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India’s Independence, Corruption and a Reason for Hope

Reprise

If you happen to be in India and have read the newspapers today and over the past few days, you know that things are heating up again regarding the pending Lokpal legislation and heading towards another showdown. The government is pushing to get the Lokpal bill tabled in Parliament before the session ends at the end of this month. But Anna is furious. He thinks it doesn’t have legs. So, on December 27th, Anna promises to go on another fast – this time it appears in this city of Mumbai.

He says, “This is not a strong Lokpal Bill. The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) is out of the ambit of the Lokpal. We will continue our fast plans and during the next general elections, I will tour the entire country.”

Arvind Kejriwal adds, “It is the biggest joke I’ve ever heard.”

While Kiran Bedi continues, “Have you ever heard of creating an investigating body without any investigating body? Are we dumb citizens who can be given anything? This kind of Lokpal be better not passed or else it will destroy whatever is left of CBI. The government is creating an anti-corruption body without any where withal for investigation. Who is fooling whom?”

Santosh Hegde also rejected the Government’s Lokpal Bill. Here is his viewpoint: “The Government version is totally unacceptable. What is the point in having a Lokpal like this? You cannot check corruption if Lokpal has no powers. No one is setting a deadline to Parliament. They only said they’ll pass it. If they can pass 17 Bills in 12 minutes they can pass this easily. The agitation will continue against corruption. Is FDI in retail more important than fighting against corruption?”

[Read below more about Kejriwal, Bedi and Hegde – key members of Team Anna].

Cartoon by Pappu Dehati; posted to India Against Corruption Facebook Page.

It really pays to remember what this country is fighting for, and who the key fighters are for this very public cause! So, I decided to re-publish this post which first appeared on India’s Independence Day this year.

Take it for what it is

First, you can take this for what it is – the views of an Indian-origin expat living in modern India after a long interval. After all, what can I know that the Indians who live here don’t already know and know well? But, this is less about knowledge and more about perspectives. And these are interesting times. So, since it’s a free country, here I go again, recording my perspectives and views… sometimes, delving deeper than I should.

Modern India’s Recurring Theme: Corruption

In India, over the past few months, there has been a battle raging on the ground to halt pervasive corruption among the political class of India. Shameful scams, public scandals, impotent leaders and blatant fraud have been the colors painted on the canvas of India, robbing its people of essential services, growth and the ability to develop. I firmly believe that the anti-corruption cause and its outcome will truly determine the pace and extent to which this country’s awesome potential can be realized. It’s that crucial and essential a fight (it’s also quite sad that it needs to be a fight).

We have heard a lot about Anna Hazare – his leadership and his strong will towards this cause that has in turn galvanized the nation and is creating a groundswell movement in India. What has been especially uplifting to see is how this one 75 year old man has been able to energize the youth in the country (just go to fb and do a search for “anna hazare” and you will know what I mean).

But, it takes more than one leader, it takes a village. How much do you know about some of the other luminaries who are working with him to take this cause forward? “Luminary” is not so far from the truth. This handful of people have credibility that simply shines through; they are less about limelight for themselves, and more about fighting for causes that matter to the common man of India.

Team Anna

If there is one overriding reason why you should support Team Anna, it is precisely because of the people who make up the team, starting with Anna. Most of them are part of the Lokpal joint drafting committee  (that was anything but joint). 

With them on your side, you and the country are in good hands. Let me tell you why, by telling you who.

All of them belong to civil society. What is that anyway? You can read the full definition on wikipedia but here’s the gist of it:

Civil Society is composed of voluntary social relationships for un-coerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. Or more simply, the arena, outside of the family, the state, and the market where people associate to advance common interests.

Now, here are some civil society members who are actively working to reduce and ultimately end corruption in India. And, as you can imagine, it’s not a simple fight. On the surface, this appears to be the duty of the government. But, how does a corrupt government do its duty to end corruption?  Therein lies the dilemma!

Recognizing The Creme de la Creme

All five of the civil society members named below have, over time, received numerous national and international awards, recognition and commendations. They are tireless in fighting for their causes, all of which benefit the common man. They are admired for their accomplishments and respected for their efforts. They are truly national treasures of India and many in the country are just now coming to know them. 

They are on your side.  Do you know much about them?  It’s not too late to find out. This post is not intended to give you their entire background. It’s more of an introduction (with links to more insight). It’s a taster to intrigue you to find out more – why they matter and why they need your support.

As I list them below, I want to also mention that I have deliberately not included Anna Hazare, as he was the subject of an entire previous post.  He’s such an obvious one on this list that if you already don’t know much about him, there may not be much point in reading any further. 😦

I have chosen to simply alphabetize this list; all of them are equally noteworthy. Suffice it to say that the people of this country are lucky to have them on their side!:

1. Arvind Kejriwal : “We are not ready to compromise with anyone till our demands are met. The deadlock continues. We are open for any dialogue but there is no invitation from the government yet” 

He was instrumental in getting the Right to Information (RTI) Act passed in India as he strove to increase transparency in Government. He campaigned heavily along with others to gain this victory and RTI was eventually passed in 2001. Over the past months, he has taken a leadership role in anti-corruption and the proposed Jan Lokpal bill. Much admired and respected, Mr.Kejriwal is all about action to transform this country.

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2. Kiran Bedi : “Lokpal Bill drafted by the government is like the Lokayukta; it is powerless”

She is India’s first and highest ranking woman police officer. She joined the Indian Police Service in 1972 and retired in 2007. She is renowned for her innovative yet effective approach to law enforcement, through which she achieved extraordinary success in tough environments.Since retiring from active police duty, Kiran has also become an international activist on crime prevention, drug abuse, police and prison reform, women’s issues, and human welfare. She founded and runs two nonprofit organizations: Navjyoti and the India Vision Foundation., which provide education, vocational training, and treatment for drug addiction to women and children living in India’s slums, rural areas, and prisons.

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3. Prashant Bhushan :”The present version of the (Govt) Lokpal bill is useless as it will cause confusion and discourage the common man from complaining against corruption”

A lawyer by trade, he is well-versed in the judicial system of India. Outraged by corruption of judges, he has actively campaigned for causes related to ridding the judiciary of corruption. Some of the fights he has raged in his career –  the Doon Valley case, where limestone quarrying was hurting the environment, the Bhopal gas tragedy litigation, and the Narmada case as well. He was the Delhi President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, India’s oldest human rights organisation. He also wrote a book on the Rs 64-crore Bofors scandal of the late 1980s, involving payoffs in the supply of howitzers to the Indian government.

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4. Santhosh Hegde :”I don’t find any reason why the PM should be left out and this proposal has been pending for the past six years or so. It’s no longer a contentious issue”

A true crusader against corruption, his current role as Karnataka’s Lokayukta demonstrates not just how dramatic the results can be, but also what persistence and boldness means.  A former Supreme Court Justice, Mr. Hegde has already played a large role in the fight against corruption and by working with Team Anna is taking the cause to the national scene. His integrity is without question and his bold actions are to be lauded. A report constituted by the Lokayukta uncovered major violations and systemic corruption in iron-ore mining in Bellary that ended up (so far) with the removal of Karnataka’s corrupt Chief Minister.

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5. Shanthi Bhushan :“It was decided in the committee meeting that two versions of the lokpal bill will be sent to the cabinet. Let the cabinet see the two drafts and take a final call”

Prashant’s father 85 year old Shanti Bhushan was union minister for law in the Morarji Desai government (1977-79). They live in the same house in Noida. Both are outraged by the corruption among judges. But they also differ in many ways. He has been impressed by the achievements of the UPA Government in the past. The son on the other hand thought that the UPA Government was among the weakest that India has had.  The father is not anti-America. The son is strongly against the US and the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement. Together, they are formidable public warriors, among India’s best. Mr. Shanti Bhushan then as the Law Minister had introduced Lokpal bill in 1977, but it could never see the light of the day, because of the collapse of the government. He is a member of the committee constituted in April 2011 for the Jan Lokpal Bill.

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Finally, Hope

At the dawn of another anniversary of Independence for the Republic of India, it’s time for citizens to be thankful for freedom in this country. True, there are many disappointments in how the country has shaped up in the years since Independence, but aren’t there just as many reasons to celebrate successes and stimulate hope?

So, in 2011, what I see in India is this: Anna Hazare and this team of shining lights of India as one unified and great reason for hope. The least you can do is give them your support, in whichever way it manifests itself.


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The Naysayers of Anna Hazare – Are they right?

As the protests grow and massive momentum builds among people of India, whether they live in large or small cities here, or whether they live in cities around the world, criticism for Anna Hazare also mounts (though not quite at the same pace or scope).

Here the common themes of the naysayers –

1.Anna is subverting the democratic process by insisting on his version of the Lokpal be passed.

2.Anna’s version of the Lokpal is seriously flawed. It is too complex. It will create a parallel bureaucracy.

3.Every time a citizen has a complaint, he can’t just fast and hold the government hostage.  This is blackmail.

4.The people who are supporters of Anna Hazare really don’t understand or know the details of Jan Lokpal. This is blind trust.

5.Team Anna is being stubborn and are not willing to compromise. It’s their way or the highway.

Let me try to address these points based on what Team Anna has been saying, combined with some of my own reading (& opinion!) on the topic.

1.Anna is subverting the democratic process by insisting on his version of the Lokpal be passed.

This comment has come from several quarters – many bureaucrats, babus and politicians especially. In April, when Anna held his first fast, he wanted to work with the government to create a strong Lokpal bill. After first refusing to consider this, the government capitulated to create a Joint Committee to work on such a bill. This was only after they saw the massive citizen support that Anna received. Anna stopped his fast, deceived into believing in the sincerity of Government.

Unfortunately, what happened in the joint committee was a sham and what came out is nothing short of a joke.  Anna is not about to be taken for a fool a second time around. This time, merely the government “giving their word” that they will listen and take serious action is just not going to be enough. Team Anna will be insistent on strong and unbreakable assurances. The government created this situation of distrust. Team Anna truly were left feeling tricked and used. Can anyone blame Anna?

2.Anna’s version of the Lokpal is seriously flawed. It is too complex. It will create a parallel bureaucracy.

According to Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, the Jan Lokpal bill has been created and evolved over several months. The process has been transparent and over 3000 suggestions received on their website have been reviewed and incorporated. Everything is relative so at this time, just compare Jan Lokpal to the government’s Lokpal bill.  Even if it is flawed, it incorporates policies and procedures that will make it hugely more effective than the joke that the other side has put forth. Likely, it does have flaws, but nothing says that these cannot be debated and worked out over time. The trick is getting an honest platform to do so.

3.Every time a citizen has a complaint, he can’t just fast and hold the government hostage.  This is blackmail.

Actually, every citizen of a democracy (not just India but any democracy) has a right to express his or her opinion, and has a right to fast, if that is the way he chooses to protest.  In fasting, he is not harming any body else. India has had a history of people fasting for various reasons (including religious ones). Gandhi engaged in several famous hunger strikes to protest British rule of India. Fasting was a non-violent way of communicating the message and sometimes dramatically achieve the reason for the protest. This was keeping with the rules of Satyagraha.

Here is what has the government running scared. It is not that Anna Hazare is fasting. It is the sheer scale of support that he has received across the board – from people of all ages, all religions, all political parties and all walks of life. This support is what is holding the government hostage.

4.The people who are supporters of Anna Hazare really don’t understand or know the details of Jan Lokpal. This is blind trust.

This begs the question of whether everyone who lived through India’s independence movement really knew all the strategies and tactics used by the leaders – Gandhi and others around the country. Absolutely not.  But they believed and they followed. What was it that they believed and followed?  It was the leaders themselves who had selflessly demonstrated their conviction for right. They had not done this overnight; in fact, their credibility was built over many years of service and results.

Today, people have heard a clarion call to end corruption. It touches every one in some way or the other. Many are not just “blindly” following these new leaders. On the other hand, Anna Hazare and his lieutenants, all of them being luminaries who have demonstrated in various ways – through thought, word and action their honesty, fervor and service to people of India – have thus gained their inherent trust.

5.Team Anna is being stubborn and are not willing to compromise. It’s their way or the highway.

This is in many ways related to the first point above. By actions that the government took since April, they have instilled great mistrust within Team Anna. Therefore, there is wariness about trusting anything they say now. Any assurances given by them now have to deep, sincere and truly believable.

Until then, it is unlikely that Anna Hazare will budge. Now, he has the strength of the masses behind him as well. So, why should he compromise? Especially when he feels so strongly that this country needs an effective and actionable Lokpal bill to truly end the scourge of corruption in India.

TRUST – The Missing Piece of the Puzzle?

It’s really not clear what actions the Government will take to end this impasse. Now, rallies are being organized around the world. Today, I saw videos of people gathering in support of this movement by Indians in Canada, U.S., U.K, Australia and Germany. The movement only seems to be expanding further afield than even Anna imagined. Meanwhile, the Government is undoubtedly wishing that it would wane.

What is needed now, before anything else can be accomplished, is the establishment of trust between the two parties, possibly through a strong mediator who Anna (i.e. the people) have the utmost confidence and faith in. Once the impasse is broken, only then will it be possible for any remaining issues in Jan Lokpal to be worked and appropriate laws be passed.

Until that time, I’m afraid, the Government will look by turns, arrogant and weak, while the Anna Hazare team has a fast growing people’s movement and momentum behind it that is becoming more robust and intense by the hour. In one word, formidable.

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P.S. I just realized something. The title of the post is “The Naysayers of Anna Hazare – Are they right?“.  Although I pontificated above, I see that I have not directly answered this (non-rhetorical) question that I posed.  So, here is my answer.  The simple answer is no.  And it’s really almost more important to understand what is behind these critical statements to get to the crux of the matter. 

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Cartoons; Source: India Against Corruption Facebook Page

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