Anna's battle is every Indian's battle
- Minhaz Merchant
Times of India, 30th July, 2012.
Anna Hazare's battle against corruption isn't just his battle. It's every Indian's battle. If Anna fails, we fail. Politicians across party lines stand to lose most if the movement succeeds in getting a strong Lokpal Bill legislated in parliament.
Anna is a catalyst in the fight to mitigate corruption in public life. He has no personal motive, no personal gain, no financial interest. Instead of criticising his methods, help him improve them. No one is perfect – certainly not Anna and his team members.
But most of them are a lot better than the 162 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 39 MPs in the Rajya Sabha (www.adrindia.org) who have criminal charges against them. Some of these charges are politically motivated. But many are not.
For example, 75 Lok Sabha MPs, again cutting across party lines, face court-framed charges of murder, rape, extortion, kidnapping and dacoity. No wonder many parliamentarians are dead set against Anna and his anti-corruption crusade. They will do anything to discredit his movement.
And in this task they have found witting and unwitting abettors in sections of the media and the intelligentsia. All have one trait: they mock Anna but have no alternative to offer in India's battle against corruption. Some are so witless they don't even realise how wrong they've got it.
Anna is not the problem. The system is. Anna's prescription may not be perfect. But it's every citizen's job to help improve it. The government, as a beneficiary of institutionalised corruption, isn't going to go out of its way to do so.
Take just one example to illustrate the serious nature of the court-framed charges many Lok Sabha MPs face. Kameshwar Baitha of the JMM has 11 charges related to murder and 17 charges related to attempt to murder filed against him.
As many at 28 ministers in Akhilesh Yadav's UP cabinet have criminal cases pending against them. The most notorious is Raja Bhaiya who has 45 criminal cases against him. He spent three years in jail on POTA charges and is today UP's Food and Civil Supplies Minister.
It is such politicians who threaten our democracy and our institutions – not Team Anna members with their inflated travel vouchers and income-tax arrears due to a technical interpretation of paid study leave for a then-IRS officer.
It has been obvious since Indira Gandhi's government first introduced – but did not legislate – the Lokpal Bill in 1968 that politicians fear a strong, independent Lokpal. Their argument, parroted by their media handmaidens, is that the Lokpal will be a monstrous bureaucracy accountable to no one.
This of course is nonsense. The Lokpal would be accountable in five ways as I wrote in The Times of India this February (New grid of governance). First, through an internal complaints redressal authority; second, via an annual performance and financial audit by CAG; third, through a Lokpal appellate bench; fourth, from overall jurisdiction of the Lokpal bench by the High Courts and the Supreme Court; and fifth, through a special parliamentary committee.
The Lokpal is obviously not a panacea as some Congress spokesmen say sotto voce to deliberately obfuscate the issue. It would be just one of five powerful instruments in the integrated, interlocked grid of governance that would include the EC, CAG, the new proposed National Judicial Commission (NJC) and an independent CBI as analysed in detail in The Times piece cited above.
An independent CBI is central to this interlocked governance grid. With the Lokpal excercising jurisdictional oversight, the CBI would thus be accountable to an independent statutory authority which itself would be subject not only to the five internal checks and balances outlined above but to the discipline of being part of an integrated, interlocked governance grid.
Some critics warn that 40,000 extra staff will be needed to man the Lokpal body. This is a deliberate falsehood. In the interlocked grid model, no more than 1,000 new staff will be needed to investigate and allow prosecution of complaints against 60 lakh central government employees (including 78 Union Ministers and Ministers of State).
The reason? An independent CBI will, under the Lokpal body's supervision, investigate cases forwarded by the Lokpal bench. Special fast-track courts will prosecute them. State Lokayuktas, with similar mechanisms, will supervise the investigation and prosecution of state-level public servants through local CIDs and courts. These institutions already have adequate personnel which the Lokpal will deploy.
Remember too that police autonomy has been mandated by the Supreme Court in September 2006 under a seven-directive order. When it is implemented by the government – a contempt of court petition against non-compliance is pending in the Supreme Court – not only will the CBI be freed of political control, so will state CIDs.
The Mumbai and Delhi police forces alone have over 40,000 personnel each so a central Lokpal body with 1,000 staff and a 7-member bench (not one individual "Lokpal" as some motivated reports misleadingly claim) hardly constitutes a bureaucratic monstrosity.
The so-called elite – intellectual, media, business – disparage Anna because he is not "people like us". This wannabe-elite is comfortable with the status quo with its cosy nepotism, clubbiness and rich pickings.
A red herring is meanwhile used by the government: "Team Anna members are themselves corrupt – people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones". That unthinking logic would disqualify 90% of the police force from arresting criminals because the police themselves take bribes. Only the corrupt use this spurious argument to deflect the accusations they have no real answers for.
Those who castigate Team Anna for denigrating our institutions are falling into the trap set by politicians: discredit the largely honest whistleblower and therefore by default exonerate the largely dishonest politician.
MPs are lawmakers. They are elected to uphold standards of public life not lower them. As public servants, they exist to serve citizens. "In a democracy," as US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter declared, "the highest office is the office of the citizen."
Indian public servants – including the Prime Minister and his cabinet – are subordinate to every Indian citizen. The poorest, most destitute Indian is more important than the President of India. That is the way real democracy operates. It is a principle leaders in democracies with long histories like US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron uphold every working day.
In contrast, some of the comments made by government ministers against Anna's anti-corruption movement border on the infantile. The MoS in the PMO, V. Narayanasamy, said of Anna's fast: "It is an attempt fool the people." He added: "It is good they told very openly today they are forming a political party. Their intentions are exposed."
Fasting as a protest against corruption and forming a political party are both entirely legitimate. That a government minister can categorise either in the way he did says more about Narayanasamy than Anna.
And yet there are those in the chattering classes who support this unhinged government reaction rather than encouraging a movement against corruption which, if put on the right track, could improve all our lives.
Then there are those, in the government and the media, who insouciantly challenge Anna's team members to stand for election. But if fighting an election were a criterion for fighting corruption, every activist and – yes – every journalist who exposed corruption would need to first get elected. Such is the thoughtlessness – deliberate and inadvertent – that has lowered the standard of argument over the anti-corruption movement.
Whose side are we on? An imperfect Anna fighting our battle? Or a corruption-riddled political system? If Anna is not doing the job of fighting corruption well enough, help him do it better. Don't help the corrupt by denigrating a movement's methods when the end is just.
Since April 2011, the UPA government has dealt with Anna's movement with deception and bad faith. Corruption is the leitmotif of the political ecosystem. That is why politicians have tried continuously to splinter this citizen's movement. United, citizens would win. Divided, a corrupt government will win.
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