The people’s power must be unleashed

Tags: Opinion

Anna Hazare is responsible for getting the Lokpal bill passed in Parliament

The people’s power must be unleashed
BEING PROACTIVE: Anna Hazare is greeted by children in Ralegan Sidhi, Ahmednagar, as he and his followers celebrate the passage of Lokpal Bill by the Lok Sabha on Wednesday
It’s not BJP’s Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi or Aam Admi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal. Septuagenarian Anna Hazare is the man of the moment: he is singularly responsible for getting the Lokpal bill passed in Parliament. The bill should become law any day.

The Gandhian’s dedication to the cause was unwavering. It took the country 46 long years to a Lokpal, the people’s ombudsman against corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Lokayuktas in states will also come into being to try and check corruption. Hazare who refused to join the Arvind Kejriwal brigade and get into electoral politics had gone on fast 18 times over the years until Parliament finally bowed and fell in line, passed the Lokpal law after eight failed attempts in the past. Anna achieved what he set out about half a century ago from Ralegan Siddhi in Maharastra to. But he is not fully done as yet. He wants to see how the law in enforced.

The Samajwadis and the Shiv Sainiks failed to stall the law which saw the overwhelming backing of all other parties. Their grouse was the bill, as they saw it, was against the political class and grants a lot of ‘oversight’ powers to ‘others’ — the likes of Anna.

Given the nation’s mood against corruption and huge youth mobilisation by Anna, parliamentarians were forced to give up resistance against Lok Pal. And yes, it was prime minister Manmohan Singh who insisted and brought his own office within ambit of the Lokpal, though this stance was opposed by some sections of his own party, the Congress. After he received news of the passage of the bill, Anna wiped his tears of ‘sweet success’ and then placed his next agenda before the nation. The next phase of his campaign will have two elements: one to form village level councils to ensure the Lokpal and the Lokayuktas deliver.

The bigger part of this campaign will be to get the ‘right to reject and right to recall’ corrupt elected public representatives in Parliament, state legislatures, district councils and gram sabhas. This sets the stage for sweeping electoral reforms.

It also means that Anna Hazare will again be crossing swords with the most powerful politicians, many of whom are patently corrupt or are criminals. A huge proportion of elected representatives are facing cases ranging from murder, rape, extortion, kidnapping and more.

Over the past two decades, the Election Commission has attempted to cleanse public life but faced stiff resistance from political parties of all hues. It has achieved some success: it is now mandatory for political parties to declare their fund sources; there are election campaign cost limits; and candidates now have to file details of their assets and liabilities. But there are still loopholes which politicians abuse with impunity. Most find ways to get round the campaign expenditure limit and political parties have found ways to camouflaging their fund sources. Several candidates contesting in elections to the Lok Sabha, state assemblies, zilla parishads or gram sabhas routinely reported undervalued assets and suppressed incomes. Still it goes to the credit of the Election Commission that some checks have been introduced.

More needs to be done. This is precisely why Anna’s zeal is commendable and has been emulated by large bodies of youth that has campaigned under his leadership without expecting personal gains. President Pranab Mukherjee was right when he said that Anna Hazare’s movement gave a different meaning and dimension to the democratic system of governance. It has put the elected representatives on notice.

The movement against corruption should be extended to achieve several other goals. For instance, protection for whistle blowers and statutory support to them will go a long way to root out nepotism, corruption, redtape and end the hegemony of politicians over the nation’s resources.

Anna’s anti-corruption juggernaut must also focus on two more aspects of public life: non-government organisations and political parties. Both need to be brought under public scrutiny, no matter how much they kick and scream in protest.

Recent amendments to the People’s Representation Act exempted political parties from public scrutiny. They are out of the RTI ambit as well. The thousands of NGOs in India work basically on contributions from well-meaning people, philanthropists, corporate social responsibility schemes of large companies and taxpayer money given out from government treasuries. The country needs to know how the money is spent, and if there is a nexus with political parties and organisations abroad inimical to India.

Going further, companies that defraud investors, banks or promoters or siphon off company funds need to be brought under public scrutiny as part of this campaign.

Rahul Gandhi was right in demanding an extension to the Parliament session to pass other pending anti-graft bills. These are Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redress of their Grievances Bill, 2011, the Public Procurement Bill, 2012, Bill to address Foreign Bribery as required under the Article 16 of UNCAC and Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010.

The people’s power needs to be unleashed, for that’s the only power Indian politicians understand.

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