Time for Caution

Editorial: November 2011
Hardnews Bureau Delhi

The anti-corruption movement that fired the imagination of the country has expectedly run into problems. Conflict of egos and interests is not the only reason for the motley group led by Anna Hazare to come apart. The main trigger has been allegations of corruption levelled against some of the most belligerent and key members of Hazare's team. Former cop Kiran Bedi, who staged a theatrical performance against the political class at Ramlila Ground, has been savaged by allegations of wilfully and repeatedly fudging travel invoices and charging more for her air fare, while actually availing of a government discount. Her weak explanation has not helped matters. Swami Agnivesh, who was an important member of this rag-tag group, has raised questions over the lack of transparency about donations made to India Against Corruption (IAC). Hazare also reportedly wanted answers to similar questions.

Such accusations may be normal for many organisations, but not so when the raison d'etre of this outfit is to fight corruption. A taint like this can knock the bottom off this movement. There is an attempt to make light of these complaints by saying that the government is trying to tarnish the credibility of these crusaders through these media exposures. There may be some kernel of truth in this, but the act of fudging bills and overcharging represents a certain mindset that does not mind making quick money by unethical means. Although the movement claims to be 'Gandhian', some of these rather 'un-Gandhian' activists do not seem to bother about the means to reach their objectives.

Some activists have been stung by the manner in which Hazare's followers displayed their naked political ambitions. They have resented Hazare's call to defeat Congress in the Hisar bye-election, claiming that the Lokpal campaign was above political parties. Some of those who have parted ways with Hazare's movement have been uncomfortable with the kind of formations a partisan Team Anna has aligned with. There is evidence about how the RSS played a major role in beefing up numbers for the campaign. Many leaders of the Sangh Parivar have publicly claimed ownership of the anti-corruption movement. The VHP happily informed that they had fed Hazare's boisterous supporters. LK Advani, going on 84, has started trying to harvest this mood in his umpteenth flop yatra.

The Hazare team's effort was to mobilise crowds like what was happening in the Arab World, and browbeat a weak prime minister and a clueless ruling party into agreeing to a dubious entity that could undermine the parliamentary form of government. Jan Lokpal can become a Leviathan that should be resisted by all those who want less bureaucracy. At the moment, we have enough watchdog institutions. Indeed, there should be a case for rebuilding and empowering them, rather than creating more monsters. After all, even without the Lokpal, our system has been punishing the corrupt, though not adequately. Look at the way the courts have been dealing with the accused in 2G, CWG and cash-for-votes scams in the last many months. In a few instances, Supreme Court has overseen the cases to ensure immunity for probe agencies from political interference. If Lokpal is appointed at the Centre, it can cannibalise the role of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the CBI. As brought out in the presentation by the Director, CBI, before the Parliamentary Standing Committee, the splitting up of CBI or changing its mandate would be extremely disruptive.

Surely, the country must tread cautiously on Lokpal. We must not get browbeaten by a bunch of dogmatic crusaders backed by fascists with little respect for self-criticism, ethical accountability or democratic dissent. 

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