Team Anna lit the spark, it's up to us to carry the torch
Although Team Anna's exertions resulted only in a jugaad Lokpal Bill, what it has done by pushing the frontiers of participative democracy is worth celebrating.
So after nine rounds of discussions on drafting the Lokpal Bill to establish an institution to investigate corruption in high places, Team Anna feels a deep sense of disappointment that the government has only presented a watered-down version of the bill.
Anna Hazare and his fellow-activists believe that in rejecting some of their key demands, starting with the demand that even the Prime Minister be brought under the Lokpal’s ambit, the government has effectively emasculated the agency even before it has been set up.
Hazare has gone so far as to question the government’s intention to bring forward a strong Lokpal Bill, and has reiterated his intention to go on a fast from August 16.
The government, on the other hand, is happy to have seen off – for the moment, at least – the perceived challenge to its authority that the Hazare-led mass campaign against corruption came to represent. Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily confessed to being “quite happy that the deliberations of the committee have come to an end.”
The bill will now go through the labyrinth of the due parliamentary process, and be debated, reviewed and redrafted afresh. It’s possible that in successive iterations, the bill will be watered down even further, given that the political establishment – pretty much across the spectrum – disfavours an alternative power centre that a strong Lokpal institution could come to represent.
HRD Minister Kapil Sibal gave voice to that sentiment when he suggested that the government’s position while drafting the Lokpal bill had been motivated by the fact that “we cannot afford a parallel system, a parallel government.”
In any case, for all its public fulminations, Team Anna’s ability to influence the final shape of the bill is fairly limited, from here on. The government has gone through the motions of having given it a fair hearing, at the end of which a draft bill emerged.
Given that Team Anna is dissatisfied with the jugaad bill that the government intends to take forward, does this mean their campaign was all for nothing?
For a lot of people in India, the anti-corruption campaign that Anna Hazare initiated in April was a war-cry for a total revolution. The prevailing mood of many of its supporters was: “Let’s throw all these bums out!” The campaign for a strong Lokpal bill came to represent the battering ram that would bring the citadel of the political establishment crashing down.
Viewed from that light, a weak Lokpal bill – which may be weakened even further down the line – may represent a colossal let-down. Weighed against the demand for quick and dramatic revolution, the final outcome is indeed a damp squib.
In that context, Hazare’s plan to carry forward his campaign and educate large masses of Indians about his team’s alternative vision for the bill – and why that would have made a material difference — does serve a useful purpose.
But what we are witnessing, in a larger sense, is a clash of ideas that contributes in a positive way to the shaping of public policy and enhancing people’s awareness. That goes to the core of what a participative democracy is about.
And it is in that context that the true success of Team Anna’s contribution should be assessed.
It isn’t just the right to vote in elections every few years that defines a working democracy: for all the catharsis that is born of voting out “corrupt bums”, that’s just one small part of the merry-go-round that characterises electoral politics.
On the other hand, Team Anna’s achievement was that, for the first time ever, they got a foot in at the door of opaque policy-making in India, and – on behalf of millions of dispossessed people who backed their campaign – compelled the government to concede the right of ordinary citizens to have a say in law-making.
Even if, for the most part, it felt like they were banging their heads against a brick wall, since a tone-deaf but artful government did not take their critical suggestions on board, Team Anna’s efforts have effectively knocked down the Great Wall that hitherto separated ordinary citizens from the business of governance.
The challenge now is to build on that breakthrough and heighten citizenry participation in all affairs of government.
Even though Team Anna’s efforts may seem futile in the short term, the spark that they have lit has the capacity to start a prairie fire by pushing the frontiers of a participatory democracy. That’s a torch worth carrying forward.
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