Shall we support Anna Hazare?April 7th, 2011
What is the aim of Anna Hazare’s fast? He says it is to bring about a Lokpal Bill which can effectively fight corruption at all levels. And what is the main opposition party, namely the BJP’s, agenda these days? To expose corruption in govt and ensure that guilty are punished. They’ve even said that they’ll take this fight to the streets and have already organized many rallies to highlight their case. So if the aim of both Anna Hazare and opposition parties are the same why are they not working together? Well, that’s because Anna Hazare says that BJP too is corrupt, or for that matter every political party is.
Well, he may well be right. There are indeed politicians on both sides of our political divide who may be guilty on this count. But didn’t the BJP try to reach out to him to show their support in this fight against corruption? While BJP may not have overtly expressed their support to Anna Hazare as yet but the visit of Uma Bharti to Jantar Mantar was an indicator of that. In fact, she had just gone there to test the waters but came back disappointed.
And therefore the real question is- Is this just a fight against corruption or does it also has a personal dimension to it? If the aim is not personal gratification then I feel that Anna is just being naive in this endeavor because can he or for that matter even Congress, if it were to give in, bring about as important a legislation as Lokpal Bill without the support of the main opposition party? You got to be absolutely naive if you believe so. Please note that Congress has not been able to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill despite having the support of BJP on this issue. And don’t worry about the loss of face which BJP might have to face if they oppose this bill. They can always claim to support the call for Lokpal Bill but at the same time point out some reservations about it’s provisions.
Before we proceed further a few words about Anna Hazare himself. While there is no doubt that he has worked successfully as a social activist for decades, but if reports are to be believed, he too is not above board himself. Firstly, after having served just eight years in the Indian army as a driver, they say that he’s still getting pension while the minimum military service required for anyone to be eligible for pension is fifteen years. Those of you who doubt my claim can check this screenshot from Anna Hazare’s own website where he himself says that he joined the army in 1963. You may have to strain your eyes a bit but bear with me. I had to show his picture which appears alongside him on his own website.
If you read the entire text of his own biography he takes pains to explain that he had to serve the required fifteen years to earn his pension. But nowhere does he say when he quit the army. He also does not say that he started work in his village in Ralegan Sidhi in 1975, which still makes it only 12 years from his date of joining the army. And it is a known fact that he did start his work in his village in Ralegan Sidhi in 1975. Check it out on Wikipedia here. Quite possibly he left the army much before 1975 but is getting his pension nonetheless. Baffling, if you ask me. How did he manage to tweek the system of Indian Pension Establishment is something which only he could provide answers for.
The second issue which Hazare needs to provide answers for is the use of funds by an agency called CAPARAT (Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology). It is said that while Hazare was his chairman, he alongwith his nephew Vinayak Deshmukh, handled crores of funds obtained from various govts as grants, which they said was being used in villages. In fact his name is still on their website as a member. of their executive committee. You can check out serial number 24 on their list of members here. It’d therefore be worthwhile to check the exact disbursement and usage of funds obtained by this agency when he was the chairman. Reportedly, all was not well on that front at that time. Pertinent to mention that Deshmukh was the Zila President of Congress Committee in Ahamadnagar district in Maharashtra at that time and handled many projects of CAPARAT as well.
And therefore, before we get carried away by his statements about not associating with any political party, we need to appreciate that he did have relations with some including Sharad Pawar’s NCP of which Deshmukh is currently a member of. And why is Anna then speaking against Pawar? Quite possibly, they have fallen out for reasons which you and me are not privy to.
The aim of bringing this out was not to target Anna but just to enable us to see things in correct perspective. I very well know that the question here is not Anna Hazare himself but for Anna, it may well be, alongwith the question of Lokpal. And therefore, I very sincerely believe that there sure is a sense of personal gratification on the part of Anna Hazare in this endeavor of his.
And now coming to the provisions in the draft which has been proposed by Anna Hazare, it is pertinent to note that he alongwith Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh and others have proposed to make Lokpal, an absolute authority on this issue with it’s members having powers to investigate, prosecute and even pass judgements equivalent to a court. Well, in my opinion, that is something which is against the basic tenets of democracy. All these three functions cannot and should not be done by one agency. You can have separate courts to pass judgments for cases initiated by Lokpal but these cannot be under it’s own jurisdiction. But that’s just my opinion.
Another provision is the nomination of members in the Lokpal committee in which they propose to have one chairperson and ten other members. These ten members will be selected by another committee comprising of members from parliament, two seniormost Chief Justices of High Courts, two seniormost Supreme Court judges, Bharat Ratnas, Nobel Prize winners of Indian origin, two Magsaysay Award winners, CEC, CAG, Chairman NHRC etc. While most of these proposals are quite okay it may be worthwhile debating the composition of this selection panel. for instance, I fail to see the point of having Nobel prize winners of Indian origin who may or may not be residents of India. Also, having a someone like current chairman of NHRC Ex Chief Justice of Supreme Court Balakrishnan on this panel, who himself is a fit case to be investigated for corruption, is a mockery of this institution.
Yet another issue worth debating is their proposal of having an investigating wing within the institution of Lokpal. They’ve also proposed that anti-corruption wing of CBI be under it’s ambit. While on the face of it, this may be a good proposal but it also raises other relevant questions. Is this doable? Also, does CVC, Enforcement Directorate and other investigating agencies continue to be under home ministry or should they also be made answerable to Lokpal only. If not, what is the point of having so many separate investigating agencies? Please note that these are already existing organizations with relevant staff and infrastructure. Just that that their mandate is currently dictated by political parties in power. Isn’t there a requirement to look into these aspects as well?
Lastly, the draft bill of Anna Hazare does not want the office of Prime Minister to be included under the ambit of Lokpal. Well, that needs to be debated. Given the number of cases of corruption/ignorance/incompetence on the part of the current incumbent I’d rather keep the office of PM also under it’s purview. Mind you, if you exclude the PM, it’d be quite logical for Chief Ministers to say that they too should not be under the Lokayukta at the state level. Also, what happens when the PM or the Chief Minister is holding an additional charge of another ministry, like home or finance or some other ministry. Does it mean that the additional ministry too will be out of Lokpal’s ambit or not?
The point I’m trying to make is that there has to be a proper debate on what Anna Hazare is proposing. Apart from the issues that I’ve raised there may be many more which you need to discuss threadbare. Also, you cannot have an all powerful Lokpal answerable to no one but itself. We have to have checks and balances. What Anna Hazare is proposing will eventually become a super monster cop and judge who will be too big for it’s own boots.
Like I said earlier, there has to be a constructive debate on this issue. And that debate cannot be while Anna Hazare continues to be on a fast. Also, all major political parties have to be a part of this debate for which a separate committee comprising of members of both houses of parliament, Chief Justice of India and other eminent persons needs to be formed, selection process for which can be initiated. And to further assuage the fears of the common man Dr Manmohan Singh needs to lay down a time limit by when he proposes to bring this legislation in parliament.
The moot point is that while it is quite alright for the young people of India to be incensed on the issue of corruption it’d be worthwhile for us to take a pragmatic view of things and think this through before we adopt this bill. Let me amplify that I do not belong to any political party. My aim is just to highlight the need to have a mechanism which is unbiased, just and responsible Lokpal.
Having said what I have, I hope we do get a Lokpal but not the one Anna wants. And his fast may well pave the way for one that we should, though only by default.