FAQ: Why Anna Hazare is wrong and Lok Pal a bad idea

Don’t fall for the miracle cure that is being offered. Corruption must be fought differently and it’s not easy.

1. Is Lok Pal is necessary to fight corruption?
No, not only is it unnecessary, it will make the problem worse. Corruption in India arises because of too much government, too many rules, too much complexity and too much ambiguity. Adding one more, huge, powerful layer to an already complex system will make the system even more complicated. Complexity creates the incentives for corruption–both on the part of the bribe giver and the bribe taker.

See my article on why Jan Lok Pal is no solution and Amba Salelkar’s article in Pragati.

1A. Is the government’s version of the Lok Pal bill better?
No. We don’t need a Lok Pal at all. Making existing constitutional institutions—like CAG, CVC, CBI and the Election Commission—more independent will serve the purpose equally well. If we have been unable to prevent the politicisation and undermining of these instutitions why would we be able to prevent the Lok Pal from being politicised and undermined? If we can prevent Lok Pal from being politicised and undermined, why can’t we restore the independence and credibility of CAG, CVC, CBI and the Election Commission?

2. What’s the alternative to Lok Pal then?

The alternative is to proceed with second-generation reforms, or Reforms 2.0. Contrary to conventional wisdom reforms have reduced corruption, albeit by moving it to higher up the government. In 1989 an ordinary person would have to pay a bribe to get a telephone connection. By 2005, there was no need to pay a bribe at all and anyone could get a phone in minutes. Yes, 2010 saw the 2G scam in telecoms, but that was because the UPA government reversed the reform process.

In fact, data show that perceptions of corruption are lower in some sectors of the economy, usually those that have been liberalised.

If you are interested in exploring real alternatives, you can start by reading Atanu Dey’s slim, easily readable and inexpensive new book, “Transforming India”.

3. Doesn’t Hong Kong have an Ombudsman and doesn’t it enjoy low corruption?

This is a specious argument. There is little evidence to prove that Hong Kong has low corruption because it has an Ombudsman. On the contrary, there is empirical evidence from across the world suggesting that countries with high economic freedom are perceived to suffer from less corruption.

Hong Kong is one of the freest economies of the world, and therefore, incentives for government officials to be corrupt are relatively low. The Ombudsman is useful to address the residual corruption in economic sectors and in sectors like law enforcement that do not have discretionary powers over economic sectors.

4. How can we have economic reforms if the corrupt politicians don’t allow it?
We have not really demanded them at all, actually. If we did, they are bound to register in the national political agenda. We should persuade politicians that their political future is linked to implementing economic reforms.

5. Easy to say, but how can we do this?

By voting. The constituencies that stand to benefit from economic reforms—the middle class—needs to vote in larger numbers. In the absence of the middle class vote base, politicians appease the poor by giving handouts and entitlements, and cater to the super rich by allowing the crony sector to exploit the half-reformed economy. It’s not easy, and we have to be innovative. See for instance, Atanu Dey’s interesting idea to form middle-class vote banks to induce good governance.

Whatever may be the claims made by the people promoting Lok Pal, there is no miracle solution. They are peddling miracle weight-loss pills. Sadly, such pills usually don’t work and can cause severe damage to your health. If you are cautioned not to take those pills, you can’t ask “which other miracle weight-loss pill do you recommend”? The answer is in diet and exercise, which is hard work.

6. In the meantime, what’s wrong with Jan Lok Pal?
This question has already been answered above, but it’s usual to encounter it again at this stage. The problem with Jan Lok Pal is that it’ll make the problem worse. Does anyone seriously think we can hire tens of thousands of absolutely honest officials who will constitute the Lok Pal? Who will keep watch on them? Maybe we need a Super Lok Pal, and then a Hyper Lok Pal to watch over the Super Lok Pal and so on…This isn’t sarcasm, this is the logical extension of the Lok Pal argument.

7. Don’t we have the right to protest peacefully? Why do you say that a fast-until-death lacks legitimacy?
Of course we have the right to protest peacefully. But it’s not about whether we have the right or not. It’s about are we using that right wisely. (You have the freedom of speech but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to blast Eminem using a loudspeaker at 2am in a residential district.)

As Ambedkar said while introducing the Constitution in November 1949, once the Constitution came into force, we should avoid all non-constitutional methods like protests and satyagraha, for they are the grammar of anarchy. If two persons go on fasts until death for two opposing reasons, we cannot decide the issue by allowing one person to die first.

Fast until death is political blackmail. It is a form of theatre engaged in to coerce the government into doing something that the agitators want. Whatever may be the cause, a single person cannot be allowed to dictate laws to the whole nation.

8. Doesn’t Anna Hazare have the right to fast until death?
Anna Hazare has the right to protest peacefully. However to the extent that his actions amount to an attempt to commit suicide, they are illegal. The government can legitimately prevent him from killing himself whatsoever the reason he might have to attempt suicide.

9. You are an armchair intellectual. Shouldn’t we trust activists more?
Pilots don’t design aircraft. Practicing doctors don’t discover new drugs and treatments. These jobs are usually done by armchair intellectuals. So being an armchair intellectual is not a disqualification.

You shouldn’t trust intellectuals or activists because of what they are. You should examine their arguments and make your own judgement. Most of the people supporting Lok Pal have not examined what the proposal is, have not tried to consider opposing arguments and blindly accept it as a solution because some famous people said so.

11. Aren’t those who oppose Anna Hazare’s agitation supporting the corrupt politicians?
No. It takes an enormous amount of arrogance to claim that Anna Hazare and his supporters have the exclusive hold on the right way to fight corruption.

In the real world, it is foolish to expect 100% clean and non-corrupt politicians. The real world challenge is to achieve good governance with imperfect constitutions, imperfect institutions, imperfect leaders and imperfect citizens. This requires us to realise that individuals respond to incentives. If we remove incentives for taking or giving bribes, then corruption will be lowered. We can reduce incentives for corruption by following through with the reforms that started in 1991 but have stalled since 2004.

It is entirely possible to oppose the UPA government’s politics and policies, while recognising that it is the legitimately constituted government of the country. Individuals and parties might suffer from a legitimacy deficit because of flagrant corruption, but the Government of India as an institution remains the legitimate authority to make policy decisions for the whole nation.

12. Why is fasting illegitimate when Mahatma Gandhi used it in our struggle for independence from the British?
There is a huge difference in context between 26th January 1950 when the Constitution of India came into force and the time before it.

Mahatma Gandhi used civil disobedience against laws imposed on India by the British government. Indians had no say in how the laws were made and how they were implemented. Indians could not repeal laws we didn’t want. Civil disobedience was justified in this context.

Gandhi also used it to coerce Indian nationalist leaders too, including Ambedkar and the Indian National Congress, into accepting his views. Whatever might be the wisdom of Gandhi’s intentions, this was undemocratic and created a culture of ‘high command’ that lives on to this day. Fasting was not justified in this context. This part of Gandhi receives little attention in the dominant narrative of Indian history.

With the formation of the Republic of India on 26 January 1950, things changed profoundly. All Indians have a say in how laws are made and how they are implemented. We can amend or repeal laws that we do not like. There is, of course, a method to do this, which must be followed. These are the constitutional methods that Ambedkar referred to in his grammar of anarchy speech. When constitutional methods are available, there is no case for non-constitutional methods like satyagraha or hunger strikes.

There is thus no equivalence between Gandhi’s satyagraha against the British ruling us and Mr Hazare’s hunger strikes against we ruling ourselves.

Update: Read this FAQ in Kannada, at Vasant Shetty’s blog. Read it in Hindi, via Milind Bhate on INI BroadMind.

NOTE (August 18th, 2011, 3pm): Comments from first-timer & those who use abusive language are held up for moderation. A large number of responses are in the moderation queue. It might take a couple of days for me to go through the queue, so if your comment has not appeared, please bear with me. All comments made in a civil manner will be published.

534 thoughts on “FAQ: Why Anna Hazare is wrong and Lok Pal a bad idea”

  1. Dont compare Anna with Ramdev. Ramdev did for advertise him as well wisher. Anna is really fighting against corruption.

  2. Anther thinks that every solution lies in liberalization. Which is not true. Author first dig into the High level Corruption established in America even after Liberal Policies.

    Also he should study the constitution (Law) of different countries to understand why strong laws are necessary. One more point I want to add (I want to write more but I have very little time) — More u liberalize the economy, more there will be High level corruption.

  3. I loved this article and loved the comments.

    Let’s leave Mr. Anna Hazare aside for a while. Let’s talk about us. The people of India who have witnessed (merely) 40 scams in 64 years. The people who have been the silent spectators of the ignominy the CWG games brought to India internationally. The people who are so tired of reading about scams on a daily basis that they( read: certain cynical arm chair intellectuals particularly) don’t mind the govt being corrupt any more! The people who cannot get a single work done in a govt setup without bribery. And mind it, “bribe” to a poor guy who isn’t even paid his due on time for all the hours he stays at work. So much of corruption; so much poverty …And why? The last I heard, the Swiss banks claim some 280 lakh crores of Indian currency.

    The people who are supposed to lead us, to whom we pay our taxes regularly like responsible citizens, in whom we lay our trust, are exploiting us (the very people who elected them ). After all, democracy is by the people, of the people and for the people. This isn’t dictatorship. The govt is answerable. They are stranded right now ,clueless and mum, because people have come on the streets and have dared to raise questions to them..At least this once !

    I have seen precisely two videos on fb exposing the nepotism shown by Mrs. Soniya Gandhi and the charges of corruption against Mr. Robert Vadra. Wonder what keeps our media (and our esteemed arm chair cynical intellectuals) from covering these stories ? Guess…’selective’ ignorance is bliss , isn’t it ?

    I have been seeing quite a few interviews of team Anna on TV and all I have been watching is transparency of the ideas and an openness to discussions.It is the govt which is reluctant to talk. And then it comes up with their version of the Bill which spares all bureaucrats.Wonder why you( the arm chair intellectuals) didn’t bother to discuss why our ever-so-esteemed govt came up with such a partial, biased and idiotic Bill at the first place! But the govt’s inadequacies do not concern you , do they? (Or maybe you are too hopeful) The opposition still doesn’t have anything concrete to say. And why not? Implementing Lokpal would be suicidal to all alike. Afterall, they are birds of the same black feather.

    I feel sorry for you because instead of calling those feathers black you are questioning the integrity of the man who wants to see it turn white.You propose beautiful whimsical ways of mitigating corruption; none of which sounds too practical needless to say. You can only sit on an arm chair and talk, but you see, the country may not be as “intellectual” as to while away its time in finding flaws with a radical change…but has far more common sense to realize the gravity of the movement this one man has stirred and at this age, has dared to die for. You think he wants to be iconised ? Well, certain “intellectual” people like you won’t mind accepting the legacy of “Gandhi” family and calling Rahul as “the Youth Icon” , coming up with the statements of the Constitution which favor those corrupt politicians in a grim expectation that the very exploiters of our country will bring about some economic reforms. Let me tell you, you are fooling yourself. They got their chance long enough to flood the Swiss banks with nation’s money.As for a man who lived his entire life dedicated to social reform, fame cannot be more precious than life itself!

    The main discussion today is: Is Lokpal a good idea? Is is practically possible to implement it ? Will the Lokpal be effective? Will it turn corrupt as well ? Who will check its credibility? Giving Lokpal so many powers could turn fatal for democracy.

    Well let me put it across as i perceive it. A law had been passed to punish corrupt public servants years back( which the CBI is unable to do till now being an organisation under the guilty). Team Anna simply wants to see that law implemented. And it cannot work out if it isn’t an independent body, a body which doesn’t get influenced by govt directly. As far as I see it..it is a policing body, a kind of checkpoint; and the guilty (only) shall be punished. I fail to understand how it can turn out to be detrimental to democracy ?!

    How to ensure honesty and implementation? It’s for the Parliament and judiciary to discuss and decide. We have quite a few intellectuals sitting there as well and we trust them ! Afterall, they are our representatives. It has to go the constitutional way. 🙂

  4. This note talks about awakening of the middle class as the rightful alternative, how practical is that considering that middle class has not reacted since freedom struggle(even during freedom struggle Iam skeptical whether middle class moved much muscle).

    Given this situation, we are seeing that the people(yes the middle class) are aligning with one man’s steely resolve(Anna’s) not because they have done due diligence and are convinced about the cause, but because we all believe in messiah’s who deliver the goods for us, and since we do not believe in ourselves.

    When we can’t plan and act ourselves, we will have to go with other’s plans for us.

  5. Freinds,

    I am agreed with u sir just giving few numbers to clear doubt of anna supporters
    USA stands amongst top ten corrupt countries we numbered as 87th
    No. Flags Country Score Location

    Denmark 9.3 Europe

    New Zealand 9.3 Island Near Australia

    Singapore 9.3 Asia

    Finland 9.2 Europe

    Sweden 9.2 Europe

    Canada 8.9 North America

    Netherlands 8.8 Europe

    Australia 8.7 Australia

    Switzerland 8.7 Europe

    Norway 8.6 Europe

  6. who says disobedience is not there , you are mistaken , this is fight against corruption which more dangerous than freedom , its like white ant spreading, sucking us in all form, imagine the lok pal version of Government, have 544 parlamentarian given any fruitful investigative agency in last 6 decades Is any of the agencys are free to work
    well its more negative thoughts like u who say Jan Lok Pal is bad.
    Ru living in relal democracy or just want to please bunch of 544 ruler of the country.
    Can u point out what election reforms have done its ruining us every election by spending crorers of ruppes
    pl wake up now

  7. There are a few points made in the article which are very valid but are ideological at best. As a common citizen of India I may not understand the intricacies of a huge legislation but what I know is that there is huge public support for Anna Hazare and there are some smarter people to help Anna Hazare as well. What you are suggesting may have been considered by them as well..! But as a citizen of India I also question the credentials of the writer of this blog. What kind of “expert” level insight into law and legislation and constitution has enabled you to publish these points? Saying again, a few of the points are very good but are very ideological without any “action” words. All the action is happening courtesy Anna Hazare. So it is just another intellectual and ideological exercise done sitting inside an air-conditioned room by someone who has some degree from an expensive school. I wish people like you could do something more than just being such smart-asses and trying to get more hits on your blog.

  8. You should read his wikipedia bio:

    He is very fond of flogging. You cant convince me that a person who is fond of flogging is a peaceful Gandhian.

    Also NOBODY discusses the punishment clauses of Jan lok pal bill. It promises mandatory punishment of minimum 10 years (currently 6 months) and a maximum punishment of lifetime (currently 7 years) for corruption. This will fill our jails with useless mouths that the taxpayer will have to pay for the rest of their lives. Indians cant afford to feed useless mouths. Also the bill recommends hanging for corruption. This is barbaric. Hanging should be reserved for child molesters and drug traffickers not for any other crime. We may as well flog corrupt people or burn them at the stake, it will be no less barbaric than hanging.

    You can also read about crime and punishment in India and how we have one of the lowest crime rates in the world:

  9. this is one of the biggest phenomena in the recent human history.. the single window glass was not broken in such a massive protest of 1 billion population and people got their wishes.

    Anna is definitely a phenomena and an amazing success. people doubted including me but he proved everyone wrong. i was so fed up of these politician and pseudo intellactuals that i thought our country had no future.

    thanks for making many wrong by winning. yes, things may not change over night but if good people keep quiet then anarchy will continue because bad people always do bad things but good people always be practical.

    what is the most beautiful this is he made politicians look so stupid and also all pseudo and jealous filled pseudo intellectuals like Arundati Roy and Mahesh Bhat.

    after 65 years, there is a joy again in me and also proud to be an Indian again.

    hurricane Irene is blasting the roof off but in my cozy apartment, i am reading about ym Anna.

  10. Sir, even the judiciary is very corrupt. How would you justify your argument in the context of that?

  11. dude,

    raising awareness among millions, putting a show/ front for a cause dear to may including you, apparently, was the 1st win.

    intellectual liberals dont change societies, they are cowards, more often than not.

    you can only dream of such success through your blog and remember the only sensation sour grapes produce is, well, that of urge to spit.

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