Originally Published 2011-12-29 00:00:00 Published on Dec 29, 2011
By moving the Mumbai High Court for rent-exemption for the MMRDA ground, and at the same time paying up-front when compelled to do, Team Anna has showed what they are worth in terms of public morals and fiscal accountability.
Anna movement: Need for more probity
By moving the Mumbai High Court for rent-exemption for the MMRDA Ground that they want to use for what amounts to anti-Government, anti-polity fasting on the Lokpal Bill, and at the same time moving swiftly to pay up-front when compelled to do so under the circumstances, Team Anna has showed what they are worth in terms of public morals and fiscal accountability. By moving the court through a un-registered body that the higher judiciary would not take note of precisely for the same reason, and yet using another 'front' (?) already in the news for wrong reasons after Team Anna activist Arvind Kejriwal had come under a cloud, to pay up without batting an eyelid, all as part of a single day's work, they have also showed that they may after all be not above all those that they want arraigned for unconventional and inventive methods of the kind.

It is sad that in a country where the urban middle class at the very least seems looking up to him for a leader to take them astride on the straight and narrow path, Anna Hazare should be seeking rent-remission as if it were a birth right of a protestor, if not a Fundamental Right under the Constitution. Hidden in the argument is also a perception that all Indians are equal but some Indians are more equal than others. If the logic of the argument that the people had a right to free use of public property, where rents are stipulated, for protests against the government(s) and/or polity of the day, then it could apply to their claiming legitimate occupation of Government buildings, and officials' seats, next. In the absence of judicial intervention, it could have set a bad precedent for both Team Anna and others similarly placed in the public arena, with the result both democracy and public administration would have been held a mockery.

In other nations and in other circumstances, such initiatives have fallen under a common terminology, 'anarchy'. In recent times, they have borne the common identity of 'Orange Revolution' and 'Arab Spring' elsewhere, but the situation is more serious now in India than may seem. It is one thing for people to take to the streets at one-go, seeking changes in the political system or whatever. It is entirely another for allowing the vitals of a democratic polity and administration to be eaten into, and letting that seep into the psyche of individuals and groups. The diversity of the nation could then become a burden, not the strength that we have hailed for decades now.

Democracy is all about public demands, made through non-violent means, and the response that the elected government and the people's Parliament deem fit under the circumstances. Having forced the hands of the other two to act, one would have expected Team Anna to sit back and watch what the Executive and the Legislature would do about the 'sense of the House' resolution that they got passed unanimously in both Houses of Parliament on the drafting of the Lokpal Bill. To the extend the Mumbai High Court felt compelled to quiz Team Anna's lawyers why they should resort to this "parallel canvassing" when Parliament was already seized of the Lokpal Bill, the message is clear -- that at least sections of the higher judiciary may be considering the upcoming fast by Team Anna as an infringement of the legislative competence and powers of Parliament. It is unclear however if such a construct could lead to the courts looking at the proposed protest, if staged, as a negation of the higher judiciary's advice in the matter.

Team Anna's efforts at ending corruption in high places have to be commended for what they are worth. They also need to be criticised, and condemned, where they have to be. A broad-brush acceptance of their methods as their motives have already set dangerous precedents, which others of their ilk could cite, and their examples followed. Comparisons would then be made, and the government and polity on a future date would then be compared to their predecessors that have been yielding to Team Anna's pressure-tactics at present.

It is not about politics but about overall policy-approaches on the NGO phenomenon relating to larger issues of governance. While details do matter, they cannot (be allowed to) substitute much larger concerns. The habit of people wanting to take law into their hands cannot be and should not be encouraged. In mass movements of lesser kinds, they could be branded as militancy or naxalism or disruptive forces of other kinds. The law provides for addressing them, handling them, squarely. That is not the case with intellectual exercises seeking to justify direct action of the Team Anna kind, whose modalities do not have always fall within the ambit of public laws first and political morals later.

Today, it could be about demanding public space without a fee or with concession for launching what is perceived by some, and only some, as movements aimed at cleansing the society and polity of corrupt people. It needs to be understood and acknowledged that the higher judiciary in the country, starting with the Supreme Court, has done more for fighting corruption than Team Anna could hope to achieve through the 'Jan Lokpal' movement or whatever. The 2-G scam is not the first of the kind, if one looked back even into the none-too-distant past, when the likes of Lallu Prasad Yadav and Mayawati were held to account in the 'fodder scam' and the 'UP land scam', respectively, not to forget all those other cases dating back to the Fifties.

In a way, the Lokpal/Lokayukta in whatever form, would only be a continuation of that process, where again it is for the courts to ultimately decide not only on the fate of individual cases but also on the very constitutionality and legality of the institutions that are now sought to be created. To campaign as if a Lokpal is an end in itself is not only a travesty of procedures, it is also a misrepresentation of facts. Unless the Constitution is sought to be amended wholesale, starting with what the Supreme Court termed as the 'Basic Structure' in the 'Keshavananda Bharati case' decades back, to make 'judicial review' irrelevant, there could only be further delays and complications, from the very word go. The delays could start with the implementation of a Lokpal law, and in terms of individual cases referred to the same, if it came to that.

This duplicity has to end -- and earlier the better it would be for the cause of democracy and accountability in the country, as the Lokpal would only be adding an interim stage to the legal processes for fighting corruption emanating from individuals and institutions -- but cannot and should not replace the role of the judiciary, particularly the higher judiciary in the process. With the Supreme Court already seized of the issues flowing from the creation of the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution, the entries under which are at present non-justiciable, it is anybody's guess if the Lokpal could serve the purpose(s) for which they are intended, starting with the speeding up of investigation and conduct of corruption cases across the country.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation
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