Handling Hazare

What should we make of the UPA government’s management of Anna Hazare’s agitation?

It was a game of political brinkmanship and yesterday, the Indian government came out as the chicken. If saner counsel had prevailed, both Anna Hazare’s group and the Indian government would have stepped back from the brink. However, Mr Hazare’s personal behaviour and in his campaign suggests that what they wish to trigger is a massive public agitation, ostensibly against corruption, but generally against the ‘government’. It is likely that this was the realisation that caused the government to attempt to pre-empt the agitation planned for August 16th, rather than allow it to proceed, as is usually the practice. For instance, both Mr Hazare and Baba Ramdev were allowed to conduct public protests, while the government limited itself to responding to them.

But yesterday, the government’s strategy backfired. With Mr Hazare refusing to come out of Tihar jail, the brinksmanship has been taken to another level. In 24 hours, the “issue” has turned from a “strong Lok Pal bill” to “the right to protest peacefully”. This change in the way the issue is framed makes it extremely difficult for any government, especially this one, to continue the confrontation. So it’s likely to have to let Mr Hazare carry the day.

What should we make of this?

First, whether or not the government acted within its constitutional limits is for the courts to decide. It is quite likely that the matter will end up in the Supreme Court, as it should.

Second, whether or not the UPA government was justified in acting as it did, even if within constitutional limits, is a political question. That is a matter for us citizens to decide. Those who believe that it ought not to have acted pre-emptively in such a case must punish it electorally, whether by demanding mid-term elections or voting it out in 2014.

Third, we must not conflate the government’s legitimate authority with its political wisdom. This is because we do want governments to retain the powers to maintain public order and ensure national security. Not all political violence starts off that way. It is extremely difficult for police and law enforcement authorities to know, before hand, if an ostensibly peaceful protest will end up in violence. It would be imprudent to deny police the powers to make preventive detentions or indeed to use force to ensure order.

Fourth, the government’s mishandling of its response to Mr Hazare’s methods does not make his demands any more sensible or legitimate. As this blog has consistently, Lok Pal is a bad idea. It is unacceptable for him to blackmail a democratic republic by threatening to commit suicide. The greatest tragedy of this all is the fact that Mr Hazare sparked the attention, imagination, patriotism and passion of so many Indians not only to demand a stupid and dangerous law but to do so using the grammar of anarchy.

20 thoughts on “Handling Hazare”

  1. Team Anna has already publicly stated that they are ready to make amends to their demands. Tehelka has already published it:

    “In the immense noise around Anna Hazare’s proposed protest on August 16 and the government’s high-handed refusal to allow him the right to sit on his protest , a key issue has been forgotten: What exactly is Team Anna demanding this time round? Both the government’s draft of the Lokpal Bill and Team Anna’s draft have many contentious issues which needs careful debate in a less acrimonious climate. A detailed discussion of that is subject for another story, what is far more important is to know that at this moment, far from the “our way or the highway” position that Team Anna had held a few weeks ago, their demand now is much more reasonable and open-minded.

    In a huge departure from their earlier position, according to lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Team Anna is no longer adamant that the Bill be passed in this Monsoon session of Parliament. They only want the current imperfect government draft to be withdrawn; a stronger draft—not necessarily their own—to be re-introduced and debated through constitutional processes and passed by the winter session of Parliament.

    Crucially, they are also willing to be open-minded about the three other most contentious issues that have been a stumbling block so far. They are no longer insisting before-hand that the PM should be included in the Lokpal; or that the grievance redressal mechanism be a part of the Lokpal; or that the judiciary corruption be subsumed under the Lokpal. They are willing to debate and discuss their position on these issues through the constitutional mechanism of the Parliamentary Standing Committee.”

    Your difference of view on Jan Lokpal is valid but at least be fair while you oppose it. Because if you still believe that Anna is blackmailing the so-called Republic then the crowds on the streets of Delhi are fools, right?

    Intellectual thought process is good but action on the street will determine in which direction the fight against corruption will go.

  2. I am surprised at your stance but you are entitled to have it . Just trying to understand your viewpoint here tho i.e
    – why do you think that a strong lokpal with some actual powers to persecute politicians and bureaucrats acting in cahoots with the politicians will not help control and discourage such corruption to some extent at least ?
    – why should they be immune from corruption investigations , after all a criminal is a criminal , white , blue or any other color , why the special immunity of some classes of people .

    This is especially in light of their pathetic record in persecuting corruption , can you name one politician / bureaucratic who has actually been persecuted in any real sense apart from maybe a mild censure like tsk tsk bad boy ! you shouldn’t have done that but you can keep all the money you made after passing on my share for protecting you .Also to continue lets drag this case on for a few years so everybody will forget what the case was about in the first place while we go laughing all the way to the bank .

    Seriously ti would be naive to believe that politicians who keep voting salary increases for themselves at the drop of a hat without any regard for performance shown are capable or even willing to regulate themselves or even persecute any of their kind for fear that their turn will be next –and what the people think be dammed .

    Do not acknowledge that corruption hurt the country in all areas in terms of resources meant for development being diverted to corrupt peoples bank accounts .

    My point being that a strong lokpal is but one step towards more responsible and transparent governance and less corruption, why not take that fist step !!!!!

    and why not give the benefit of doubt for good intentions to Anna hazare for trying to get us a strong lokpal bill instead of a diluted one which protects political interests and shields the corrupt instead of allowing their persecution for acts which the normal citizenry id rapidly taken to task for and punished fore with .

    We might disagree with his methods but then does the government act in a less dictatorial fashion at most times citing often fallacious ” security ” and other equally specious reasons — How come the govt can take undemocratic measures but citizens have to eb good and set a good example .

  3. The idea that police does not know beforehand whether a protest will turn violent or not is not a rational argument to make. In a civilized society or a democratically elected state, every citizen has a right to protest – and consequently a protest clearly implies that there will be some unhappy souls. The extent of unhappiness cannot be gauged prior to the event, so the idea of preventive arrest does not make any sense. Law enforcement should be given a free hand that ensures that the slightest provocation or the minimalist breaking of law will be dealt with harshly – but the idea of preventive arrest kills the “right to protest” even before the protest has officially begun and even before the people have had a chance to express why they are protesting in the first place. It is like failing a student in class before an exam, because the teacher “expected the student to cheat”.

  4. From ………..http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2361951.ece

    Answering another question, Mr. Chidambaram denied that he or his Ministry was any way involved in the decision taken by the police. His Ministry’s role was limited to laying down policies and the police took decisions taking into account the circumstances. “We were only kept informed.”

    So, you see, the Government is not involved in Anna’s arrest. Chidambaram had no idea about this. Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that he takes his cue from his boss Sonia Gandhi. She rules India without accountability to anyone … why should the minions be any different as long as they are answerable to Sonia G. This whole episode screams banana republic.

    The argument you keep making about using the electoral process to fix everything. Ok …. we as a family voted for an independent candidate in the last election. That young man lost to Congress party candidate because the villagers+migrant labour in Dundahera (Gurgaon) next door outnumbered us 50:1 So the result is that all the roads are torn up, there are no storm drains. water supply is super erratic …. and guess what – we are not able to do a thing about it after countless complaints to HUDA.

    The point being, the uninformed voting bloc outnumbers the informed voter 10:1. We do not have critical mass of voters to have any meaningful change. It will be centuries before we get there – so for now I am gonna go with Anna’s shenanigans …. he maybe mildly annoying from time to time …. but the slime we have in government like Chidam, MMS, Sibal, Sonia G make me hurl – it literally depresses me — I want to know what you are smoking – might help with my depression.

  5. Sid you make an important point – about there being an ‘uninformed’ voters block. But I take issue with you on implying it is the villagers + migrant labour. It is the literate, the educated that voted for Congress in droves. Even now there are many who jump to the Gandhi family’s defence like they some kind of omnipotent beings, and not the semi-white-trash scum that they actually are.

    And Nitin – I am also quite suprised at your defence of the government. When you speak of ‘constitutional limits’ – do not forget that the Constitution of India is the most amended constitution in the world. Aside from that point – you really want us to abide by a constitution that:

    a) Dictated what kind of sex is considered natural?
    b) Has removed the right to private property
    c) Makes every political party subject to taking an oath to uphold Socialism
    d) Subjugates freedom of speech to the whims and dictates of any bunch of hoodlums with a grievance?
    e) Abolishes the Caste System – then sets up Reservation Quotas in the same document???

    Seriously Nitin, you seem to be dismissing the wishes of a significant chunk of the Indian people. Whether the LokPal Bill is good or not is irrelevant and always was. The question you need to be asking is why are we looking for ways means to make our voice heard that are ‘unconstitutional’. The parliamentary democracy we’ve created for ourselves consists of self-serving gangsters hell-bent on enslaving everyone to their filthy desires. And you are not going to be able to get them out by ‘constitutional’ methods. Not using the Consitution of India, anyway. It is optimistic to expect the current bunch of thugs to start listening to what the people want. Anna Hazare has done nothing violent so far, and as far as I recall none of the protesters broke so much as a bus window. And here you are justifying the police action? If our representatives are not listening to us, and we need permission to protest in our own country – what other alterntative is left to voice our concerns???? And let there be no mistake – our representatives are NOT LISTENING to us. It is not a case of the populace being apathetic. The population is scared. Anybody who dares to challenge the sewer scum that rules this country is harassed to no end. Books, movies are banned. Undertrials languish. Terrorists have their way. But no, Anna Hazare is the real threat. I can see about 500 constitutional violations occuring on a daily basis – but this is the ONE violation the government sees it fit to enforce?

    It is beyond being enraged. I am reaching the point where we need to call a generl strike, and stop paying any taxes to the government at all. They already seem to have enough illicit revenue anyway….

  6. “First, whether or not the government acted within its constitutional limits is for the courts to decide. It is quite likely that the matter will end up in the Supreme Court, as it should.”

    Strange..You have an opinion on every topic under the sun, but are not able to figure out whether government was within its constitutional limits. You need the SC to figure that out for you? I have been following this blog for years and have always appreciated the objectivity. While I do appreciate your anti-Anna arguments, I am completely confounded by your deafening silence on the government’s blatantly anti-democratic behavior. I believe this is multiple times more damaging for our constitution that what Anna and his people could ever do.

    1. …i would continue from where Mr. Sai left. Even if the honorable SC gives a verdict after 3-4 years that the union govt. of India have done an ‘unacceptable’ breach of constitutional limits; then what? On March 14th 2007 the CPM(ally of Manmohan Singh’s UPA, then & also afterwards ) govt. open fired at a protesting crowd which included women and children. 14 civilians died on the spot, arguably 50 in hospital. The Calcutta High Court declared: “The action of the police department to open fire at Nandigram on 14.03.2007 was wholly unconstitutional and cannot be justified under any provision of the law” and further that “The action of the police cannot be protected or justified on the ground of sovereign immunity.” and also that “The action of the police cannot be justified even under the provisions of Criminal Procedure Code; The Police Act, 1861 for The Police Regulations, 1943”. No body was put into jail, nobody resigned and nobody was suspended for the murder of all these people. In another case, a man was given the DEATH sentence for being involved in the conspiracy to do mayhem in the parliament( who’s extent/limit of authority we are discussing here) way back in 2004, after 7 years the man, Afzal Guru still lives. So, while the Supreme Court’s judgement IS THE LAW for ordinary citizens like us, it is merely an optional and inconsequential guidelines for the government. Say if the SC gives a judgement declaring the govt. action ‘unconstitutional’ will Manmohan Singh be put into jail for using the PMO to subvert the constitution of India or will the Delhi police commissioner face criminal prosecution for violation of fundamental rights? The answer is a BIG NO! None of these will happen therefore the agitation must continue…

  7. “This is because we do want governments to retain the powers to maintain public order and ensure national security. Not all political violence starts off that way. It is extremely difficult for police and law enforcement authorities to know, before hand, if an ostensibly peaceful protest will end up in violence. It would be imprudent to deny police the powers to make preventive detentions or indeed to use force to ensure order.”

    The police force is controlled by political actors in India – that is the ground reality, whether one likes it or not. Till such time this is the case, the police will be abused and in fact has been abused by various parties and governments from time to time. Is this the case in other nations where the police has such powers?

    Hence, till such time that we fix this, giving sweeping arrest and detention powers to the police is not only asking for trouble, it is deeply illiberal – something against which Acorn, INI and Pragati have long stood for – because these powers are subject to abuse with impunity (largely because of a slow, nearly non-functional, broken judicial system) by political actors.

  8. Well said,Sid.The blogger opposes Anna’s protest from day 1 hasnt provided any solution so far how corruption can be controlled.The shout that “lokpal is not solution” is meaningless if you do not mention the solution.Sitting quiet when the elected members looting country in front of you doesn’t make you a responsible citizen. Why did these guys silent so far when the govt representatives were looting the country by making India a banana republic ruled indirectly by a foreigner ?Why sudden hue and cry when Anna does an attempt to fight corruption?If you see loopholes in the janlokpal bill Team Anna proposed, bring it to table and debate in public domain as well as in the house.Mere pointing out -ves will not solve any problems!

  9. The writer asks: What should “we” make of the government’s handling of Anna’s agitation? Well, what do _you_ make of it? No offence meant, but I am not here to be enlightened on tautologies – that for instance the constitutionality of government’s actions is decided by Supreme Court, that the government’s “political” responses are judged by electorate etc. I am here because I am interested in _your_ judgement.

  10. The problem with our democracy and the electoral process is that we vote once in five years, and then the government and elected candidates (legislatures, MPs) believe that they are not accountable anymore. How many MP’s seriously visit their constituencies and look at the development work being done? They only spring into action 2-3 months before election. There should be a transparent channel through which common people should be able to monitor the MP’s actions. And the actions of Legislators in Parliament and Assembly should be monitored too. If they are found guilty of obstructing the proceedings, they should be fined or tried.

    The government’s operation in parliament is visible, but how they execute the different bills passed is not made available. Everywhere there is a veil of bureaucracy. This is what we need to get rid of.

    Our constitution is archaic and defunct. It needs an overhaul. And I don’t believe the Parliamentarians alone are capable of it. They are not trustworthy. We need to have certain qualified activists and intellectuals along with distinguished leaders(like Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh, Nitish Kumar) with clean backgrounds as part of a constitution review committee. Else this country seems doomed with growing population, poverty divide, illiteracy, health issues etc.

  11. This is not so much a comment on the handling of Hazare as it is about reducing corruption, so OT to that extent. Apologies and read no further, if it doesn’t interest you. (Mostly rot anyway). Well, here goes:-

    To reduce corruption, I think we need wise and good people within the system, not a supercop that Lokpal will surely be.

    Let me give a couple of examples.
    1. The erstwhile Sales Tax laws were notoriously inefficient because the law offered so many escape routes that the incentive to beat the system was huge.

    Simply put, a Sales Tax is a tax the seller collects from the buyer and pays, at a later date, to the government. The seller basically gives a summary of what he has collected and he gets a deduction for any tax he might have paid on his purchased. The net amount is to be paid to the govt.

    Simple? Yes and no. The old law had so many ifs, buts and maybes that it was virtually impossible to tell without a detailed audit and cross verification if the seller was telling the truth. Which opened many wonderful avenues for making money everywhere, for both the sales tax officers and the assessees. Everyone concerned with this legislation was happy with the status. The administrators got to earn a decent income on the side. And the assessees could get away without paying anything at all.

    Ordinarily, this would never have changed, because it suited everyone concerned so admirably, but apparently a bunch of busybody babus figured out what was going on and completely overhauled the system. They ushered in the VAT system now used which was drafted well. They made it as minimal and clear as possible and made it virtually impossible to beat.

    There was much weeping initially but now, compliance has gone up many fold. Babus are out of income. And assessees sadly but regularly cough up the revenue, since they know that they can be caught easily, and when they are, there is nowhere to hide.

    This could never have been achieved by a Lokpal enforcing the old rules because they were so flawed he couldn’t have done a thing about them. System reform was the only way of doing it. And the entire reform is the brainchild of some nameless, faceless babus motivated by nothing more than the desire to do what is right. So who needs the Lokpal?

    2. Another, more contemporary example. In Bombay, construction on plots is based on what is called the Floor SPace Index or the FSI. For example, if you have, say, a 1000 sq ft plot of land, the most you can build on it is 2000 ft, if your FSI is 2. There are some reasonable deductions. Area used for staircases is not counted, for example, because you can’t live there. Same with service ducts, common areas, lobbies, flower beds and so on. So you could build say 3000 sq ft if your staircases, lift wells and so on were 1000 sq ft, because those would not be counted towards the FSI entitlement.

    What started happening was developers started building larger and larger FSI free areas like ducts, flower beds and so on. Free of FSI as far as the Municipal corporation was concerned but sold at full commercial value to the buyer, because they could, and would, cover the space and use it as rooms. The sanctioning authorities would routinely charge a bribe of 10 to 15 % of the value of the extra space built, and everyone was happy.

    Enter the current Municipal Commissioner, Subodh Kumar. A regular busybody, he proposed that, since it was impossible to monitor the legions of sanctioning authorites, (executive engineers and the like), he wouldn’t attempt to do that. Instead, he proposed, the Corporation would collect the full value of the extra area built, based on stamp-duty ready-reckoner rates. This elegant solution removes all the lucre from cheating, and there will be nothing left to pay bribes from, as well.

    At this moment, I am told, the developer lobby is frantically struggling to scuttle the proposal, but if it goes through, as I hope it does, a big chunk of corruption will vanish from the Municipal Corporation. Again, this can never be done by a Lokpal with the highest punishment powers in the world. It needs an honest, committed and smart bloke in a position of power.

    Apologies for the long and perhaps incoherent-at-times comment but I have so much to say about this it’s just bubbling out in a mess of words.

  12. I would like to comment on few points the writer is saying here. first government was not involved in Anna’s arrest. the way Indian law and order works, everything involves goverents interest. Arun Jately raised thos point in Rajya sabha and Goverent has no answer. The village and changes Anna has made to his village and Maharastra is an example of the write things he has done in service of this country. well whatever it is a solution needs to brought out to stop the corruption. 9 crore crores black money is too much corruption has taken from us.

  13. One agrees both parties could have stepped back from brinkmanship. From the government point of view, most of the steps taken were not illegal. However, this was an opportunity for the government to don the politician’s cap in full splendour rather than that of a professional….or a lawyer’s. The government erred in not responding to this issue with a politician’s heart and instead doing it with a professional’s mind.

  14. While you are right in saying elsewhere that reforms are the answer you seem to overlook the fact that the Lok Pal is a way of reform too. To try and get the CBI free from political control is reform. If personal equations are kept aside, there is much in common with your approach and Anna Hazare’s. Just as economic reforms are only part of the solution against corruption, so too is the Lok Pal. We need total reform but it will have to be undertaken in stages. We need infrastructure, we need a speedier judicial system, we need better education, water, electricity, curbing inflation……all of them to neutralise corruption to some meaningfulextent.

    Unfortunately some mandarins have let their ego come in the way of their reasoning.

    Those out in the streets today are not there only for the Lok Pal. They are supporting Anna for his stand on corruption and because of their frustration. The pity is our so called intellectuals are too busy lampooning Anna for his methods but without understanding that the man in the street has come out there for a change in the system and the suppoprt that coruption receives from those who can actually change it for the better.

  15. I am reading couple of article from this website called national interest and do not even see a single drop of nation interest in the editors article…When do think is the right time to start the fight against corruption and other issues in the country or do you this some god will appear and wash off all the corruption…leave the talk and views simply get into the ground and fight against it…or you will simply die with views and talks which does not take you and the country anywhere…from my point of view even if the 1% corruption is eradicated from Annas move it is good for every indian…other that simply arguing is the peak of ignorance in the name of intelligence…

  16. As this blog has consistently, Lok Pal is a bad idea. It is unacceptable for him to blackmail a democratic republic by threatening to commit suicide.

    Nitin, we can all agree to disagree on the merits of The Lokpal bill proposed by Anna Hazare but you are getting carried away when you use words such as “blackmail” and “threatening to commit suicide”

    As you can see Hazare is no idiot – he is playing hardball here and i should say he has been surprisingly good with this. He can call off his fast any time he wants and no one would begrudge him… He is trying to do something that is remarkable here and i do agree with you that such civil disobedience movements can have rather sad unintended consequences in the future… But make no mistake, Hazare most definitely does not want to die..

    Besides, Hazare may think that there are somethings worth dying for… and there is nothing that you can do about a man who wants to die for what he truly believes in.

    The greatest tragedy of this all is the fact that Mr Hazare sparked the attention, imagination, patriotism and passion of so many Indians not only to demand a stupid and dangerous law but to do so using the grammar of anarchy

    You need to choose you words carefully – if you think that this is ” the grammar of anarchy” you have not seen real anarchy in action. Just ask any one who lived through miserable decades of Communist rule in “PaschimVanga” where these commies where a law and rule into themselves. now THAT is truly anarchy.

    Anna Hazare has the least likeliest of supporters who will commit violence or anarchy – because the middle class who are his base know very well that any thing that may do to damage their movement is far worse than letting down Hazare… it would be letting down a whole generation of Indians who dream of a better and more honest future… and any violence they may commit on public property would be on property their taxes earned to build

    This law may be stupid… it may be dangerous… or your fears may be way over blown.

  17. Hi ,

    I would like to make 4 points here…

    Point One-

    I ask Nitin other day on twitter what do you think about Swiss Federal republic, with directorial system and direct democracy Vs India’s Federal parliamentary constitutional republic.His answer as expected in logical line was,India is pretty larger democracy to work out that.Fair enough but then what is basic answer-In any form of the republic a democratic philosophy should work out at the end.

    Our intellectual and social scientist would like to say, do not dishonor this “Parliamentary representative democracy”(where 50% members are selected based on false promises).So in the real term who is dishonoring “Representative democracy”?- A member of parliament who ask voter to vote on certain promises to represent his democratic right and forget once he elected or a voter who is on the street to remind you-u did not represented me in this “Representative democracy”.So by the constitution who have cheated or dishonor the real form of “Representative democracy” or its philosophy ?.I say its philosophy because armchair social scientist like “Parliamentary representative democracy” philosophy more than its reality.

    PS:Switzerland is a direct democracy that’s why you see frequent referendum (I guess they are allowed 4 time in year).

    Point Two

    Discussing Anna bill is extra-constitutional- I am fed up with this hypocrisy, let it to be in the rest.I might not buy the theory of deadlines of the Anna’s team for passing the bills as open debate needed for important bills.But saying it will be extra constitutional if their bill going to be discuss in the parliament, is just plain hypocrisy to defend the arrogance of this Republic.What is the National Advisory Council (NAC) of India- A bunch of hand picked social team form an extra constitutional body and propose every year some new bill ,even self suicidal NREGA like cobra and cabinet (constitutional body of republic) fear to contradict them.And parliament directly discuss their bills every time.So what is problem parliament discussing Janlokpal,Lokpal or Arun roy bill together?. ….

    Point Three-

    Thomas Jefferson said “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” I would add here “A true political statesmanship leads mobocracy to its logical conclusion,in a perfect democracy,where other forty-nine feel my rights are alive”.

    Point 4-

    Some one said-All those idiots that always said India needs a dictator to sort things out. Looks like you might get your wish with “Big brother.”

    And I thought every time in the world history, a dictator was created by the moral ablation of democratically elected republic and not by the morally pumped idiots…

    So who is to blame first the creator or morally pumped idiots ?…

    And if cynicism kept aside, social scientist will say they are looking for next 20 years effect :).I am looking little lateral side- I wish this movement generate little guilt in the Middle class and it convert in polling booth for a better democracy , if not the absolute (as I am sure corruption will not go away just in few years by these kind of bills but bringing second generation change is also not as easy as its talk happen on papers -Its about attitude and not about the law but we need certain logical remedy than hypothetical consultancy type which will fail in the field test).

    I am for minimizing the Lokpal structure, bring all investigative agency expertise (CBI,Income tax, CAG,Enforcement director,CBCID etc) under monitoring of Lokpal and fight for empowerment and Independence of these agency.Save the money and complexity .

  18. I never understood why this is blackmail. Blackmail is when you threaten to harm someone else when they refuse to accede to your demands. Hazare is threatening to harm himself. It is precisely in a democracy that he has every right to do this. And the government has every right to refuse his demands. To me this to and fro indicates that Indian democracy is (relatively) healthy and sound.

  19. Revolution is inconsistent with the fabric of democratic decision-making. The greatest investment we can make towards the process of change is time. Change need not be sluggishly gradual, but it must not imply tumult and uprising, however much it may appeal to our sense of romance.

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