Anna Hazare, the Constitution and the Government
V RAGHUNATHAN IN THE TIMES OF INDIA
I wrote in this blog on April 7, 2011 about Anna Hazare, saying, “Perhaps after Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan‘s call for sampoorna kranti, … Anna’s fast may be the next most significant mass movement in modern India yet.” Soon thereafter, when the ruling Government seemed to respond to Anna sensibly and sensitively offering a joint dialogue with and say to the civil society for drafting a suitable Lokpal Bill, one thought it a sagacious gesture on the part of the UPA government and a victory for the maturity of our democracy.
Alas, that hasn’t been the case. Of late, with every single passing day, the ruling polity has come out looking increasingly petty, cussed and vindictive, targeting Anna with every gun that it has at its disposal. It has accused Anna Hazare and his Trust as being “seeped in corruption“. It is questioning the funding of Anna’s website. It is digging up his ancient army records in the hope of finding something – anything – to chuck at him, hoping something may stick. It is leaning on the weak spine of the Delhi Police to deny him a place to fast, placing uncalled for and unconstitutional limits of time and the size of crowd . It is not that our politicians have usually stood so tall that we are surprised at how low they can stoop; but to accuse a simple and straight forward soul like Ana Hazare, who is the first major voice against corruption in independent India to stir the conscience of the nation, dwarfs even their pigmy standards.
In a democracy of a billion people, it is understandable to have a billion different views on the issue of the Lokpal Bill versus Jan-Lokpal Bill. It is understandable if some think PM should be kept out of the ambit of Lokpal. It is understandable if some think civil society (read Anna Hazare) should be more practical and more patient or yielding in their demand or protest. It may also be understandable if some think that Anna Hazare’s Satyagraha is not to be compared to Bapu‘s Satyagraha, or even that inarticulate Anna himself is in no way comparable with the suave Mahatma. It is understandable too if some question the somewhat intemperate language deployed by Anna Hazare in his communication to our straight as sphinx-like Prime Minister. It may be understandable too if a section of the society is apprehensive about the liberties Civil Society seems to be taking with our constitutional mechanism. For that matter, it may also be understandable if some seem to think Anna Hazare to be a greater danger to our Constitution for seeking “extra-constitutional” remedies to cure our sick society of utter, run-away and rampant corruption, than the malaise of corruption itself. I even came across a very intelligent, articulate and genuinely sensitive young professional who was “entirely against corruption, but who disagreed with Anna Hazare’s methods”, even if he did not have an alternative to suggest. In his view, one couldn’t be led into a Bush-like stance – “You are either with us (or Anna Hazare) or against us (or Anna Hazare)”. Well, in short, we can understand all these various views in a democracy, and then some.
While we understand all of the above, we must also understand the low-stoop of the senior Congress functionaries in the personal mud-slinging against Anna for what it is — the last-ditch defense of a political class running scared. And let us not get it wrong. Let us not believe for a moment as if it is only the Congress politicians who are running scared. The reality is that the major opposition, the UPA politicos, have not comported themselves much better on the ground and in the parliament, beyond opportunistic lip service to Anna. Thus, it may be equally naïve to believe that even a Jana-Lokpal Bill blessed by Anna, shall sail smoothly through the Parliament, as a simple Anna seems to do. But then, Anna does seem to believe that at least in that case the country would know which parties support or do not support the people’s bill, the knowledge of which could decide the fate of the parties at the next hustings. I, for one, can understand that.
True, participation of “Civil Society” in a parliamentary process is hardly the standard constitutional process in our democracy. The constitutional process provides only for the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary; it provides for no un-elected Civil Society to play a role. But this is because the constitutional processes are ordinarily supposed to work. When constitutional processes work reasonably, for example, all citizens are genuinely equal before law, ministers and government servants are accountable to people, parliament functions and passes laws to govern the country rather than being in a perennial state of adjournment for one reason or the other, nor does it take over four decades to pass a law against corruption, justice is available to all and speedily, and 60% of the population does not remain bereft of food, education, health and justice due to large-scale corruption six decades after independence. None of these conditions has been made available under our constitutional processes. The so-called 9% growth is despite these.
These are the reasons why the call of Anna Hazare has stirred the nation’s conscience. Never mind whether public support for Anna is 50%, 85%, 95% or 100%. Even if Anna were in a minority of one, it stands to reason that given that our constitutional processes worked by the legislature, executive, and the judiciary have failed us in all these decades, the constitutional mechanism is perhaps already in a damaged condition in any case. Bringing in the “Civil Society” is unlikely to do any more damage to it.
Anna Hazare has offered the nation an opportunity which all the constitutional mechanism and its political ‘leadership’ did not give it since independence. If we are smart as a people, we shall seize the opportunity and lend our shoulders in whatever little way we can to him – not for his sake, but for our own. But if we are not smart, we can continue to debate the issue to shreds while Anna Hazare acts tomorrow.
V Raghunathan is a former academic (professor of finance, IIM, Ahmedabad), a former banker (president, ING Vysya Bank) and currently a corporate CEO. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Bocconi, Milan, Italy, since 1990. Some of his books include “Games Indians play” (Penguin), “Don’t Sprint the Marathon” (Harper Collins) and “The Corruption Conundrum and Other Paradoxes and Dilemmas” (Penguin). He is also a columnist of long standing, with over 450 papers and articles to his credit. He sits on numerous boards and lectures extensively in India and abroad. Collecting old and ancient padlocks is his hobby.
- Anna’s furore – A historical moment (nishaamit.wordpress.com)
- Anna Hazare- Rise of Another Mahatma (socyberty.com)
- A cruel joke on the nation (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Anna Hazare, India Against Corruption starts fast, faces chances of arrest (asspeaks.wordpress.com)
- India appeal over anti-graft fast (bbc.co.uk)
- Anna Hazare: India’s pioneering social activist (whereglobalstudentsmeet.wordpress.com)
- Anna Hazare and team to meet Parliamentary committee in Delhi (panasianbiz.com)