally free from corruption compared to situation as existing today. Similarly the Govt Hospitals and schools need to be set right. Not many may be aware that in country like USA less than 10% of children attend Non Government Schools , whereas in our country even children of teachers of Govt School don’t go to Govt school.

So what one should understand the masses who are coming out to join Anna are not bothered about whether PM is under ambit of Lokpal or not but rather are victims of non delivery by various Govt Departments right up to the village level and by coming out in the street are showing their resentment against failure of Governance. So what we have to wait and see at least within next 3-4 months steps are initiated for effective implementation of Public Service Act, this what should be the role of civil society to get enacted in the coming session of Parliament and all State Legislatures.

nagesh kini

6 years ago

The need to bring in the PM by pointing out corruption charges against two former PMs, the Judiciary with one CJI, two justices Karnataka/Sikkim and Kokatta under the legal scanner, 2 Army and one Navy COS in the Adarsh. increasing numbers of legislators under the PCA, it is now imperative to insist on the Jan Lok Pal and throw the Jok Pal into the Jamna.
Do we need to go to the SC to issue directions? They will accuse "judicial activism"!

Roopsingh

6 years ago

It looks that things wont be same in india after this agitation.Situation has changed now and people have realised that they have courage and time to devot for the cause which can make their life easier which has been made like a prison for all hard working people of this country.

sunil

6 years ago

Cannot agree more with the author. Very nice article that clearly explains the need for supporting the Jana Lokpal bill proposed by Team Anna. The so called articulate and intelligent ministers - Kapil Sibal and Manish Tiwari too have their veneer of respectability peeled away in debates about this bill. What is exposed is a ugly and true picture which is defending the status quo with threats and foolish arguments.

Java

6 years ago

The present government, unfortunately for all of us, seems to have a vested interest in corrupting India at all levels. They probably hope that if absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute corruption may give absolute power.

REPLY

Prakash

In Reply to Java 6 years ago

very well put: "if absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute corruption may give absolute power."

Anna Hazare to come out of prison

"The government has bowed down. We will have to be prepared to go to JP Park in a peaceful manner," Swami Agnivesh said

New Delhi: The standoff in Tihar Jail likely to be over with Anna Hazare set to come out of the prison after a night-long protest demanding that he be allowed to launch his indefinite strike from a venue of his choice in the capital, reports PTI.

Mr Hazare, who was ordered to be released last night after a day-long detention before he was to begin his fast demanding strong Lokpal, had refused to come out of the prison unless he was allowed to protest from JP Park without conditions.

Activists Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh announced to the hundreds of supporters waiting since last night that the 73-year-old Gandhian was about to come out of the prison anytime now.

"The government has bowed down. We will have to be prepared to go to JP Park in a peaceful manner," Swami Agnivesh said.

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The scheme will be jointly managed by Mahendra Jajoo and Ravi Gopalakrishnan. The scheme's performance will be benchmarked against the BSE Bankex Index.

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COMMENTS

CHINMAYA

6 years ago

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