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Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Support A Strong Lokpal

I went to Ramlila Maidan on Sunday. It was an amazing experience. There must have been at least 20,000 people in the ground, while another 5,000 would be outside, either waiting in line to get in, or just came out, or just shouting slogans, etc. But with this kind of crowd, everything was running so smoothly. Except for the 500 meter stretch from the New Delhi Metro Station to Ramlila Maidan, all other roads in the vicinity had regular traffic. I don't think anything of this type is possible when we have meetings organized by political parties.

A few random thoughts on the protest.

Let us recall that initially Delhi Police had tried to put all sorts of restrictions on the protest. There can't be more than 5,000 people otherwise there could be danger to law and order. Do they ever say that to political parties. There can't be more than 50 cars parked at the protest location. Do they say that to political parties. Rallies by political parties often bring a large part of the city to a standstill, and despite being banned by the courts, the bandhs continue to be common. What does Delhi Police do then.

India Against Corruption (IAC) is being charged that they don't have respect for the parliament since they are demanding that LokPal should be able to investigate corruption charges against MPs. Let us see what the two sides are saying. IAC is saying that a few MPs may some time take money for asking questions in the Parliament. They may some times take money for voting in a particular way. And these few MPs must be investigated quickly. Government is saying that if MPs can be investigated by LokPal then it will become difficult to run Parliament. I read these statements as IAC saying that there may be a few MPs who will indulge in an act of corruption occasionally and in those occasions, they must be investigated. On the Government seems to feel that so many of MPs are corrupt that it would be difficult to find quorum (which is 10 percent of the strength) in the house. Which side has respect for parliament and which side does not. You figure that out.

IAC is saying that Prime Minister should be investigated if there is a credible complaint against him/her. (By the way, I do not fully agree with that. There should be some safeguard and a single person or a small group should not decide that the complaint is credible or not.) But Government view is rather strange. It says that PM can be investigated only by an agency which is to be directly under the control of PM, and no other agency (and this agency is CBI). Either the Government should say that PM will not be investigated by anyone, or it should agree to PM being investigated by some independent agency (whether LokPal or not). But to argue that PM can only be investigated by an agency which directly reports to PM is so moronic.

It is being said by the Government and many intellectuals that having an independent statutory body can lead to stalemates. That there can not be bodies with too much independence. Hmm. The Constitution already provides for independent judiciary, and thank god for that. The judges of High Court and Supreme Court can only be impeached, and we are noticing only the first impeachment of independent India now. Today's politicians would not want anyone with too much independence. The constitution already provides for an independent Election Commission, whose Chief can only be impeached, and cannot be removed through an executive decision. An Election Commission which has largely remained independent (though politicians have tried interventions like enlarging the commission) is a major strength of Indian democracy today. The constitution already provides for an independent Comptroller and Auditor General, who can only be impeached, and cannot be removed through an executive decision. And this has certainly helped the nation in uncovering some corruption. Chief Vigilance Commission was supposed to be another independent authority, though the process to remove the Chief is somewhat simpler. One does not need impeachment proceedings, but a process involving Supreme Court has been defined. If all these independent bodies have not created problems for Indian democracy, and indeed strengthened it, an argument cannot be made that mere existence of an independent body is a threat to Indian democracy. (But still, I think I will prefer, if the LokPal can be removed not by Supreme Court, but by Parliament through impeachment proceedings. The accountability of independent commissions have to be to the Parliament - just like CEC and CAG.)

A few intellectuals and of course some politicians have criticized Anna's methods of putting pressure on the Government. They quote Gandhi who apparently said that breaking of law as a protest is an acceptable strategy only against a foreign rule, and not against your own government, and hence "Satyagraha" is not a desirable form of protest in independent India. Sorry, I don't get it. Which law is Anna breaking. He only threatened to violate the restrictions imposed through promulgation of section 144 by Delhi Police which states that not more than 5 persons can be together. Section 144 can be applied only under the circumstances where there is a reasonable fear of violence and threat to public safety. Despite repeated requests, Delhi Police has not been able to bring forth any evidence which shows that there was any fear of violence or threat to public safety. Also, again the point I made in the beginning, will Delhi Police ban all form of protests, all forms of rallies, all bandhs in future. (If they promise to ban all rallies and bandhs and anything else that inconvenience citizens of Delhi, then I wouldn't mind them stopping one of the most peaceful protests of our times. But to stop only the peaceful protest, and not others, that is not cricket.) The only difference between Team Anna and other rallies has been that Team Anna wanted to do things in legal ways. They sought permissions. Others don't bother to seek permission to burn buses, stop trains, block highways, and so on. And if someone does not seek permission, you can't deny permission. You can only deny permission to those who seek it.

Protesting and putting pressure on legislators and the Government is an integral part of democracy. it can't run without citizens having the right to put such pressure. You can't have a democracy where you only have one vote in five years and you have no rights in between.

Finally, why is it that the Government has been able to successfully ignore IAC despite the huge support that IAC has all over the country. It is willing to offer some face saving to IAC, but no more. In a mature democracy, any MP would be worried if so many people are protesting for the same cause.

The root cause for this is the Anti-Defection Law or the 51st Amendment to the Constitution of India, which banned change of parties by any legislator. This was passed in 1985. The act essentially says that we are not represented by an individual, but by a party. The party knows that I may try as much as I can to convince my MP or MLA about my view point, if party rejects that view point, this MP or MLA can do nothing. It does not have that final and most potent weapon - to vote on the basis of his own intelligence, views, and what will benefit his constituency. So we can all try convincing our local MP to support a stronger LokPal than the one this Government intends to create, but at the end of the day that MP is powerless, and is subservient to party. And given that there is no internal democracy in any party anyway, a few people will control the agenda of every party. And while the individual MPs may be jittery, the party knows better. It knows that the next election is 32 months away, and the Indian public will forget what ever is happening today. May be they will lose a couple of states in the next few months but they reckon that they were going to lose them anyway.

So, if you want to push your viewpoint, you have to push much harder. One crore people is not enough to convince the Government that they can lose elections 32 months away.. You need 10 crores, and IAC does not have 10 crores on the streets.

The Anti-Defection Law has brought in political stability which was very much needed in the 1980s (and I suspect that if we repeal that act today, the situation may once again go back to what was there in the 80s). But that political stability has come at a significant price. We have all been dis-enfranchised to some extent.

1 comment:

Ramakrishna said...

your article is very good.
I accept most of the points.

I strongly aggress that "Anti defection law is useless, waste" this is the law which is undemocratic, the law says "MP/MLA must adhere to party stand, withuot defining what 'party' means"
what is party, is it party president ? if that is the case, that is against parliamentary democracy !!

Last point i want to mention is We need strong Lokpal no doubt, but fundamntally "we are electing some one and we want some one else to investigate them", if step 1 can be corrected that will give real meaning to step 2.

thanks a lot