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A vibrant people's campaign against corruption

Last updated on: April 08, 2011 20:33 IST

Anna Hazare's campaign does not aim to change the government. It wants to change the system. If Hazare succeeds in this he will make a deep impact on the system, says Sandeep Pandey.

Anna Hazare's sitting on indefinite fast in Delhi has galvanised the middle-class of this country, which is most vocal against corruption but also the one responsible for most corruption in this country.

Corruption is a very contentious issue. Our morals tell us to oppose it but for convenience we often make a compromise, always giving ourselves the benefit of doubt. Former prime minister Chandrashekhar used to say that corruption can never become a political issue in this country. Yet, this country saw how Vishwanath Pratap Singh rode on a wave of anti-corruption campaign in the context of allegations of kickbacks in Bofors deal to displace the Congress Party from power at the Centre.

But Hazare's campaign has raised very interesting issues. His main demand is that a committee consisting members from civil society join politicians to draft the Lokpal Bill. Even though the government has been discussing the Lokpal Bill for the past 42 years the people are not happy with various versions of the bill. The civil society has been demanding a much more stringent bill.

The government's bill hardly empowers the Lokpal to take any action against the corrupt. Civil society wants a law which can punish the guilty within two years, recover the money made in corruption and includes the judiciary in its ambit. Obviously anybody part of the system would be jittery with such proposals.

The government lacks the will to accept the ideas of civil society because all political parties thrive on corruption. In fact, corruption sustains their politics. To accept the civil society proposal would mean radical changes in the way politics is carried out in this country. The civil society wants just that -- cleanse the system of the corrupt.

A theoretical question raised by some is how could civil society could put pressure on the government to make a certain law, not to talk of proposing a draft for the bill. It is being argued that it is prerogative of legislature to make laws. But when the people have lost faith in the legislature then what recourse is open to them? They could have reposed faith in judiciary but then judiciary too is fast losing its sheen.

The senior advocates Shanti and Prashant Bhushan claim that more than half the past 15 Supreme Court chief justices have been corrupt. When the people see the legislature, executive and judiciary taking them for a ride and media too being co-opted by the corrupt system, they have little choice but to demand participation in decision making.

The National Advisory Council is a body consisting of some civil society members which was formed during the tenure of last government. It has played very important role in drafting wonderful legislations like the RTI and NREGA. So, the question is why cannot members of civil society, outside of NAC, or in other words not people of government's choice, draft a Lokpal Bill? Actually, the NAC has already undertaken an exercise to formulate a draft of Lokpal Bill which is palatable to the civil society outside the NAC. The version is closer to the one being proposed by Anna Hazare's campaign than the government's version.

The government is reluctant to allow civil society members, not of its choice, become part of the drafting committee of a bill lest it might set a precedent and civil society might start demanding its share in drafting of every legislation.

But the government must realise that the situation has come to such a pass because of the nature of people who dominate politics these days. A relevant example is Sharad Pawar being made a member of Group of Ministers to consider drafting the Lokpal Bill. Hazare ridiculed him saying how can a corrupt minister be part of the drafting team of an anti-corruption legislation. The pressure created due to Hazare's statement in the backdrop of a nationwide movement forced Pawar to resign from the GoM.

The days of representative democracy are over. With RTI people had access to information, which was until then a prerogative of only the ruling elites. Now people want a role in decision making. There is no way government can resist the pressure for very long. Hopefully, this is the beginning of change of political character of this country.

With things becoming transparent and open questioning of the corrupt, there will be no incentive for the corrupt to enter politics. Genuine politicians will fill the seats in assemblies and Parliament. Right now it is the super rich, criminal and corrupt who are in majority. If instead of party identity of the MPs in parliament were to be divided between corrupt and non-corrupt, it is the corrupt who will form the government.

Hazare's campaign has received tremendous support from common people, like the Jayaprakash Narayan and V P Singh-led movements previously did. But unlike the previous two occasions there is no political person at the helm who can guide it in the right political direction. It may be argued that inspite of very sanguine leadership both times in the past, the movements soon degenerated into something worse than they had set out to replace when actual governments were formed.

This time it is more of a non-political movement which aims at systemic reform. It does not aim to change the government. It wants to change the system. If Hazare succeeds in this he will make a far deeper impact on the system than JP or VP did.

The response Hazare has received from youth is worth seeing. It is the same youth which was cheering the Indian cricket team till the other day at the World Cup. But now it is involved in anti-corruption campaign with equal passion. It is the not the concern to make the system more user friendly. Most of this youth is either in comfortable jobs or will land with one soon.

S/he is fired by the idealism to make the nation better. That is why a class of people who probably have never come out on streets for anything can be seen managing affairs at the protest sites and participating in them enthusiastically. They also have a recent experience to go by. They have seen what happened when people came out in Tahrir Square in Egypt. Of course, social media, a favourite with the youth, have played a key role in mobilisation, part of which is pouring in at the sit-ins.

Sandeep Pandey