Anna and the Bill : What about the rest of Us ?

[ Update : have added a resources section at the end to keep adding documents, different points of view around this issue. ]

Its totally amazing how Anna Hazare has been able to get folks to rally around his cause – we’ve not seen this level of a more-or-less spontaneous, widespread outburst of public opinion in a long long time – especially from the usually cynical middle class.

What next ?

Yes, the emotion is probably worth it – if it wakes up the political class and sends the message that some lines have been crossed and a reining in of greed is in order. Its likely to be the disgust and the fact that a few have connived to corner a huge portion of the benefits of growth disproportionately thats bugging us. 

But its awesome that there’s a common issue that has our attention. Whatever our stand on it, we’re all ears, eyes and the mindshare civic issues have had amidst the population is at an all time high.

What do we do with it ?

We have to go beyond the rhetoric, beyond the jingoism.

The leaders in this, the media, the activists – they need to make the fullest use of this never-before opportunity to now spark a debate – as befits a democracy – about not just the Lokpal Bill and its details, but the overall way in which we engage democratically.

Teach us about how we can participate in the framing of laws – there seem to be existing mechanisms for this – on a more regular basis!

Tell us, or put in effort, to evolve constituency level mechanisms to voice our collective opinions about issues before those that vote on our behalf do so on those issues.

Start a debate, and figure out, how to reduce the negative impact that the whip has on legislation. The party should not be more important than the democratic voice it purports to represent.

Start motions for amendment – either citizen initiated if possible – or through our representative by bearing enough pressure on them – to either strike off amendments that neuter the CVC, state policing, RTI etc, or amend laws to empower and make accountable existing mechanisms more.

Essentially – we have a never-before opportunity to create a civic awareness, and involvement beyond the shrill, emotionally charged sloganeering we’re seeing right now. We have an opportunity to make a difference to how our democracy operates and how we participate in it. 

Or are the news channels/leaders/etc unsure of whether this same crowd, the same ears and the same eyeballs will disappear if the discussions switch to more meaningful, truly impactful, democratically mature stuff? Are we capable of deeper participation in a democracy?

The dog might just catch the car. Now what … ?

——

Resources
Please share more info about points of view about the same, how the police has been placed under more and more policitcal control through amendments, the CVCs powers, and other such. will be great to compile some compendium of info as a Civics-101
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7 comments

  1. Sagar

    People are waking up, yes, that is definitely encouraging! We are a strong democracy and numbers are our strength. Though I still feel that one of the chief uniting factors here is dissent, or a general dislike for the government. I wonder how many understand the implications of the Lokpal … leave that alone, I doubt how many acknowledge the fact that institutions like the CBI or even the RTI and Lokayukta have been set-up on similar lines.

  2. edgeliving

    Discussing implications and nuances of democracy require a level of intellectual depth, rigour and maturity that isn’t fair to expect from the general masses. Intellectual discussions are meant to identify & refine vision and strategy, but when it comes to making a quantum leap, bring about a revolution, you need to let the masses chew on something that is lot simple, straight-forward and with some short-term gains in sight.Otherwise, the masses would not relate, and would look at such discussions as an Ivory-tower approach. This, IMHO, is the thing that killed the LeadIndia initiative or other similar initiatives. I wonder if you got a chance to take a look at the latest set of recommendations penned by Anna Hazare & team ? It has toned down / modified some aspects of the original that seemed less-than-practical. It might not be perfect, but waiting for perfection wouldn’t help the cause. This (http://bit.ly/p6Cf2k) article by Tehelka is a good read, and I would recommend you & readers to give it a go… can’t do much harm :-)CBI, CVC have been there, and State Govt. have their equivalents (at least for CVC), or with the possibility of CBI taking over investigations at State Govt’s request, but what kind of impartial and independent investigations they do, when the interest of the ruling party are in question, are well known.

  3. Anonymous

    Thats not a very convincing argument in a democracy – thats the premise oligarchies operate on! Gandhi had marketed very revolutionary (for the time), nuanced ideas without mass media pretty well – and I’m sure these can be packaged as well.Unless we make longer-term changes in *how* we engage with the lawmakers, any bill – including this one – can be amended to neuter it sufficiently later. The current level of attention and interest is a great opportunity to get people involved on a more permanent and sustained basis – through awareness about mechanisms, and starting sub-movements for changes that help in better participation. Lead India was more of a marketing exercise led by one entity. This is very different.

  4. Sagar

    @edgeliving:Every argument that can be made against existing institutions can be hypothetically made against a Lokpal. If we pay no attention to the state of an existing institution (CBI etc) then we are heading for meta-Lokpals soon …Also, when you say "when it comes to making a quantum leap, bring about a revolution you need to let the masses chew on something that is lot simple, straight-forward and with some short-term gains in sight." I don’t know what you really mean to say but that translates to – "Take the masses for a ride under a false pretext but do what you want to in the end" 🙂

  5. edgeliving

    @sameer1. The best way to engage with the lawmakers is by exercising one’s franchise. However we know very well that majority does not exercise it, or doesn’t exercise it in a fair manner i.e. keeping their own and the collective well-being / long-term good, in mind. 2. Whom (lawmaker side) does one engage with ? It usually isn’t anything like corporate negotiation where you expect well educated (not necessarily well meaning) participants, where there is some amount of mutual-respect, willingness to listen, give fair hearing etc. The engagements are called "Durbars" (literally — Delhi Govt. and many govts. in the north use that term). Common man is support to "Petition" / "Plead" in "Durbars". Do you believe that is the right setting for engaging with law-makers. The few such forums that do exist for engaging lawmakers are nothing more than mere shams, plain PR exercise.Finally, once we engage the lawmakers, what compulsion do they have, to listen to fair reason and to act upon it. It is not that our law-makers are thumb-sucking newborns. They know / are aware of the reality, and very much part of it. There is a conflict of interest in them taking steps to curb corruption.Lead India was a marketing exercise, agreed — however what many people had come to expect, and the way it was projected was a platform which could bring such leaders to the fore, who could lead and be the change-agents. Some of them even tried to form political parties or contest election as independents. Many of them had excellent academic, corporate track record. What they didn’t have, was mass fan following. It is what Anna Hazare has, and has the capability of building up further. The point is, Anna Hazare has the ability to mobilize masses, and bring tremendous pressure on govt. to take some concrete steps to curb corruption.

  6. edgeliving

    @sagarThere are always 2 approaches, to actually solving any problem proactively –1) Amputate the diseased part and go for prosthetics to replace the loss2) Try to heal the diseased part without sacrificing itWhich one is chosen, depends on the extent to which the disease has spread, and what potential treatment regimens seem viable.Election Commission, Judiciary exist as independent institutions that have immunity / protection from Legislative influence / interference to a great extent. CBI and CVC don’t enjoy such immunity and protection, and those having been around for a while, have possibly developed an internal culture, which would be very difficult to change. Yes, once in a while black-sheep do turn up within all institutions, but for as long as there is a well defined procedure in place to keep them in check, it is fine.

  7. Anonymous

    Bani, but thats precisely what needs solving, if we have to have durable solutions to this. Voting at the booth, unfortunately, completely ignores issue based dialogue – esp in growing cities and the current state of the polity, where the representatives are not truly from "amongst us". When the mechanism was conceived I’m sure a lot many in any constituency were known to, and engaged with their reps. We also need a more frequent dialogue than is possible just around the time of polls. How do we make it issue based, so the reps – who’re a necessity since a referendum on every issue is impossible – actually represent our collective views on the same. What’re the mechanisms for consensus building? Even on the Lokpal bill, for instance, there’s no nuances getting discussed. Nobody knows how many really want one authority with all those powers. And trust me, there *are* multiple, diverse, informed viewpoints which will only make the bill smarter.We need to figure out some mechanism (and strengthen, and participate in, existing ones such as the Parliamentary Standing Committee) – to engage that creates pressure on the rep to listen to us. We should’ve never let the whip law pass in its current format. I’m not talking in terms of existing ways the engagement happens in, but something with more impact. Laws always get used in different/wider contexts than those they were created for. The nuances do help. And an oligarchy cannot be expected to serve the needs of a few. With the neutering of a lot of institutions and laws, thats, to an extent, what the parliament has also become and we need to fix all of that. A law that merely imposes policing on an otherwise repurposed-by-a-few system is unlikely to solve much. Its that repurposing that needs fixing in itself, and then the Lokpal will be able to work meaningfully. In the absence of that, it runs the risk of being a paralyzing force more than anything else.

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