Answering Anna's critics: 10 posers and rebuttals
Most of the arguments dished out by Anna's critics can be countered with one minute of thought. Here are the major criticisms and the possible counters.
Large sections of the Indian intelligentsia have shown a complete disconnect with – if not disdain for — the Anna Hazare movement. It’s not that they do not have a point. They do. But often the objections they raise can apply in almost any situation. Here’s a checklist of the anti-Anna arguments, and how they should really be looked at.
Fasting for a cause is undemocratic. It is emotional blackmail.
This is true. But any form of pressure can be seen as blackmail. So why point a finger only at fasting? When political groups insist on censoring Aarakshan, isn’t that really blackmail? When workers go on a strike, it is also blackmail. But we defend that as part of workers’ rights. When Kashmiris organise stone-throwing extravaganzas, is that not blackmail? Any form of pressure by organised groups can be seen as blackmail. A fast can at least be justified as being non-violent.
It is simplistic to believe that a strong Lokpal alone can achieve a corruption-free society
True. But this can’t be used as an argument against having a strong Lokpal. Nobody is stopping the Union government, or, for that matter, state governments, from implementing all those other reform measures – e-enabling transactions, electoral funding reforms, unique ID-based supply of subsidies and benefits for the poor – to tackle corruption at other levels. Where is Team Anna blocking reforms? This is just a red herring to argue against a strong Lokpal.
The Jan Lokpal’s ambit is too huge – it can’t become a super government.
This is the strongest and most reasonable argument provided by the anti-Anna groups. We cannot have a super-power agency that will usurp all the powers of the CBI, the CVC and the judiciary. But, and it’s an important but, the problem is the current power structure has no reason to share power with a Lokpal. The Anna group is seeking a strong Lokpal in order to countervail the power of the politician and the bureaucrat. The government cannot hope to control the Lokpal (like it does the CBI and the police), just as the judiciary cannot have control of who polices it.
We need a countervailing power – whether it is through an independent Judicial Accountability Bill or a Lokpal whom the government cannot influence. More discussions are needed on this front. Team Anna needs to be willing to compromise on this, without losing sight of the need for an independent and strong Lokpal.
The Jan Lokpal Bill has many flaws.
This is something that all critics – from newspaper editors, to civil society groups to government spokespersons to opposition parties – have agreed on. And, surprisingly, it is the easiest to rebut. The flaws can only be ironed out through discussion and compromise. And, in any case, there is almost no law in existence that does not have a flaw or two. So, go ahead, and hold discussions that can be played on live video. If Anna is offering ridiculous arguments to press his points, the world will know and his movement will melt away.
The Anna Lokpal is very draconian and anti-democratic.
Maybe. But in India we have penchant for tough laws. Are the laws to protect SCs/STs not draconian? But we live with it. Are the laws to prevent dowry and domestic violence not very powerful? We mutter under our breath and carry on. Is the Communal Violence Bill dished out by the National Advisory Council not draconian? But few people have attacked that as much as they have attacked the Jan Lokpal Bill. Was Tada not draconian? Is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act not draconian? When there are so many laws on the statute book with few checks and balances, why single out Jan Lokpal alone for abuse?
The Anna movement has no space for the poor, Dalits, and minorities.
This is an argument that one can make against any movement. At any point, groups of people will organise themselves to deal with issues that they consider important. The new middle class may agitate against corruption that affects it. Muslims may agitate against police harassment in terror cases, Dalits may organise to prevent any change in quotas. Lawyers may agitate against the high-handedness of some judges. Where does inclusion come into the picture? Should all people’s movements have representative quotas from all communities? Are Muslims and Dalits not victims of corruption? Why won’t a Lokpal benefit them?
How can Anna insist that only his Jan Lokpal Bill is right? Isn’t this undemocratic?
It is undemocratic, when seen from the perspective of the government. However, the fact is the UPA blew it. When there was a joint drafting panel, there was a good chance of developing a consensus on most points. But instead of engaging the group, and creating an all-party drafting group that included civil society members, the UPA chose to undercut Anna. The bad blood resulting from that dishonesty is what has pushed Anna & Co towards insisting that only their views are right.
Laws are made by Parliament, not on the streets.
This is a technical argument. Laws are not made in a vacuum. People have to be consulted at all times and all levels. Groups will agitate for laws that they want introduced or changed. Parliament has to handle these pressures and deal with them in a sensitive way.
The Anna Hazare movement is supported by the Sangh Parivar.
We don’t know this for sure, but even assuming the Parivar is powering the movement, it does not explain the broader support the movement has been receiving. Also, the support – or lack of it - from some groups does not make a movement itself illegitimate. If the Maoists support Mamata Bannerjee, does that make her campaign against the Left Front illegitimate? The Left idolised mass murderers like Stalin and Mao for decades, but no taint seems to have attached to them. But if the RSS backs anything, the movement itself is suspect? Isn’t the RSS a part of civil society, even if you don’t agree with them? Will Anna’s movement get legitimacy only if the Congress or the Left back it?
And, here’s the ultimate reason for a strong Lokpal, which its critics have not answered.
The problem with corruption in India is that it has become systemic. Since everyone from politicians to bureaucrats to criminals and businessmen are involved in corruption, is it possible that they will legislate something against their own interests? Only an outside power – and which is what gives Anna his muscle-power – can break this cosy arrangement. Anna’s power is that he is not a part of the cartel of vested interests currently running the country. This is what gives him legitimacy – and the will to demand huge changes.
Watch video: Addressing his supporters Hazare said that the fight for freedom from corruption has started.
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One has only to recount statements from both sides to appreciate that it’s more than an ideological divide which separates the two. Can a deal be struck?
Team Anna seems to be reading the slight shift in public perceptions wrongly. The public and the media are now more in a questioning and critical mode.
Team Anna has scored important victories over the bungling government in the last few days but it might find itself in tough territory once the real debate over Jan Lokpal Bill begins.