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Bungling government creates an icon
By S. G. Vombatkere

Unprecedented public support for Anna Hazare's demand for Jan Lokpal Bill has rattled the political class. People power has won the first round of the decisive bout but greater challenges lie ahead.


Spontaneous public mobilisation in favour of Anna caught the government off-guard

Over the past four decades successive Union governments of various political hues have not even gotten to the stage of tabling a Lokpal Bill, and combined with a rash of monumental scams in the past couple of years, it has pushed the corruption issue on to the front page.

The nation is agog with the face-off between what has come to be known as “Team Anna” led by Anna Hazare and the Congress-led UPA Union government on the subject of corruption, focussed as it is on the Jan Lokpal Bill suggested by Team Anna and the weak Lokpal Bill produced by the Union government. Anna Hazare wants the Jan Lokpal Bill placed before Parliament while the Union government appears terrified that it may rake up dirt even if it is eventually passed in a severely diluted form. Fear of negative political fall-out affecting election results is something that all political parties suffer from, because none of them appear interested in much beyond exploiting political power for petty gains. The Union government favours the structurally weak Lokpal Bill that, even if it is strengthened during parliamentary process, will not impinge much on present unfettered powers to indulge in corrupt practices.

Congress spokespersons have come out in brazen personal attacks on Anna Hazare and others in his group, alleging corruption on their part as if, even if it were true, they are not eligible to demand corruption-free governance. Now the PM says that there is “no magic wand” to tackle corruption as if anybody imagines that corruption would vanish by the use of a single instrument like a Jan Lokpal Act. While Presidential wisdom on corruption in the Address to the Nation says the same thing, it also goes a bit beyond: “... there cannot be just one panacea or remedy to deal with it, but a system of transparency and accountability should be put in place at various levels, and then effectively enforced.” That being the view of the Head of State and its Chief Executive, the attacks by government spokespersons on citizens who are asking for precisely the same thing is unreasonable, and unbecoming of a party that led the Independence movement. The President also calls for restraint in the anti-corruption fight. This is a welcome call and should serve as a message to the Union government to quit its shrill and strident condemnation of civil society demands.

The institution of Parliament is a sacred organ of our Constitution. But the faith of the common man in the nation's supreme legislature is somewhat shaken by the quality of some of its (albeit elected) members who have criminal records. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Anna Hazare is not challenging the legislative authority of Parliament. His actions are within the ambit of the Constitution. He only demands that the Jan Lokpal Bill be placed before Parliament and agrees to abide by its decision. But the Jan Lokpal Bill can be placed before Parliament only by the Union government and not by Anna Hazare or any other person or entity. Thus Anna Hazare is challenging not the Legislative but the Executive arm of the Constitution. The Judiciary not having as yet been dragged into the fray, is no doubt carefully watching developments.

It appears clear that elected representatives of the people are running scared. The days of legislators unresponsive to their constituencies are surely numbered, Anna Hazare having initiated people into understanding that the power of “We the People” can tame elected representatives.

The Union government has piled blunder upon blunder in its handling of Anna Hazare's peaceful protest against corruption. The Delhi Police's “crack-of-dawn-arrest” of Anna Hazare that drew lakhs of protesting people onto the streets across India; the vicious defaming attacks on Anna Hazare by several Congress spokespersons; the decision to conditionally release Anna Hazare a mere 12 hours later after getting rattled by public anger; “allowing” Anna Hazare to fast for 3 days, then 7 days and now 15 days while that doughty non-violent fighter continues his fast inside Tihar Jail and politely declines conditional release. And crowds outside the jail dance and sing and roar in his support, unnerving the state apparatus. Police who were required to actually arrest him apologized for having had to perform what was for them an unpleasant duty. In short, the Union government and the Delhi government have lost the last vestiges of credibility with the public and even with sections of government employees regarding their capability of doing anything right. The Congress party is divided in its opinion and pathetic attempts have been made to save face. Some attribute the rudderless blundering from political shoal to the absence of the Congress President.

But what takes the cake is a Congress spokesman on TV suspecting a “foreign hand” supporting Anna Hazare. If he had mentioned China he might have been excused for having spoken after having had one too many. But he has mentioned Amreeka. The same America that our PM wooed so assiduously to seal the (nuclear) deal, and making an alliance with Amar Singh to save his government when the Left rolled out of the UPA-1 coalition bed. A Union government emasculated after conceding so much to an India-US strategic marriage cannot muster enough gumption to tell USA to not interfere in India's internal affairs.

In the rapidly changing situation the near future is obviously unpredictable. But it appears clear that elected representatives of the people are running scared. The days of legislators unresponsive to their constituencies are surely numbered, Anna Hazare having initiated people into understanding that the power of “We the People” can tame elected representatives. The people's captain, Anna Hazare, called “Heads” in this latest toss of the Constitutional coin, and won. The people have gone in to bat. The fielding team's captain is out of the country and the vice-captain has lost the ball.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

S. G. Vombatkere  |  sg9kere@live.com

Maj Gen S. G. Vombatkere (VSM) (retired) is engaged in voluntary work with Mysore Grahakara Parishat, and is a member of National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Settled in Mysore, he is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA.

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The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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