The day after ANNA

Why the recent mobilisation of the youth and the country on corruption could end in a whimper if the correct lessons are not sought. And, how political reform and citizen engagement are the real solutions.

 

It has now been analyzed threadbare that what looked like a comprehensive outpouring of public sympathy for Anna Hazare’s campaign to press for his team’s version of the jan lokpal bill is really the public venting of outrage at the spread and depth of the scourge of corruption the people find themselves mired in today.

The campaign and its response, and the response of the Government to it have been exemplified by mis-starts, mistakes and misanthropy, to say the least. It is reckoned that a lot of the support that Anna Hazare has been able to garner is rooted in the obduracy of the Government in a repetitive pattern of insolent behaviour which also saw a scandalous attack on Baba Ramdev and his followers earlier.

But it would be a mistake to see this outpouring as an indictment only of the Government on the lokpal bill: it would also be misreading the mood of the people. Above all it would be an omission of critical value to miss that Anna’s movement challenges not only the state for its antagonism to the more comprehensive lokpal bill, but that it aims at the larger issue of political behaviour, reform and leadership. 

The same sentiment is salient in the public response which while severely castigating the incumbent government and the dominant ruling party, tended to tar all political parties and politicians with the same brush. While it is not to suggest that this is a complete truth, the trend of public angst towards the quality of politics practiced for the last few decades is a clear signal for parties and politicians to introspect.

Be that as it may, it is also clear that the current campaign and its mobilization is not all-pervasive considering the bias its exhibits towards an urban centric population and its popular modes of protest. That is not to suggest that the impact of corruption is not felt in other strata of society, but just to present the limitations of a sustainable movement against corruption if left circumscribed here.

That apart we have seen sections of social leaders choosing to express disaffection for the campaign and the movement based on unconvincing theories but reflecting discomfort with its urban/upper class orientation.

On the other hand, the original drafters of the bill, the NCPRI, and the NAC and other voluble sections of the intelligentsia as well as the political spectrum is emphatic that the provisions of the bill must eventually be the subject matter of deliberations for the standing committee and finally of the parliament.

It is a concern that between the stress of hardened positions and subsequent negotiations, the energy of this mobilization might be laid to waste and the real opportunity for reform may be permanently lost. If corruption is the result, as is being portrayed by the team, of politics, then it stands to reason that political reform must be the target of correction and as is now being more universally accepted, a mere bill is no panacea.

In the absence of any attempt to federate the energized youth, there is danger that the core of the movement might be reduced to the specifics of the bill and no more. For it is not by events that a movement is sustained, but by organization and architecture.

The real challenge this movement poses is not therefore to the bill or the government but to the texture of politics in general and it is that which must be our focus if we are to make use of this massive mobilization of public opinion. It is my interest therefore to bring focus back to the essential subject – of probity, of ethical conduct and the intent to establish new benchmarks for high quality politics.

 

Reform, perform or perish.

If we must take away something from this movement it has to be the learning thatIndiahas changed and that its young citizens are looking for a new grammar of politics and a new breed of politicians. Not for them the old wine in new bottles or the blood line of past, not for them the in-bred feudalism of yesteryears but a new paradigm that puts citizens first and accords accountability a premium.

But do we take up that challenge? Are we made of the material that Anna and his youth generation seeks?

I wager that we do. That there are in the political spectrum, as there is in the corporate world or the burgeoning enterprises of growing India, people of high merit, high values and those who make the cut.

But do we have the mechanisms, the apparatus and the procedures necessary to attract, mentor and deploy them?  Maybe not completely, but the process is on. In the BJP there has been a subtle but sure shift of strategy and for those who may not have noticed it the party is reorienting itself to brace for a new generation of policy consumers. And that has required preparing for a new generation of political aspirants. If at all it is necessary to say it, I am proof of that shift.

Can we take this forward with enough speed and size? Yes we can. In spite of setbacks like Karnataka and the occasional compromise of character by someone or the other, I believe we can. But we can have even more traction in this enterprise if the motivated young men and women who have trudged to parks and maidans in the last week are prepared to not let their enthusiasm and energy waver and if they agree to become part of a larger movement – a movement which is easy to target and pillory, but a movement that nevertheless is the only way good governance can be delivered – the political movement. 

It requires all those hundreds and thousands of young men and women who have thronged public parks and jostled on streets on marches and protests in support of this movement to enlist and take charge. It needs them to unify in the purpose they rose to meet – and to take this movement forward and not let the moment melt away. We must ask them to join us in establishing the order they want to see – ask them to be the change they want to see.

I would say to them that it is only by flooding the political system with your sense of goodness and honesty that you can impact political behaviour – so flood the gates, enlist and overtake the political mainstream. Don’t just stand by the side chanting slogans. Be the slogan you chant.

But that is only half the problem. Political reform is only part of the solution, for without constant oversight nothing ever works well for long. In that, the role of citizenry is essential and it is only in the absence of any institutional harness for constant public consultation and engagement that such a travesty of public will takes place.

 

Bringing people into the picture: The RWC Scheme by the BJP in Delhi.

The day we outsource governance without establishing a monitoring mechanism is the day we give corruption space to fester. It is not without reason that it has been said that a democracy where the polity meets not as often as each week is never in a healthy state.

In Delhi, the BJP’s experiment with devolving power at the civic level by establishing consultation committees where residents and their elected representatives meet every month and list priorities of development for their wards is one fine example of how corruption is kept in check and how the principles of transparency, accountability and probity are inbuilt as a mechanism in governance.

In this recently launched initiative under the Mayor’s office, the BJP leadership in the Municipal Corporation ofDelhihas instituted a Resident Ward Committee scheme that is a simple mechanism to integrate public consultation in an unostentatious fashion in normal day to day functioning of the city. The RWC, as it is called in short, is a committee made up of one member from each Resident Welfare Association that falls within that ward and the local councilor is the automatic Chairman of this committee.

Only two conditions prevail: One meeting every month; and Minutes recorded and forwarded to the Mayor’s office. A Convener selected by consensus calls meeting and records minutes. Just this two-step architecture presents us with a remarkable model for reorienting local governance. These consultative committees define the new outlines of the governance ecosystem where the pre-legislative consultation process is endemic and demands a debate without straining for the kind of attention the Lokpal bill needed.

The premise is simple and puts democracy back to work, for it is only by discussion, debate and dissent that democracy crawls forward. The problem with our democracy is not there is too much noise but that there too much chatter and too little talk. And the reason is not for any lack of anything except formalized structures conducive to the forward movement of ideas. The indiscipline of aimless banter can be tamed by the formality of procedures and precedents. Men can become statesmen when put to the task. The responsibility of charting a course gets a ship a Captain.

Given the conditions, people are capable of resolving issues, evaluating solutions and taking decisions. Given the conditions, elected representatives too respond to their electorate in the manner they are expected to. The RWC provides such enabling conditions that allows for engagement at the critical, basic levels of governance that in turn defuse the pyramidal build up of corruption and in response public angst and disgust.

It is now time that the RWC scheme is applied to every city inIndia. It is only then that we will see not just the beginning of a new dawn of good governance, but also of the end of corruption.

 

Congress cons. BJP budges. Media fudges.

Varying versions of media reports abound but the sequence of events all through this episode from the first shot at fasting at jantar mantar by Anna Hazare down to the capitulation of the parliament is a study in how democratic institutions in India have pretended to be working while being progressively ossified into ineffectual architectural boulders rather than facilitating edifices of any worth.

The part that rankles most is how the incumbent government exhibited animal displeasure at the first attempt by ‘civil society’ to invade their space as it were and how its actions continued until the very end to be laboriously in the same direction of destructive disdain, camouflage, obfuscation and plain contempt.

It is another matter that in the euphoria of the final moments the media lost all track of the chain of events and in the final analysis showered kudos on the very establishment that had attempted to pulverize and demolish public opinion until the opposition party forced its hand.

Anyone looking at the highs and lows of the entire episode from any vantage point would not miss the attempt by the Congress led regime to use every trick in the book to first discredit the movement, then the persons involved and when it promised to balloon into another dimension with another round of activism by Baba Ramdev to use force to crush the attempt. Then the second round of attack which started with more obdurate posturing and the imprisonment of Hazare and cohorts and then the public bashing, the abuse by street fighter spokespersons and threatening ministers and then the pull back and the correction, but only in name while all along every trick in the book was used to delay, defray and defibrillate the movement and national mood and when all else failed, the final attempt at rousing up its allies in the parliament with an echoing editorial media on its heels to paint it as an attempt to usurp the role of parliament.

Never did this government exhibit grace, never good intentions and at no time any suspension of its innate belief that it is a monarchy invested with perpetual governing rights until it bought opprobrium to the institution of democracy and led to one of the greatest humiliations of parliament ever seen by us even as members rose to piously defend the people’s will while they cursed under their breath.

The crass insensitivity of the Congress mandarins towards the movement, the will of the people and above all to the life of the septuagenarian Hazare were witnessed by all in as transparent language as it possible. Even the cleverly assuaging words of the PM when the government found itself facing a wall of public outrage were relegated to mere posturing with the pompous and overbearing intervention by Rahul Gandhi only illustrated what we knew all along – that the entire episode was either bereft of leadership in the first instance or it was turned to become a national platform to launch the scion of the Gandhi family as a messiah once it peaked enough.

Insincerity, insensitivity and innate selfishness shone through every move of the Congress in this episode and yet in the final hours, everything was forgotten and the PM actually canonized by many for his leadership. The media all through was biased, everyone agrees and some forgot their creed and tried to become the news but their collective failure to sift fact from fiction and record the episode in its correct perspective is still the crime they should not be forgiven for.

The BJP may like to analyse too, how a party that was accused of propping up Anna Hazare and the movement in its first outing, then Baba Ramdev, came under attack for not revealing its position on the issue. It fails reasonable analysis that a party that blew the bugle on the corruption in the UPA regime last year and provided the enabling conditions for campaigns like Anna and Baba Ramdev’s to develop and catch momentum was relegated to the same corner as the Congress, having to explain its complicity, is a matter for serious introspection in terms of strategy and tactics.

 

The other side of Annamania.

For all the delicious praise now being heaped on the parliamentarians, the shining democracy of the country in glowing terms is really a mind-numbing reminder of how an entire nation can reduce itself to wildly hallucinating people under a dose of TV-led jingoism when in fact they uprooted whatever soil there remained around our institutional pillars.

That a pack of activists can bend the parliament to its will –all that humbug about the will of the people being supreme kept aside for what else was the parliament all about anyway! – is only representative of not anything fundamentally incorrect with the demand but an illustration of the sloth and hubris that is eating away at the vitals of our democracy. It is – and as the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha touched upon this – the inability of parliament to reflect the will of the people for so long that brought it to such a shameful capitulation.

The absence of our parliamentarians to get a ‘sense’ of the popular desire to root out corruption for decades coupled with an administration that has shown itself to be a peddler and protector of some of the gravest acts of corruption in our history has brought one of the singular edifices of our democracy to this low point. That, parliamentarians now sing the tune of acknowledgement, of the will of the people is not to be mistaken for any evidence of a strong democracy, but a weak one.

The craven capitulation by exalted members within the circularity of the parliament hemisphere when the government had its back to the wall will remain etched in public memory and this ghost will haunt us again, and again. The generation which saw the crown of Indian democracy mocked will choose to play its hand again, some time later, some time soon. The Congress will bear the scar on itself for it just as it inflicted on the edifice that day. And there must be penance. Or there will be punishment.

 

Quickie Democracy versus Good Governance

The plethora of sudden solutions that have appeared since the Anna movement acquired its momentum and achieved its end has thrown up a confounding miscellany of ideas none of which seem to hover around the critical aspects espoused earlier viz. citizen empowerment and institutionalized intervention or institutionalization of public consultation or pre-legislative consultation.

It was not unusual therefore to see the sleeping dragon of electoral reform step out of its cave with many related proposals though it has to be admitted that the team Anna’s indications and utterances on the right to recall set tongues wagging more than anything else. The debate is in the right direction, for any discourse towards better governance through transparent mechanisms is welcome but now that the second silly season is upon us it would be worthwhile to ponder on some of these ideas just so the discourse is not compromised by some ungainly, disproportionate ideas.

Between the right to reject and the right to recall is a chasm of interminable width for one is the lazy man’s solution to the problem whilst the other is the plodder’s recipe. Whereas the right to reject suffers from conceptual infirmity, the right to recall defeats itself in practice. Noble ideas, in intent both, their authors are passion more than intellect, for both are in themselves unaccountable to reason.

Consider that the average urban voter chooses to cast his vote far more reluctantly than his rural counterpart. The same bias holds for economic classification, the rich vote less than the poor. Consider then that the right to reject is an act that permits a voter to first queue for voting, and then at the moment he is expected to vote, chooses to actually not. Pioneers of this idea think that by doing this they might produce a verdict of None-Of-The-Above, indicating a re-match, so to say. But the idea is frivolous. People are not ingrained to make investments in status quoist options. Affirmative action, yes; negative voting, yes too. But parapsychology does not support the theory that man will move to achieve nothing. And before another argument is unsheathed, remember that the other part of the problem stays unsolved. Even if it were to force a re-election, where would the new candidature come from? And can you really democratically cauterize the right of a candidate to stand for re-election? The systemic environment as it stands is severely antithetic to easy candidature and the chances that a new, better candidature emerging is a false alarm at best. Anyone who knows politics as it is practiced and in the circumstances it is practiced would immediately understand the impotency of this idea.

The other idea, the right to recall is sounder to the ear although unrealistic to the test. Recall is sexy, when put in context of the current mire of party politics but it is weighed down by the conditions that would be needed for it to be acceptable to all. It might be possible to take a leaf out of the election laws of the state ofCaliforniabut even then the right would be unenforceable in 99% of the cases for the sheer weight of effort.

The essence of the movement towards better governance cannot be faulted, but the effort must not be misdirected. Civil society activism on such issues, particularly when they are launched on the back of previous successes in rousing public opinion may lead to missing the wood for the trees. Earlier activism on the right to reject has ended up putting that idea on the list of electoral reforms sought by the Election Commission of India- an institution that might serve us better by creating a national network of independent offices not dependent on state machinery. It also forces them to deviate from their real mandate and start to compensate with another unrelated activity if it cannot show enough progress on such ideas. For example Election Commission has started spending millions of rupees in advertising campaigns trying to get the youth to vote or urban voters to queue up on Election Day – patently irrelevant for an institution whose essential job is to conduct free and fair elections. People not voting are already communicating a choice. It is not for the EC to fret but the political establishment to respond, and if possible, reform. Besides, it has always been the domain of the political party to mobilize voters. How did the EC come into the picture? The EC is wasting precious money and time, led by the nose on such matters by wanton activism.

It might therefore serve governance – and indeed democracy – better, if civil society groups applied this energy to far more serious and productive enterprises such as strengthening the movement of institutionalizing public consultation through models like the Resident Ward Committee scheme that the Municipality inDelhihas launched.

“The challenge to corruption is not a simple game of naughts and crosses, not about the right to recall or reject but an algebraic algorithm that pervades the system in a light and shade pattern that makes the enemy almost ghostlike and intangible. And yet there exists a method to corner this beast – and it is the collective will and intelligence of the people, acting in concert”. 

© Sanjay Kaul 2011

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Comments
2 Responses to “The day after ANNA”
  1. Kirit Saxena says:

    Right now apathy of voter on available electoral candidate options, is misconstrued as lack of participation. By your own logic, today, voter doesn’t want to stand in queue and waste resources, to choose between choices that are all unfit to deliver governance. Crucial difference is keeping silent and saying NO, are two different messages. Truly then every vote will matter. Many who fail to go today for voting would say let me go and get rid of political parties and get for myself a national govt.
    Now take pol parties, they are in a collusion to defeat the prisoner’s dilemma. They know one of the two (similar logic for multiple candidates) has to get elected, so less corrupt will do. So, Mayawati, Mulayam or may be ND Tiwari are in fray- please choose Mr Sanjay. And suffer for 5 years? What if tomorrow, voters- say 50% of them- reject all candidates…and governor gets the IAS experts and may be multi-party govt to govern- why not?

  2. Vijayalakshmi Mandalaparthy says:

    Interesting article! But as usual Mr. Kaul this does not touch upon yet another undelved depth of the electorate. What about the millions who are responsible for such a decrepit Congress being in power, viz. the people who stand to gain from this corrupt governance, minority & caste vote bank politics, soft attitude to terrorism, etc.. This section not only outnumber the genuine ones who are seeking systemic changes but are also far more powerful in terms of money, political lobbies, & media mouthpieces. No amount of legislation will suffice to regulate these people! What we need is an Abraham Lincoln, who was willing to wage a civil war where 20% of the population perished before he could lay the foundations of a sturdy & vibrant democracy in the US.

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