Wednesday, April 13, 2011

forwarded : A more fact-laden warning on Jan Lokpal

Forwarded by a friend... this came as a revelation to me as well, and I will have to say I agree on many points. Mainly because it echoes the opinion that a structural change at the roots will be a more effective counter to corruption than some sophisticated fruit-cutter. Which is which? The devil, as they say, lies in the details.

Personally, I favor a bill like Lokpal ONLY if it includes setting up an e-governance model, where the entire public is allowed to discuss and deliberate upon matters. Basically, I want to implement most of the ideas elucidated in the documentary film "Us Now" - which advocates that with the current level of technology, it is now possible to actually have a true democracy instead of the representative model that was only decided upon at the time due to the technical difficulty at the time. Today, it is relatively much, much easier to have everybody participate in the democratic process.

I am also against any form of top-down enforcement including policing. In the last few years I had come to find that police forces anywhere only help to subvert the masses; they're never really there when the common man needs them. So if a certain law increases the net amount of coercion, it's bad. It's better to have a system where there's absolutely no coercion - in the sense that a person cannot be forced to give up his land or be forced to buy drinking water or food because of a neighboring coke/pepsi plant. Because then inherent community harmony kicks in and everyone does what is good for all out of natural process - if the community is free to band together and shut down a polluting factory and they don't need to go beg the government for that, then there will be no polluting factory.

One big thought nagging me all this while during the whole Anna Hazare campaign was this : Any genuine struggle is usually never supported by mainstream entities, like opposition, or the mainstream media. So how come so much show of support, and how come the omission of details in the whole matter? What if they're setting him up, putting him on a pedestal so he's not able to be human and then preparing to bring him down and then de-humanize him? It's happened before. And the point about Irom Shila was good - she's on hunger strike as well since years, why didn't India transit to her cause as well? The AFSPA is illegal and anti-national and anti-democratic and retrograde - we should be fighting that as well. It may be people in other states having to bear it, but let's remember that it's ALL of us who supply the army with the manpower and resources to enforce that draconian law, and they are doing it in our name, hence we are all complicit in the case.

I agree with the doubts about the feedback mechanism : Any system, no matter how sophisticated or how benevolent, is doomed to utter failure if it doesn't have an effective feedback mechanism. In that sense, it would help to have everything about Lokpal completely transparent, accountable and actionable.

I've read earlier protests about the bill undermining democracy, but they were more of apologists to the prevailing order and they were defending the present inefficient form of democracy. So I oppose that opposition. But I support the opinion that a more structural change is needed and that we need a transparent and effective feedback system in place for any law to be effective. Maybe there's a middle path here somewhere - but I know better to depend on luck.

The key points that will differentiate between a good and a draconian institution here, are, in my opinion : Transparency. If we notice even a slightest hint at secrecy, we will have to take it down.

At the Risk of Heresy: Why I am not celebrating with Anna Hazare
APRIL 9, 2011, by Shuddhabrata Sengupta
At the risk of heresy, let me express my profound unease at the crescendo
of euphoria surrounding the `Anna Hazare + Jan Lokpal Bill' phenomenon as
it has unfolded on Jantar Mantar in New Delhi and across several hysterical
TV stations over the last few days.
This time around, I have to say that the print media has acted (up to now)
with a degree of restraint that I think is commendable. Partly, this has to
do with the different natures of the two media. If you have to write even
five hundred words about the Jan Lokpal bill, you run out of platitudes
against corruption in the first sentence (and who can speak `for'
corruption anyway?) and after that you have to begin thinking about what
the bill actually says, and the moment you do that, you cannot but help
consider the actual provisions and their implications. On television on the
other hand, you never have to speak for more than a sound-byte, (and the
anchor can just keep repeating himself or herself, because that is the
anchor's job) and the accumulation of pious vox-pop sound bytes `against
corruption' leads to a tsunami of `sentiment' that brooks no dissent.
Between the last NDA government and the current UPA government, we have
probably experienced a continuity of the most intense degree of corruption
that this country has ever witnessed. The outcome of the `Anna Hazare'
phenomenon allows the ruling Congress to appear gracious (by bending to
Anna Hazar's will) and the BJP to appear pious (by cozying up to the Anna
Hazare initiative) and a full spectrum of NGO and `civil society' worthies
to appear, as always, even holier than they already are.
Most importantly, it enables the current ruling elite to have just stage
managed its own triumph, by crafting a `sensitive' response (ably deployed
by Kapil Sibal) to a television media conjured popular upsurge. Meanwhile,
the electronic media, by and large, have played their part by offering us
the masquerade of a `revolution' – which ends up making the state even more
powerful than it was before this so called `revolution' began. Some people
in the corridors of power must be delighted at the smoothness and economy
with which all this has been achieved. Hosni Mubarak should have taken a
few lessons from the Indian ruling class about how to have your cake and
eat it too on Tahrir Square,
We have been here before. Indira Gandhi's early years were full of radical
and populist posturing, and the mould that Anna Hazare fills is not
necessarily the one that JP occupied (despite the commentary that
repeatedly invokes JP). Perhaps we should be reminded of the man who was
fondly spoken of as `Sarkari Sant' – Vinoba Bhave. Bhave lent his
considerable moral stature to the defence of the Internal Emergency (which,
of course, dressed itself up in the colour of anti-corruption, anti-black
marketeering rhetoric, to neutralize the anti-corruption thrust of the
disaffection against Indira Gandhi's regime). And while we are thinking
about parallels in other times, let us not forget a parallel in another
time and another place. Let us not forget the example of how Mao's
helmsmanship of the `cultural revolution' skillfully orchestrated popular
discontent against the ruling dispensation to strengthen the same ruling
dispensation in China.
These are early days, but Anna Hazare may finally go down in history as the
man who - perhaps against his own instincts and interests – (I am not
disputing his moral uprightness here) - sanctified the entire spectrum of
Indian politics by offering it the cosmetic cloak of the provisions of the
draft Jan Lokpal Bill. The current UPA regime, like the NDA regime before
it, has perfected the art of being the designer of its own opposition. The
method is brilliant and imaginative. First, preside over profound
corruption, then, utilize the public discontent against corruption to
create a situation where the ruling dispensation can be seen as the source
of the most sympathetic and sensitive response, while doing nothing,
simultaneously, to challenge the abuse of power at a structural level.
I have studied the draft Jan Lokpal Bill carefully and I find some of its
features are deeply disturbing. I want to take some time to think through
why this appears disturbing to me.
The Jan Lokpal bill Lokpal will become one of the most powerful
institutions of state that India has ever known. It will combine in itself
the powers of making law, implementing the law, and punishing those who
break the law. A Lokpal will be `deemed a police officer' and can `While
investigating any offence under Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, they
shall be competent to investigate any offence under any other law in the
same case.'
The appointment of the Lokpal will be done by a collegiums, consisting of
several different kinds of people – Bharat Ratna awardees, Nobel Prize
winners of Indian origin, Magsaysay award winners, Senior Judges of Supreme
and High Courts, The Chairperson of the National
Human Rights Commission, The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, The
Chief Election Commissioner, and members of the outgoing Lokpal board and
the Chairpersons of both houses of Parliament. It may be noticed that in
this entire body, only one person, the chairperson of the Lok Sabha, is a
democratically elected person. No other person on this panel is accountable
to the public in any way. As for `Nobel Prize Winners of Indian Origin'
they need not even be Indian citizens.
The removal of the Lokpal from office is also not something amenable to a
democratic process. Complaints will be investigated by a panel of Supreme
Court judges.
This is middle class India's dream of subverting the `messiness' of
democracy come delightfully true. So, now you have to imagine that Lata
Mangeshkar (who is a Bharat Ratna), APJ Abul Kalam (Bharat Ratna,
ex-President and Nuclear Weapons Hawk) V.S. Naipaul (Who is a
Nobel Prize Winner of Indian Origin) and spectrum of the kinds of people
who take their morning walks in Lodhi Garden – Supreme Court Judges,
Election Commissioners, Comptroller & Auditor Generals, NHRC chiefs and
Rajya Sabha chairmen will basically elect the person who will run what may
well become the most powerful institution in India.
This is a classic case of privileged elite selecting how it will run its
show without any restraint. It sets the precedent for the making of an
unaccountable `council of guardians' something like the institution of the
`Velayat e Faqih' – a self-selected body of clerics – in Iran who act as a
super-state body, unrestrained by any democratic norms or procedures. I do
not understand what qualifies Lata Mangeshkar and V.S. Naipaul (whose
deeply reactionary views are well known) to take decisions about the future
of all those who live in India.
The setting up of the institution of the Lokpal (as it is envisioned in
what is held out as the draft Jan Lokpal Bill) needs to be seen, not as the
deepening, but as the profound erosion of democracy.
I respect the sentiment that brings a large number of people out in support
of the Jan Lokpal Bill movement. but I do not think there has been enough
thought given to the implications of the provisions that it seeks to make
into law. In these circumstances, one would have ordinarily expected the
media to have played a responsible role by acting as a platform for debate
and discussion about the issues, so that we can move, as a society, towards
a better and more nuanced law.
Instead, the electronic media have killed the possibility of any
substantive discussion by creating a spectacle. It is absolutely imperative
that this space be reclaimed by those who are genuinely interested in a
serious discussion about what corruption represents in our society and in
our political culture.
Clearly, there is a popular rage, (and not confined to earnest middle class
people alone) about the helplessness that corruption engenders around us.
But we have to ask very carefully whether this bill actually addresses the
structural issues that cause corruption. In setting up a super-state body,
that is almost self selecting and virtually unaccountable, it may in fact
laying the foundations of an even more intense concentration of power. And
as should be clear to all of us by now, nothing fosters corruption as much
as the concentration of unaccountable and unrestrained power.
I am not arguing against the provision of an institution of a Lokpal, or
Ombudsman, (and some of the provisions even in this draft bill – such as
the provision of protection for whistle-blowers, are indeed commendable)
but if we want to take this institution seriously, within a democratic
political culture, we have to ask whether the methods of initiating and
concluding the term of office of the Lokpal conforms to democratic norms or
not. There are many models of selecting Ombudsmen available across the
world, but I have never come across a situation where a country decides
that Nobel Prize winners and those awarded with state conferred honours can
be entrusted with the task of punishing people. I have also never come
across the merging of the roles of investigator, judge and prosecutor
within one office being hailed as the triumph of democratic values.
Nothing serves power better than the spectacle of resistance. The last few
days have witnessed an unprecedented choreography of the spectacle of a
united action. As I type this, I am watching visuals on Times Now, where a
crescendo of cheesy `inspirational' music strings together a montage of
flag-waving children speaking in hypnotic unison. This kind of unison
scares me. It reminds me of the happy synchronized calisthenics of the kind
that totalitarian regimes love
to use to produce the figure of their subjects. And all fascist regimes
begin by sounding the tocsin of `cleansing' society of corruption and evil.
When four Bombay page three worthies, Rishi Kapoor, Prithwish Nandy, Anupam
Kher, Anil Dharker conduct a shrill inquisition (as they did on the
Newshour on Times Now) against two co-panelists, Meenakshi Reddy and
Hartosh Singh Ba simply because they were not sounding `cheerful and
celebratory' (Anupam Kher even disapproved of their `body posture') I begin
to get really worried. The day we feel self-conscious and inhibited about
expressing even non-verbally, or silently, our disappointment in public
about a public issue, is the day when we know that authoritarian values
have taken a firm hold on public discourse.
Of course, there are other reasons to get worried. All we need now is for
someone, say like Baba Ramdev (one of the worthies behind Anna Hazare's
current campaign) to go on a fast on Jantar Mantar in support of some
draconian and reactionary measure dear to him, backed by thousands of
pious, earnest television supported, pranayamic middle class supporters.
Having said this, let’s also pause to consider that it’s not as if others
have not been on hunger strikes before – Irom Sharmila has been force fed
for several years now – but I do not see her intransigence being translated
into a tele-visually orchestrated campaign against the Armed Forces Special
Powers Act. The impunity that AFSPA breeds is nothing short of a corruption
that eats deep into the culture of democracy, and yet, here, moral courage,
and the refusal to eat, does not seem to work.
The current euphoria needs to be seen for what it is – a massive move
towards legitimizing a strategy of simple emotional blackmail – a
(conveniently reversible) method of suicide bombing in slow motion.
There is no use dissenting against a pious worthy on a fast, because any
effort to dissent will be immediately read as a callous indifference to
his/her `sacrifice' by the moral-earnestness brigade.
Nothing can be more dangerous for democracy. Unrestrained debate and a
fealty to accountable processes are the only means by which a democratic
culture can sustain itself. The force of violence, whether it is inflicted
on others, or on the self, or held out as a performance, can only act
coercively. And coercion can never nourish democracy.
Finally, if, as a society, we were serious about combating the political
nexus that sustains corruption – we would be thinking seriously about
extending the provisions of the Right to Information Act to the areas where
it cannot currently operate – national security and defence; we would also
think seriously about electoral reform – about proportional representation,
about smaller constituencies, about strengthening local representative
bodies, about the provision of uniform public funding for candidates and
about the right to recall elected representatives. These are serious
The tragedy that we are facing today is that the legitimate public outrage
against corruption is being channeled in a profoundly authoritarian
direction that actually succeeds in creating a massive distraction.
In all the noise there has been a lot of talk about cynicism, and anyone
who has expressed the faintest doubt has been branded as a cynic. I do not
see every expression of doubt in this context as cynicism, though some may
be. Instead, I see the fact that those who often cry hoarse about
`democratic values' seem to be turning a blind eye to the authoritarian
strains within this draft `Jan Lokpal Bill' as a clear indication of how
powerful the politics of cynicism actually is.
I hope that eventually, once the din subsides, better sense will prevail,
and we can all begin to think seriously, un-cynically about what can
actually be done to combat the abuse and concentration of power in our
Allow me to pick and choose my revolutions. I am not celebrating at Jantar
Manta tonight. Good night

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