Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fight against corruption good; what about the method? - Democracy, Civil Society and the State

Even as Anna Hazare’s protest demanding an anti-draft bill gains nationwide momentum and nears a solution, there has been some criticism of the methods the veteran social activist has adopted in his crusade.
While everyone seems to agree with demands of more transparency in the system and more accountability in governance, Hazare’s fasting to force the government to accept his demands has led to some calling his tactics as being unconstitutional and unreasonable.
The primary argument is, if a single man can launch a protest, and within four days can virtually force the government to come up with a tweaked version of a legislative bill, does it augur well for a democracy?
Anna Hazare“The movement behind the Jan Lokpal Bill is crossing the lines of reasonableness. It is premised on an institutional imagination that is at best naïve; at worst subversive of representative democracy,” wrote political analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express.
In a column titled “Of the few, by the few,” Mehta says the claim that the “people” are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing.

“Most of us sharply disagree with elected government on matters even more important than corruption. But no matter how cogent our arguments, it does not give us the right to say that our virtue entitles us to dictate policy to a representative process,” he wrote.
Also, many others have pointed out that the government is not against the anti-corruption legislation, or the so-called Lokpal (Ombudsman) bill. The government has in fact promised such a bill.
But Hazare and his supporters have demanded the bill be strengthened to give the ombudsman police-like powers to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats, including judges and members of the prime minister’s office.
Hazare’s supporters, however, say that the Lokpal bill, if implemented the way the protesters have demanded, will only bring more accountability to the system without being the solitary decision-making body on corruption.
“Don’t think the Lokpal will become all powerful. The people will be watching. The media will be watching and there is the court above the Lokpal,” said former Justice Santosh Hegde, who is one of the protesters’ nominees to head the panel against corruption.
The Open magazine, on Thursday, argued that television coverage has made Anna’s protests a bigger event than what it actually is, comparing it to “an absolute farce” like the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square.
The fact that Hazare and his supporters demand participation of common people in the decision-making process, despite the presence of elected leaders, is termed by some as undemocratic in itself.
“Civil society activists must realise that in democracy, laws have 2b made by elected legislators,” Shashi Tharoor, former U.N. Under-Secretary General and a member of parliament,  wrote on his Twitter page.
“The cause is a good one, in the sense that everyone is opposed to corruption. The public opinion is strong,” said B.G. Verghese, a professor at the Centre for Policy Research.
“But the method is completely wrong and some of the demands are quite unacceptable…it will be totally unconstitutional,” he said.

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