Thursday, 8 September 2011

I am Glad That Jan Lokpal Bill Is Not Passsed (In It's Current Form)

Please read the whole article before making any prompt comments & constructive criticism is welcome.

After Anna's three demands were considered by the Parliament, many people seem to have gone away happy and everybody is claiming a massive victory. I may be one among those few, who also kind of happy too, relieved I would say, mostly because I'm extremely happy that the Jan Lokpal Bill didn't go through Parliament in its current form. Apart from this, I am also worried about the one of the demand about adding all the lower level bureaucrats under the Jan Lokpal (reasons are explained below) and the other two demands (Lokayuktas in states and citizen charter) are already technically exist/active in few states.

If we come to the actual subject: there are many reasons with which we should be worried about the current form of Jan Lokpal draft proposed by Anna's team. Primary among them is the legislation itself, which I think is a pretty dangerous piece of work. So what we had in the  2 weeks ago was very general mobilisation about corruption, using people's anger, very real and valid anger against the system to push through this very specific legislation or to attempt to push through this very specific piece of legislation which is very, very regressive. But the problem ranges through a whole host of issues which has to do with history, politics, culture, symbolism.

Anna Hazare may be a man of character & integrity and I'm not questioning his commitment towards the 'desire' of eradication of the corruption.

But here the issue is not about honesty or dishonest..

Centralization of power has been the major catalyst for corruption or injustice or inequality, whether it's India, China etc.. May be, many of us not aware of the fact that China is more corrupted state (at higher levels) than India and indeed, in spite of the existence of stronger laws/bills than the Jan Lok Pal (they have death penalty for corruption). The more decentralization of power becomes, the lesser the chances of power being misused and "this is the law of nature". On the contrary, the current Jan Lok Pal bill wants all the independent institutions (CBI, Judiciary etc.) to come under one hat and clearly running into the risk of becoming authoritarian.

Inequality is another aspect inbuilt into our system. All these notions about who can command more resources have become part of our value system, and then our political system. Both are supported by our economic system. These constitute the basic structure of the society. It is this structure that keeps the poor poor and the rich rich. So, this/there has to be a fight(s) against the structural violence and should not end till the structure start to change to bridge the gap between two extremes.

So, first we have to question the structure. We see if there is a structural inequality happening, and we are not questioning that, and we're in fact fighting for laws that make that structural inequality more official, we have a serious problem. To give an example,  on the Chhattisgarh-Telangana border where the refugees from Operation Greenhunt have come out and underneath. So for them the issue is not whether Tata gave a bribe on his mining or Vedanta didn't give a bribe in his mining. The problem is that there is a huge problem in terms of how the mineral and water and forest wealth of India is being privatised, is being looted, even if it were non corrupt, there is a problem. So that's why we're just not coolly talking about Dantewada, there are many a other places like this, setting up 10 privatized thermal power plants in a remote district Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, by grabbing lands from farmers (with due Govt. permission) etc.. So this is not battles against corruption. There's something very, very serious going on. None of these issues were raised or even alluded to somehow.

We also have to separate the ongoing anti-corruption movement from the Jan Lokapal bill, as I don't even believe most people knew exactly what the provisions of the bill were, those who were part of the movement, very few in the media and on the ground. But if we study that bill carefully, you see the creation of a parallel oligarchy. We see that the Jan Lokpal itself, the ten people, the bench plus the chairman, they are selected by a pool of very elite people and they are elite people, I mean if we look at one of the phases which says the search committee, the committee which is going to shortlist the names of the people who will be chosen for the Jan Lokpal will shortlist from eminent individuals of such class of people whom they deem fit. So you create this panel from this pool, and then you have a bureaucracy which has policing powers, the power to tap your phones, the power to prosecute, the power to transfer, the power to judge, the power to do things which are really, and from the Prime Minister down to the bottom, it's really like a parallel power, which has lost the accountability, whatever little accountability a representative government might have.

The anger about corruption became so widespread and generalised that nobody looked at what, there was a sort of dissonance between the specific legislation and the anger that was bringing people there. So, you have a situation in which you have this powerful oligarchy with the powers of prosecution surveillance, policing. In the bill there's a small section which says budget, and the budget is 0.25 per cent of the Government of India's revenues, that works out to something like Rs 2500 crore. There's no break up, nobody is saying how many people will be employed, how are they going to be chosen so that they are not corrupt, you know, it's a sketch, it's a pretty terrifying sketch.

On the other hand, firstly, the fact that we need to define what do we mean by corruption, and then what does it mean to those who are dis-empowered and disenfranchised to get two oligarchies instead of one raiding over them.

Is it just financial irregularity or is it the currency of social transaction in a very unequal society? For example, corruption, some people, poor people in villages have to pay bribes to get their ration cards, to get their NREGA dues from very powerful vested interests. Then you a middle class, you have honest businessmen who cannot run an honest business because of all sorts of reasons, they are out there angry. You have a middle class which actually bribes to buy itself scarce favours and on the top you have the corporations, the politicians looting millions and mines and so on. But you also have a huge number of people who are outside the legal framework because they don't have pattas, they live in slums, they don't have legal housing, they are selling their wares on redis, so they are illegal and in an anti-corruption law, an anti-corruption law is naturally sort of pinned to an accepted legality. So we can talk about the rule of law when all our laws are designed to perpetuate the inequality that exists in Indian society. If we're not going to question that, we shouldn't be  really interested in the debate then.

So anti-corruption movement/bill fundamentally must address the service delivery to the poorest of the poor, it's about ensuring justice to the poorest of the poor, because they are the bulk of the India (70 - 80%) and they are the people who are facing injustice since decades. Some people are saying, this is the reason, Anna's team or others are talking about provisions for the lower bureaucracy. The lower bureaucracy is going to be brought into the Lokpal, they're going to have a state level Lokayukta, so there is an attempt within the Lokpal Bill to go right down to the level of the poorest of the poor and then we can police even those functionaries who deal with the very poor.

But I think it's very complicated because the troubles that are besetting our country today are not going to be solved by policing and by complaint booths, especially at the lower level (it may work at higher level). But, at the lower level, we have to come up with something where you can assure people that we're not going to set up another bureaucracy which is going to be equally corrupt. When somebody have one brother in BJP, one  more brother in Congress, sister in administration, one cousin in police, and another relative in Lokpal, we would like to see how that's going to be managed at lower level, this law is very sketchy about that. 

It's nice that youth, especially from cities are rendering their sympathies and support to the Jan Lak Pal bill.. but how many of them have read the 30 pages of Jan Lok Pal bill and understood the detailed implications of it on Administration, Judiciary and Parliamentary institutions ? How many of these also walked to the polling booths, when elections are conducted. In all Indian metropolitan cities, the average polling percentages never crossed 40% (majorly from Auto waala, lower working class, poor people, rigging etc.) and that's the status of social responsibility of the corporate driven young India and private working class in India.

For governance to improve, good politics must be in command. Populism can only mobilize people; but politics empowers them. Civil society has the right and responsibility to seek a responsive state, not shun politics, nor seek to replace it through prime-time populism.

Changing the status of politics/bureaucracy from bad to good, may be a complex and long process in a democratic polity like ours, but we shouldn't constantly hate politicians/bureaucrats and resort to short-cut methodological solutions. In fact, we must inspire ourselves to change from begging status to demanding status and earn the militant attitude of reacting to the socioeconomic issues at the ground level, with long term goals. We've a major tendency to blame the politics/politicians and 'always' tried to correct the 'state/raajyam' by bringing new bills/acts, which may be needed ("like Lok Pal bill"). However will not produce any desirable results, unless until we parallelly bring reforms in the institutions ('vyavastha').

If we remember in the early 90s when they began on this path of liberalisation and privatisation. The government itself kept saying, 'Oh, we're so corrupt. We need a systemic change, we can't not be corrupt,' and that systemic change was privatisation. When privatisation has shown itself to be more corrupt than, we mean the levels of corruption have jumped so high, the solution is not systemic. It's either moral or it's more privatisation, more reforms. People are calling for the second round of reforms for the removal of the discretionary powers of the government. So if we think that's a very interesting that we're not looking at it structurally, we're looking at it morally and we're trying to push whatever few controls there are or took the way once again for the penetration of international capital.

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