Can a Lokpal Bill end corruption?
about corruption in India usually take a cosmetic approach. The
three draft Bills by the Government, Anna Hazare and Aruna Roy
represent various hues of that cosmetics. Foe corruption in India
is a little deeper than
Although the Manmohan Singh
government has been battered and bruised by its inept handling of
civil society activists, the latter's claim of being harbingers of
a second independence movement has also begun to wear thin.
The terms to which Anna Hazare agreed while negotiating with the
government while in Tihar Jail - that he will not undertake a
fast-unto-death and that his hunger-strike will be medically
monitored - represent a climb-down. It is too early to say whether
a conditional fast will affect his reputation. But there is little
doubt that some of the hype associated with his movement will be
Not only that. After an initial spell of enthusiasm - the
gathering of thousands in various cities, the candlelight
processions - contrary voices are gradually being heard. It isn't
the politicians alone who have voiced their disquiet over the
denigration of parliament, with Lalu Prasad making the point most
emphatically. There are a number of others, too, who can also be
regarded as members of civil society and are speaking out against
Anna Hazare's holier-than-thou attitude even if they endorse his
Again, it is too early to say how all this will pan out if only
because India has never seen this kind of popular upsurge earlier.
The only comparison can be with Jayaprakash Narayan's movement in
1975, but since it was quickly crushed by the Emergency, there was
no knowing how much of a success it would have been.
At the same time, its indirect achievement in ensuring the
Congress's defeat in 1977, and especially those of Indira Gandhi
and Sanjay Gandhi personally, the two prime movers of the
Emergency, was evidence enough of its mass base. But Indira's and
Sanjay's return to power in 1980 suggested that the people might
have overreacted three years earlier.
The JP story, therefore, was an incomplete one. Whether the Anna
Hazare story will be the same or turn out to be different cannot
be said for certain. However, two things are clear. For one, the
Congress is different today from what it was in the 1970s. Hence
its willingness to admit that it made a mistake in treating the
activists rather roughly.
For another, India today is also different. Four decades ago, the
snail-paced, two-to-three percent 'Hindu rate of growth' made the
country a dull and depressing place. The middle class was a
silent, minuscule group, which was largely apathetic politically.
Presumed by the rest of the world as virtually a Soviet satellite
and with the economy in doldrums, the country lacked prestige
externally and a sense of direction internally.
Now, the scene is totally different. The middle class - who have
enjoyed the fruits of the path-breaking reforms initiated by
Manmohan Singh in 1991 as finance minister under then prime
minister P.V. Narasimha Rao - is a large, vibrant section
comprising 300 million and is hugely active politically as the
vociferous support for Anna Hazare by many of its members shows.
It is also eager for change because it feels that the government's
corrupt image is undermining its external prestige. Since Indian
passport holders are now treated far more deferentially abroad
than before, the middle class has become conscious of upholding
and burnishing the country's reputation.
The third point is somewhat tricky. Although both the Congress and
the country have changed from their earlier avatars, the same
cannot be said about the images of JP and Anna Hazare. The two
reflect one another in their impractical otherworldliness. Just as
JP favoured partyless democracy - a phrase which is a
contradiction in terms in the context of modern functioning
democracies - Hazare, too, does not seem to have much time for
elections, the lifeblood of a democracy.
Besides, he is openly contemptuous of them, describing the voters
as bikaau or purchasable, who can be bought over with liquor and
saris by the MPs and MLAs. This disdain for democracy perhaps
explains why the Jan Lokpal of his dreams is a gargantuan
institution virtually above parliament, government and judiciary
since it will have the authority to investigate and punish all and
sundry, from a peon to the prime minister.
Arguably, for all these laudable intentions, Anna has overreached
himself and, thereby, given the government an opportunity to trip
him up. The reticence of the opposition MPs on Hazare's version of
the ombudsman even as they pilloried the government's "draconian"
handling of the activists was a noteworthy feature of the
However, Hazare's hyperboles may still have their uses, for they
are bound to make the government firm up its own Lokpal bill, now
before a parliamentary standing committee. This is the salutary
outcome of the current tussle since it is likely to produce an
effective ombudsman - something which the political class has
avoided doing since a Lokpal bill was first introduced in 1968.
is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)