Thursday, July 25, 2024

Outside the sight of satyagrahis


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By Umashankar Joshi

The crusade against corruption is pushed down to the level of enactment of a Lok Pal or Lok Ayukta law and establishment of a mechanism to redress the complaints of citizens.

The atmosphere sought to be created is that India will lose democracy and the poor will continue to stay away from their share in development. Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev make the best use of the opportunities available due to the rock bottom credibility of the Congress and politicians across party lines to sensitise, mobilise and galvanise the white collared crusaders hooked to emails, facebook, and candle light processions. The electronic media is ever ready to go gaga over anything related to cricket, corruption and elections.

Though the crusaders attempt to equate their fight and methods to Gandhi, Vinoba and Jayprakash Narayan, a clear line of difference needs to be drawn. The Mahatma’s ‘satyagraha’ was to redress the issues of the underprivileged and the disempowered. There are multiple examples of struggles during the fight for independence and later in post-Independent India commencing from the Dandi Salt March to the Emergency of 1975. All of these involved the masses and empowered the blue-collared people of our country. The ‘satyagrahas’ by Ms. Medha Patkar and the likes focussed to provide the basic right of life and livelihood to the marginalised and voiceless, the struggles of the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy for whom justice is elusive even after 25 years and millions of common people dispossessed of their lands and homes knocking for security and rehabilitation largely go unnoticed on account of poor visibility in media.

It would be arrogant and rash on my part to belittle the demand for the Lok Pal or Lok Ayukta at a juncture when it is perceived as a solution for a corruption free public administration. Problems of redressal of citizens’ grievances is the subject on which the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by the Late Morarji Desai, who later became the Prime Minister of India gave its first report. It is that report which recommended for the establishment of Lokpal and Lokayukta institutions at the Central and state level respectively. These institutions were intended to serve as institutions independent of the government concerned and as institutions to supplement the judicial institutions headed by chief justices or judges of Supreme Court of India or high court of the state.

Limitations of Lok Pal

However, it is equally true that as long as the fight against corruption confines itself to the legal remedy of setting up of Lok Pal at the Centre and Lok Ayuktas in the states, there is nothing much for the parties on the demand and supply side of corruption to fear. The corrupt keep their eyes wide open. They are unlike the cat that closes the eyes whilst stealing the cream. The corrupt know that laws can be circumvented. The authorities can be put on silent or sleep mode. The redress machinery is guided by investigation, evidence and proof. Further, the Lok Pal is set in motion after the offence is committed. There is always a channel of appeal to the high court and Supreme Court and we are all witness to the dust that accumulates on the cases in these temples of justice.

Therefore, a bill though necessary is not a vaccination against the cholera of corruption. However, it can definitely act as a tranquiliser or a pain-killer providing temporary relief. It is not that corruption is rampant today because of absence of Lok Pal or Lok Ayukta. At present, we have the Lok Ayukta in Bihar, Karnataka, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, MP, AP, UP, Orissa, Uttaranchal, West Bengal and Maharashtra. I have perused the work statistics of the office of Lok Ayukta in some of these states. The disposal is around 30 per cent. Out of the grievances disposed, the decisions in favour of the complainants is around 15 per cent, others disposed as being not maintainable or grievances could not be established. Wherever we have the Lok Ayukta in states, the wind and thunders of corruption has neither subsided nor are the corrupt on the defensive.

Hence, let us be realistic in our expectations from the Lok Pal. It is one of the few and not the only institution for corruption free governance. It is also a mixed bag of solutions and problems. Lok Pal being a quasi-judicial authority may order acquittals for want of sufficient evidence and proof which would provide a non-corrupt certificate to the otherwise corrupt.

Apart from the Lok Pal bill, the major contribution of the Anna Hazare movement is the “mini-cafetarias” that will spring up due to the sensitisation. The chosen few from the civil society should exhibit a practical approach at the drafting stage. The bill should not aim at creating a parallel government of the proposed ten members Lok Pal brigade. The role and efficacy of existing machineries such as the CAG, CEC, ED, CVC, CBI, Income-tax Department, higher judiciary, the institution of Parliament needs to be recognised and given desired importance. Civil society need not consider the bones of differences as non-negotiable, particularly the issues of bringing the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary under the purview of the Lok Pal. Their demand calling for a live telecast of the drafting committee meetings, I feel is crossing respectable boundaries. This speaks of their acumen to negotiate.

For a corruption-free society, we should also operate many other levers and knobs. The opening up of the economy resulted in the collapse of the non-official or black market and gave a death sentence to the Number Two economy in a wide spectrum of trading activities and imports. As we undertake more reforms in delivery systems and bring in transparency, it would also reduce corruption and unaccounted wealth.

Blue-Collared Equally Important

Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar symbolised light amidst a climate of darkness, dirt and hopelessness. A similar move by Baba Ramdev playing truant at Ramlila grounds appeared clownish. Baba was feeding the opium through many unreasonable demands such as withdrawal of Rs. 500/1000 currency, capital punishment for offender, etc to the followers of Ramdev yoga and customers of Ramdev Divya Pharmacy. Ms. Medha Patkar chooses the difficult road for emancipation of the underprivileged.

The print as well as the electronic media is providing a disproportionate respectability as well as visibility to the white-collared struggles with almost a blackout on blue-collared ones. The blue-collared struggles should be brought in to the limelight. They empower the dispossessed by providing access to resources and security of life and livelihood. They cut at the roots of corruption and make the masses independent from the doles of the politicians. They move the less privileged forward and deepen political and economic democracy. INAV



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