April 8th, Day 4 of Anna Hazare’s fast unto death, I think to myself, “You are in Delhi, at least go take a peek and see what all the fuss is about”. My ‘peek’ lasted 2 hours. Initially, I was lost in an ocean of patriotic Indians shouting cheers at an empty stage. I tried getting into the groove- singing along to the songs, echoing the slogans and swaying to the beat. I was enraptured by the crowd. I wanted to capture every moment of it. Antagonised by ‘low battery’ flashing on my phone, I managed a few photographs and a video (photos and video can be viewed on previous blog entries). It was great to see how the masses had united against corruption.
The pageant at Jantar Mantar earlier this month is all very well, however what I am truly concerned about is the Lokpal Bill. The Jan Lok Pal Bill (proposed by activists) and the Lokpal Bill (proposed by the government) differ on many levels. If the Jan Lokpal Bill is passed in its entirety it has the potential to accomplish what it aims to. But the odds are against it. Usually an optimist, I turn pessimist when it comes to issues pertaining to the Indian Government. In my opinion, at best, a tremendously diluted version of the Jan Lokpal Bill will pass. The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Bill which was meant to provide social security to workers and lay down basic working conditions, became an Act in 2009 which gave workers nothing but the right to register and get an identity card. Another example is the forthcoming Food Security Bill- widespread attempts at dilution of the NAC proposed Bill are already underway.
I am not against the Jan Lokpal Bill. It is possible that mounting pressure from the masses will result in the passing of a comprehensive Bill and this pressure itself will ensure decent implementation. However, based on track record, it is only natural to be apprehensive about the content of the Bill that will get okay-ed by the Legislature and how the Executive will implement it.
Let us for a moment hypothesize that a comprehensive Bill will be passed and implementation will be smooth. Is the institution of Lokpal the solution to corruption? To answer this we must first decide if corruption is a disease or a symptom. If corruption is a disease, then the Lokpal may be a solution worth trying. However, I think the system itself is a disease and corruption is a symptom of it. Thus I ask, do we need another parallel power house to disinfect the existing ones? Or do we need to cure the existing system itself?
To quote Amit Varma as he wrote in Where Anna Hazare Gets it Wrong, “Corruption is inevitable in India because the government has too much power. … And, to repeat that old cliche one more time because it is both pithy and true, power corrupts. … The Lokpal Bill does not tackle any of the root causes of corruption.” As Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts it in his article Of the few, by the few,”Corruption is a challenge. And public agitation is required to shame government. But it is possible to maintain, in reasonable good faith, that the Jan Lokpal Bill is not necessarily the best, or the only solution to the corruption challenge”
Rampant corruption exists. That is a truism. Will the Lokpal combat corruption? That is debatable.