‘The big ones are not being touched’

 
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
 
In an open-ended conversation, Prakash Karat, General Secretary, CPM, speaks to Hardnews on the root causes of systemic corruption, role of the corporates, Anna Hazare’s politics, Ramdev’s RSS links and the RSS putsch to enter and capture the anti-corruption movement, how the UPA government is shaky and panicky, and that there is really no immediate possibility of a repeat of a JP-type movement in the current scenario because the events are still unfolding. He also argues that untouched by the corruption, there are great expectations from the Left. “I don’t think there is any possibility of a credible political alternative in the present political set-up. That is why there is a curious situation.”
 
How do you think this movement will affect the government and politics in the country?
Right now there is a great deal of concern in the country on the huge level of corruption, especially after the exposure of the 2G spectrum case and a series of other corruption cases. There is a fairly strong feeling among the people that something has to be done to check corruption. I think that is the central focus now. Politically, the UPA government’s attempt has been to play down this whole issue of corruption, avoid acknowledging that there is such high-level corruption of this magnitude. The demand for a Lokpal bill became focussed after the people’s urge that this type of corruption has to be curbed. So, when the demand for an effective Lokpal bill was raised and Anna Hazare’s group went on a hunger strike, the whole thing came to the fore that an effective Lokpal Bill has to be drafted. 
 
Lokpal has been talked about since the last 40 years. Actually, Parliament had various legislations, but they never came to fruition. So, now there is a situation where the government cannot evade this issue anymore. The chances of bringing in an effective Lokpal are bright in the present situation. So, more than the political aspect, the government has been damaged because it seemed to be prevaricating, avoiding the issue, and even covering up the enormous amount of corruption. The way they have handled protests surrounding the need for a Lokpal, or even Ramdev — even though his credibility is questionable — shows that the government is on very shaky ground. It is unable to come out with a clear-cut position. In practice, it has been literally dragged to take positions.
 
Will it lead to some new kind of political formation like what happened after the JP movement or the Bofors scam?
The political impact is not going to be concentrated, or manifest itself dramatically. The UPA government and Congress have suffered damage, losing credibility among large sections of people. The prime minister’s image was very high among the middle classes; today, the same middle classes are showing their total disillusion. So they are paying a political price for this. How it will translate in terms of the results, we will have to wait 
and see. 
 
We have a situation where the major opposition party, the BJP, doesn’t carry much credibility on the anti-corruption plank. Right now, it has to grapple with its own failure in tackling corruption in Karnataka and the role of its chief minister there. So, we have a situation of flux because there is disillusionment among the people towards the rulers and the establishment. But I don’t think there is any possibility of a credible political alternative in the present political set-up. That is why there is a curious situation. The government really doesn’t face any serious political threat. Still, it is looking shaky, panicky and paralysed (laughs). It is, of course, making wild charges, like Pranab Mukherjee said the other day that BJP and CPM are backing these self-appointed messiahs with the aim of destabilising the government. I think that is more out of desperation and their inability to see how they can tackle this problem. 
 
Initially, Anna Hazare had praised Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. We know about Modi’s politics of hate. Anna has not spoken on any other issue, be it Posco or other movements. Do you think his politics is myopic?
Well, I don’t know what his politics is actually. All I am saying is that the issue raised and the need for an effective Lokpal is correct. That doesn’t mean we need to subscribe to all his views. He seems to have an inbuilt anti-political bias. You can have views about politics. There can be good politics or bad politics, right politics or wrong politics. But he seems to be an anti-political phenomenon, which is a typical middle-class reaction in our country. Behind that also there is some politics. Hence, even if you say ‘civil society’, it has politics also, and there is politics within civil society. The initiative for an effective Lokpal which Anna Hazare articulated has found support. And this support was genuinely forthcoming from large sections of people. But I don’t think this alone can carry forward and sustain itself to bring about some meaningful measures to fight corruption. Even Lokpal alone won’t do — it is just 
one aspect. 
 
We don’t agree that everything should come under the Lokpal. For example, the judiciary. In the structure proposed by the Jan Lokpal team, they say the Lokpal will be accountable to the higher judiciary and will look into complaints against the Supreme Court. We think there should be a separation of that. We have always maintained that there is corruption in the higher judiciary. To check that there must be a separate mechanism, something like a national judicial commission, which should be legislated. But it cannot be brought under the purview of the Lokpal. 
 
Then, there is political corruption. What about corruption in the political system and among politicians who are not necessarily in the government? Our point is, one should not look at corruption purely as a moral issue — that some people are morally corrupt, and therefore they are corrupt. If you look at the growth of corruption in the last two decades, you can see it basically stemming from the nature of the economic regime in our country — this big business-politicians-bureaucrat nexus. The nexus comes from the fact that you have a State, a government that facilitates the takeover of resources and assets by big business and formulates policies accordingly. In every major corruption scandal there are corporates behind it. 
 
If you look at it purely as a matter of the corruption of an individual minister or a bureaucrat, you are missing the woods for the trees. To tackle corruption in the legislative, executive and judicial arms of the State, you have to make changes in the political system and this economic regime. You can’t have policies that facilitate this loot. 
 
There is a view that civil society groups are operating in a vacuum created by the weakness of the Left forces. 
Well, it is just not the Left. In a parliamentary democracy, political parties are important. Overall, it’s a failure or the weaknesses of the political parties, and in that the Left is also included. People expect the Left to do more. Generally, we have a clean record as far as corruption in public life is concerned. We are given a greater responsibility. Corruption has seeped into the political system and many political parties do not want to address it. There is this so-called cash-for-votes scam and the investigations. This is not the first time it has happened. It happened in 1997 when the no confidence motion was moved against the Narasimha Rao government, and is known as the JMM bribery case. The former prime minister had to go on trial. The home minister had to go on trial. Of course, everybody got acquitted, but it was established that big money was paid to some MPs. 
 
The same thing happened in July 2008 when we withdrew support to the UPA government. A number of MPs of the opposition were approached, offered money, a big price, and it was done in a very systematic and planned way. We can give you examples, leads to follow. We can’t prove it, in the sense of giving exact details of where and when money was paid. But all the parties whose MPs defected have the information on what led to the defection. Parliament is not taken that seriously when there are cases of MPs being bribed. There is a need for a multi-pronged effort. There is a need for electoral reforms to strictly check illegal money in elections. The malaise of black money needs to be tackled. So there has to be a matrix of measures.
 
What do you have to say about the way this anti-corruption movement went about criticising the political class, making sweeping statements like the whole political class is corrupt. 
They will come to the realisation that after the bill comes to Parliament, they will have to talk to the same political parties to get the bill through Parliament. There is no other way you can create laws. And that itself has brought about a correction, a realisation, at least among some of them — I won’t say all of them. The concept of civil society, as it is popularised in the media, is also flawed. If you say there is a State and political parties and politics are not part of civil society, it is a wrong idea. Yes, there is a role for all citizen’s groups and voluntary efforts. But some of the stances adopted, virtually pooh-poohing the whole parliamentary system, the whole political process or politics, are not going to get them anywhere. 
 
What are your reactions to the proposed August 16 fast threatened by Anna Hazare?
I am not undervaluing the importance of having protests in a democratic society, but the timing of this protest action is flawed. You are asking for an effective law, and now there is the possibility of such a law being discussed in Parliament if it has to adopt it. If you reach a stage where you are sure that such a law is not going to come about, then you can announce an agitation. But the draft itself is not available as yet, so when it is finally circulated in Parliament, it is normal that everybody would like to get it thoroughly looked into, and that can be done only through the standing committee process. What is the use of going on an indefinite hunger strike at this juncture when nothing is 
resolved yet? 
 
Is it a blackmailing tactic?
I don’t think Parliament can be arm-twisted or blackmailed. It’s not going to work that way. In this case, a hunger strike should be the weapon of last resort. They are using it right in the beginning. 
 
It has been said that all corruption flows from the political class. A member of the Jan Lokpal team said that all corporates are not corrupt and that they too want an honest atmosphere for carrying on with their business. Do you agree?
No, it is the other way around. If you have an economic system which literally promotes greed and maximum profit, which you can make without any real checks, then you are opening yourself to the power of big money and allowing it to suborn the political class and bureaucracy. The 2G scam has shown how this nexus operates. One A Raja who is in jail today wouldn’t have been there without the corporates suborning him, subverting his role as a minister, aided and abetted as well by some corrupt bureaucrats. So, the fountainhead of corruption is in the corporates, and some of the corrupt honchos are in jail today — not all of them. I am not going to name them, but the big ones are not being touched. 
 
What is your view on the government asking for a review of the black money judgement pronounced by the Supreme Court? Do you think the apex court is encroaching on the powers of the executive? 
The Supreme Court intervened because they have found the government very tardy in going about cases of corruption — for instance, the CBI did nothing in the 2G scam till 2009. So I don’t think it is a case of judicial encroachment or extra activism. Remember, there were these Liechtenstein accounts. The way the government went about that also made the Supreme Court think that it is not very keen. 
 
Like in the past, will this anti-corruption movement, too, strengthen the Rightwing forces?
If you talk about corruption without linking it to the roots or the systemic aspect, it only feeds into an anger and frustration that Rightwing force generally take advantage of. That is why our whole campaign against corruption is targeting its sources. You cannot have big corporates who are allowed to get away with all this. The loot of public resources directly affects the lives of the common people. It’s not a question of somebody having to pay a small bribe. It affects the development of the country. 
 
How do you perceive some Rightwing personalities supporting Anna in the beginning? Ramdev, Ram Madhav of RSS...
This is the typical camouflage. When you find any sort of non-political platform, a non-party platform, you find the people of RSS getting there, for they say, “We are not a political party, we are just a cultural organisation” (laughs). But I think they got exposed. In case of the Ramdev movement, they were openly aligned. Since Ramdev has Hindutva views, as he has come on those platforms earlier, there is no confusion about that. Among some of those involved in the Anna Hazare movement, there has been a realisation that if you just speak about non-political platforms, these kind of people would come in using that as a cover. You can’t fight corruption without politics. 
 
And what of the manner Anna himself has showed his Rightwing leanings, the backdrop, language, leaflets…
Lokpal as a legislation cannot determine how sincere people are. It cannot come about without a democratic political process. In that process you will find things getting clarified — who is behind what, what positions are taken etc. Anna Hazare’s platform is such that even the RSS can declare support for it, even while the Maoists can support it too (laughs).   

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2011

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'The big ones are not being touched’

Presence of corruption is felt from ancient history, but mostly at low ebb as an unavoidable byproduct of the economic growth of society. As the economy opens up, corruption pushes high in terms of involvement, magnitude and frequency, and becomes a matter of serious concern. At this stage, instead of enhancing State’s control and its efficacy, if it indulges in further decontrol and liberalisation, corruption will escalate to uncontrollable heights, and the enormous illegitimate wealth will, in turn, irreparably damage the society. Hence, the only way to check corruption is to plug the source by addressing the economy properly and improving the efficacy of the State. Team Anna’s attempt to undermine Parliament, leveraged by the inept and immature handling of the issue by Congress, clubbed with the frustration of the masses, could cause a serious crisis for India’s democratic set-up.

Manab Milan Nandi