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Losing the Anti-Corruption Plot

Losing the Anti-Corruption Plot

August 16, 2011

As Anna Hazare and the Congress government duke it out, the real loser is the anti-corruption fight itself.

Anna Hazare foretold that August 15th, 2011, India's Independence Day, would be dwarfed in relevance by August 16th, when he would begin another fast-unto-death in Delhi. His target: the government draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill – which excluded the Prime Minister and high judiciary from a proposed ombudsman's purview – and, more broadly, corruption itself. He was right, but not in the way that we expected.

On the morning of Tuesday 16th, Hazare and fellow activist Arvind Kejriwal were detained by police as they left their Delhi residence on the way to begin the fast. Over a thousand further supporters of the Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, including prominent activists Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan, were being held in Chhatrasal Stadium up until the time of writing on Tuesday afternoon. As yet, there is no word on when they will be released.

I have written previously that I do not support Hazare's cause, or his methods. His proposed solution to corruption in India addresses the symptoms of corruption but not the root cause; it is another piece of legislation on top of countless others that have been twisted and turned to suit whoever has the power to wield them. A Lokpal figure or committee has the potential to become corrupt itself, and whatever boon it offers to an increasingly agitated population will be short-lived.

However, Hazare's delusions were nothing compared to the concretely unconstitutional, utterly condemnable act on the law's part in detaining him and his (apparently peaceful, according to reports) supporters. In this case, there is no grey area: the law and constitution of India do not provide for the arrest of a person who threatens to stop eating, let alone a person who seeks to protest the government.

Congress leader Ambika Soni removed the government from the equation: “The police is not under any political influence. They are working independently.” This, to me, seems very difficult to believe. Hazare is a major figure in Indian activism and has in the past six months gained millions of followers in his fight against corruption. It would be fair to say that at present he is India's best-known activist, especially given the constant comparisons with Gandhiji he is accorded in newspapers and on television. It follows that the government would surely keep a handle on all of his movements, and any police body would seek governmental approval before going so far as to arrest him.

Still, whether the decision to detain Hazare and his supporters was made from up high or on the ground – and in either case, Delhi Police remain in servitude to and an instrument of the Indian government – it remains an unreasonable and over-zealous act. It sets a dangerous precedent for future protests and how they will be dealt with. In effect, those who detain Hazare attempt to brush his movement aside rather than actually deal with it – a quick fix as inadvisable in stopping the movement as Hazare's own Lokpal Bill is in weeding out corruption. What's more, it has actually led to much more attention for Hazare and his principles than had he been allowed to fast.

This fact was not lost on Hazare, and his statement upon arrest showed that he had prepared well in advance to be arrested. It also showed that his delusions extend far beyond the Lokpal's effectiveness. “The second freedom struggle has begun,” he declared, in reference to Gandhiji's long fight against the Raj. As he urged supporters across the nation to peacefully court arrest and get themselves detained, he said, “there should be no place left in jails in India to accommodate any more persons.”

Hazare, then, also possesses delusions of grandeur and of anarchy in addition to his misguided legal propositions. Gandhiji fought for freedom from a foreign power; Hazare seeks merely to alleviate corruption in a freely self-governed republic. Neither he nor his struggle are nearly as important or influential as Gandhiji's Satyagraha, or even the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. As for his cry for “no place left in jails”, it would be a deeply frustrating shame for a revolution to begin over such a misguided principle. It would call to mind an argument between spouses where one party goes off on a trivial tangent and from there the other takes sharp offence and escalates the row, while the real issue gets lost.

Because that is the real loser today: the broader anti-corruption movement itself. Legislative economic reforms have been widely touted (see Nitin Pai and Vivek Dehejia) as having the potential to reduce corruption; replacing existing laws surely offers a better option than piling more laws on top. But we now have on our hands a situation where a weak and ineffective solution was proposed, which ultimately led to an abuse of democratic power. Corruption will continue unabated as the rest of this episode plays out, a sideshow that became the main event. I can only hope that the saga ends before it descends into greater abuses of power, or into violence. 

31 Comments

  • lokpal bill
    By
    lokpal bill
    02.09.11 09:40 PM
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  • liberalcynic
    By
    liberalcynic
    31.08.11 10:57 PM
    Agreed. Along with imparting a smug cynicism to the people who're with Anna, this movement actually takes us further behind in our march to a developed free country
  • Spark
    By
    Spark
    26.08.11 04:46 PM
    Nice article... Interesting and quite informative... Thanks for sharing...
  • bp
    By
    bp
    23.08.11 08:20 PM
    I do not agree with your points.

    ***there is no grey area: the law and constitution of India do not provide for the arrest of a person who threatens to stop eating, let alone a person who seeks to protest the government. ***
    It is one of Gandhiji's methods that his follower Anna is following and as far as my opinion goes nobody has any right to question it. Caz we owe our freedom to his methods of agitation.

    ***It sets a dangerous precedent for future protests and how they will be dealt with***
    Yes, So what? Every revolution/struggle will be marked in history with its pros and cons. Gandhiji's methods bandh/hartal/fasting/jail filling etc. might seem unacceptable to you, but you have to accept the methods are peaceful, much more agreeable than a bloody massacre.

    ***Neither he nor his struggle are nearly as important or influential as Gandhiji’s Satyagraha, or even the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East***
    Am I missing something, do you know the meaning of Satyagraha? If you know, is Anna doing the same thing? If YES, your point is mute. If NO, I fear I am no expert in the matter and though I have had my fair share of history I will not be convincing enough to enlighten you.

    Have you heard about the recent scams? Billions of taxpayers money being looted even after 60 years of independence may not matter much to an NRI, but it matters to an Indian, and may not seem as important as the wealth drain caused by the British rule, but for me it is important, because it's mine too.

    Why do we have laws to put murderers in jail? Is it not enough to impart only a moral knowledge that killing is BAD. What about attacking only the root cause? Like it or not, we need strong laws to deter evil doers. And corruption like any other problem had to be addressed from every level. And please don't blindly accuse everyone of being corrupt. Developed societies have strong anti-corruption laws; Why cannot India? Is it not better to leave the subject to the experts? I am 100% sure, the experts in the panel are much more knowledgeable than you or me, about what the country needs. I am just supporting them.

    Thanks to you, for talking about Anna and anti corruption, more people will be informed, and those who really care, I hope can think for themselves.
  • Harikrishnan
    By
    Harikrishnan
    23.08.11 10:34 AM
    Rightly said Barns
  • anon
    By
    anon
    23.08.11 06:48 AM
    The main root cause of corruption and many other problems is over population. If you look at densely populated developing countries like India, all of them are facing this problem. But our govt is turning a blind eye and has failed to take any measures to stop population growth and improve the falling sex ratio.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    22.08.11 04:28 AM
    Neeraj, you say you don't agree but I cannot see, in the article or in the comments, where the points you rebut have been raised! If you just wanted to comment on the issue, fair enough.

    anon, the Lokpal bill appears to me to rearrange existing services and add a new committee to the fabric of Indian politics, which I feel complicates the issue. That's not the main point I stand by, though, which is that the bill would seek to rectify the symptoms of corruption and not the cause. It's pandemic, across every department of Indian government, and needs widespread reforms to the existing fabric to begin getting dealt with.
  • anon
    By
    anon
    22.08.11 04:08 AM
    Hi Barnaby,

    Sorry if I may have sounded rude, but it takes steely determination for a 74-year old man to go without food for days together. Also I read about Jan Lokpal bill on Wikipedia, and contrary to what Nitin Pai and others have written, the bill does not add layers upon layers and instead it simplifies the system by merging the anti-corruption wing of CBI and ACB to create a single institution called lokpal and a small group of retired judges and civilians to look into corruption complaints against lokpal members. Also the lokpal would give security to whistleblowers, who are currently being murdered by people in power.
  • Neeraj
    By
    Neeraj
    22.08.11 03:12 AM
    Dont agree. Agree media has a role to play, positive or negative, depends, but that is so in every other case as well. Governments, law enforcers, politicians, celebrities, who not tries to use media to theiri advantage dependant ofcourse on how much willing a particular media house is willing to get used. But saying that Anna is just a media creation is crap. Every Indian vows by the fact that corruptions is eating away India and Indians, and now when someone out of his sheer guts has amassed all the public support against the apathy of ruling class, there are still people criticising him…insane, habitual critiques they are – or is it yellow journalism, if my understanding of the term is right. Or maybe govenment is indulging in backstage tactics – of give and take, you know what I mean, to veer the media, towards its own corrupt interests, I say this because there is perceptible difference in media overtures, in last 2 days. CNN-IBN, pro-Sonia, all knows was anyways trying its best within moral boundary to flay the people movement, but now I see Star News and Times Now, also to shift their stands. Alas, power, money and greed can do anything!!
  • tys
    By
    tys
    19.08.11 02:52 PM
    http://www.annahazare.org/pdf/Jan%20lokpal%20bill%20by%20Expert%20(Eng).pdf

    here u go...the janlokpal bill..its always better to know what we are fighting for...
  • tys
    By
    tys
    19.08.11 02:15 PM
    iam in india on a vacation and this place is now all about anna...its easy to go with the flow...iam very proud that people are finally coming out in droves to say that they had enough...but i think a lot of people are against corruption as such and are hoping that the lok pal bill is some sort of a magic formulae that will resolve this matter once and for all..

    i think i will go now and read up on it before shooting my mouth of on something i have no clue about...
  • Yogi
    By
    Yogi
    18.08.11 10:36 PM
    I agree with some of the points.But I disagree with the fact that Anna is getting off the track. At least people like him has brought this issue as national issue.And he is getting masses support which augurs well to the Indain Mind Set.We know it wouldn't eliminate corruption but definitely reduce it.

    People were skeptical about RTI Act too. But it is working pretty well!It is always easy to criticize than to talk about some meaningful solution.There will always be people on fault finding mission no matter whatever good you do.

    JAI HO ANNA!
  • Rajan
    By
    Rajan
    18.08.11 09:05 AM
    We Indians do not need Opinions on our future anymore, its like being told you are a dumbwits.
    Enough is enough and we know how to take things forward.
    The time for preaching and enlighment is over.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    18.08.11 04:10 AM
    Thanks to everyone for commenting. I really appreciate the support, and particularly agree with much of what Poorva says - a close look at the actual bill is enlightening.

    @Ajith Somanan - I never had any intention of criticising or denigrating Gandhiji's campaign, and I would hope that if you read the article again, you would see that my point in referring to him was to illustrate the outrageousness of Hazare's 'second freedom struggle' statement.

    @anon - I didn't specify what reforms would alleviate corruption as I am not an expert in economics; instead, I linked to the work of Pai and Dehejia who make strong cases for reforms over Lokpal. That said, I definitely don't equate economic reforms with widespread sale and privatisation of India's state assets. Some of that is likely, as it has happened in nearly every country across the world that has undergone such reforms, but I can't see it getting out of hand. In any case, the trade-off is worthwhile if it reduces corruption - which I suspect it will, as many economists have argued.

    As for people not opening their mouths in other cases, well, people do - it's just that those incidents, such as the Telangana agitation, tend to be on a regional scale and thus subject to less national attention. In Hazare's case, we're all hearing about it and all have an opinion because he's tapped into a rich vein of underlying discontentment over corruption.

    It's also my belief that fasting is no healthy way to effect change in a democracy, whichever way you look at it.
  • anon
    By
    anon
    17.08.11 10:47 PM
    I wonder why people don’t open mouths when politicians initiate fasts and protests (which involve destruction of property), such as for separate statehood, but do in this case. When the govt proposed OBC reservations, people protested but they didn’t fast, and the reservations are being implemented now, along with dilution of the IIT brand. During VP Singh’s time, the reservations idea was taken back because of one person, one person claiming his life. Elections are only once in 5 years, and in between if a govt is flexing its muscles and doing wrong, then we have no other way to make change than to protest by fasting or by violence (which I don’t think is what civilized people do).
    Also why don't you specify what reforms are needed to end corruption?
  • anon
    By
    anon
    17.08.11 10:44 PM
    Barnaby, how will economic reforms stop corruption in say, the police force? Do you want to privatize the whole police force and the army? How will economic reforms lead to faster justice? WE NEED THE LOKPAL BILL.
  • Sudha
    By
    Sudha
    17.08.11 02:10 PM
    I am really glad to read such a balanced article, and more so when all articles and blog posts are supportive of Anna Hazare. Anna may have started off with good intentions, but it has now degenerated into a battle of egos. And the losers, as you have so rightly pointed out, is the campaign against corruption.
  • Ajith Somanath
    By
    Ajith Somanath
    17.08.11 01:01 PM
    Dear friends ...
    Having read your article i would like to say that even Gandhiji's satyagraha movement had many flaws but that did'nt mean that the overall direction and aim were bad.There are innumerable accounts of gandhijis failings which have been well documented, would you say then that living under the raj was the better option?
  • Amrita N
    By
    Amrita N
    16.08.11 11:29 PM
    The only way India can be saved from total doom and ruin is if its citizens decide to oust the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has been looting India for half a century now, from Indian politics ONCE AND FOR ALL
  • Poorva
    By
    Poorva
    16.08.11 10:50 PM
    @Interesting

    Yes, of course, the great momentum is an indication of the mood of the populace, which is that they are fed up of the corrupt system. Most of the protesters would neither have the legal aptitude nor the inclination to go into the niceties of the provisions of the Janlokpal Bill and understand the gravity of the danger of creating an all-powerful entity.

    But like I said, it doesn't matter. It is more important that a large section of the urban population seems to be united on the issue of corruption, whether or not they understand/support Janlokpal. This movement is full of symbolism and voicing of public opinion and will go a long way in purging the society of day-to-day corruption owing to the awareness created.
  • Neha
    By
    Neha
    16.08.11 09:24 PM
    I think our late & great leaders fought for the freedom against British govt. seems easier than current fight against corruption against Indian Govt. Shameful???? Utho................Jaago.........Plz. support ANNA.............SINGHAM........GANDHI.........HERO.........
  • AG
    By
    AG
    16.08.11 09:20 PM
    How is government handling this situation? Do you smell a rat here?
  • Chandrabhan
    By
    Chandrabhan
    16.08.11 08:44 PM
    Anna hazare to be released very soon Power to the People
  • Interesting
    By
    Interesting
    16.08.11 08:42 PM
    Yes, I see what you are saying but I'm not sure I agree. Momentum by itself is not a good measure, necessarily, although it does give an indication of the mood of the populace. But momentum from educated, intelligent people who have thought through the issues is worth alot.

    I think you would expect intelligent people in India to have done some research about the issue before supporting him.

    But why throw him in jail? So you are saying that they deliberately threw him in jail and then released him to create a feelgood factor? I'm not sure how that works? Are people just going to say "phew that was lucky, he's out now, no need to worry about that corruption stuff anymore!". I don't see it myself.
  • Poorva
    By
    Poorva
    16.08.11 08:32 PM
    @Interesting
    I'm sorry, but examining an issue by the momentum it gathers and not on its merit is the worst thing you can do, if you want to be an enlightened citizen of the country.

    Most people, including the highly educated ones,who support Anna would not have even read the Janlikpal Bill an debated its provisions.

    People are ANGRY about corruption in general and Anna's fast/Janlokpal is just a means for venting that anger, and it is justified too. People are fed up of the system. A lot of these people supported Ramdeve too. Their support is hardly based on specific issues. It would be a grave mistake to lend support to, or have high hopes from Janlokpal, just because the cause has brought people out on the streets without actually documenting their reasons/rationale for people protesting.

    Also, I hope you are not so naive as to think that Congress does not know exactly what it is doing and its impact in the long run. Congress has been in this business for half a century and has mastered all the dirty tricks of politics. Their moves are careful and calculated. Also, it is wrong to assume that the upwardly mobile people (who are supporting Anna) have any sway in the voting patter during general elections. Congress is not "scared" of Anna or the Movement - rather, it has realized that the small population behind Anna will have no visible influence on the elections outcome. The LARGER issue of corruption matters, of course. But putting Anna in jail for one afternoon (yes, I saw on the news he is going to be release today. And people are already celebrating! See how Congress has suddenly generated a feel-good atmosphere! This ispolitics) has no tangible political repercussions.
  • Poorva
    By
    Poorva
    16.08.11 08:24 PM
    @Interesting
  • Interesting
    By
    Interesting
    16.08.11 07:58 PM
    Also, surely the fact that he has so much support from educated people again must mean he is at least partially on the right track. These are not just people looking for a fight - these are people who can understand the issues and see whether what he is doing makes sense or not.

    I'm not an expert but that is how I see it.
  • Interesting
    By
    Interesting
    16.08.11 07:34 PM
    It is interesting however, that the government is so scared of Anna Hazare that they feel the need to lock him up. Clearly, he must be doing something right that the allegedly corrupt government is panicked into unjustly throwing him in jail.

    If it was a toothless bill and Anna Hazare had no bite either, then why not just let the bill pass and let him do his fast?

    No, he has scared the corrupt and thus must be doing something right, surely?
  • Poorva
    By
    Poorva
    16.08.11 07:09 PM
    I see a good and a bad in what is happening with the IAC/Janlokpal Movement. First, as it should be, the GOOD: It gladdens my heard to see that there are Indian citizens (esp. the upper middle class citizens) who truly care for and worry about this country, the direction in which it is headed and the ramifications of current governance crisis. It is a relief to know that where, for most part of the year, the upwardly mobile prefer to live in their gated colonies and shiny malls, there are occasions where they will venture out and lend their voices for the betterment of the country. There is nothing like that sight of hoards of people, from different backgrounds and regions, unite and speak in unison about a cause as worthy as anti-corruption.

    The SAD part, unfortunately, is that while their larger cause is a worthy and commendable one, the IAC (overrun by leftists) is selling them a bogus, illusive vision of a corruption-free India based on the notion of a superhuman, all-encompassing Janlokpal. I am afraid that even if somehow this version of Janlokpal is allowed to come into existence, it will be abuse and/or be ineffective in removing, as you rightly said, the root causes of corruption in India.

    I would have given my wholehearted support for Anna (and IAC) had he been fasting for, say, electoral reforms, or debureaucratization of key sectors of economy. But when most of those who pass off for 'activists' in the country are hard-core leftists and their very livelihood depends on opposing developmental projects, it is difficult to expect anything progressive.
  • kai
    By
    kai
    16.08.11 06:56 PM
    I completely agree with the author.
  • Nat Phic
    By
    Nat Phic
    16.08.11 06:54 PM
    Good article. Summarizes clearly.

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