The “Jan Lokpal Bill”- Its Validity And Surrounding Theatrics?

Posted on August 31, 2011 in Politics at Play

By Bano Fatima:

In keeping with the changing times, Indian middle class and the urban youth egged on by the Arab spring were inspired to come out in support of the ‘India against Corruption’ movement. Anna Hazare’s obstinate fast charged them beyond expression, as a result of whirlwind events he gratified their incessant search for a hero and grasped the position of an idol. Thus, the movement rode on Anna’s credibility, dynamism and psuedo-Gandhian magnetism.

This movement had every ingredient for the making of a ‘Great Indian Drama’, set in the backdrop of a rotten corruption-stricken system, and there came riding a knight in  shining armour- Anna Hazare, who led the helpless citizenry fight their evil oppressors- the UPA 2 and finally; the moment of ‘victory’, when the tyrant was brought  to its knees. Added to the spice was Ramdev, an elusive sage, who declared the creation of an army to counter the government; followed by stubborn Anna demands using the historically indefatigable tool of non-violence- fast unto-death.

All this, to wrestle the government which translated into a forceful ‘monster’, violating the law of the land- the Constitution; the vicious oppressor on the other hand, faced by self-inflicted internal crumbling and ‘external threat’, miserably failed at strategising and instead of pacifying its opposition, started working its way towards another sin: the Lokpal Bill 2011.

Adding gallons of fuel to the fire and to regain stability in these tumultuous events, the tyrant gave in to the initiation of the legislation (Jan Lokpal Bill) proposed by ‘civil society’, thus presenting an illusion of victory of the people. Adding special effects was the media which possesses the singular power to legitimise or delegitimize a situation and other actors like the NCPRI, which opted for a placatory and constitutionally sound ‘monster’ to challenge the villain’s latest sin. Thus, we witness a theatre unfolding on the Indian political stage.

Currently, the movement may be revelling in its triumph over the government, but there are several fundamental questions that need to be addressed: Firstly, is this really a victory? Or, is it just the starting point of a long road ahead? Secondly, does the end justify the un-constitutional and non-conciliatory means used to achieve it? Thirdly, are we right in establishing comparisons of this protest with historical movements led by Gandhiji? Also, was the movement a glimpse of the ‘real’ India? Lastly, in context of the need for decentralised governance as believed by Anna, is the Jan Lokpal a truly decentralised body? Or, is it a centralised body which will only manage addressing ‘big ticket’ scams?

In this context, I would like to quote Rajiv Gandhi: “The democratic way of nation building requires patience, perseverance and a spirit of conciliation.” This movement had all facets which could help it morph into a revolution aiming at political and institutional reform, but the spontaneity and verve of the movement failed to pursue the basic spirit of ‘nation-building’. After a short period of failed negotiations,  they went off on a completely different tangent, not agreeing for any sought after conciliation with the government, infringing on rules and procedures of the Indian legislature and using indirect coercion on the Parliament to speedily pass the Bill.

The government’s tentative consent on certain features of the Bill is being celebrated as victory. Assuming, after surviving lengthy parliamentary procedures, the Jan Lokpal is enacted in its original form the challenge lies in implementation. Corruption is not an isolated problem, it stems from various issues obliterating society, the test is to tackle these issues first and then aim at eradicating corruption. This process will take years if not decades; therefore every Indian must be patient in dealing with phases of success and failure.

Contrary to Anna’s belief in decentralisation, the Jan Lokpal seeks to create a centralised structure, almost a parallel bureaucracy which is mainly aimed at punishing corrupt officials, not targeting the root causes of corruption. Will the Lokpal and Lokayuktas have enough resources and time to tackle high level scams as well as a massive number of low level but daily corruption issues and grievances? It is going to be a colossal and utopian task.

Anna’s movement has been lauded as an immense expression of the middle class’s dissent with governance. However, the problem according to statistics is that the middle class turn-out for exercising their franchise is the least. This middle class attempt to bring about a change in democratic institutions without actively participating in electoral democracy is erroneous. Also, unlike the politically, socially and culturally plural movements led by Gandhiji, this movement’s appeal was limited as it failed to incorporate diverse strands of Indian society, thus reducing its mandate.

Finally, the absence of a smartly strategic, politically sound and consensual leadership within the UPA, led the coalition to commit a series of blunders, the most consequential was to stall a peaceful protest and put crusader Anna behind bars this among others brought about the eventual impasse. I believe that both the Lokpal and the Jan Lokpal Bills are at two extremes, and do not cater to what the country needs. A variety of anti- corruption institutions addressing the multifarious forms of corruption with an inherent system of checks and balance is desirable and in sync with the Ombudsman bill proposed by learned activist, Aruna Roy.

 

Sources:

  1. NCPRI proposed Lokpal Bill
  2. Jan Lokpal Bill by India Against Corruption
  3. Lokpal Bill, 2011

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