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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 19, April 30, 2011

Anna’s One-Shot War On Corruption

Tuesday 3 May 2011, by Shree Shankar Sharan

There is no doubt that Anna Hazare had the highest interest of the country on his mind in undertaking his fast as a war on corruption. There is no doubt either that he brought an upsurge of emotion in the country against corruption and showed a way in which it can be fought courageously and effectively following the Gandhian model of satyagraha and JP’s model of the Bihar movement in 1974. He has once again laid the ghost, as JP did, that people’s movements against popularly elected gover-ments are fascist or that democracy is the last revolution and admits of no more. Democracy needs a revolution or people’s movement from time to time to be alive and kicking. It is governance riding roughshod on the people that is fascist.

Anna’s movement, significantly, had only a one-point agenda of including civil society representatives on the drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill which the last government draft was trying hard to water down. He has succeeded in wringing from the government a significant concession in the constitution of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee by compelling the addition of the representatives of the civil society, chosen by Anna, some of whom are eminent lawyers who have promoted public interest through PILs. Shanti Bhushan has a record of battling the Emergency.

An unprecedented show of support for Anna was also visible in Delhi and elsewhere and brought corruption in the public domain from the domain of government appointed anti-corruption agencies, or empty political rhetoric of all political parties, or the painfully slow judicial process hidebound by the extremely rigorous and self-defeating law of evidence. To this extent Anna’s easy victory could be treated as a tactical victory of sorts and the government’s retreat a tactical retreat. Anna’s supporters can bask in the satisfaction of winning the first round of a battle of wits. But Anna’s belief seemed to be ‘cure one and cure all’ like some of the limericks one hears in trains or Chowpatty.

The amazing thing was the speed with which the government acceded to Anna’s demand for a composite drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill. This confirms that it realised that accepting the demand will be to its advantage. They now bear the badge of being themselves a crusader against corruption and not its shield since they acceded to all the demands of the civil society.

Consequently cudos go as much to the govern-ment in this matter as to Anna’s movement for the tactical compromise. To that extent at the time of polls in the States or later at the Centre it is the UPA which will reap the maximum benefit.

It is also possible that the government buckled under fear of a growing movement like the JP movement against corruption which led to the exit of the Congress party and Mrs Gandhi from power. That would have been possible if a more comprehensive charter of demands had been presented to the government, tough to negotiate but more result-oriented, more far-reaching, like a vigilance check on every Minister before being inducted in the government, or the right to recall or decentralisation or devolution of powers or the strong connection between the capitalist mode of growth and corruption or how corruption was sqeezing the poor in the PDS or MNREGA. But instead of a more substantial gain the movement has been temporarily called off on gaining a procedural victory. The first flush of euphoria of the people will soon be dissipated with no abatement in corruption. The spell cast by Anna would have ended before achieving its primary end.

THE devil is always in small print and not in a broad statement or tactic The hurdle will appear in course of the working of the composite committee like publishing names of foreign account holders or men like Quattrocchi. The government is not likely to share any secrets with the committee. Its role will be limited to deciding the procedure for appointment of the Lokpal and the reach of his powers. Already cracks have appeared on the question of the inclusion or exclusion of the judiciary from the Lokpal’s purview. Anna’s personal views are not fully in tune with those he has nominated as the civil society representatives. This goes to show that some of the demands in the Jan Lokpal Bill have not been adequately considered.

The whole thinking in enjoining civil society members with the official drafting committee seems flawed. You either have confidence in the fairmindedness and trustworthiness of the government or you don’t. If you don’t, the right thing for you is to demand the dismissal of the government, as JP did, and not end up with a half-way compromise which, public memory being what it is and the corruption lobby in the government being as strong, is bound to be killed or watered down by some legal sophistry.

That is why when you stand up against corruption you must come clean and go the whole hog. JP went the whole hog and embraced imprisonment before unseating the government. He had a whole programme drawn up for an alternative polity, as did Gandhi, though JP was better adapted to current conditions and parlia-mentary democracy. Alas, his own party that he crafted disowned him in making fundamental changes. So will the Congress party with the same convenient concern for preserving parlia-mentary democracy, the devil that they know rather than the angel they don’t. The judiciary will only be too happy upholding the basic features of the Constitutuion which includes separation of powers of the judiciary and the executive, Lokpal or no Lokpal.

But Anna is no Jayaprakash Narayan, much less a Gandhi. He is the hero of some limited grassroot movements, now transferred to the national stage by some admirers. Besides, he faces the glare and discomfort of the national press. No wonder, not being a master theoretician or a master strategist, he trips from time to time and moves from unanimity to controversy. Like a Gandhian he should own his mistakes or limitations and move on to other theatres of people’s education and movements.

Anna should also from now on stop nomi-nating people for regulating the government. JP never did it, nor did Gandhi. The electoral principle should be the decider even within the civil society. Anna should uphold that principle and not fail to get his preferred representatives approved by a larger meet of the civil society even assuming some good may come out of it.

All this is not meant to diminish Anna for admirably mobilising public opinion against corruption but cautioning him from future pitfalls or against launching half-a-revolution ending up with government and civil society cooperation which may or may not end destroying corruption but his own movement.

Shree Shankar Sharan, IAS (retd), is the convener of Lok Paksh, Patna. His e-mail is: shankarsharan77 @gmail.com

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