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A Lokpal Critique

A Lokpal Critique

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by Vaibhav Wasnik

The following is a collection of points from online debates that I have been part of, consolidated as an article. That corruption is a problem in India or most developing economies is not anybody’s secret. But the rampant misusing of the power of suggestion by a “corporations” backed media to counter the electorate process by promoting a non-ballot based center of power is even more mischievous. The Jan Lokpal Andolan with an old simple looking man called Anna Hazare as its poster boy, heavily publicized by the national media is the talk of the day in India today.

In a country drenched in idol worship, which has a strong footing in the dominant religion of Hinduism, where god-like status is given to popular media idols such as the ones in Bollywood, a properly chosen archetype of a simple saint like man (that does seem to draw plenty of inspiration from the country’s history, with saints like Tukaram, Dynaneshwar etc standing up against the established social order) to supposedly counteract a supposed social evil like ‘monetary’ corruption is quite an intelligent move. But the brilliance of feeding the emotional senses of the public, a well publicized melodrama to promote an agenda that further reduces the choice in the hands of ‘people’ to direct their own destiny is what separates this movement from other intelligent media campaigns. Alas, whereas the ideologies of Tukaram, Dyaneshwar etc favored the transfer of power into the hands of the people, the brilliant minds behind the Jan Lokpal are bent on transferring the power into the hands of a select few.

To get a better idea about the actual issues with the proposal, let us look at the draft of the Lokpal Bill itself.

Let us move to the portions which talk about the committee and its selection. The Lokpal Bill claims that a selection committee consisting of the following shall be set up:

1. The Chairpersons of both Houses of Parliament : Sounds fair enough.

2. Two senior most judges of Supreme Court : Sometime back a Supreme Court judge commented against the possibility of reservations in judge selections in the Supreme Court. Such statements are obviously reeks of bias: considering the judge works for a public institution which hardly has any representation from 85 percent of India made up of the SC/ST/OBCs and Muslims . Especially, when the statement by the judge does not qualify as a constitutional mandate, but only reflects his own bias.

3. Two senior most Chief Justices of High Courts : Point 2. above

4. All Nobel Laureates of Indian Origin: The politics, careerism involved in academia is legendary. Expecting an academic, no matter what his award, to be of a clear conscience is fallacious.

5. Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission: Who happen to be former supreme court judges etc, instead of ground level activists who actually have fought substantial battles for the procurement of human rights.

6. Last two Magsaysay Award winners of Indian origin: Point 4. above

7. Controller and Auditor General of India: So the implication is that an IAS officer, who gets a minimum of 5 crore dowry, somehow is of a clear conscience.

8. Chief Election Commissioner: Point 7. above

9. Bharat Ratna Award winners: Now it starts getting even more ridiculous. Can the likes of Lata Mangeshkar, AR Rahman or some talented artist, sportsman etc have any idea about the pulse of an entire nation? 

10. After the first set of selection process, the outgoing members and Chairperson of Lokpal.

As we read on, we are  presented with more illustrations of the ridiculousness involved in the framing of the bill with vague statements such as “The members and Chairperson should have unimpeachable integrity and should have demonstrated their resolve and efforts to fight against corruption in the past”. Looking at the selection criteria we can conclude that the relevant individual can easily be a biased court judge, a dowry taking IAS officer, an actor, a spiritually messed up academic etc. All of whom, in the highest probability, would never be an SC/ST/OBC, who make up 85 percent of the country.

Now even if an assumption is made that the amateurishness involved in the selection procedures of the proposed Lokpal really counteracts the proposed claim that the committee would at least be non-corrupt as corruption is an issue that is largely perpetuated by the elected representatives of the people (as claimed by the Lokpal brigade): then the whole debate instead could definitely be enriched by demanding a Lokpal committee, made up of international human rights activists/stalwarts, so that they would at least not be biased towards any particular community in India. The likes of Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi etc could be perfect choices. If the possible complaints are ones relating to national integrity, then one could safely comment that such objections don’t hold any water as majority of the investment in (buying away of) India is anyway foreign in nature. So the counter question would be as to why should monetary rule by outsiders be OK, but social rulings by international human stalwarts be considered not OK?

Let us try to simplify things further and ask why does the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement simply not take the route of the ballot, get elected and then amend the constitution as needed to fight corruption, just as any individual who values the democratic nature of the Indian republic, would do? Referendums are never the modus operandi in the workings of democratic institutions. Ideas which need to be framed as policies are taken to the people by political organizations who if elected pass laws in the respective assemblies. Anna Hazare has more political advertising at his disposal than any other politician in Indian history. If the issue of corruption is the number one issue in the country, his modus operandi would have been to translate the public sentiment to the ballot by organizing his own political front. It is definitely easier and more worthwhile than fasting. The fact that he shies away from such a direction, basically points to the fact that the issue of corruption, even though important, is still a media created phenomenon.

But if corruption is not the biggest problem in India today, then why is the corporate media so hell bent on publicizing the Anna Hazare movement? Who would be the prime examples of the polity that would be affected by Jan Lokpal in the wrong way? One can easily find examples of these people, who are advertised out of proportion as being corrupt by a biased national English speaking media. The likes of Mayawati, whose net worth is just 50 crores, while the IAS officers working under her may be worth more than 100 crores each and most lowercaste politicians fall in this category. The people who would not be affected are the likes of Arun Shourie, who sold the Centaur hotel at 80 crores as the disinvestment minister in the BJP government, only to be resold by the buyer of the hotel in a few months at 160 crores. Arun Shourie is about the ideology of removing participation of lower castes from white collared jobs. The BJP intelligentsia that fooled everyone with promises of Ram Mandir (which was plainly an excuse for diverting the consolidation of 85 percent of India, the SC/ST/OBCs, by the Mandal commission) but in reality accelerated disinvestment (selling of public sector companies to the private sector at a loss), in effect neutering the gains attained through Mandal. The above may be generalizations, with issues being more subtle and involved, however they do work well in giving us a flavor of the intended consequences of a Lokpal office.

Which brings us to the main issue. The primary issue is that corruption is still not the main issue affecting the majority of India. However, the issue has been advertised as being the one that would take care of ills affecting Indian society and by some very weird leaps in logic, is claimed to be a cure for issues such as poverty. However, the correlations are really a mirage. Even the promise of a free market economy being the road to economic prosperity does not apply to India Inc, which is far from a free market enterprise. A free market by its very definition does not exist in an economic system, where a few corporations control the majority of production and supply. The narrow minded propagation of the issue of corruption as the most important thing for the country to deal with is far removed from the reality of what India is and from what it will ever become.

The solution really is about policies to get the majority of the country in the economic market, be it through encouraging entrepreneurship from disadvantaged poor communities or otherwise, so that a poor person actually feels that it is corruption that is preventing him from participating in the market. It is then that he would vote for candidates who are hell bent on destroying corruption, tackling the problem head on. The widening gap between the rich and poor is independent of corruption and would continue to exist even if everyone was not corrupt in the bribe taking sense. Even the 2G scam was just about someone taking bribes in giving out contracts. Ambani’s existence does not do good to the vast majority of the country, whether a government official takes bribe from him or not. The fact that the Anna Brigade does not even want to think about following the electoral route, but is dancing around a melodramatic movement, blaming the bribe takers, but getting support from the bribe givers (the corporations and the media they sponsor) really points to the intentions of the movement not being wholesome, towards the development of society. Instead the obvious intent of transfer of actual power from the electorate that is the cornerstone of a democratic institution, to a bureaucracy that does not answer to the people, seems to be the sole motive behind this well publicized movement.

[Vaibhav Wasnik is a researcher and he blogs here]

Image: Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.