Friday, August 19, 2011

Anna and Me

Background : The times are such that, I forced myself to create a new blog category and record my thoughts about it. The entire world is taking notice of what is happening in one of the fastest growing nations, India. Anna Hazare against Indian government.

Anna means one who received favors, in Hebrew. In Tamil, a prominent south Indian language, it means elder brother. The name, in different variants, is quite common across the world.

The method adopted by Anna to protest against the state - is also quite common at least in India. The method, Satyagraha, was originally conceived by Mahatma Gandhi, known as the father of nation in India. The term Satyagraha literally means persistance of truth. The idea is to offer passive nonviolent resistance. The clarification of this, in Mahatma Gandhi's own words - "I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and compassion. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself". In day to day world, it can loosely relate to the household conflicts with dear ones, where by self-suffering - a person arouses love and sympathy of the other. The method is of extremely high potential, as demonstrated later by Nelson Mandela in apartheid movement and by Martin Luther King Jr in civil rights movement.

There are two prominent question in case of Anna - the means and the goal. I try to seggregate those in the following.

There is a huge amount of controversy regarding the support of Anna's methods (means) and on the actual formulation of Jan Lokpal Bill (immediate goal). The Jan Lokpal Bill is proposed in order to reduce the series of corruptions plaguing the current governance. It seems almost as if the government is indifferent to the levels of corruption - marked by several key things.

- amount of money misappropriated (to the tune of thousands of crores)
- level of people involved (ministers, industrialists, media)
- delay in action (years, also initiated only when public interest litigation is filed)

While the delay in action can be partially attributed to the slow judiciary system, all the items can be easily connected to one explicit syndrome. There are no whistleblowers with strength, integrity and support.This is again due to weak opposition parties in the central government as well as a reflection of our changing societies - where an individual is concerned about an individual. The social structure is not anymore as strongly connected as before (e.g. with localities, clubs, identity-based groups). This symptom is evident in the fact that several resistance movements of modern times are fuelled by virtual world movements. The world, apparently, is more connected via TCP-IP protocol than by a neighbourhood.

The implicit syndrome behind the absence of any whistleblower is that in a slow changing soceity, we become part of the system. It is extremely difficult to find a honest citizen, who chose to suffer, than to resort to corrupt practices throughout their lives.

It seems that, Anna Hazare is exceptional with his integrity and selflessness, fit for leading this movement. The common citizen, discovers the failure of themselves and moreover the failure of government to provide a clean governance, rallies behind Anna. The people opposing or ridiculing Anna are outnumbered or marked as siding with the corrupt government.

Means: What could be done against government was done before. There are public interest litigations, there are judicial actions against suspected culprits. Some people, who ruled like lords, tasted the food of jail for the first time. Still, it looks like the belief of citizen is not sufficiently restored. In the absence of any strong opposition voice in the parliament, this general apathy of government for fast prosecution and recovering of the misppropriated fund can only be cured by public voice. The stronghold of public voice was considered to be media - which left an indelible impression of dishonesty - in recent times. Therefore, Anna grabbed popular attention without harming a fly. His methods are fully justified. His causes are sound. His leadership is qualified.

The government, on the other hand, behaves like a kid when handling Anna's movement. Each time Anna surprises them by refusing to eat/drink/talk, the government surprises the onlookers even more by playing into hands of him. Why would otherwise, someone will be able to point to government, and say - you keep Anna and Kalmadi in the same premises !

Goal: So far so good. Then, Anna asks for a corruption free society as much as Subramanian Swamy asked. The difference is, Anna wants to institutionalize the process of handling corruption. In this regard, he is at par with more vocal advocates of ruthless anti-corruption laws like Baba Ramdev.

At this juncture, I am confused, whether Anna is correct or not.

Before proceeding further, let us quickly examine the key differences between what Anna wants and what government delivered regarding the Jan Lokpall Bill, which is the bill to curb corruption in future. The differences are as recorded in latest Wikipedia entry on the same topic.

Anna:  Lokpal will have powers to initiate suo moto action or receive complaints of corruption from the general public.
Govt: No,  Lokpal will have no power to initiate suo motu action or receive complaints of corruption from the general public. It can only probe complaints forwarded by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

Anna:  Lokpal will have the power to initiate prosecution of anyone found guilty.
Govt:  No, Lokpal will only be an Advisory Body with a role limited to forwarding reports to a "Competent Authority".

Anna:  Lokpal will have police powers as well as the ability to register FIRs.
Govt: No,  Lokpal will have no police powers and no ability to register an FIR or proceed with criminal investigations.

Anna:  Lokpal and the anti corruption wing of the CBI will be one independent body.
Govt:  The CBI and Lokpal will be unconnected.

Anna:  Punishments will be a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of up to life imprisonment.
Govt:  Punishment for corruption will be a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of up to 7 years.

If we follow the dialogues above closely, it is clear that the goal of Anna can be rephrased as to build a parallel judiciary system that turns the judiciary, in cases, ineffective and the complete system - confusing. There are two major loopholes in that proposal.

First,  who will guard the guards. The selection of Anna's team can be doubted and the process of selection in future, is hard to institutionalize without resorting to democracy, meritocracy or any form like that. As ever, these methods of selecting the members of Jan Lokpal Committee have their own disadvantages.

Second, citing this example of "civil movement altering constitutional process", one may ask for a Jan Lokpal Committee for enquiring all kinds of thefts and then one for all kinds of road accidents. This seems to be endless, taking the belief away from constitution.

In short, I find the method of Anna as correct and the method of Government is wrong. I also find the goal of Anna is wrong and the goal of Government, by guarding the constitution, is correct.

The way out of this entanglement - should come from two fronts. An elected body of public representatives (say, the opposition parties), should take the debate in parliamentary sessions. That could aid the government to handle the situation better than what we are observing. The other answer, coming from a common citizen like us, to resist corruption by our best individual efforts. That should get the long term goal of Anna achieved.

About what to happen on Anna's immediate goal on drafting the bill the way he wants - I have no answer.

Anna's photo is taken from here.


  1. aaahhhh ... the verdict has finally arrived ... was waiting for it :) it cant be better stated.
    btw, sirji, please add the archives widget somewhere on the blog. It helps to navigate easily to your older posts.

  2. Good unbiased analysis on Anna Hazare. Keep it up Anupam :-)

  3. Sangita Basu ChatterjeeAugust 19, 2011 at 10:24 PM

    Its a good analysis indeed !

  4. Good to have a look at
    Arvind Kejriwal speaking at IIT chennai on 31st July. Highly recommended to understand the comparison.

  5. @Bhramar,

    I took my understanding from here .
    I saw the presentation of Arvind Kejriwal and still do not think the goal is correct. We did elect these people and we should overthrow them if needed. Possibly, it is hard for a common citizen to get inside the constitutional system and correct it but, we need exactly that. I feel, someone should use the system to correct it from inside.