Anna Hazare and India’s Graft

12.29.11

Anna Hazare and India’s Graft

12.29.11
via Wikimediavia Wikimedia

Anna Hazare began his three-day fast at the MMRDA ground in Mumbai to promote his never-ending fight against corruption, the Indian Parliament began debate on the contentious “Lokpal” bill being considered before lawmakers. After consulting with his doctors he was advised to end his fast. However, he continues to pressure the government to make changes to current legislation.

Anna had temporarily called off his August Revolution, as its come to be known, on the clear assurance by the government that they would consider his list of demands. Pent up anger against a perceived governance-deficit against all ruling political parties has found an outlet in the protest movement led by Anna Hazare, the crusader-in-chief for instituting a Jan Lokpal (Ombudsman). These protests against corruption across India, brings to mind the period before Indian independence, when Mahatma Gandhi, the father of India, used to attract huge crowds from all walks of life by his call for non-violent demonstrations in the years leading up to Indian independence.

Indian dissatisfaction directed towards Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, recalls when another revolutionary, Jayaprakash Narayan (1902-1979), successfully organized his movement of total revolution against Indira Gandhi, when she refused to resign from office despite being found guilty by the Allahabad High Court. Earlier this week, the “Lokpal” bill, or one part of it, having been divided into three bills, was passed by the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Indian Parliament).

After hours of debate in the Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at one point rose and implored those present to pass the legislation. “Let us not create something that will destroy all that we cherish all in the name of combating corruption,” Singh said. “I urge all my colleagues in Parliament to rise to the occasion and look beyond politics to pass this law,” the prime minister urged those present. However, the “Lokpal” bill, as it stands, has not been well received by Anna Hazare or his followers. Specifically, Hazare’s unhappiness with the “Lokpal” bill is that the ombudsman will not be a constitutional body.

Further, because of the failure of the bill to include this provision, the ombudsman will be under the supervision of the government, hence in Hazare’s estimate, this position will lack the necessary oversight to control the endemic corruption that one sees throughout India. The “Lokpal” bill that did pass the lower house of parliament will now be sent to the Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian Parliament) where the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is expected to easily shepherd it through parliament and signed into law. The differences between the ombudsman positions that would have existed in the Anna Hazare favored legislation and the one that passed in the Lok Sabha are significant.

The ombudsman position promoted by Anna Hazare as a necessary component to stamp out corruption would have had jurisdiction to look into charges of corruption in the prime minister’s office, government ministers, Indian parliamentarians, and judges from both the Supreme Court and lower courts. The ombudsman position likely to be created by the recent legislation will be a very weak position and its jurisdiction is confined to only the upper level of the Indian bureaucracy. Further, the government’s ombudsman will have virtually no direct contact with every day Indians.

In other words, unless the ombudsman position is given greater oversight, Indians will have virtually no way in which to lodge complaints of abuses of power by government officials who routinely demand bribes to conduct day-to-day business. Several recent revelations have come to light which further highlight instances of and the levels of corruption within India. Indian media, and in particular, the electronic media have exposed the depth and extent of corruption within all levels of government. The 2010 Commonwealth Games tarnished the reputation of the games and brought into sharp focus the problem of Indian corruption. Besides construction delays there were many charges of scandals involving cost overruns and contracts being awarded to firms that were unduly favored over others.

The BBC reported in August of last year, “Earlier this month two leading officials from the organising committee were suspended. They were accused of involvement in awarding lucrative contracts to foreign companies without proper consultation or formal contracts being signed. Games treasurer Anil Khanna quit after reports claimed an Australian firm won the contract to lay tennis courts for the games because his son headed its Indian arm. Mr. Khanna denied any wrongdoing. Things have become so serious the Indian government has appointed a new group of ministers to oversee the preparations.”

Additionally, the Adarsh Housing Society scam acted as an utter embarrassment for several regional government officials. Essentially, the issue involved pressure to change the bylaws for apartment units allocated to veterans of the Kargil War. Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption rings so true for average Indians because of the endemic corruption and graft in India and essentially, the average Indian has no avenue to which to turn.

In the eyes of many Indians, the government delayed any action on a comprehensive bill that would have tackled this corruption and when it did act, Indian legislators watered down the final bill as to make it ineffectual. The Indian government is viewed as taking issues of corruption lightly and is not serious about instituting a credible ombudsman, the one that was advocated by Anna Hazare. In the estimate of many commentators, the only feasible and realistic option would be for parliament to drop the current bill as it stands and begin meaningful talks with Hazare and his followers to resolve any current disagreements with the present legislation before it is signed into law.

During Hazare’s aborted three days of fasting at the MMRDA, he issued a warning to Indian legislators that if the bill is passed as it stands they would soon come to regret their vote. Hazare told his supporters gathered, the “Lokpal” bill was a “fraud perpetuated upon the people by the government.” However, for the many thousands of supporters that inevitably attend Hazare’s rallies, countless numbers show up to counter-demonstrate. While Hazare’s motorcade made its ways to the rally on Tuesday, Hazare’s critics appeared in the streets to show their disapproval for what some view as populism and essentially they argue that Hazare is holding lawmakers hostage with his anti-corruption crusade.

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