Sunday, September 4, 2011

Off Topic: The Cynicism and Criticism Surrounding the Indian Anti-Corruption Movement

Warning: This post has nothing to do with IP law, although it may have something to do with the administration of every government establishment, including the Indian IP establishment. (This Post has been edited to correct a few errors in sentence construction and facts)

For 3 months now, the 2011 Indian anti-corruption movement, as Wikipedia calls it, has been occupying the centre stage of Indian politics. 

The face of this movement arguably is Mr.Kisan Baburao Hazare, better known to scores of his enemies/detractors/critics/agnostics /admirers/followers/fans/devotees as “Anna Hazare”.  

Anna’s core group of activists, as on date, consists of:
1. the retired super cop and Magsaysay awardee Ms.Kiran Bedi, who has the distinction of being the first woman to join the Indian Police Service (IPS);
2. Mr.Arvind Kejriwal, an IIT Kharagpur alumnus, one of the most visible faces of the Right to Information movement and yet another Magsaysay awardee;
3. Mr.Shanti Bhushan, a former Union Law Minister and a renowned senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India;
4. Mr.Prashant Bhushan, son of Mr.Shanti Bhushan, and an activist lawyer practicing before the Supreme Court of India. He has been one of the most ardent voices against corruption in the Indian Judiciary.

Two other names which were earlier part of the core group are Justice Santosh Hegde, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, and Swami Agnivesh, a political activist.

Anna and his team, christened “Team Anna” by the media, run an organization called “India Against Corruption”. One of the primary objectives of Team Anna is to push for a strong anti-corruption legislation called “The Jan Lokpal Bill”, which envisages the creation of a super ombudsman who has the power to investigate and prosecute charges of corruption against, bureaucrats, the judiciary and ministers, including the Prime Minister.

The salient feature of the legislation proposed by Team Anna is that the authority established under this proposed law, namely “Lokpal”, will not be a political appointee. There are several other such features, which is not exactly the point of this post. For a better understanding of Team Anna’s version of the Bill, please visit here.

The version proposed by the Government, which is seen as a boneless spineless wonder by Team Anna and large sections of the population, is available here.

A comparison of both versions of the Bill, as presented by Team Anna, is available here.

Now, to the actual topic of the post. Anna’s movement, in particular, his non-violent fast-unto-death protest has won the “hearts and minds” of people the world over, and accolades have poured in even from ostensibly the most unexpected quarters- Pakistani media and middle class.

Even the Chinese could not remain oblivious to this mass movement.

It so happens that despite the din surrounding Anna and everything that relates to him, criticism about the means employed by him, and the “undemocratic” consequences that his movement may have in the long run, has turned from audible susurration to shrill ululation.

What exactly is Anna being accused of by his critics?

1. His version of the bill is impractical and he has no knowledge of the subtleties and nuances of the law.
2. That he has held the entire Parliamentary (“due”) process to ransom, which is seen as erosion of respect for elected and constitutional institutions.
3. He is seen as being unfair, rigid, intransigent, and unrealistic when it comes to the timelines he has set for the Government to pass the legislation.
4. Apparently, he has set a precedent for all those who wish to employ similar means to blackmail the government to get what they want.
5. He is being deified beyond proportion and justification, which leads to concentration of power in the hands of one person by popular consent, although non-electoral consent.

Let me try and address the accusations in my own insignificant way. I will not address the first issue in this post because I am primarily interested in understanding what is so wrong with the way Team Anna has conducted itself, that people can’t resist plunging into hyperbolic extrapolations of Anna’s movement, and its so-called diabolical and eschatological consequences for the “Pure, Holy and Great Indian Democracy”.

I think the keyword in understanding Anna’s movement is “perspective/context”. Each of the above criticisms, in itself, may be valid and I have no issues even admitting that. After all, dissent and criticism are central to democracy and that is what Anna’s movement itself represents.

But, is it fair or even logical to judge this movement purely on the anvils of the premises underlying these accusations? Or are we looking at a moth-eaten version of the facts and factors which form the launch pads for these criticisms? I am of the honest opinion that the answer is probably the latter...

No legal process, especially a parliamentary process, has an existence in itself without a historical context to it, and students of jurisprudence must know this better because a non-contextual approach to law is quasi or pseudo-Derridean. It is like trying to make sense of applied mathematics by completely divorcing the physics represented by a differential equation. Maths without physics may be “pure”, but it is just numbers unless applied to the real world.

Law too cannot remain detached from history, power politics and popular movements. After all, in a democracy, it is the will of the people that is crystallised and presented as the Constitution. I am a great fan of “due process” myself having seen its beauty at work personally as a litigant (not a litigator), albeit on that rare occasion when it actually works for the benefit of a common person like me.

When Anna sets a deadline for the government to pass the Lokpal Bill, is he doing it because he derives sado-masochistic pleasure out of dictating terms to the Indian State? No. The Lokpal Bill has been placed before the Parliament several times in the past in 1969, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2008, but each and every time in vain! No government, or political party for that matter, has the political will to pass this legislation because it is an openly accepted fact by all parties that corruption is not peculiar to a single party.

This means, an otherwise fractious polity which is characterized by an incorrigible schismatic pathology, comes together when it realizes that an anti-corruption Bill threatens its decadent way of functioning. Then how do you get the Parliament to pass the Bill? Are we to go the Maoist way and opt for the gun? Or should we get on to the streets and destroy, pillage and plunder public property like they did in London?

If electoral politics is the only way, then an honest man stands no chance of funding his elections in India. Sample this- the cost of funding a State assembly election in this country today is close to INR 15 crores (INR 150 million) per constituency. Assuming that Anna has the resources to contest elections today, how long would it take before he makes his presence felt in the Parliament? Probably years. 

Not just that, the moment he contests elections, his interests will be termed "political/vested interests". So, if there is a real entry barrier to entering legitimate electoral politics, and one’s conscience does not permit resorting to violence, what is the only option left? A non-violent movement.

When people start waxing eloquent about respecting parliamentary process, I really can’t help give out a mirthless laugh at their naivete because the Government itself has shown the disgusting levels to which it can stoop to, to stifle genuine criticism in the last few weeks. And this is a government that has been rocked by one scam after another, ranging from sports to realty to national security and the nation’s natural resources.

How do we expect this government to hear a common man out, when it has no respect for the parliamentary process or its own duty to the nation? The only mandate it seems to have is to hold on to power, no matter what the cost.

How do you trust or deal with a government which first uses its police powers to break up the first protest at the dead of the night, and then uses a botched-up calumnious campaign to dismantle the second? The bedrock of the parliamentary process is the people’s faith in the government of the day, of which there exists none today.

And yet, we have no qualms about calling this 73-year old man a “senile dotard”, who has “derailed” the parliamentary process. How can you derail something which has been derailed and has been in shambles for decades now? The cash-for-vote scam couldn’t have been a more pungent example of the extent of derailment of the parliamentary process, whose sanctity we are so selectively reminded of now.

Ironically, the amount of rancour that one senses today at the “derailment” of this “hallowed” process by a septagenarian’s non-violent movement against corruption, was and is conspicuous by its absence when the modesty of the Constitution and consequently the will of the people, was and is being serially and brutally violated by the honourable members of our distinguished Parliament.

There also seems to be this grave misconception that there is no room for participation in Team Anna’s version of the Bill. Transparency has rarely been a virtue of any Indian institution, and drafting of legislations is no exception to that. Until recently, solicitation of comments from the public was seen as a favour or a charitable act by the sanctimonious mandarins in the Parliament.

Contrast that with Team Anna’s open call to the public to participate in drafting the Bill, I think the sting out of the allegations of Anna’s “it’s my way or the highway” attitude is taken away.

As for serious reservations about the movement being replicated by nefarious entities with ulterior motives, this movement itself has been a prime example of the fact that the common man has a fair understanding of who he may repose his faith in, and who he may not. The common man knows that not everyone who can turn water into wine, or walk on water, or bring back the dead to life, is the son of Mary born of Immaculate Conception.

One clear example is the Telangana movement, which is slowly fizzling out because people have seen through the true intentions of their “leaders” and the way their “movement” has brought life to a standstill. Compare that with the code of conduct that Team Anna exhorts and urges its volunteers to adhere to, and I think the answer is fairly clear.

I can personally vouch for the unblemished conduct of volunteers, students and participants, having taken part in the protest myself on a Sunday when numbers were mind-boggling. Why is it that we fail to appreciate the fact that Ramlila grounds did not bear the incarnadine hue of Tahrir Square or any other popular uprising in the Middle East?

All these issues aside, we forget that the single biggest denouement of this movement is that it has jolted an entire nation out of its wanton slumber and has encouraged it to pay attention to what goes on in the Parliament, and how laws are made and how their very lives are much for “derailment” of the Parliamentary process!

When a Vice-President of Morgan Stanley (Hong Kong) takes an entire month off without pay to contribute his mite to the movement and joins the protest at Ramlila Grounds, when a Fakir (mendicant) contributes his day’s earnings to the movement, when students from all over the world plunge into the movement, and when the physically challenged, including visually challenged students, bear the scorching Delhi heat to sit alongside a fasting 73-year old man, I think this is exactly the kind of shock treatment this country has been waiting for a very long time.

Not for a moment am I suggesting that the end justifies the means, but then means justifying the end is a default rule which is to be observed when the entropy of the system is normal. However, when the system spirals out of control and appears to be in a perpetual tail-spin, I think it is movements like Anna’s which restore a semblance of meaning to public life and polity.

I must clarify that I don’t believe that everyone must agree with Anna’s “demands” or his style of functioning; after all, there must be people who don the mantles of keepers of conscience of this movement to ensure that mob mentality or mental slavery does not become the defining trait of the movement, and that reason still guides passion. But let’s not pounce on this man who, instead of basking in the glory of his moment, has returned to his town to resume his work.

If this movement needs to be taken to its logical conclusion, instead of letting it fizzle like the JP movement, let us volunteer with some concrete action, instead of acting like elitist bumptious arm-chaired critics. 

1 comment: