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Non-Electoral Politics has attained Puberty with Anna-Arvind’s Jantar-Mantar Campaign .

11 April 2011 No Comment

Has India Against Corruption Won ?

RTI Activist and Author Krishnaraj Rao’s views on India Against Corruption Movement.

Fellow citizens of India and media-persons,Congrats. You staged an audacious coup! You not only made the central government back down, you made it yield territory for citizen-participation in framing legislation. The government was forced to take cognizance of this groundswell of public opinion. You have impressed on all legislators the urgent need for a strict law to curb corruption. The days of leniency are over.

What you achieved:

1)      Ruling & Opposition parties were placed on notice. Citizens, you proved that the middle-classes of India can be mobilized on secular and non-political issues other than Telangana, Marathi-signboards, river water-sharing and Ram-Janambhoomi. The common man will not only forward SMSes, he will come out on the streets, go to Jantar Mantar and sit down for on an indefinite fast against corruption. Manmohan-ji, Sonia-ji, bear this in mind before making lame excuses for shielding Kalmadi, Raja, Thomas etc.


2)      Failure of constitutional mechanisms like Police, CBI & Judiciary is out in the open: Judiciary and police exist to curb corruption, besides other crimes. However, they have persistently failed to curb corruption because CBI and police are directly under the control of the government. Also, the political class is too powerful for them to handle.

3)      The campaign is an example of organizing & mass-contact for Civil Society. Such phenomenal movements don’t happen automatically or spontaneously. They require vision and effort. In the weeks leading up to the fasting, Arvind Kejriwal and his associates painstakingly toured the country, held meetings in many cities, built opinion, took people into confidence, enlisted support, delegated responsibilities, and ensured that there were plenty of protests. In Mumbai and Maharashtra, people like Praful Vora and Mayank Gandhi of Jagrut Nagrik Manch and Bhavesh Patel of Anna Hazare’s Bhrashtrachar Virodhi Jan Andolan worked hard for a couple of months, liaisoning, doing event management, making things happen. As activists, we need to learn  and emulate this. (Yes, political parties and PR firms do this sort of thing all the time, but it is rare for a civil society goup to do this. Of course, Arvind Kejriwal isn’t just any ordinary activist; he has two NGO structures – Parivartan and PCRF – to help him organize. Anna has his Bhrashtrachar Virodhi Jan Andolan and other outfits. But, despite these weaknesses in this argument, I feel the argument still stands i.e. This campaign has much to teach us activists for the future.)

4)      Non-electoral politics, born in 2005, just attained puberty. Non-electoral politics was born in the 2005 when growing numbers of public-spirited citizens started using Right to Information to supervise different aspects of government and administration. Every citizen who uses RTI for a public cause is a non-electoral politician, because he tries to improve governance without seeking to become an elected representative. Although RTI activists render a valuable public service by safeguarding the taxpayers’ money and spotting corruption, the government denies them legitimacy and legal protection. Citizens are voluntarily doing the dangerous job of unpaid detectives and voluntary public-prosecutors. The electoral route is closed for ordinary public-spirited citizens as the political parties and rampant corruption have perverted the system, and made entry barriers very high.

By pressuring the government to constitute a 50-50 drafting committee for the Jan Lokpal Bill, Anna & Arvind team have cracked this barrier keeping citizens outside governance. Questions are being raised in various quarters as to the constitutionality or correctness of this. One may call it arm-twisting and unconstitutional. But, if you look at it in the context of the huge barriers that the current governance system erects against well-meaning citizens, and the ways it openly protects corrupt elements, one feels that the Anna-Arvind team is doing the right thing.

We may take exception to Arvind’s guerilla methods and the motley clique that he derives power from – a conglomerate consisting of Baba Ramdev, Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi, J M Lyngdoh, Aamir Khan, Prashant and Shanti Bhushan, Justice (Retd) Santosh Hegde and Anna Hazare. It does set off warning bells in our head that such celebrity-based campaigns may steal the thunder from lakhs of hard-working RTI activists (see http://tinyurl.com/Warning-Saffron-Alert ) . But one feels that this campaign for Jan Lokpal Bill is needed for empowering ordinary citizens, who are the ultimate change-agents. Thus, this campaign, with all its contradictions, marks the entry of the citizens’ movement into its pimply and awkward adolescence.

Over the next couple of months, this motley team (particularly Shanti & Prashant Bhushan and Justice Santosh Hegde) will be preparing a Jan Lok Pal Bill that will hopefully survive a stormy passage through Parliament. But the question is, what will we be doing – all of us who forwarded SMSes and stood on the roads with placards, and shouted “Anna Hazare aagey badho, hum tumhare saath hain”? I am offering a couple of thoughts to civil society.

What you need to do now:

A.      Mr & Mrs Citizen, Educate Yourself for Operation Clean-up. As a people, we are opinionated, but not learned. We are educated, we can debate logically, but please take it from me — our thoughts about democratic processes are very haphazard and poorly-formed. We are collectively incapable of running even a cooperative housing society or trade association in keeping with democratic norms. We don’t understand how rule of law is supposed to function. This needs to change… and quickly. If and when the Jan Lokpal Bill is passed by the parliament, people like you and I will have the job of dragging the corrupt to the Lokpal, one by one, after gathering enough evidence against them through RTI etc. Operation clean-up will not happen overnight like the Jantar Mantar victory, and Anna and Arvind won’t be the ones to clean up administration in your city and State. So put on your reading glasses and get serious. Start learning to engage with the administration. Start understanding the various laws and rules that regulate the administration.

We have close to zero understanding how the State functions – even people with MBAs and PHds, even those who are highly respected CEOs and Chamber of Commerce chief, even journalists whose columns and TV shows are widely read and respected. This is simply because we devote so little time to reading, thinking and discussing the actual basics of how the country is run. And because nobody has read the manual of instructions for our democratic machinery, namely the Constitution of India.

Over 99 per cent of us have never even laid eyes on the Constitution of India, much less read and understood it – and that includes most politicians and government officers. The only time that we really read Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles of State is around Standard IX… and we read it to score marks in Civics. And then we consign them to the attic of our mind. Well, it’s time to dust up the manual and read it, so that you’re ready for operation clean up.

B.      Look at Our Own Corruption – Civil Society’s Corruption. Corruption does not live only in government offices and police stations. It is our way of life – yours and mine. It is like friendly little pet cobras that hatched and grew up in our midst, familiar to all, and today have grown frighteningly big and powerful. These cobras freely come and go in our houses and offices. Corruption is your and my accepted way of conducting daily business – in our offices, shops, schools, colleges, courts, hospitals, automobile workshops, cooperative societies, families…  everywhere.

For every tainted minister, bureaucrat or cop, there are 50 civil-society members trading lawful behavior for convenience. Every hawker-stand where you and I buy our vegetables is a collection point for haftas. We patronize restaurants that give a chit of paper, and not a proper tax invoice; these restaurants later under-declare their cash-collections to the I-T dept. and generate huge amounts of black money for some politician. Our children go to schools that collect “donations” or “library fees” that have no basis. We live in houses where the architect fudged the rules to grab 100 square feet of unauthorized living space. Our shops encroach the pavement in the frontage. Our chartered accountants routinely help us to pay 20% less tax. Our lawyers help us with delay-and-diversion tactics in courts. In our businesses, we inflate bills and avoid paying Service Tax where we can. The companies that we work for are cutting corners in innumerable places.

Our doctors secretly get large kickbacks from every pathology lab test and every referral; that’s not very different from the Bofors deal. Hospitals and respected consultants are hand-in-glove for recommending surgeries such as hysterectomies and coronary bypass that are not even required. And this criminal breach of trust is a lot worse than anything that our politicians can do to us.

The cobras of corruption don’t live only in the houses of Sharad Pawar or Suresh Kalmadi; look within your own household and workplace, and you will surely find a few serpents there. Guys, if we want to truly celebrate the arrival of the Jan Lokpal Bill, let us make ourselves worthy of it by killing the serpents in our midst. Let’s walk the talk, let’s sacrifice some short-term gains to build a clean nation.

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