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10 APRIL 2024

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

India’s anti-graft drive triumphs amid concerns

By challenging the supremacy of Parliament, India's movement against corruption has set a dangerous precedent.


by Siddhartha Kumar

NEW DELHI: Indian activist Anna Hazare’s dramatic campaign, which forced the government to take decisive steps towards a tough anti-corruption law, has sparked mass celebrations but could well have set a dangerous precedent for the world’s largest democracy by challenging the supremacy of its Parliament.

Hazare, 74, went on a hunger strike on Aug 16 after rejecting as “ineffective” an anti-graft ombudsman, or lokpal bill, introduced by the government.

The campaigner said he would not end his fast until Parliament introduced and passed a stronger version of the bill called jan lokpal, or citizen’s ombudsman, prepared by his team.

Despite repeated appeals by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Parliament over the past days, Hazare and his supporters insisted on bypassing parliamentary procedures and displayed an unwillingness to consider other proposals.

It was only after Parliament agreed that three key demands from Hazare’s version would be considered by a panel for inclusion in the lokpal bill that the feisty reformer gave up his protest on Sunday at New Delhi’s Ramlila grounds, leading the embattled government to heave a sigh of relief.

It was the first time that India’s Parliament explicitly agreed to accommodate demands raised by an outside entity, that too when the official bill had already been moved.

Parliament, however, did not pass a resolution or hold an oral vote on Hazare’s demands. The government employed every trick in the Parliament rulebook not to commit itself through either voting or a resolution.

“There was no surrender of Parliament’s supremacy, there was also victory of people’s power,” Hazare’s key aide Medha Patkar said, describing it as a “win-win” situation for both the government and the movement.

Coercive tactics

Critics of Hazare’s strident campaign have also grown, with some associates distancing themselves from the movement.

Nikhil Dey, convenor of the National Campaign from People’s Right to Information, which has fought for greater government accountability, has differences with Hazare on the method of the
passage of the bill.

Like the government and Parliament, Dey’s group wanted a debate before the law was passed.

“You cannot dictate Parliament to pass law in a particular timeframe. But the Parliament handled the crisis maturely. So, while their (Hazare’s) demands have been accommodated, Parliament has also protected the processes by which it frames laws,” Dey said.

“It was not so much of a capitulation since the parliamentary panel will examine the proposals after which there will be discussion and vote,” he said.

Hazare began his protest with the shrill pitch of “Pass the Bill or Leave,” leading ruling Congress party politicians to say that the activist’s coercive tactics would undermine parliamentary democracy in the country.

There has also been criticism of Hazare’s aides Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal, who mocked at parliamentarians and urged the crowds to disrespect lawmakers.

Former Parliament speaker and communist politician Somnath Chatterjee described Hazare’s movement as anti-democratic.

Indefatigable campaigner

“Hazare was openly saying that the fight was against the Parliament and its members. Undermining the Parliament is demeaning the constitution itself. Parliament represents the entire nation, while Ramlila grounds represent 200,000 to 300,000 people at the most,” Chatterjee said.

There are concerns that Hazare’s campaign could well spur similar agitations by groups seeking to compel the government to get their demands passed as law within a given time, Dey said.

But the masses celebrating the success of the anti-corruption campaign on streets across the country remain convinced that hardline tactics such as Hazare’s indefinite fast were needed to force a reluctant government to act on the lokpal bill, which has languished in a house committee since the late 1960s.

Hazare had gone on a similar fast in April, which pressured the government to introduced the bill in early August.

Social scientist Yogendra Yadav said it was a major victory for civil society.

“One is profoundly mistaken to believe that street contestations and agitations are against the spirit of a democracy. These pulls and pressures are very much the staple of democracy and strengthen it,”
he said.

“Hazare’s movement may institutionalise pre-legislative consultations. It has also infused a lot of energy and leadership in our public life and given opportunity to Indians to transition from
subjects to citizens,” he said.

There is no stopping Hazare, yet. The indefatigable campaigner announced his next campaign just before being hospitalised post his 13-day fast.

The new Indian icon has marked election reforms as his next mission, and said he would embark on a countrywide tour to ensure that no tainted leader gets elected to Parliament.


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