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Posts Tagged ‘electorate do not know how to elect’

Why I don't support Anna Hazare (Ashish Gupta)

In Perspective on August 29, 2011 at 8:31 pm

From: The Hindu

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Published: August 28, 2011 01:53 IST | Updated: September 2, 2011 12:01 IST

Why I don’t support Anna Hazare

by Ashish Gupta

What will happen if people start similar agitations seeking to get their demands passed as law within a given time?

While I support all possible measures to stop all forms of corruption and black money, I do not support the method adopted by the team led by Anna Hazare. I do not want to destroy the constitutional mechanism and institutions of which I am proud of, notwithstanding their shortcomings. If Parliament is not reflecting and acting as per the interest of voters, we need to elect candidates and parties which will meet our aspirations and directions. We cannot destroy the Parliamentary system, just as we cannot destroy the judiciary, the rule of law, the bureaucracy and a free press. While many other countries which got freedom from colonial rules during the last few decades could not organise such constitutions and institutions like ours, this is a matter of pride for us. Could we throw the baby out with the bath water?

Comparisons with Gandhian struggle are not correct. Gandhiji was fighting a foreign ruler and his mission was to send out the foreigners and get Independence. He mobilised the common people as well as the educated and, often, his fast was against his own people when there was communal flare-up, or when his people killed Britishers. I will not belittle or ridicule our Independence by saying that “we have no independence, just the goras (whites) have gone and kalas (blacks) have come,” as Anna has declared. I felt sad to hear that comment from someone who claims to follow Gandhiji. He also says the electorate do not know how to elect, that elections are a sham and that Parliament does not represent people. One of his followers, who was also a senior central service officer, declares that “Anna is India and India is Anna.” Yet another says the notification of the standing committee inviting comment from the public at large on the Lokpal is eyewash and a diversionary tactic.

Anna says he will fast till death unless “his” bill is passed by August 30. All these make one terribly worried about the democratic path we have chosen and of which we are all very proud. An imperfect democracy is far better than a perfect dictatorship. The claim of Anna and half a dozen people that they represent the Indian public is nothing but dictatorial. We cannot be fooled by the few thousand people who are gathering on the Ramlila grounds. They are angry with corruption, but do not understand the nuances of democratic institutions. For many, it is a picnic, fun and getting a chance to be on national TV.

There are several issues that can be pushed by similar individuals and groups who can draw a much bigger crowd. Some of these issues are recognised as desirable in the Directive Principles of our Constitution and have been dormant since 1950. The women’s reservation bill appears to have the backing of all major political parties with a two-thirds majority in Parliament but it is yet to come up before the Lok Sabha and far from becoming a law. What will happen if some people start similar agitations seeking to get these measures passed as law within a given time? What will happen when someone goes on a fast unto death at Jantar Mantar asking “total independence” for Kashmir and someone else sits on a similar fast demanding abolition of the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir?

Will the Jan Lokpal bill stop all corruption? It is only a mechanism to punish the guilty who are caught. What about those who are not caught and where there is mutual approval of giving and taking bribe? Remember that a large part of bribe-givers are happy and willing to chase officials privately with money to escape lawful punishment, avoid paying taxes and dues or to jump the queue to get benefits not due to them or to get ahead of those who are waiting. They are not going to complain to anyone. I believe a major part of the bribe given to government servants is in this category and a smaller part is where government servants harass and demand bribe. I was in government service for long and the bribe “offer” is higher than the bribe “demand.” How will a highly placed institution like Lokpal stop such cases?

Do not NGOs and private enterprises indulge in corruption? Companies take bribe and even individual entrepreneurs demand bribe from their suppliers and contractors to create black money. A company gets a supply or work done for Rs. 1 lakh and asks the supplier or contractor to give a bill for Rs.1.1 lakh, give him a cheque for 1.10 lakh and take back Rs. 10,000 in cash, or else he will not get work. This money is pooled as black money to be used for a luxurious life, holiday abroad and to buy liquor. What about those who do not pay tax? Is it not corruption? What about private schools taking money on the pretext of donations and other funds without issuing any bill and asking small children to collect unaccounted donations from their locality? What about advocates, doctors, and professionals taking a huge fee in cash, and not paying their full taxes? Most of the advocates including seniors take astronomical figures as fees.

Corruption has to be attacked with systemic changes, using information technology, reducing discretionary powers, reducing personal interface with government servants, and such measures. Simultaneously, we should have a strong legal framework to quickly punish the guilty. And under no circumstance, can we ridicule the freedom struggle and our achievement of building institutions. We need to strengthen the institutions by electing capable people and educating voters. Dictatorial methods of agitation saying that “this is the bill, pass it or else” will not do.

What Hazare has achieved is to awaken a large number of urban populace to the urgency of curbing corruption, and he should now give Parliament and the government time to come up with their solution and keep up the awareness campaign till the next election. He should contest the next election with his followers or force the political parties to adopt his solution in their manifesto and then canvass for them.

(The writer’s email id is ashishgupta.061990@gmail.com)

Part of the problem (C P Chandrasekhar)

In Perspective on August 22, 2011 at 9:29 pm

From: Frontline, April 23 – May 6, 2011

Part of the problem

C.P. CHANDRASEKHAR

The beneficiaries of neoliberalism deny responsibility for the problems that are sought to be addressed by the fight against corruption.

[Photographer] MOHAMMED YOUSUF
[Caption]At a government primary school with poor infrastructure in Vijaynagar Colony in Hyderabad, a file picture. Corruption diverts resources away from development expenditures, especially those geared to reducing deprivation and improving the quality of life of the poor.

IT was indeed an unusual “social movement”. A group of “activists” who had banded together to draft one version of a Bill that would establish a statutory institution to investigate corruption in the political establishment sits in protest demanding the acceptance and passage of its version of the Bill. The protest has elements of a social drama inasmuch as it is fronted by an elderly leader, Anna Hazare, with Gandhian credentials, a reputation for integrity and uncertain political inclinations, who announces his decision to fast unto death unless the demands of the movement are accepted. The private visual media, in search of events that would make news appear like entertainment, sensing that there is no threat to the system here, becomes the propaganda machine of the movement, running down politicians and the state, extolling the protest, and presenting its activists as modern-day heroes. Sections of the middle class and the intelligentsia, angered by political corruption but with little inclination otherwise to dissent or engage in protest, join the movement either “virtually” (through blogs, Twitter and Facebook) or on location.

What follows is a surprise. A government battered by allegations of large-scale corruption and with no defence against its failure to pass similar legislation dismisses the demands at first, dithers subsequently and then capitulates to embrace the soft option of co-opting nominees of the “movement” into a committee tasked with drafting a version of the Bill to be placed before Parliament. The movement declares victory, Hazare breaks his fast, and his supporters launch celebrations reminiscent of those indulged in after the World Cup victory of a cricket-crazy nation. Emboldened by the euphoric response, Hazare declares that he will once again launch a protest unless the Lokpal Bill is passed by Parliament in the near future in the form in which his band of activists has formulated it.

While there is all-round acceptance that corruption needs to be combated, and all efforts to root it out are welcome, this short-lived but much-hyped movement has generated a number of questions, objections and criticisms. One is whether the views of one set of “activists”, however well-intentioned on what should be the nature of the Bill, have to be necessarily “right” and accepted at all costs by all sections in a democratic society.

Inasmuch as their original decision to draft a Bill was entirely their own, the version of the Bill advanced by these “activists” is only one of many that need to be considered as part of a more participative public and parliamentary debate on the issue. This makes their selective inclusion by a pressured government as representatives of “civil society” in the committee tasked with drafting the version of the Bill that goes to Parliament questionable. Activism on one or more issues is itself not adequate qualification to be given this role.

The second question relates to whether the version of the Bill drafted by this group meets the requirements of discovery and punishment of corrupt agents in a democratic framework. Many argue that it does not, and that it can be faulted on its recommendations on how the Lokpal, consisting of a committee with a chair and a set of 10 members, is to be constituted; and that it concentrates too much power in the hands of a few and gives too extensive a jurisdiction to the institution, with inadequate checks and balances.

The third question is whether the very way in which the views of the few activists who spearheaded the recent movement are sought to be “imposed” is deeply anti-democratic and a challenge to the spirit of the Indian Constitution and the elements of democracy this country has managed to fashion and sustain.

And finally, there is the question whether the single-minded emphasis on corruption, the focus on “morality” and the declaration that the institution of Lokpal is adequate to deal with corruption divert attention from more deep-seated problems in society. It is indeed perfectly reasonable to argue that corruption, which involves the misuse of positions of power to obtain illegal gratification, is in itself morally repugnant and wrong. But corruption is particularly repugnant in backward and unequal societies inasmuch as it diverts resources away from development expenditures, especially those geared to reducing deprivation and improving the quality of life of the poor.

It needs to be noted that corruption does not generate additional output that can be appropriated by surplus earners in the system. It only helps to squeeze out more surplus from a given output and redistribute the available surplus through mechanisms that are not considered “fair” or “legal” even according to the rules of the capitalist game. A moot question, therefore, is how the system generates so much surplus to deliver both to the billionaires who epitomise “emergent India” and to the few members of the political class who enrich themselves consistently as they move from election to election.

Approached thus, there is more to corruption than merely the avarice and malfeasance of politicians and the bureaucracy that the Lokpal Bill seeks to address. The problems that corruption is seen to aggravate also stem from and are aggravated by factors other than corruption which are perfectly “legal” under capitalism.

Rising inequality

Consider, for example, the evidence that in recent years there has been a substantial increase in inequality in India, with poverty and deprivation persisting and even worsening while the upper middle class flourishes and the number of dollar billionaires rapidly increases. One reason for this is the ability of sections of the private sector to acquire scarce resources cheaply, be it land, spectrum or mineral wealth, by planting and paying off corrupt politicians in power.

The other is that the government in different ways seeks to incentivise private activity at the expense of the exchequer – a practice that has been enhanced substantially during the era of “economic reform” since the early 1990s.

Thus the revenue loss on account of tax concessions to the corporate sector, which was estimated at Rs.72,881 crore in 2009-10, is projected to rise to Rs.88,263 crore in 2010-11. The corresponding figures for direct taxes payable by individual tax payers are Rs.40,297 crore and Rs.45,222 crore. These figures are particularly disconcerting because there are few takers for the argument that privileging the rich with tax concessions of these magnitudes is good for the poor because it would deliver growth with increases in employment and output.

Morally unjustifiable

If sums of this magnitude had been retained by the state and diverted to development expenditures, it would have substantially reduced deprivation, enhanced literacy, increased school enrolment and strengthened democracy. The fact that this was not done, even though the scale and intensity of deprivation in this country is appalling, is a form of social corruption that is also morally unjustifiable.

[photographer]S. SUBRAMANIUM
[photo caption] FINANCE MINISTER PRANAB Mukherjee at a pre-Budget meeting with industrialists in New Delhi on January 11. The revenue loss on account of tax concessions to the corporate sector, which was estimated at Rs.72,881 crore in 2009-10, is projected to rise to Rs.88,263 crore in 2010-11.

It is also quite possible that the private sector has in multiple ways “paid off” a section of the policymaking elite to win itself these tax concessions. The ideology of “reform” only strengthens these kinds of policies and gives them legitimacy. But many of the supporters of the recent “movement” against corruption, including businessmen who backed it, sections of the “new” middle class that celebrated it, and the media that served as its propaganda machine, are beneficiaries of this reform.

The persistence of deprivation that results from this trajectory only worsens corruption inasmuch as it weakens the capability of people to participate fully in democratic processes and check corrupt practices in the process. That the activists in the recent movement do not all see this as a problem was reflected in the reported statements of Anna Hazare on the role of elections. Declaring that he is likely to forfeit his deposit if he stood for elections, Hazare reportedly stated: “Ordinary voters do not have awareness. They cast their vote under the influence of Rs.100 or a bottle of liquor or a sari offered by candidates. They don’t understand the value of their vote.” Possibly Hazare does not see such behaviour, to the extent it prevails, as being the result of lack of literacy and education and the presence of debilitating poverty, all of which are also linked to and perpetuate corruption.

What the single-minded overemphasis on corruption, especially corruption in the political establishment and the bureaucracy, does is that it diverts attention from these deep-seated structural problems and allows many who are guilty of a larger form of malfeasance to cleanse themselves by protesting against political corruption. By identifying the political class as being the guilty, the elite that benefits from the neoliberal environment absolves itself of any responsibility for the problems that are among the important ones sought to be better addressed by combating corruption.

It needs to be noted that any failure to address these fundamental tendencies could spell the failure of movements such as that of Hazare as well. Public attention in the digital age can be fickle. “Digital communities” created by television and the Internet often absorb partial information, selective anecdotes and a large dose of opinion to form views that are fervently held until the next issue captures people’s attention. When the issue concerned has to compete for attention with commercial films and commercialised cricket, the task of garnering attention to appease the advertiser is even more difficult.

The resulting role of private television is particularly damaging. Driven by the desire to maximise either profit or share market value, thinned of substance to expand the universe of watchers, seeking to sensationalise to garner attention, and not believing, like the serious print media, in separating, as far as possible, fact and opinion, it panders to the lowest common denominator with little concern for truth, balance or logic.

Repackaged for digital age

This affects the issues chosen and the way they are framed. In recent times the issue chosen has been corruption, which, though a perennial in political discourse, has been repackaged for the digital age. But the resulting coverage is imbalanced and tendentious. It encourages cynicism about democratic politics while ignoring the fact that corruption in societies such as ours is also structurally embedded. That is why the rich are often the most corrupt.

Let us not forget there are serious allegations of misuse of power and violation of law against individuals who are “respectable” in the eyes of capitalism: Warren Buffet’s erstwhile heir apparent David Sokol, Wall Street’s one-time respectable fund manager Bernard Madoff and former McKinsey head Rajat Gupta, to name a few.

Some individuals in that league in this country are known to try and manipulate those in positions of power to bend, violate or even change the law to enhance the already large volumes of wealth they have. A corollary is that those wielding power, knowing they can play this role, seek out those who would make the payments that would aggrandise both beneficiary and politician. In unequal societies what is “more” varies with class. So corruption of varying magnitudes (if it can be calibrated thus) pervades society.

To divert attention, the problem is reduced to the misuse of power by politicians, most often presented as individuals who are where they are only because of the evil intent of amassing wealth illegally. This attack on democracy is easily extended to argue that those who vote for these politicians do not deserve democracy. True democracy can come from only those who “know” how to build moral societies. If the people don’t listen to them, then the people have no place in true democracies.

Arguments such as these are so patently wrong that they should not need rebuttal. But they must be countered because they not only divert attention from more fundamental challenges, but could be used to undermine democracy itself.

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