The Anna Hazare fast has seen an outpouring of support across the country. The government Lokpal Bill is unacceptable. A fresh Bill is needed for an effective Lokpal.
There has been an outpouring of support all over the country in favour of the fast conducted by Anna Hazare for the Jan Lokpal Bill. The agitation has found support predominantly from the urban middle classes and a substantial section of youth belonging to the strata. There is no doubt that since the first hunger strike launched by Anna Hazare in April, the anti-corruption movement has gained momentum.
The attitude of the United Progressive Alliance government and its failure to tackle corruption, have fuelled widespread anger. First, the government is seen as being complicit in corruption. This has been the most corrupt government in the history of independent India. The paradox of a “clean” Prime Minister heading such a government has sunk into the consciousness of the urban middle classes.
The manner in which Ministers in the government defended the corrupt practices indulged in as a part of the 2G spectrum allocation, stating that there was zero loss of revenue for the government, confirmed the fears of many people that this government, steeped in corruption as it is, cannot take any meaningful action on this front. In all the cases – whether it be those related to the allocation of 2G spectrum or the conduct of the Commonwealth Games – agencies independent of the government, that is, the Supreme Court of India or, the Comptroller and Auditor General, were the ones that spurred the Central Bureau of Investigation into action to investigate and prosecute the guilty.
The problem has been compounded by the government's act of introducing a Lokpal Bill that is weak and ineffective. The Prime Minister is excluded from the purview of the Lokpal. The method of appointment of the Lokpal will not make it an independent authority. A Lokpal set up under the provisions of this Bill would be unable to act independently. There are no provisions for the Lokpal to act against corporates and business enterprises that indulge in corrupt practices in relation to the government.
Secondly, the UPA government and the Congress leadership were in the dock for the manner in which Anna Hazare and his colleagues were arrested on the morning of August 16, even before the hunger strike was launched. The irony of a corrupt government putting an anti-corruption crusader in Tihar jail was not lost on the people. The brazen attack on the democratic rights of citizens to protest peacefully, isolated the government among the people and inside Parliament.
The ruling party decried the Hazare-led movement as an attack on Parliament and democratic institutions. Its leaders claimed that since the government has introduced a Bill in Parliament, any agitation against it is an attack on Parliament. This is specious reasoning. Political parties and citizens' organisations have the right to oppose and agitate against any bill introduced in Parliament. The Left parties and the trade unions have opposed many bills which were anti-working class, and organised protest actions and struggles against them. Strikes have taken place against proposed legislation that seeks to liberalise the financial sector in the areas of insurance and banking.
Even the Congress opposed the Prevention of Terrorism Bill that was introduced in Parliament in 2002 by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. The Congress continued to oppose the legislation even after its enactment, and demanded its withdrawal.
Corruption has become a major issue and people are increasingly becoming conscious and determined to fight it. But there is need for a proper understanding of the causes for the rampant corruption that has affected all spheres of public life. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has set out its understanding of the present malaise of corruption, the causes and the effects.
In the last two decades, with the advent of liberalisation and the neo-liberal policies, high-level corruption has become institutionalised. The neo-liberal regime has led to an exponential rise in corruption. Much of this corruption stems from the big business-ruling politician-bureaucratic nexus which has been established.
We have seen how, in the seven years of the UPA government and the earlier six years of the NDA government, policy-making has been suborned to serve the interests of big business; how privatisation and the loot of natural resources are facilitated by this nexus in operation; how the UPA government has pandered to big business – Indian and foreign – by putting in place policies and mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of resources such as land, minerals, natural gas and so on to business barons. The neo-liberal regime has affected the political system with big capital holding sway. Increasingly, politics is being converted into a business, and business is conducted through politics.
The fight against high-level corruption, therefore, requires a multi-pronged effort. There has to be an effective Lokpal authority; there has to be electoral reforms to curb money power for politics; there has to be a distinct mechanism to curb corruption in the higher judiciary through separate legislation; there has to be firm measures to unearth black money and crack down on those who have stashed away illegal money abroad in tax havens. Above all, the features of the neo-liberal regime, which encourage accumulation of capital through corrupt means and facilitate the loot of natural resources by big business, should be ended.
The main source of support for the Hazare-led movement is the urban middle class. Many of them were supporters of the liberalisation policies and the reforms ushered in by the Manmohan Singh government. Now plagued by corruption, they want a messiah to get rid of the corruption that constantly affects their daily life. They would like corruption to end, while maintaining the economic regime that has conferred certain benefits on them. Hence they are unable to see the organic link between the neo-liberal policies and the corruption that has been engendered.
The middle class propensity to be anti-political, to blame all politicians and to hold Parliament in contempt, are all on display in the Anna Hazare movement. The constant harping against all political parties and the setting of unilateral deadlines for Parliament to act have raised apprehensions about their intent and commitment to democratic values. This has only detracted from the rightness of the cause and the popular support it has evoked.
There is legitimate anger against the plutocracy that has come to dominate the political system. But this plutocracy and the corrupt nexus cannot be fought by targeting political parties and concentrating fire only on the petty corruption that citizens face in their daily lives. Given the amorphous nature of the movement that has gathered around Anna Hazare, the right-wing forces, including the corporate media, seek to support and direct the movement away from the focus on the fountainhead of corruption. There is a constant masking of the real causes of corruption in society. In a poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, published recently in The Hindu, to a question ‘who is the most corrupt,' 32 per cent of those surveyed said government employees were the most corrupt; 43 per cent said elected representatives were the most corrupt; and only 3 per cent thought businessmen and industrialists were the most corrupt. This is the dominant opinion among the middle classes.
In every major corruption scandal in the recent period, there was big business or corporates involved in the act of corrupting public servants – whether they were Ministers or civil servants. In the irregularities involved in the 2G spectrum allocation, the Commonwealth Games and the Krishna-Godavari basin gas contract, the hidden hand of big business exists. The government's Lokpal Bill does not address this issue at all. The Jan Lokpal bill at least has clauses providing for the cancellation of contracts, and imposition of penalties on business found to have been illegally obtained by them. But the thrust of the anti-corruption movement, by and large, misses this main factor.
While a set of measures has to be taken to tackle the problem of corruption, right now the issue is the setting up of a strong Lokpal authority. The government's Lokpal Bill has been rejected by large sections of the people; and it is not acceptable to most of the Opposition parties. In such a situation, the government should retract from its stand.
After eight days of the fast by Anna Hazare, the government has bowed down to public pressure and initiated talks with the representatives of the Hazare group. This is a welcome development. Hopefully, this will lead to a fresh or modified bill that can pave the way for an effective Lokpal.
(Prakash Karat is the general secretary of the Communist Party of India - Marxist.)