[ A Round Table India report]
August 30: At a public meeting at the Hyderabad Press Club today, Kancha Ilaiah emphasized that the Team Anna sponsored Jan Lokpal bill was a direct attack on representative democracy and the constitution and it should be opposed vigorously. ‘No Lokpal’ should be the Dalit-Bahujan demand, he said.
The well attended meeting, organized by the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Welfare Association and Andhra Pradesh Ambedkar Yuvajana Sangham, to discuss ‘Caste, Corruption, Constitution’ threw up a wide range of dissenting views on the proposed Lokpal bill, particularly the Jan Lokpal version. Bojja Tharakam, senior advocate, human rights activist and Dalit intellectual, G. Shankar and Bharat Bhushan of the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Welfare Association, D.C.Rosaiah, retired IAS officer, Asifuddin Mohammed of the Islamic Academy for Comparative Religion (IACR) apart from Prof.Kancha Ilaiah, were among the key speakers at the meeting. Present at the meeting were many activists, students, employees and others.
G.Shankar, General Secretary, Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Welfare Association, questioned the rationale behind the proposal of the Lokpal legislation, and analysed the many ways in which it could be employed to target and victimise SC/ST employees in the government and various public sector undertakings. Pointing out that Dalits and Adivasis already form the overwhelming majority of employees in government who face charges of graft, he added that the new legislation could possibly aggravate the situation further.
It’s Ekpal, not Lokpal
Expressing sharp criticism about the way in which Team Anna tried to impose Jan Lokpal on the parliament; Bojja Tharakam cautioned the Dalitbahujans that they need to prepare themselves to launch a movement to protect the constitution and representative democracy.
Bojja Tharakam said the intention behind the whole Hazare led movement against corruption was to install an ‘Ekpal’, a single supreme authority that reigned over the parliament, the executive and the judiciary, answerable to no one but itself. He said it was an old ploy, a much used tactic in Hindu history to invoke and invent an avatar, vest him with a divine aura and use that invention to serve their narrow parochial interests.
He said the campaign to project Hazare as an ultra-clean new Gandhi, a superhuman personality of impeachable integrity and honesty, was part of the plan to produce a new Vishnu, an Ekpal who would decimate the forces of corruption, which in the eyes of the Hindus means only SCs, STs, OBCs and Muslims.
He asked what exactly was wrong with the existing laws and institutions that such unreasonable new demands are being made. He said that laws and regulations such as the Prevention of Corruption Act, the CCA rules, and institutions such as the ACBs and Vigilance departments and the CBI etc are quite adequate to handle all kinds of graft and misconduct, so where was the need for a new legislation and framework.
He outlined the partisan application of anti-corruption law and machinery until now: while at the level of the bureaucracy and in the PSUs, thousands of employees of Dalit, Adivasi and other marginalized backgrounds have become almost exclusive targets of investigations and inquiries, more often than not, on questionable grounds, politicians of lower caste backgrounds weren’t spared either. When A.Raja, the former Telecom Minister, followed the same procedure in granting licenses to telecom companies as his predecessors, Dayanidhi Maran and Arun Shourie, why was only he in jail, and not the other two?
Raja had made it very clear that he had kept the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Finance Minister P.Chidambaram informed on all his decisions, Tharakam pointed out, so why are the Prime Minister and Chidambaram not being touched? Similarly, why was only Mayawati’s decision to expand or widen the road from Delhi to Agra, known as the Taj Corridor, being questioned while similar decisions were taken by many chief ministers and state governments across the country in the recent past?
In the Judiciary, he asked, why were only K.G. Balakrishnan and Dinakaran being targeted when key members of Team Anna themselves, the Bhushans, had raised questions about the integrity of 16 justices? Why was Justice Anand spared when senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani had produced evidence that the judge had submitted a false birth certificate to get his job?
He questioned the undemocratic, coercive methods employed by Team Anna and their contempt for the principle of representation: from the drafting panel to the proposed Jan Lokpal, was there any place in their vision for any Dalitbahujan representation? How can two persons from one family be chosen for the drafting panel? Why doesn’t Hazare question that kind of nepotism, he asked. Doesn’t he see all the plush arrangements made for his fast—from the pandal to the tents to food— and the funds that went into making all that possible, as corruption?
He raised some very fundamental questions about the probity of the self-appointed anti-corruption crusaders: when Dalits and other marginalized groups find it so hard to mobilize even a few thousand rupees—for even the most basic expenses as hiring charges for the venue, loudspeakers and lighting, for handbills– to hold a public meeting and still attract large crowds but ultimately get only paltry media attention, how did Team Anna manage to find the resources for such lavish arrangements and bag the attention of hundreds of cameras and reporters, for 13 whole days?
‘Who paid for the 24×13 media coverage of the Anna Hazare fast?’ Isn’t that corruption, he asked.
He commended Bahujan political leaders like Laloo Yadav and Sharad Yadav for upholding the idea of the ‘supremacy of parliament’, and its credibility as the foremost legitimate public forum in the country. He said meetings such as this should be held in every district, village and town in the state and country, on the same subject (‘Caste-Corruption-Constitution’) so that awareness about the issues involved could be raised, and Dalitbahujans be prepared to protect the constitution and their rights.
Have Dalits ever been treated with anything but corruption?
Retired IAS officer, D.C.Rosaiah wanted to know if the Dalits in the country have ever been treated with anything but ‘aviniiti’ (immorality or corruption)? If there was any community that had a legitimate right to raise a banner against corruption in the country, it was the Dalits, he said.
He warned that the Dalits, Adivasis and after them the Backward Classes and minorities would be the primary targets of the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill.
Bharat Bhushan asked: what would the Dalits, the great majority of whom who earn less than Rs.100 a day, know about corruption? The only issue that’s relevant for them is social justice, he emphasized.
Prof.Kancha Ilaiah called upon all the Dalitbahujans to oppose Jan Lokpal in one voice. ‘No Lokpal should be our demand’, he said.
He said two recent events underlined the need for Dalitbahujans to become more aware of concerted assaults being planned on their rights. The first, the release of the film ‘Aarakshan’, was an attack on the ‘right to life’ of the Dalitbahujans and the second, the Jan Lokpal tamasha, was a direct, more comprehensive attack on the constitution and parliamentary democracy.
He said the first assault was being defended on the grounds of ‘right to expression’ and the second was being hyped-up as a nation-wide crusade against corruption. He said the media had a big role to play in lending credibility and support to both arguments. He said the national media features many ‘intellectual thugs’ on debates and talk shows to oppose Dalitbahujan points of view, and tries to present highly exaggerated accounts of upper caste led movements and crusades.
The familiar tactic of using slick camerawork to present ‘tens as hundreds and hundreds as thousands and thousands as lakhs’ was being used by the media to once again project the India Against Corruption (IAC) sponsored Hazare agitation as a nationwide, people’s movement. He said the media had perfected this art since the 2007 anti-Mandal agitation led by ‘Youth For Equality’, of which Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi were great sympathizers.
Apart from the fact that it was an attack on representative democracy, his opposition to the Hazare movement was based on very simple grounds, he said: what was corruption for the upper castes was non-corruption for the Dalitbahujans, and what was corruption for the Dalitbahujans was non-corruption for the upper castes.
The RSS and Sangh parivar were also key promoters of the Hazare movement, he felt. All the saffronites had come out in Gandhi topis to support the movement, he remarked, and if the BJP had the courage, it should contest the next elections on the issue of Jan Lokpal and corruption and see if it would win more than 25 seats across the country.
He said though the Dalitbahujan politicians had stood up against the bullying tactics of Team Anna, the masses too should gear themselves up for a prolonged battle. No Lokpal should be the goal, or the Bill should be put to sleep in the same way as the Women’s Reservations Bill, he said. If Team Anna wanted the Bill to be passed, he suggested, they should contest the 2014 elections and try to convince the people of its need, as is the usual democratic practice and not try to dictate to parliament what it needs to do.
Brother Asifuddin Muhammad of the Islamic Academy of Comparative Religion said the proposed Jan Lokpal had some fundamental loopholes. One major problem was with: who would select the Lokpal? The selection process and committee proposed overruled or left no space for SC/ST/OBC and minorities representation, and was hence undemocratic because it also ignored the parliament. Next major problem was: to whom would the Lokpal be accountable?
He said it was obvious that the Sangh parivar was supporting the Hazare movement and this posed a threat to the minorities in the country. He said he was very glad that the Dalits and Muslims thought alike on this issue.