Now, not just worried but also angry with IAC and Anna
I began to get seriously worried about “India Against Corruption” and “Team Anna” when I spoke to Prahlad Pandey last week. Prahlad is a young enthusiastic FTI member and now a full-fledged political activist. Many of you would remember him as the hero of a lone man’s fight against the “system”. But when I spoke to Prahlad last week, I became seriously worried. He was enthusiastically planning for August 16th, he told me. When I asked does he not feel uncomfortable about this, knowing that after all corruption is just a symptom and the root causes lie elsewhere, he said something about Anna’s next campaign being about state funding of elections.
I have been reflecting on this since the last few days…Now, I am not just worried about Anna and IAC, I am positively angry with them.
Angry for barking at the wrong tree. Angry for selling the idea that one Lokpal bill can solve the deep-rooted corruption that plagues India. Angry for avoiding any mention of directly seeking people’s mandate by putting up candidates for elections. Angry, in short – for being either naïve or devious in deliberately misleading their supporters.
Let me lay out the case against IAC in black-and-white. The first charge? An over-simplification of the problem. And what is this problem? It is “Big Government”. It is an intrusive government. It is a Mai-Baap government. It is a government that believes it is the sole repository of wisdom. It is a government that gets advice from a shadowy, non-elected “Advisory Council”. It is a government that is too big for its own good. As Tavleen Singh mentioned in a recent article,
Real corruption in India relates almost entirely to government ..To destroy it, what we need are not more laws and yet another anti-corruption bureaucracy but a clear and transparent regulatory framework. This does not exist. Officials do not want it to exist because it reduces their chances of earning great wealth. …Why have Hazare and his team of crusaders been so silent on the UP health scandal? A member of the team gave us last week a 5000 page (phew!) report on the mining sector in Karnataka detailing official collusion in creating a cartel. He would have done better (and cost taxpayers less) had he told us in a few simple sentences that had there been a clear and transparent mining policy, there would have been no scandal.
She concludes with these lines which should be etched in bold:
Corruption…must be fought. But, the only way to fight it is by dismantling, bit by bit, the evil empire that has been created by decades of crony socialism. Whether it is in the matter of land acquisition, whether in mining and whether in massive, unwieldy government welfare programmes, wherever you see corruption, you will see that it comes from too many government controls not too few. Is it ideological blinkers that prevent Anna and his team from seeing this or plain stupidity?
I cannot believe that Anna and his team do not understand this. Why are they then fighting the wrong battle? For what purpose? And why are not right-thinking people standing up and exposing this “movement” that is beginning to look more and more like a charade?
Is it because of a dangerous (and insidious) “convergence of causes”, in the words of Offstumped, between the “well organized Left Liberal intellectual establishment and the cacophony of civil society activist voices”?
Are the right-thinking quiet “for fear of being accused of being insensitive or not inclusive enough” or for fear of being branded as heartless capitalists, government stooges, cowards – and worst, corrupt?
Let me say this aloud…The Jan Lok Pal as a super-cop is a DANGEROUS AND DUMB idea.
It will do NOTHING to catch the big fish. It will paralyse decision-making by putting the fear of God in the minds of otherwise honest and hard-working officials. And it may end up overloading the already over-burdened judicial system to the extent of crippling it.
Why is this so hard to understand? Or is it that the farce has now gone on for so long that it is difficult to reel it back in?
In a news-report week, Arvind Kejriwal was quoted as saying,
(Team Anna)..have given a call for mass agitation with tearing and burning of government’s Lokpal bill — to be started by Anna Hazare himself — …In an open letter, RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, a member of Team Anna, has said: “It is more than evident that our Government is unwilling to enact a strong law against corruption. Because if they did so, many of them would face imprisonment. There is a serious conflict of interest.”“Anna’s fast from August 16 is our last hope. We can’t afford to fail this time. For if we fail, we may never get another chance. It is now or never,” said Kejriwal
Arvind got it wrong…and I sense he was being deliberately over-dramatic. There is a simple way to make the government do what you want – be the government; get in power. That is actually the hard way – much much harder than fasts. Much less glamorous than tearing and burning bills. And it will take much longer than a few months of protests…and no amount of burning paper is likely to get any of us closer to that.
To face up to India’s myriad challenges – and let us face it, corruption is just one part of it, we need a new set of people in the government – so that we don’t have to resort to burning bills and emotional blackmail. Unlike Arvind, Anna, IAC members and me, the men and women in Lok Sabha are there because someone voted for them. To challenge them, we will need to take the fight to the electoral battleground. We will need to win the hearts and mind of the people – and their votes. This is much harder than playing up to the gallery (with solutions that appear like they may work but will pretty much be pointless) but it is perhaps the only way to bring about sustained change.
Let IAC and Team Anna make it their mission to groom and prepare candidates to contest the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Let them use their vast network, reach and captive audience to help spread the message of minimum government and maximum governance; of economic freedoms, of individual liberties…Let them work towards dismantling government controls; not towards building “another government institution which will have supreme executive power to investigate and punish the corrupt”. Let them use their formidable marketing and fund-raising skills to build a credible challenge to the system. Let them work with Freedom Team and parties such as Loksatta, Jago and others to ensure that such a challenge is credible. Let them leverage their goodwill to bring about fundamental, systemic reform rather than just one Lokpal bill. And if they do this, I will be one of the first ones to fast for this cause.
Please also read The Jan Lokpal Bill: Good intentions and the road to hell – written by a lawyer and Jan Lok Pal – Caveat Emptor
UPDATE: There is a seductive email doing the rounds titled, “Why I support Anna Hazare and you should too?”. I received it just a few hours back and could not help notice the tempting but fundamentally wrong arguments it made… Below, some excerpts and my rebuttal…
While outlining the case for a LokPal, the email mentions:
If we were to try obtaining justice through the courts, we are faced with many practical difficulties as well as rules and regulations to protect the corrupt.
Surely the way to fix this is judicial reform and fewer regulation, rather than another super-cop? And why create another body in the first place? Why not have CVC as an “independent” organisation? Why another over-arching structure?
The email also talks about a “nine-member panel and an eleven member apex panel” Who decides who these “eminent” people are? What if they themselves form a cabal to protect certain interests? Will we then have another cop to supervise the “super-cop”?
The email also mentions how “The Jan Lokpal Bill is written and revised by eminent lawyers, judges, social activists and civil society members with vast experience in these matters.” This made me sputter…What is this supposed to mean? That we, the ignorant (and unintelligent) public must accept it as the ONLY way to deal with corruption? What makes “social activists” and “civil society” members experts in law? and experts in dealing with matters that are essentially political in nature (as corruption is) or are we to believe that corruption is a “social” evil – and we Indians are like that only?
The email also states how “Powerful leaders from all political parties, many government officials and other influential people have vested interest in ensuring that Jan Lokpal Bill is not passed…They do not want to be held accountable for their own corruption and want to continue milking the system for their own benefit. They do not want the ordinary people to be empowered to fight corruption.”
Now, I am neither a powerful political leader, nor a government official (although I used to be one) and do not consider myself as particularly influential. I am not “milking any system” and I do want ordinary people to be “empowered to fight corruption” (“empowered” is a very seductive term but be aware – if all of us are empowered to do everything, govt will stop functioning) and I have no “vested” interest in this matter – save for the fact that it affects me as a citizen of India. I still oppose this bill. Just as I oppose other similar over-bearing measures.
And for the record, I am as much against the government’s own proposal as I am against IAC. We do not need a Jan LokPal (either a government version or the IAC version). What we need is better implementation of existing laws and a speedy judicial system – and political will. Gujarat has become almost corruption free without a LokPal and without an “eleven member apex panel“. Other states can become so too..as can India.
P.S. The most worrying bit in the email? That “Anna Hazare is not after public office”. If all Anna wants is “..fair play, the rule of law, justice and dignity for the ordinary people who are suffering because of corruption” surely he MUST stand for public office, no? and help in prosecuting the crooks and the corrupt? Why does he chose to fast instead? Answers, anyone?