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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fight Against Corruption - Supporting Anna Hazare - Need of our Life

We are at  crossroads.  The entire Nation is – there is debate in nooks and corners of the Country.  There is perceptible feeling that people want it to happen but are still unsure of how it would or whether it would at all.  The world's largest democracy is at a very crucial stage.  Corruption has been felt by almost all of us at some point of time; whether willingly or for lack of choice, we have had subscribed to corruption in some manner.  For some it has become a way of life – it is easy to say that nothing moves without greasing somebody.  Many find it the easiest way – to pay and have their work done.

How ethical, How moral, should there by any protest at all ?  For long none seemed to care or those voices were stifled.  Now there is a crusader who is 74 and  India Against Corruption (IAC) is a citizen's movement to demand strong anti-corruption laws.  He has not eaten since Aug 16 and so also many supporting him (or are they simply the ones who have readily come forward to fight the Nation’s cause and in the process theirs !!).  Sure he is human and  Doctors attending on Anna Hazare have started expressing  worry over the fasting social activist's falling blood pressure and said he should end his fast, which entered day 12, as his health has begun to deteriorate.  Anna   Hazare, 74, has been surviving only on water since Aug 16, when he started his fast against corruption.   Anna  on his  12th day of  hunger strike  says he will not eat till the government agrees to three features that he deems essential for an effective Lokpal or ombudsman committee. The Lokpal is intended to function as an independent agency that will handle charges of corruption against all public servants. The government has prepared one draft of the Lokpal Bill; Anna wants his version to be adopted; other activists have prepared their own drafts.

India is a Parliamentary Democracy – drafted in fine fabric – there are representatives of the people – who are to voice the genuine grievances of the people they represent.  It is the Parliament which is the Supreme body, a body run by elected representatives theoretically representing the collective will of crores of citizens.  In the Lok Sabha,  today  Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has initiated the debate on the Lokpal Bill with a statement.   The discussion is to  focus largely on the version of the anti-corruption bill drafted by activist Anna Hazare and his associates.

These are the highlights of Mr Mukherjee's speech:
•       Would like to again appeal to Anna to end his fast
•       Discussions were held to discuss the draft of the Lokpal
•       There is agreement on 20 of 40 basic principles put forward by government and civil society activists
•       BJP chief's letter in June said civil society not decision makers, Parliament must have last word
•       Told Team Anna no immediate commitment possible
•       Explained to Team Anna that we need multi-layered laws

Mr Mukherjee said there are six major issues of divergence:
•       One single act be provided for both Lokpal in Centre and Lokpal state.  Will state govt be willing to accept draft provisions for Lokayukta on same lines as Lokpal?
•       Should PM be covered by Lokpal?
•       Should judges of high Court and Supreme Court be brought within ambit of Lokpal?
•       Should conduct of MPs inside parliament be brought within purview of the Lokpal?
•       Should Lokpal have quasi-judicial powers?
•       Can all civil servants be punished and dismissed by Lokpal and Lokayuktas?
Pranab said, We wrote to all parties to collect their views; Samajwadi Party and BSP did not respond. BJP said civil society cannot be decision makers. After an all-party meeting we called, all parties said that supremacy of Parliament must be maintained, institutions of democracy cannot be undermined, laws have to be made by parliamentarians.

There can be endless debates – Nation has seen it all.  One need not be intelligent to know how it has been treated by the politicians.  More than 4 decades back, the Lokpal Bill was first introuded by Shanti Bhushan in 1968 and passed the 4th Lok Sabha in 1969. But the Rajya Sabha was dissolved,  before the bill got through the Rajya Sabha.  ] The Subsequent versions were re-introduced in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008,-  but none of them passed.   Will any such thing happen to any other bill where the MPs are interested ..  how many times have their salaries and perks have been revised and how many sittings did they require for passage in Parliament ?  

Again the bill or the movement in its present form is not a creation by Anna Hazare in August 2011.  Renewed calls for the bill arose over resentment of the major differences between the draft 2010 Lokpal Bill prepared by the government and that prepared by the members of the associated activists movement — N. Santosh Hegde, a former justice of the Supreme Court of India; Lokayukta of Karnataka; Shanti Bhushan; Arvind Kejriwal; Prashant Bhushan, a senior lawyer in the Supreme Court; and members of the India Against Corruption movement.  There is discernible feeling all over the Country sweeping through the minds of all individuals that the existing laws are too weak, full of contradictions, insufficiently empowered and toothless against corruption.  It is a fact that those who are arrested on corruption charges enter the prison cells with glee writ large on their faces and come out after passage of some time, unconvicted.  How long should this happen ??    

How long can Governments dilly-dally stating that these are attempts to create institutions with superceding powers !  Is not a wait of close to 50 years not long enough – why were the Governments never serious of enacting, legislating and prosecuting corrupt persons ??
A few months ago, Ministers went to the airport to receive him, then they tried to cast apsersions and attack him personally.  Anna Hazare and his team have successfully faced all the tribulations and still the hopes of a solution remains hard to come by.  

There were reports that last midnight, law minister Salman Khurshid was meeting with Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit, Bhaiyyuji Maharaj, Prashant Bhushan and Medha Patkar at his residence.  It is common knowledge that it is a game of numbers in Lok Sabha or any political institution for that matter.  The Congress Government speaks in multiple voices and says that it is not opposed to these demands but when would the endorsement come !!

The three contentious demands are including the lower bureaucracy within the Lokpal's ambit, a central law to set up Lokpal-type Lokayuktas in states and a citizens' charter detailing the responsibilities of government departments and the penalty for their non-fulfilment.  The Hazare group maintained that the veteran campaigner, who has been on fast for more than 250 hours now, won't call off his protest unless he gets parliamentary commitment on his three demands. The Congress, as it mulls its response over the demands, was anxious about not only Anna's failing health, but also the risk of appearing to be the sole hurdle in the way of the Gandhian's populist anti-corruption agitation.  

Rather than concluding the issues, the People’s representatives sparred over which rule the debate should be held under, with the government suggesting rule 193, which doesn't entail voting, and the BJP insisting on rule 184 under which a debate ends with a vote.  Understand that there would only be discussions after the statement of the finance minister Pranab Mukherjee who also happens to be the Leader of the Lok Sabha.   On Friday, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi strongly argued against dilution of parliamentary sovereignty.  Yes Institutions are important but were they not created only to promote and protect the interests of people ! and have not the Parliamentarians displayed how adept they are  at working out resolutions that accommodate diverse concerns, sometimes even mutually antagonistic ones.  Whether it is the Ruling Party alone or with its coalition partners or including its political rivals,  the most reputed Institutions could easily have devised strong anti-corruption measures, without demand by individuals.  Sadly that has not happened and there are no indications that any such thing will happen in near future.  That way the action of civil activities has brought in a sense of urgency and seriousness and it is not NOW it may NEVER BE.    There is still hope that on Saturday, Parliament will come together and adopt a resolution that sincerely seeks to address Anna's three remaining concerns. If a consensus is not possible, then let there be a vote.  Parliament is very centre of democracy and Voting, for or against, is integral to the parliamentary process. It also lets the electorate know where their representatives/ parties stand.

A section of the Press has behaved rather strangely.  The Hindu prefers to give more attention to the detractors and there was an article by Arundathi Roy on ‘why she would not be Anna’.  First, it is not a position and sure most of us know that she cannot be one.  Her attempt to compare Anna with the Maoist is ridiculous.  She tried to sidetrack the issue by asking why Anna is not concerned about farmer’s suicides, Singur, Nandigram, Posco &…  Well Anna, is not Arundathi, to write on anything for a day and forget.    Anna is not running a Government either.  The only issue at stake is whether corruption needs to be rooted and when will a strong legislation capable of enforcing it, will ever come ?

Anna Hazare is certainly great.  At 74, he is strong still.  Quoting a  Pune-based doctor who attended to Hazare in 1996  there are reports that  he seemingly has not  changed  much in  fitness, thanks to yoga and a balanced diet. Going by reports from Delhi, Hazare seems in the same health despite his advanced age. Any deterioration in his health is due to the natural effects of fasting.  This is not the first time he is fasting for a cause.  The longest fast came in 1996, when he went on a hunger strike for 14 days to demand the removal of two Maharashtra cabinet members. However, at that time he was 59 years old. Today he is fasting at the age of 74. Hazare was born on June 15, 1937.

He was on 9 days fast in 1989 on ‘agrarian crisis and inadequate power supply.  In 1996 demanding removal of two corrupt cabinet ministers, both of whom were dropped subsequently.  In 2003, 8 days of fasting demanding action against a minister and 9 days in 2004 demanding RTI Act in Maharashtra.

When politicians actively try to evade conclusion by citing rules, there is another suggestion that Rule 342 of Lok Sabha provides a way of taking up a discussion which would initially not provide for voting.   Every one knows that this is serious issue and there is solution – will the Government have the political will to enact and whether it would be done before it does any incalculable harm to the Gandhian and inturn to the Nation is the primary Question before all of us.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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