The Gold Standard | The post-LokPal world

I have refrained from joining the chorus of discussions because, in times such as this, there is more noise than information or substance. But, when learned friends who ought to know more start talking in binary terms – either you are with Hazare or with the UPA – then it is time to make a few things clear. There is no expectation or arrogance that these views are the right ones. Just exercising my right to belt out a few words. The right to delete or ignore or castigate is very much yours.

Those of us who have been expressing light or deep concerns with both the Hazare camp tactics and goals have missed out one thing. We have consistently under-estimated the groundswell of public opinion against politicians and, especially, the Congress and its coalition partners. In the absence of a credible Opposition party that could tap into this sentiment, Mr. Hazare and his team have stepped in to harness this anti-politician sentiment. They have done well in giving a form and outlet for the frustration of the Middle-Class India. Merely because some one is against Indian politicians, they cannot and should not be placed above criticism or scrutiny.

Also, it is very unfortunate that if you questioned a proposed solution, then you are branded as being indifferent to the problem or that you are part of the problem-creators.

For instance, the US economy is deficient in demand. The proposed solutions are either to print more money or to spend more government money. I have expressed doubts on the efficacy of both and pointed out the costs of both these proposed solutions. So has Raghuram Rajan, among many others. That does not mean we do not recognise the problem of unemployment in the US or weak economic growth or that something could be done about it. But, it does not need rabble-rousing to come up with patient solutions. As Raghuram Rajan wrote in one of his recent columns in FT, patience might be a key ingredient of any solution.

Our experience tells us that most things in life are never black or white. Yet, any criticism of Mr. Hazare, his methods and his goals invites such venom that one wonders what is the difference between the disdain shown by politicians towards rules and norms of behaviour and conduct expected of them and the disdain shown by Anna’s internet and on-the-street followers for any alternate point of view?

Why even otherwise sensible Indians should suspect the critics of the methods and goals of team Hazare to be lacking in integrity, to be agents of the Congress Party or that of the UPA or to be applicants to replace Digvijay Singh?

Yes, TGS concedes readily – again – that the issue of corruption has never before been brought to the front burner in India as has been now done by Mr. Hazare. He has unleashed tremendous energy and has aroused expectations sky-high. Unless properly harnessed and channelized constructively, these forces could turn against the idea and integrity of India and could become the Basmasura to Mr. Hazare.

Mr. Hazare has called the politicians traitors – technically, he is right. Any one who betrays the trust reposed in them is a traitor. That is true, by definition.

Is it possible that a situation could arise that today’s followers of Anna Hazare and his team would call them traitors down the road? Yes, it is possible because they have given rise to the expectation that they have all the answers to the problems of corruption and governance. That is the trust they have reposed in these people and tomorrow, if they fall short for want of acumen or competence or good intentions or a combination of all three, they too will have betrayed the trust of the people who followed them.

It should be apparent to a High school student that where there is discretionary power, it is abused. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Two off-shoots of this well-known fact are: (1) If you wish to eliminate corruption or reduce its incidence and impact, you reduce discretionary power and (2) if, in the process of eliminating such corruption, you create some other structures with absolute power, you are ignoring this fact that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Hence, the logic of de-centralisation and elimination of discretionary powers in reducing or eliminating corruption is unassailable. The logic of information being used as a sunlight/disinfectant to eliminate the abuse and the virus of discretionary power is equally powerful.

To give credit where credit is due, the Jan Lok Pal Bill Draft 2.3 available on the website of www.indiaagainstcorruption.org is a considerable improvement over the drafts formulated last year. The powers of the LokPal are less draconian than before and there are more provisions for accountability. I do not know wish to go into details. Little bit of homework – as I did – would make many readers arrive at the same conclusion.

But, if there are three features of the anti-corruption agitation – the LokPal Bill, the tactics and the post-Lok Pal governance agenda – what the draft 2.3 conveys is that Team Hazare has listened to public feedback on some of the most draconian provisions of the original Lok Pal draft. But, concerns over the other two elements of their agitation remain and have become deeper. Their tactics have become more arbitrary and unconstitutional at the same time and their governance agenda is deeply worrying.

It is the middle class – that is frustrated deeply by bribes paid to get driving license, to get a seat in an educational institution of choice, to be able to buy a property at affordable prices by paying out of their savings in a bank account rather than by cash, by having to pay a bribe to collect their income-tax refunds, etc. – that now backs Mr. Hazare to the hilt. But, the frustration of the middle class with the reform process is not that it was undertaken but it has not been completed.

But, they should remember that the agenda of Team Hazare is – intentionally or otherwise – roll back reforms, concentrate power in State hands and have a Lok Pal to check that abuse of expanded State power!

Prashant Bhushan’s remarks made in May against economic and policy reforms are most troubling. That those remarks were made in May flanked by Ms. Arundati Roy should be deeply worrying to all the right-thinking Indians. See the blog post at TGS of April 30th. The Middle Class camp followers of Team Hazare should read the excellent blog posts by ‘Offstumped’ here and here.

Further, the remark by Kiran Bedi that Anna is India and India is Anna should not be ignored. It is a reflection of the mindset that pervades Indians, in general. It is just that the cast and the crew of the drama are different. But, the drama is the same – power and hubris.

The world is in the midst of unprecedented uncertainty, strife and potential conflicts. India is likely to be whipsawed by these developments in the coming months. What is the worldview of team-Hazare?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his two governments since 2004 have done many things that are going to hurt India in the years to come. I sincerely hope that the Hazare phenomenon does not join that list.


DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.