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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

What is the Real Goal of the Anna Movement?

From SACW
by Rohini Hensman 
Many people including members of Team Anna have expressed reservations about the way in which their campaign has been developing, and some have even resigned. This raises questions about the real aim of the leadership around Anna. Is it really what it is proclaimed to be?
Is the aim to get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed by parliament?
Team Anna has repeatedly stated that they have just a one-point agenda: to get the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLB) passed. According to a detailed report, [1] the bill is actually the brain-child of Arvind Kejriwal, who joined the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) when it was working on the Right to Information (RTI) Bill, and was later delegated, along with others, to draft a Lokpal Bill. However, he parted company with the rest of the team when they did not agree with him that the judiciary should come under the scrutiny of the Lokpal. As Justice A.P. Shah explains, the NCPRI feels that corruption in the judiciary should be dealt with by a strengthened Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill. [2] Kejriwal was unconvinced, and went on to draft the bill with inputs from Prashant and Shanti Bhushan. He also succeeded in getting the full support of anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare.
Since the bill is so crucial to the campaign, it is worth asking: what are the chances that it could actually become law? Most people who support the bill have not read it, and those who have taken the trouble to do so find it deeply flawed. One legal expert who attended consultations about the bill and, along with others, made criticisms of it that were apparently not heeded, felt the flaws were so glaring that the movement could not possibly be about the bill. The Lokpal takes over functions of the legislature (parliament) and judiciary, thus violating the basic structure of the separation of powers which is fundamental to the constitution of a liberal democracy. This structure cannot completely prevent the abuse of power, but it does put in place certain checks and balances, and thus creates obstacles to the seizure of absolute power by any state institution. Abuse of power by the Jan Lokpal would be almost inevitable, given that it would have the power to determine, arbitrarily, a punishment for corruption between 6 months and life imprisonment. Thus even if the JLB were to be passed by parliament, it would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional because it violates the principle of the separation of powers. Even if it were not struck down, it would by no means end corruption, because ’You are creating an institution that becomes impervious to being challenged for corruption or for abuse of power.’[3]
In other places, the drafting is extremely vague. For example, the establishment of Lokayuktas is mentioned only in the last two-and-a-half lines, where the bill merely says that the provisions would be same as for the setting up of the Lokpal! But the main criticism of the bill, according to Usha Ramanathan, is the nature of the power it would establish: ’RTI said every one of us can take our destiny into our hands to the extent that we are able to find the energies. Lokpal says, "You become a subject of mine, I will protect you from corruption." So if the Lokpal doesn’t succeed, I can’t do anything for myself. That’s the fundamental difference. If you do not democratise control over corruption, you cannot control corruption.’ (see[3]).
The demand that the JLB should be passed by parliament unchanged cannot, then, be a serious one, given the draconian nature of the bill and its lack of constitutionality on one hand, and its sloppy drafting on the other. It could gain so much traction at least in part because the vast majority of its supporters did not read it. If the real goal had been to pass the bill in parliament, it would have been drafted with greater care.
Is the goal a broader democratic transformation?
The fact that electoral reform, with the incorporation of the right to reject and recall candidates, was proposed by Team Anna soon after Hazare called off his fast at the end of August suggested that the team might be planning to campaign on a range of democratic rights issues. Promising to send representatives to Manipur to find out whether it was worthwhile for the team to support Irom Sharmila’s struggle strengthened this impression.
One of the first indications that this would be an illusion came in NDTV’s ’We the People’ edition on ’Gandhigiri in the Age of Violence’ on 2 October. During the discussion, ex-police officer Kiran Bedi said categorically, ’I can’t believe the Indian army would kill an Indian for the sake of killing.’ Coming in the wake of revelations in the mass media that this is precisely what has been taking place, and has resulted in thousands of unmarked graves in Kashmir, [4] Bedi’s public defence of the impunity granted by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) brings into question her commitment to fundamental rights. When Sajjad Lone commented that ’All the killings that the army has done are not of militants,’ she conceded, ’Could be! I’ve done encounters too. When I go for an encounter, I have to take it on, and I can go wrong and I can go right.’ The issue of human rights is nowhere on her radar, nor the idea that the root cause of corruption is excessive power and the freedom to abuse it with impunity.
However, the most dramatic proof that the team could not work together on broader issues surfaced on 12 October, when Prashant Bhushan was assaulted by members of the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena (BSKS) and Sri Ram Sene in his chambers at the Supreme Court, in the full glare of TV cameras that had come to film an interview with him. [5] A visibly shocked and shaken Bhushan afterwards told reporters that they attacked him because he had advocated a plebiscite in Kashmir, and said that if the majority wanted to separate from India, they should be allowed to do so. The organisations too claimed the attack, and explained it in the same way. Everyone condemned the assault, but Anna’s condemnation was curiously lukewarm, because he added that the attackers ‘should not have taken the law into their own hands. They should have taken recourse to the law.’ The implication - that he agreed with the politics of the attackers but not with their methods, and that possibly the sedition law should have been used against Bhushan - was made clearer subsequently, when he proclaimed that Kashmir was an integral part of India, and he was ready to die or go to war with Pakistan to keep it so. His suggestion that the core group would have to discuss whether Bhushan would be allowed to stay on in the group [6] was quickly withdrawn, but not quickly enough to avoid giving the impression that he considered airing such views a serious offence.
Shanti Bhushan stood by his son, but other members of the team hastened to distance themselves from Prashant Bhushan’s views on Kashmir. Once again, despite the backdrop of revelations about ghastly human rights violations in Kashmir, they did not mention state atrocities. One may disagree with Bhushan that a plebiscite would guarantee the democratic rights of all Kashmiris - if 51 percent want to join Pakistan and 49 percent do not, what happens to the democratic rights of the 49 percent? - but at least he recognises that the people of Kashmir have democratic rights. Yet with the exception of Shanti Bhushan, no one else in Team Anna spoke up in his defence. Even more disturbing was the fact that it was he, the victim of violence, whose continued membership in the campaign was questioned, whereas there was no suggestion that the perpetrators of the violence - who were also part of India Against Corruption and had put up pictures of themselves at Tihar jail demonstrating for Anna Hazare - should not be part of the campaign. Indeed, no one else in Team Anna acknowledged that photographs of BSKS leader Tejinder Pal Singh Bagga with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and L.K.Advani can be found on the internet, showing clearly where his political affiliation lies. [7]
With such serious differences on the issue of fundamental rights, it is clear that the Anna movement could not campaign on a broader democratic transformation without falling apart. This cannot therefore be its goal.
Is the aim to curb corruption?
Curbing corruption was certainly the goal of a large part of the movement, including members of its leadership. This section would consider the campaign of August 2011 a success if it resulted in the government passing a strong Lokpal Bill (not necessarily the JLB) in the winter session of parliament, along with supplementary anti-corruption legislation. However, the decision by Kejriwal, Hazare and others to campaign against Congress in the parliamentary by-election in Hisar in September - before the government had had a chance to pass a Lokpal Bill - made it clear that another section of the leadership had a different goal. As Hartosh Singh Bal comments, according to Kejriwal, ’ "Except the Congress, give your vote to any of the other 44 candidates in the fray. Do not worry excessively that there are corrupt individuals among the candidates. If they win, the Lokpal Bill will send them to jail" 10 October 2011. Let us try and understand Kejriwal’s logic (if it can be termed that)—as long as the Congress is kept out, it does not matter that corrupt politicians are elected to Parliament. In fact, to take this argument to its logical conclusion, Kejriwal seems to suggest that if enough corrupt non-Congress politicians are elected, they will pass a Lokpal Bill that will ensure they are sent to jail.’ [8]
Justice Santosh Hegde immediately condemned the move, pointing out that Congress had not been given time to pass the Lokpal Bill, that the other two candidates in the fray were not above board, and that if Kejriwal and Anna felt compelled to campaign in elections, they should simply campaign for the best candidate and not against any particular party. [9] Two more prominent activists, P.V. Rajagopal and Rajinder Singh, decided to quit the core committee, objecting to the political turn taken by the campaign and complaining that they had not been consulted about it. [10] Indeed, given that the main beneficiary of a campaign against Congress would be the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had as many or more corruption-tainted ministers as Congress, it would be correct to say that this was a party political campaign rather than a campaign against corruption.
However, the most persuasive evidence that the aim of the campaign is not to curb corruption comes from what might be called ’the inflated travel bill scam’. On 20 October, the Indian Express broke the story that Kiran Bedi had routinely been travelling on discount airfares but charging her hosts full fare or even business class fares. [11] Her first line of defence was that she was doing this with the knowledge and consent of her hosts, thus ’saving’ money and passing it on to her NGO, India Vision Foundation (IVF). [12] But it subsequently emerged that not only did her hosts not consent to her inflated travel bills, but some were indignant when they discovered, for example, that she was trying to get them to pay twice over for the same journey, and charging business class fares on a flight that did not have business class. [13] Former Chief Justice S.J.Verma commented that claiming reimbursement of money you have not spent is unacceptable, but Bedi’s justification for doing so was even more upsetting: if you pick a person’s pocket and give the money to someone else, does that mean you haven’t committed the offence of pickpocketing? [14]
Apparently sensing that passing off profits as reimbursement was not merely unethical but might be illegal, the trustees of IVF instructed her to return the extra money and refrain from inflating her travel bills in future. Bedi made this announcement, but botched it by saying that her travel agent Anil Bal, who was also a founder-member of IVF, would return the money. Bal objected strongly to the insinuation that he was responsible for the inflated bills, and to the ’bizarre’ order that he return the excess money, saying that he had no transactions with Bedi’s hosts. He said he was returning the money in the IVF account forthwith, and resigned both from being a trustee of IVF and from being their travel agent. [15] Meanwhile Kejriwal, who had taken two years’ paid study leave from his job in the Income Tax Department on the strength of a Rs 9-lakh bond that he would return and work for them for three years, but had instead gone on to work for his NGO Parivartan, (see [1]), was trying (unsuccessfully) to evade payment of the bond. [16]
If Bedi’s and Kejriwal’s rants against ’the corrupt’ had not been so strident, if the JLB had concentrated on big-ticket corruption instead of aiming to prosecute every clerk or linesman who took Rs 50 extra to do the work they were required to do, these deviations from the straight and narrow path might have been considered trivial, but in the circumstances, they made Bedi and Kejriwal appear hypocritical. To make matters worse, instead of distancing himself from Bedi, as he had from Bhushan, Anna defended her and instead blamed a ’gang of four’ in the government for the debacle! [17] It was clear from the start that the real root of corruption - unaccountable power and impunity - were not the target of the campaign, but these recent developments demonstrate that for some of its leaders, it is not even about curbing corruption in the narrower sense of financial irregularities. If that were the aim, the first requirement would be to ensure that members of Anna’s own team had nothing to hide.
Is the goal regime change?
All the evidence suggests that the real goal of these members of Team Anna is regime change, and that, too, not in the weak sense of a change of government, but in the much stronger sense of constitutional change.
The campaign in Hisar was only one of many instances in which Congress was targeted; Anna blamed the government for the story of Bedi’s inflated travel bills instead of giving credit to the Indian Express for its exposé; and Kejriwal insinuated that Congress was responsible even for the assault on Prashant Bhushan, despite manifest evidence that it was launched by right-wing activists close to the BJP. Meanwhile, the BJP has escaped criticism despite the fact that one of its chief ministers (Karnataka) was in jail for corruption, a second (Uttarakhand) had to be dismissed due to corruption charges, and a third (Gujarat) failed to appoint a Lokayukta for seven years and then opposed the Lokayukta chosen by the Chief Justice, wanting instead to appoint a person who was subservient to him. Kejriwal and Bedi said that ’RSS people’ were welcome to join their movement as Indians, [18] even as it emerged that Yedyurappa allocated about Rs 50 crore worth of land that had been reserved for other purposes to six RSS-affiliated organisations and seven leaders from an RSS background at throwaway prices while 350,000 genuine applicants waited in the queue! [19] It is hard to escape the impression that the campaign is aimed at bringing down the UPA government and installing a BJP-led government, which is precisely why Rajinder Singh resigned, saying that Team Anna had departed from its original objective and had become involved in ’power brokering’. [20]
However, it is not just Congress that is cast as the enemy, but also constitutional democracy. Interviewed about why he was insisting that his own bill be passed without discussion or debate in parliament, Anna was simply unable to grasp why discussion or debate was needed; so far as he was concerned, he wanted the bill passed, and therefore it should be passed. This was how he ruled his village, and this was how he wanted to rule the country. Put beside his contempt for the electorate and elections, one gets a strong impression of hostility towards parliamentary democracy. When Kejriwal was asked by Karan Thapar (in ’Devil’s Advocate’, CNN-IBN on 9 October), whether Anna was above parliament, Kejriwal replied immediately that he was. Then, for good measure, he added, ’Every citizen is above parliament.’ But if every citizen is above parliament, why have parliament at all?
Add to all this the fact that the JLB makes parliament subservient to an unelected panel of guardians, and the relentless targeting of MPs by Bedi in her ghunghat act at the Ramlila grounds, and the sentiments expressed by these members of Team Anna are not so different from Mussolini’s statement that parliament ’is a plague-boil that poisons the blood of the country.’ In an essay on ‘Ur-fascism’, Umberto Eco had predicted that "In our future there looms qualitative TV or Internet populism, in which a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the ’voice of the people’ . . . As a result of its qualitative populism, Ur-Fascism has to oppose ‘rotten’ parliamentary governments…Every time a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the ’voices of the people’, there is a suspicion of Ur-fascism." [21] In this context, demands for the right to reject and recall candidates, which Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Qureshi has said would destabilise the country, [22] appear to be an attempt to make parliamentary democracy so expensive and unstable that it collapses.
The Sangh Parivar has always wanted to overthrow the present constitution, and would also cheer on Anna’s declaration that he would be willing to go to war with Pakistan and fight to the death to ensure that Kashmir remains an integral part of India (regardless of what Kashmiris might want). Anna’s vision of a society ordered by caste hierarchy coincides with theirs. As Jyotirmaya Sharma observes perceptively, ’Hazare is the leader of "banal Hindutva" . . . What Hazare is knowingly or unknowingly doing is to become the informal recruitment centre for the harder versions of Hindutva. By making "banal Hindutva" honourable, Hazare has begun the process of making the harder versions of Hindutva more acceptable and legitimate. The collateral damage . . . will be Indian democracy.’ [23]
This does not mean that there is no rivalry between Anna and the Sangh Parivar. Hazare has been unhappy with the RSS for trying to steal his thunder with their claims to have mobilised people for his movement, while the RSS has objected to the involvement of minorities in the anti-corruption movement. But they need each other. It is clear to the RSS that the issue of a Ram temple no longer has popular resonance, and Advani’s yatra has fallen flat because everybody knows that the BJP is mired in corruption; they need Anna’s clean image to win them votes. On the other side, Anna does not have the cadre to mobilise crowds, nor does he have a party machine that can win elections and instal him as the head of a Jan Lokpal. They have to work together, and they do. It was clear from the beginning that their agendas converged, and we can now identify the precise point at which their goals meet: the Indian version of a fascist state, a Hindu Rashtra, with a Jan Lokpal that will incorporate members of Team Anna: ’the viewpoint that Anna and by extension Kejriwal represent is the same simplistic and ill-thought-out rightwing nationalism of the Sangh which has no space for the Constitution or the liberal values it embodies…Through the twentieth century, this combination—a claim to efficient governance, a mythic father or motherland, a contempt for a certain section of people—has been the mark of fascism.’ [24]
Averting the danger of fascism
In this situation, the government has the primary responsibility to counteract the danger represented by both the Anna movement and the Sangh Parivar. If it enacts a strong Lokpal Bill and supplementary legislation, people like Justice Hegde, whose only interest in the movement is to curb corruption, would be satisfied. But not Hazare, Kejriwal, Bedi and others, whose agenda is regime change and might campaign against Congress on the pretext that the bill that has been passed is not their Jan Lokpal Bill. Counteracting this would require Congress spokespersons involved in public debates on the issue to come out with a critique of the JLB, drawing on what has been said by members of the NCPRI, legal scholars like Usha Ramanathan, and others.
However, even this is not enough. Any government committed to secularism has to act far more decisively to clamp down on the perpetrators of communal pogroms and Hindutva terrorist attacks, and especially to root out elements in the police, intelligence agencies, investigative agencies, bureaucracy, and army (Lt. Col. Purohit cannot be an exception) who are complicit in these attacks. Both terrorist violence and infiltration of the state apparatus are typical of the ways in which fascism ensconces itself, and unless action is taken now, it could be too late. In this context, the passing of the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill is a priority that the UPA simply has not taken seriously enough. If certain groups in society do not enjoy equal protection of the law, special measures are required to ensure that they do so. Of course the BJP will cry foul, but surely those within Congress who have been pushing for the bill have enough intellectual resources at their disposal to distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutva, and to point out that this is not the first time that legislation to protect vulnerable sections of the population has been passed?
However, the struggle against fascism cannot possibly be won if it is left to the government alone; members of civil society too have to be involved, and those on the Left have a special responsibility in this regard. This brings us to a disturbing question: what are people like Prashant Bhushan and Medha Patkar doing in a team that includes such right-wing elements? Conventional wisdom would have it that they are there to push the movement to the Left, but it does not seem to have moved an inch in that direction. Part of the answer lies in the authoritarianism that is an integral part of the politics of a large part of the Left. For example, Bhushan advocates plebiscites as a means of achieving a ‘participatory democracy’ that is more advanced than the representative democracy embodied in parliament, but does he know that Hitler carried out six plebiscites between 1933 and 1938? A plebiscite on the Lokpal Bill would in fact be less democratic than the process of public consultation that has taken place and a debate in parliament.
This is only one instance of a more general malady afflicting a section of the Left: a kind of political dyslexia that renders them incapable of distinguishing left from right. Thus instead of pushing the government to present and enact the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill speedily, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) effectively gangs up with the Right to sabotage it by raising spurious objections; insisting, for example, that it should cover only victims of communal violence and not victims of other forms of targeted violence. How would victims of communal violence lose if the bill covers other victims of targeted violence? And who but the perpetrators of violence would gain if the bill fails to be passed? Which side are they on? Prashant Bhushan is even more confused. In an interview with Rajdeep Sardesai, he referred to the ‘fascist mindset’ of the people who had assaulted him, and suggested that ‘the leaders of such organisations who propagate violence, who propagate this kind of fascist thinking,’ should be booked, and their organisations banned; yet when Sardesai asked him if such people could be part of his anti-corruption campaign, he replied, ‘Yeah, they can be part of the anti-corruption campaign,’ but should not be allowed to share the platform. [25] It does not occur to him to ask why fascist elements who are by no means uncorrupt should be joining his campaign in large numbers. In both these cases, the CPI(M) and Bhushan are so intent on opposing the centre that they end up in a position that is right of centre.
If the campaign for the JLB is genuinely opposing corruption, it will end if and when the government passes a strong Lokpal Bill and supplementary anti-corruption legislation. One can only wait and see.
References


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