Against Jan Lok Pal and the politics of hunger strikes

Tackling corruption requires economic reforms and a popular re-engagement with electoral politics

The idea of a Jan Lok Pal is flawed and profoundly misunderstands the causes and solutions of corruption in India. It seeks to create another chunk of government, more processes and rules, to solve a problem that, in part, exists because of too many chunks of government, too many processes and rules. [See Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s column and this editorial in the Business-Standard]

If the Jan Lok Pal presides over the same system that has corrupted civil servants, politicians, anti-corruption watchdogs, judges, media, civil society groups and ordinary citizens, why should we expect that the ombudsman will be incorruptible? Because the person is handpicked by unelected, unaccountable ‘civil society’ members? Those who propose that Nobel laureates (of Indian origin, not even of Indian citizenship) and Ramon Magsaysay Award winners should be among those who pick the Great Ombudsman of India—who is both policeman and judge—insult the hundreds of millions of ordinary Indian voters who regularly exercise their right to franchise. For they are demanding that the Scandinavian grandees in the Nobel Committee and the Filipino members of the Magsaysay foundation should have an indirect role in selecting an all-powerful Indian official. [See this post at Reality Check India]

The argument that people should be involved in drafting legislation is fine, even if it misses the point that the government is not a foreign entity but a representative of the people. It is entirely other thing to demand that the legislation drafted by an self-appointed, unaccountable and unrepresentative set of people be passed at the threat of blackmail. If we must have representatives of the people involved in lawmaking, we are better off if they are the elected ones, however flawed, as opposed to self-appointed ones, whatever prizes the latter might have won.

The Jan Lok Pal will become another logjammed, politicised and ultimately corrupt institution, for the passionate masses who demand new institutions have a poor record of protecting existing ones. Where were the holders of candles, wearers of Gandhi topis and hunger strikers when the offices of the Chief Election Commissioner, the Central Vigilance Commissioner and even the President of the Republic were handed out to persons with dubious credentials? If you didn’t come out to protest the perversion of these institutions why are you somehow more likely to turn up to protest when a dubious person is sought to be made the Jan Lok Pal?

But this is us. Given this reality, the solution for corruption and malgovernance should be one that does not rely the notoriously apathetic middle classes to come out on the streets. The solution is to take away the powers of discretion, the powers of rent-seeking from the government and restore it back to the people. This is the idea of economic freedom. Societies with greater economic freedom have lower corruption. We have long argued that we are in this mess because we have been denied Reforms 2.0.

How can we have Reforms 2.0 if “those politicians” are unwilling to implement them? The answer is simple: by voting. Economic reforms are not on anyone’s political agenda because those who are most likely to benefit from them do not vote, and do not vote strategically. At this point, it is usual to hear loud protests about how voting doesn’t work, most often by those who do not vote. This flies in the face of empirical evidence—when hundreds of millions of people turn up to vote. If it were not working for them, why would they be voting? They might not be demanding Reform 2.0, but something else, and are getting what they want. Instead of ephemeral displays of outrage—what happened to those post 26/11 candle-light vigils?—it is engagement in the electoral process that is necessary. There are some innovative ideas—like that of voters associations—that can be attempted.

There are no better words than those of B R Ambedkar on the place of satyagraha in India after Constitution came into force on 26th January 1950:

“…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.” [B R Ambedkar/Constituent Assembly]

In my view civil disobedience in general and hunger strikes in particular must be used in the most exceptional circumstances where constitutional methods are unavailable or denied, and only till the time constitutional methods remain unavailable or denied.

Some contend that the system isn’t working, or has been so perverted by the incumbent government, that it is necessary to resort to public agitation. This is a dubious argument. Constitutional democracy is an enlightened way to make policy by reconciling—to the extent possible—the diverse interests, opinions and levels of political empowerments of a diverse population. Any other way amounts to coercion in one form or the other.

If we are to allow that hunger strikes and street protests do better than constitutional methods, then how would you decide issues where there are sharp differences? If two Gandhians go on hunger strikes asking for polar opposites, do we settle the issue by seeing who gives up first? What if competing groups escalate the agitation to violence against each other? Should we condone civil war?

The working of those constitutional mechanisms can and must be improved. By us. The anti-defection law must go. India doesn’t have a comprehensive law governing political parties. It needs one. Police reforms have been stalled for decades. There is a substantial reform agenda that must be pursued. By us.

However, the inability to implement these reforms is no excuse for resorting to civil disobedience or, as it happens in other countries, calling in a dictatorship of the proletariat, the military or the priesthood.

The Jan Lok Pal bill is not a solution to the problem of corruption. It risks making matters worse. Hunger strikes are not the right means to promote a policy agenda in a constitutional democracy like ours. The promoters and supporters of Jan Lok Pal and the public agitation to achieve it are profoundly misguided. Their popularity stems from having struck a vein of middle class outrage against the UPA government’s misdeeds. That doesn’t mean that the solutions they offer are right.

The Acorn opposes Jan Lok Pal and the politics of hunger strikes as much as it opposes corruption and misgovernance.

Related Links: Offstumped has a series of posts on the subject. See also Atanu Dey, Satyameva Jayate, Sanjeev Sabhlok and the Filter Coffee here on INI. The March 2011 issue of Pragati covered these themes: see Rohit Pradhan’s take on the importance of constitutional morality.

87 thoughts on “Against Jan Lok Pal and the politics of hunger strikes”

  1. Acorn, very well written indeed. I enjoyed your two Gandhians with opposite demands analogy.

    I think Hazare just snapped when Pawar was given leadership of the GOM. But only after he stopped laughing. Another comical pissing in the face of democracy by Pawar.

  2. Hmmm. A lot of interesting points here and an unbiased view most definitely. But now I begin to wonder if in a constitutional democracy like ours, hunger strikes don’t work, laws don’t work, pressure on the government doesn’t work, then what does?

    I agree that after all we are a democracy and questions like why do we elect corrupt leaders in the first place are bizarre but what’s the alternative?

  3. Day by Day I am becoming disappointed to see the fall of high standard of Indian National Interest, forum.

    The fast was needed to scale up people anger against misgovernance, criminalisation of politics, corruption, which has burning inside their mind. People are seeing the insensitiveness of political party in power to ignore all other more civilised mean of protest, like street corner meeting, debate in media etc. Political party in power take note the people grievence only when they use extreme mode of protest.

    Whether lokpal bill is the only solution is fully debatble. Economic reform, better governance is the long term solution. We should focuss and discuss on those.

    Very sad to see that you are not giving much attention on corruption -‘In my view civil disobedience in general and hunger strikes in particular must be used in the most exceptional circumstances where constitutional methods are unavailable’-.

    The government and political establishment’s indifference on corruption is if is not ‘exceptional circumptance’ then what esle.

    At least this fast will bring back corruption as an election issue, if not anything else.

  4. Nice blog Nitin. But is Jan-lokpal-bill bad in its entirety? Is it wrong to view it as a CVC with more teeth? Although, I agree that proposal to choose lokpals on the basis of awards is shallow and naive.

    1. Awardees wont be lokpals. They will be part of a selection committee, who will nominate their candidates. Lokpal committee members would be chosen from such nominations. They have to give a valid reason behind nominating such a person. ( Read page 5 and 6 of the draft ).
      Since the number for civil society is just 5, I am sure most of the time… ex-judges, lawyers, ex-officials and social activists will get into the lokpal committee.
      The basic idea of having “outside people” ( as called by many INC leaders ) is to make sure inter-party bargains doesn’t spoil the purpose of such a committee.

  5. Well Done! I support your position on this. I wish main-stream media would highlight these issues too.

    By the way, if 50% of the draft committee must belong to “civil society”, who decides who belongs to “civil society”? What is the criteria for membership? If I fast, can I get to sit on the committee? Or, are only the Anna’s supporters civil enough?

  6. I am getting really annoyed by self-righteous posts about democratic processes getting subverted by these activists. Really? Go ahead – don’t put these specific people in the joint committee. But is it really hard to find non-political participants in the process?

    What democratic institutions are you protecting? The idealistic one which we lost decades ago? Or the one which is today, and which is only going to get worse in days to come? This is the current state of democracy in India:

    – Tamil Nadu: It is now well-accepted that bribing voters to becoming their representatives is the way in this state now. Who loses? The tax paying minority who is funding the doles.

    – West Bengal: Votes being bought at the point of a gun. The country side is literally battleground where armies “take over” villages and therefore their votes.

    – Gujarat: Where butchering thousands of minorities made the CM an easy favorite with the majority.

    – Karnataka: Where parties wilfully launch operations to engineer defects without violating anti-defection laws.

    – Delhi: Where ministerships are decided by corporate bribes, and every post is decided on the basis of how much the minister can earn for the party.

    These are the democratic institutions you are protecting? You want to get a law drafted by these people to keep themselves in check? Just for this idealistic form of democracy that you think you have?

    I am sorry. Hazare’s ilk may be imperfect. But they don’t have the obvious conflict of interest that is there about the Lokpal bill being drafted by representatives. Other bils can follow your logic, but this bill deserves the exception.

    1. Outstanding reply and I second it. I will bet 99% of babus and politicians in India are corrupt and have no interest in serving the citizens. These luminaries have already shown what they can do to anti-corruption laws by not passing one in last 40 years and now trying to pass a completely toothless law. Letting them draft the anti-corruption law is like letting habitual murderers draft the IPC sections 307 & 308.

      1. Ah! That analogy of murderers drafting the IPC bill took the cake! After all, seeing so much corruption in Congress (the people’s party) is bound to make the public disillusioned, considering how overwhelmingly they had voted it back to power. But then, what alternative do you have? BJP, that is too busy infighting and taking march-rallies to Kashmir just to prove a point (and just because they can) to really care about anything outside its party office??

        Or the Left, the perpetual anti-West wing about whom, the less said the better?

        Hence, we now know that whomsoever we vote to power, they are obviously going to be flawed and unscrupulous. So, the Jan Lokpal bill is atleast an attempt to try and stem the rot… to keep them in check so that we don’t have the multi-lakh-crore scams that we are seeing nowadays. We will make do with smaller ones!

      2. Outstanding reply and I second it as well! While we may wax eloquent about how undemocratic it is to black mail a duly elected government by some self-appointed ‘civil society’ members, at least, it is better than simply sitting in our drawing rooms and waiting for mircles to take place!! This has to be an exception in experimenting something like this. In fact, the whole concept of democracy in India is so flawed (coalition) and given teh fact that the electorate’s mandate gets totally washed out due to coalition compulsions, what is wrong with this ‘civil’ society and ‘media watch’ trying to experiment someting new?

    2. even if imperfect, some solution is brought about. Atleast annaji didn’t sit until some leader stands against corruption, so that he could write an article criticizing him. What were you nitin, doing all this while? You could also have brought about the change if you are so well informed….but too much of hardwork right? If you were against corruption then you would have admired the efforts of s 73 yr old man….and if they are not good enough you could have recommended some. There are several ways to reach him, and he does respond if you talk sense.

    3. Great reply… D problem with pessimists like one who wrote this blog is they don’t agree with what’s happening but don’t like the alternatives as well. They keep on pointing problems rather than thinking of a solution…
      History shows tat most of the revolutions resulted in improvement of society not d other way round …

    4. Fantastic. I completely agree with this! The time is over for India to depend on such constitutional niceties.

  7. Hi Nitin,

    I agree that Jan Lok Pal bill is flawed. And Reforms 2.0 is fine too. Much needed. But I feel there is a need for political reforms too. There should be a way to penalize the corrupt on a fast track basis. What’s up with Kalmadi? Still roaming around.
    Or is it that system is fine, elected people are not? Is it the political system that is flawed or the politicians? What do you think?

  8. Agree with one thing and one thing only.”Voting” is the only pill that can cure the malaise of corruption. Reminds me of the elections in Mumbai after 26/11, the by-elections in south Mumbai (where the terror strikes took place) only drew a 52% response from the so called high society. Apathy is what I call this.

  9. It just shows how hungry indians are for real leadership. Anna is filling that vacuum and people are united in supporting him. people did not protest before because there was no leader.

  10. very well written and articulated article. I do not support the Jan Lok Pal bill, because of its anti democratic nature and I am appalled how people dont stop and think logically for 2 minutes before following any idea that seems revolutionary on the face of it. Who says noble laureates are incorruptible? are they not humans? and how can a democracy allow a self appointed body to rule over a government that is chosen by the people? how can people themselves not see this gaping loophole??

    1. Then what the heck is your solution ??? Economic freedom ?? Do you think USA is not corrupt even after complete economic liberalization ?? Voting in the election?? But then the wrong person would have already looted you by billions in those five years. And you ask that just throw him/her out and live his life happily in posh apartments and swanky cars. There needs to be an agency which can put such people in jail and recover the looted wealth of the nation. The answer is Jan Lokpal.
      BTW Why not try this idea of Lokpal ?? We have been trying so many different things. Let us try this thing also. How do you know from the beginning that it will fail ??

      1. Rajeev, please do not get too emotional. This is the internet. One solution is for you to take part in politics yourself or encourage and support someone who you think will serve the nation well.

        You really want to support this bill that will take away rights of your children, rights that your parents had?

        1. Please do not mislead people. This bill is not an alternative or killer of our voting rights. It is to fill some of the gaps left open by the voting system.

          And the fact is, this bill is not against any particular party. It is against those who misuse their powers and don’t fulfill their duty as a public servant.

          If you read the draft, there is a clearcut mention of the duties, expenses and even punishment for the people in Lokpal, if they don’t do their job neatly. No other bill asks for such an accountability.

          Lastly, about the civil society intervening in the law, do you think the people ( read the civil society representative on such a committee ) who elect their representative do not fail in choosing right candidate and will definitely fail in delivering proper results in such cases ?

  11. Good Post. Well thought out coherent essay. I liked reading it for its clarity of thought, even though I have to differ with the points raised here. I am not usually an ardent supporter of Gandhian philosophy of peaceful agitations. However, I am in support of this movement for the following issues.

    1. There is no absolute right or wrong. Political strikes (violent or otherwise) are tools. When you have a job for the tool, you use it.

    2. I do agree that a quasi government organisation such as the demanded LokPal poses significant potential problems. For example – whom to blame for something that doesn’t work. However, are we better off now, knowing whom to blame? Is it inconceivable to create a framework where civilians can be held responsible?

    3. We take inordinate pleasure in pointing out ‘middle class doesn’t vote’. Does the government do what it has to do for the people who vote? I think the author is being plain dishonest with the words “the people who vote get what they want”. Many of those who vote do not get mouthfuls of food because our government would rather let the food rot in its godowns, than give it to people who starve. This doesn’t count as ‘getting what you need’. We can go back and forth on a lot of the points raised in this essay, regarding the pros and cons.

    However, it is my feeling that the author completely missed the strategic importance of this movement. For once, a ruling government has been forced to negotiate with (a) the common citizen, on an issue that concerns most. That too in a very short time frame. The common man, however jaded and cynical, now knows he / she can get the government’s attention to the problems that plague him / her. The awareness created amongst people’s minds about corruption, due to this movement, cannot be understated.

    We would not want a armed revolution in our country at this point of time. The only alternative with an unresponsive government is a peaceful protestation like this.

    All in all, a good article. Cheers, k.

  12. Nitin,

    I read the latest version (rev.2.1) of the Jan Lokpal bill on the indiaagainstcorruption.org website. It does not have any mention of the Magsaysay or Nobel awardees on the selection panel (The earlier version 1.8 had them).

    The bill now says (ver.2.1):
    5. A selection committee consisting of the following shall be set up:
    a. The Vice President of India
    b. Speaker of Lok Sabha
    c. Two senior most judges of Supreme Court
    d. Two senior most Chief Justices of High Courts.
    e. Retired army personnel who are five star Generals.
    f. Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission
    g. Comptroller and Auditor General of India
    h. Chief Election Commissioner
    i. After the first set of selection process, the outgoing members and Chairperson of Lokpal.

    I think we should stop whipping them over this point now. Your larger point about the anarchic blackmailing tactics and the need for reforms stand though.

    1. This is how Acorn is trying to spread malicious things about Jan Lokpal. While he asks us to analyse and read and then make a decision, looks like he himself forgot to do that.
      Perhaps another example of intellectual superiority complex !!

  13. We have to remove the opportunity for corruption.
    There should be no reason why we should have to visit the bears den(corrupt government office). This puts the citizen in an extremely vulnerable position.

    1. With so many scams happening daily…. the tax payes money being hoarded by politicians in swiss banks….. the ppl mislead during vote swith false promises….the rising cost of daily simple amenities…. with the government screaming no way out..

      what else can u expect a middle class common man to do…single families….. working people… stress and tensions of everyday life to amke ends meet n live a simple happy life has become hard…..corruption in all aspects of life has made the common man angry disgusted upset and fed up ..Anna Hazare gave them hope…..

      a hope that corruption can be fought…. by being together…. by being one..and who doesnt want it…my twin sons who are in college today, dont value anything but money… because what they have seen iin daily life and on tv and in papers on a regular basis is …. money can get you out of any situation any…..it has the power to buy things…. and thats all whats needed to be happy..and im the most upset mom when i hear their views…no Sir..

      thats why I salute and join hands with Anna Hazare coz i feel helpless at the hands of the politicians…. as they are accountable to non ..maybe (n may not be) this uprising will bring a change in our life… in our government… in India’s history.. all i can do is… hope pray n wish….. for the best for everyone arround who have taken the brunt of all these corrupt people in our society……been truamatised but hapless..in face of power n money of corruption

  14. It encompasses all doubts on current inefficiency and the the ones which will spear up in the new-system.
    This is an explanation and statement for the awakened.

    Once we learn to read the language we can read the articles too. And this is The article.
    In the meantime I am learning language and would come once am through with the grammar.

    Till then keep analysing and be ready with the next part of the debate(this rational I mean..).

    I appreciate and accolade but cant propagate to the half-educated, as of now.

  15. Well argued and thought out points. In a democracy we need all sides and perceptions in the open made available for common person (aam aadmi) to assess and decide. Not everyone has the time, education and knowledge to analyze the complex issues of governance or law or best practises around the world. We need more of these posts by Bloggers and Media to be made available.

  16. Your perspective about hunger strikes is appreciated. However, you did mention the problem, not the solution. The hunger strike has evoked response … what other means can be used for an output of similar stature?

  17. Bashing politicians and the system has somehow has become “cool” and the “In thing to do” these days. The candle-lighting middle class taking to the streets more often than not, do not even realize what they are fighting for, nor do they understand the intricacies and extended factors or the realities involved with what they support/oppose.

    For instance, there are people equating this “movement” as they call it with the popular uprisings in Libya, Egypt, Yemen et al. Unfortunately, they do not understand that only because India is NOT Libya or Egypt is why they are able to protest in the first place.

    Also, all these “half-knowledged” patriots still do not realize that the ultimate weapon is not shouting and sloganeering and Facebook groups. It is to vote. I will bet half my month’s salary that not even half of these candle-light-outragers will turn up to vote, where they can really make a change. But voting is not as glamorous as protesting, right? And the page 3 glitterati and pseudo intellectuals are not helping either, jumping in for their 15 minutes of fame.

    Also, the civic society version of the Lokpal bill should not be passed. Ultimate power corrupts totally.

    1. u projected the very pessimistic view of this movement…
      1)”all these “half-knowledged” patriots still do not realize that the ultimate weapon is not shouting and sloganeering and Facebook groups. It is to vote”.
      Now tell me if all the contestants involve illegal means to acquire votes and if most of the junta is not educated and apathetic enough to these illegal ways how do you think voting solves the problem??? Once can refer to Andhra Pradesh where the two last important chief ministers had huge swiss accounts.The corruption is just so deep rooted that each and every contestant had accepted it to come to rule..THis is what some people are fighting against. And Voting right comes once in five years. Should i endure the ugly scams without protesting whether by candle lights or facebook slogans…
      Regarding the “movement” i consider it one because i feel the government is only interested in standing in power and not investigating in scams and scandals which are spreading fast…..
      Please do not discourage people and youth who want to participate for the betterment of the country..If you have a solution please suggest it instead of wanting to induce your apathetic ness to fellow people…

  18. Nitin,
    There are tow basic points made in this reather exceptional piece:

    1. A large part, almost 3/4th, of the piece, is dedicated to dissing the diea of Lokpal and the methods being employed to achieve it.

    2. The alternative offered to Lokpal is this:

    (A) “Tackling corruption requires economic reforms and a popular re-engagement with electoral politics”.
    (B)- “The solution is to take away the powers of discretion, the powers of rent-seeking from the government and restore it back to the people.”

    Does it require any great deduction to see why the movement has attracted so much attention? Ordinary people, busy in their daily struggles of bread and shelter, do not have the apetite to engage in high theory. They want their solutions to be presented to them in distilled form – solutions which are easy to understand, indentifiable and achievable. Solutions which have “hardware” feel about them – and not solutions which have “software” feel and are ephermal.

    Lokpal movement is flawed. But arguing that we must ‘rengage” with electoral politics is not exactly the solution that will set the young people on fire !

  19. Will do not agree with the views of this article. The makers of Jan Lokpal draft are not so dump who are not aware of the concerns put by this article.

    Jan-Lokpal has the below point:

    “What if some officer in Lokpal becomes corrupt?
    The entire functioning of Lokpal/ Lokayukta will be completely transparent. Any complaint against any officer of Lokpal shall be investigated and the officer dismissed within two months.”

    So if any ‘citizen’ has a doubt on the Jan Lokpal, can raise their doubts in public. If anyone is not feeling ‘transperancy’ in the Jan-Lokpal, can question this. So there is no need to have the fear.

    Ofcourse any bill which is passed will not be 100% perfect. Based on the loopholes, further ammendments can be done to the bill.

    The quote of Ambedkar is taken at wrong time. He also said (similar to this, not exactly with these words), “Our team has taken atmost care and bought the best constitution possible at this time. But if the people are not good, then this best constitution will also not help”

  20. There are plenty of psycophants of politicians here , Intelligentia, has enslaved themselves to crooks. When all politicians are currupt and hand in glove, what constitutional avenues are available? ( writer has to tell this also). Voting in elections? Then let there be voting on every issue of curruption on every individual MLA, MP, Ministers. Remember the JP movement in 70s? Let there be “Recall” procedure for these so called people’s representatives. Technically , most of them are elected by just 20% of total voters. They are NOT true representatives. Even on the issue of rampany curruptions there are people to support currupt people , ALAS!

    1. Why do you think only politicians and babus are corrupt? You are corrupt too. So am I. So is Nitin Pai and each of the other 1.2 billion Indians.

      Corruption is not just taking bribes, FYI.

      1. Too bad that you are not only concerned of corruption but you are supporting it by saying that all are part of it. If you are okay with someone like A.Raja taking away 1.76 lakhs crore of public money and saying to yourself that all are corrupt then i say it is to deal with people like you that the bill should be immediately enacted.

        1. Don’t you get Vinod’s sarcasm? All of us are corrupt in our own ways, but we just find it oh-so-cool to blame the politicians and others on top. Who are these people after all? One among us people who eventually rise to the top. I’ve seen people giving bribes to get a driver’s license because they couldn’t clear the driving test, and there are people who break traffic rules and bribe the police guy to get out of the mess. Even when they are not asked for a bribe. Isn’t this corruption at the grassroots? And these are the same people who go pointing a finger at politicians.
          I am not against the Lokpal bill but nor do I support it the way it is at present. Why isn’t there anything about the liability of the common man itself mentioned in the bill? e.g., if I offer a bribe to the RTO on my own, can the RTO go to Lokpal to initiate action against me?
          Let’s not forget that corruption at the top level is just a magnification of what’s there at the individual level. We are all prone to corruption and that’s the very reason the Lokpal might be just as corruptible as the government.

      2. Mr. Vinod,
        There are levels for every thing. Thief is a criminal, muederer is a criminal and even genocidal is a criminal. This is not an idealistic world and it can never be. Every thing has two sides of it. What we are looking for is the percentage of positivity.

  21. It is a foolish argument by the author.He does not see the loot in the name of democracy. He is negating the methods of Gandhiji as British did. When your house is burning, you need to do every thing to get it back. A dacoit has his reasons for a loot and murder; some of them reached the parliament due to these netas and alarge no. is still there. A peon is sacked if jailed on any account but jailed netas remain mp and mla. BRAVO TO HAZARE-EACH ONE ONE US MUST TAKE COURAGE TO BECOME THOUSAND HAZARES.LONG LIVE HAZARE AND HIS MISSION IS THE MISSION OF ALL OF US

  22. Nitin: While most of the points raised by you are valid in normal circumstances, we are now reaching a precipice. In exceptional circumstances, even institutions like Supreme Court and the Reserve Bank of India have stepped beyond their normal mandate keeping the larger interests in mind. Bills like NREGA have been formulated by the National Advisory council, not by the Council of Ministers.

    The highest investigating agency CBI is a political tool. A case in point: The latest charge sheet filed by the CBI in the 2G scam is ridiculous as it absolves more parties than actually charge sheeting. In reality, the CBI has even grossed over the Supreme court’s mandate to it.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that we need a new broom. Some demands of the Jan Lok Pal bill may seem extreme and having power concentrated in one single entity. But with the sense of arrogance that the ruling party displays and a spineless opposition, I believe there has to be a strong assertive agency. I am sure if the Government shows a sincere attempt to co-opt the activist’s views, there may be a climbdown.

    2 wrongs dont make a right, but right now we have to choose the lesser amongst the 2 evils. Sometimes a call to action has to go beyond the normal standard means and if there’s an unconventional way to stem the rot, so be it. A Gandhi or a JP (Total revolution) or Morarji Deai’s hunger strike to remove the corrupt Chimanbhai Patel regime in Gujarat in the 1970s atleast stemmed the rot.

    There is no violence or a revolution of sorts. I believe the demands are legitimate and if this unconventional method is what is needed, so be it.

    1. Very nicely put. There is un urgent need to introspect. I think demonstratons are an integral part of a democratic process- a peaceful demonstration speaks for itself. I am sure that this demonstration will have struck a chord in some people and may be the voters become more demanding in the future. I think that anything-just about anything is better than doing nothing at all.

  23. On the issue of “good” vote banks, 2 questions –

    1. Is this constitutionally allowed? As in, if I decide that the whole of my company and my apartment complex is going to vote based on how cool we think the candidates sunglasses are, and by that metric Karuna wins over Bala Saheb, are we allowed to aggregate our votes thus? So, in short, does the stated purpose matter for these banks?

    2. How would you aggregate the votes physically? Would you be allowed to proxy vote for 10,000 people? How about 10? Do you collect their voting cards and cast a vote? Without a logistical route, it is a good concept, but nothing more.

    Also, how about the “negative vote” or a “vote against” concept?

  24. Couldn’t agree more. Have been saying all what has been written in this blog, all day on twitter. We must not get carried away by our zeal and replace it with another (rather soft) one.

  25. You said voting is only a way for reform. Unfortunate thing is that even election system is not working, it is hijacked by again corrupt politicians using money, power, caste etc.

  26. Its a nice opinion thats expressed and better it stays as is, cause where are you when the country is facing with
    – Blackmoney and Money Laundering
    – Unimaginative inflation by hoarding, that kills people
    – Uncontrollable suicides
    – Mind boggling scams

    Like someone said on top.. lets leave aside the debate of which is the better way of improving the situation.. Lets first support the people who have the guts to confront a idiocratic, subvert government who feasts on blood of its innocent citizens.

    My understanding of a government based on my experience with other developed countries
    Government is supposed to be THE gaurdian of its citizens.

  27. If Janlokpal is not a solution then you have to suggest some solution to root out the corruption inspite of that you are calling this movement unconstitutional and public misguided.It seems you are supporting corruption there is no national interest behind this article.The politicians and beurocrates are robbing Indian wealths continuously and nobody dare to take any action.preaching is easy than action.

  28. Nitin. I kind of agree and disagree with you.

    I agree with the fact that council appointed leaders are just undemocratic as ulema appointed Khalifas ( No offense to Muslims, but it does not fit my definition of democratic )

    However, as you mentioned, Ambedkar said it all,

    “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.”

    With the loss of independence/neutrality of judiciary and its enforcement arms, not to mention vigilance departments which are just a farce, do you think there are still constitutional methods left? At the very best the judicial process is so long winding that it becomes “justice delayed is justice denied”

    1. Nicely said Pradeep!!
      All the intellectuals are suggesting that “constitutional methods” work but at the same time they forget the context of the movement.
      Nothing happened after CWG, Adarsh, 2G and hence resort to this kind of agitation.
      Waiting for another 3 years for elections to come and then voting BJP who is itself compromised. This kind of pussyfooting will not work. Such agitations are the best way to corner Govt.

      By providing the hypothetical of two Gandhian on opposite camps, he is assuming public would support as enthusiastically as it is now.!!!
      Which is false only the pro-camps will support in this fashion not the whole of the country.

      Intellectuals are suffering from too many assumptions, biases, prejudices, preferences and based on their craftily constructed ivory towers.

      I would suggest one thing to Anna “Get as many demands accepted by Govt as possible.” and later we will launch this agitation once more if they are insufficient to clean the politics.

      Like they say in software world about new technologies “Being Disruptive but in the process the world becomes better than before.”

  29. an article against the Anna Hazare movement!!! i expected something like this to come out and thought i would totally thrash the article, but ur article sure puts the “fast unto death” into perspective.

    but it is only in a utopian society that a government is truly of the people, in today’s time government is filled with politicians who enter politics and their office not to “do good” but with their own personal vexed interests. How many times have we seen india near the bottom of “Most Corrupted Country” list.

    People condemn the corruption, want to end it but have no idea how to do that or what avenues exist for their redressal. At times like this if someone comes up with a “solution” then people will jump to support him withouth thinking much, they shouldnt but that is the reality. This negates ur two gandhians fasting analogy as when one starts everyone will throw their support behind the first one (although urs was an excellent point).

    It is disturbing the kind of power that people in high up places in powerful organizations like RBI, CBI, TRAI, etc have and how easily they can misuse it and hide their actions behind the false facade of accountability. We need common people to step up and lets face its not going to be through running for office.

    We are at a crossroads, we are stuck at a level and with a tag “developing nation” and the only way to discard that tag is to root out corruption which is the crux of all problems.

    Although ur comment about appointing Nobel laureates and Magsasay award holders who are too well off to be called a common man is valid. But as somebody famous said- “One step at a time!!”.

  30. What a load of BS.

    We are better of with elected representatives ?

    What about the unelected representatives like our PM ?

  31. If the constitutional process is held at ransom by corrupt politicians and policy makers , what options people like anna hazare r left with ? Atleast there aint any violence surrounding this movement.

  32. The power of voting is overemphasized here. Electoral politics and the peoples vote has a greater meaning and relevance in a form of governance that has direct contest between leaders at both the state and federal levels. This is not the case presently under the Indian system of parliamentary democracy.

    Secondly, the peoples mandate in an election can be easily overturned under by coalition politics. A group of coalition parties can form even post poll alliance to reach the required numbers for power. The power of voting is nullified completely here.

    The problem is with the deep perversions of the Indian system itself. The flaws in built in the constitution that would require a massive peoples mobilization and active legislative actions to correct. The Lokpal is a great initiative in that direction.

    1] We need to first eliminate coalition politics and the alliances for power by not allowing state level parties to contest national elections. This will also eliminate the politics of blackmail by parties with just four national seats. It will also bring the national mandate more in line with the peoples voting.

    2] The stranglehold of power cartels formed around political families must be eliminated by making primary elections within political parties mandatory under the supervision of CEC. This will also help in eliminating shadow power centers and nominal clerks in the offices of power under them.

    3] And lastly the most significant legislative reform should be the constitution of fixed terms and tenure in office. After certain terms and tenure in office the eligibility criteria of the individual should be over.

    This will help eliminate the monopolization of power by groups and caste cartels and also maintain the independence of state institutions.

    Other reforms like moving from a parliamentary to presidential system would also change India. In a Presidential system there is a direct contest between candidates at the state and federal levels. This at least ensures the emergence of real leaders and not of puppets serviles and charlatans.

    The executive arm in a presidential system is completely free from the legislative one and this ensures decisive actions and initiative. It is a tragedy that a proposal for this system was made by the British as more suitable for India but was rejected by Indian nationalists. Today we are trapped in this mendacity of coalitions, alliances and shadow power centers.

    A strong viable Lokpal is just the beginning. There is a long road ahead.

  33. The presence of these two gents named Shanti Bhushan and Swami Agnivesh is also very problematic in this campaign. The swami has kept his allegiances hidden and has quite recently turned into an advocate of naxals. Shanti Bhushan on the other hand represents the radical leftists and is also close to the socialist rasputins in the NAC.

    There is a need for independent advocates to be therefore careful and alert. The Lokpal should be strong and independent and not a body that is a superstate overriding decisions of national governments.

  34. 1) You tend to believe that we have a democracy. Wake up, its a kakistocracy. Newsflash: the current democratic system is a failed system. We need democracy 2.0.

    2) “When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives”, BR Ambedkar said the above and people believe it is the case. So, its not contrary to what he said.

    3) You tend to club the Lokpal with democratic institutions. You can also look at it as a republic institution (like the judiciary). Yes, you are right if you worry about unchecked powers in the Lokpal, but you could argue that it can be fixed by having constitutional checks like the judiciary.

    4) Yeah, point taken about Nobel and Magsaysay winners. That will most likely be booted out of the bill. All the drafters have said that they are open to re-drafting and/or working with the govt on a bill. Their draft is negotiable.

    5) Yes, this is us. And, that is why the Anna Hazare movement is as much about waking up the people than it is for specific demands to the govt. Its funny you crib that the middle class is apathetic, yet, when they come out for this, you want them to use the avenues that you think they should use? Why is that? Leave it to the middle class to do what they please (as long as they don’t break the law). If hunger strike is a problem, sure they should be jailed. Go ahead.

    6) To your question, how do we know when using such tactics is justified. Read this In short: we will let you know.

    PS: Sorry

  35. I read the article… seems the author assumes that voting can solve anything (I am assuming s(he) is alluding to the democratic ways of doing things ). But vote for whom? We do not have public referendum for every law enacted as with many other countries in Europe. In hindi they have a saying “Billi ke gale may ghanti kaun bandhega? (Who will put a bell in the cats neck to alert its coming?)” at least the people back home acted may be wrong (time shall tell that) against corruption rather than just writing about it and waiting to vote for a less corrupt one until he becomes more corrupt than the rest. :-)… The success of the movement will depend on how much we (people of India) can curb, our want to change our habit of paying the bribe to get our job done (when we are not eligible for it or it is our mistake and need to pay the fine). If the bases are clean the system will change up automatically over a period of time, the lack of supply will kill the demand and vice-a-versa. It is a slow cure but a viable long term solution, I think. Not that I am a big supporter of “Anna Hazare Movement”, but I don’t like corruption and promise to stay away from it in future and appreciate that he decided to do “something” about it. And again, I find the quote from Ambedkar funny, we used civil disobedience to gain freedom saying that democratic ways are not working and assume that they are working (democratic ways) when we can see corruption rampant in the country… 🙂 It is quite hypocritical according to me.

  36. In my point of view this act of protest is a mirror to both the Indian Government including all the political parties, and to the Indian people.. Where our democracy is regarded as the biggest in the world, and the constitution being so much flexible of becoming itself a strongest weapon against all the atrocities and corruption, we have also got the lamest opposition whose opportunistic behavior has caused this kind of agitation.

  37. completely flawed article.. too many flaws that I can write a thesis debunking it. Unless the author himself has the patience and wants to argue about the flaws, I will keep it to myself.

    Just as a sampler for the readers; just out of the top of my head : authors slates that millions of voters who vote are not given any respect.

    He needs a good lesson about group theory and participation. Here is a link as to why one vote doesn’t matter in billions and why level of participation, preparation and interest will be nil

  38. I am sure Nitin Pai is bribed to write such a senseless article. I don’t think if he knows anything about the people who are representing civil society. Instead of supporting a great man for this movement, he is spreading the wrong message. Just shut up and do your work if your corrupt mind doesn’t have guts to support fight against corruption.

  39. It is not about a Jan Lokpal bill it is just about corruption. I was asked for Rs. 500 for police verification for issuing passport. I am asked for money at the whims and fancies of traffic police, whenever I approach a bureaucrat even for things like ration card. What do I do? I can only stand with a mass movement like this which I hope in the end will reduce these things..

  40. One of the worst articles i hav ever read on an issue of such national importance
    bt thn again thts me
    what i thnk u present here is a lazy persons view of the events taking place in our country
    if it were upto to egypt and others would still b under the tyranny of dictators

  41. All very well to say, Acorn, but is this really possible? In a country as diverse and as polarised as ours, this sounds fine on paper, but practically at this point at least, we need some body like the Lok Pal to answer the needs of the populace till the ideal situation described above can come into existence. Just take for instance the situation in Tamil Nadu. Everybody agrees that the ruling DMK front has taken corruption to new heights. But ask any ordinary person in the state and they say they will vote it again into power – because the option is an equally corrupt AIADMK. The difference is that the DMK is ploughing back some of that money to the masses while the AIADMK took it all. Certainly, its not the right attitude, but till such time as we can offer them a choice that they can consider without being weighed down by the burdens of survival, we will need bodies such as the Lok Pal to redress wrongs.

  42. “insult the hundreds of millions of ordinary Indian voters who regularly exercise their right to franchise”

    Do you really think that it is an insult? How many times have you exercised your vote right? And how many times did you really had good options to vote for?

    I would say yes to a parallel govt, whats wrong if it is hand picked by a noble person for a noble cause. There has to be a beginning somewhere and this is the beginning.

  43. There is no substitute for good people in governance. The only and lasting solution is fresh people entering governing institutions – get elected as leader / get selected as bureaucrat – and remain non-corrupt! This fact is very well known – politicians ask for vote and immediately there is a demand for ‘None of the Above’ option. Eventually even if we get that option from where a new person would get elected unless one of us wishes to leave his / her comforts behind and serve nation. So the solution lies in the problem itself. Governance. We have to be IN the system to CHANGE the system. External pressures such as the present one will only subvert democracy instead of curbing corruption!

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