While I am writing this it's Day 7 of the fast and peaceful protest led by Anan Hazare, an Indian social activist fighting to have an anti-corruption bill called Jan Lokpal in the Indian parliament. Unlike other recent movements in other countries, this movement is led by a 74 year old man who is widely supported by the Indian youth which uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to increase awareness and grow the movement. New Delhi's Ramlila Ground can be compared to the Tahrir Square of downtown Cairo. It's a democratic and peaceful protest supported widely by the Indian middle-class. So, being a democratic country why is India facing this grid-lock on a bill that would probably eradicate corruption in its society?
Apparently, there are two versions of the anti-corruption bill which are the cause of this movement. One anti-corruption bill is proposed by the government called the "Sarkari Lokpal bill" (Government Lokpal bill) and other one proposed by the civil society which is represented by Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Shanti Bhushan called the "Jan Lokpal bill" (People's Lokpal bill). Considering the two versions of the bill, a drafting committee consisting of above mentioned civil society members and three senior level government ministers was formed. There are fundamental differences in these two versions of the bill which none of the parties are willing to compromise on. Here are the differences and my take on them:
1. Government Lokpal bill doesn't want the Prime Minister's Office to be investigated under the new law: According to the constitution of India, the President of Republic India is the only person who is granted immunity. This means the Prime Minister should obviously be included in an anti-corruption law and be held accountable for his/her corrupt activities. There is a moral question to this as well. Shouldn't the Prime Minister's office should itself come forward and ask that it also be under the anti-corruption law if it were moral and clean enough? After all the leader of a country who is elected by the citizens should be morally obliged to be transparent in his/her work.The civil society members of the drafting committee have made it public that they could not compromise on this clause and hence want the PMO to be under the Jan Lokpal bill.
2. Government Lokpal bill doesn't want the Members of the Parliament to be investigated under the new law: One of the reasons that Anna Hazare has been able to mobilize the Indian middle class in such a large number has been that they were fed up with the corruption by the Members of Parliament and cabinet ministers. Recently, India saw a surge in the corruption by these politicians like the 2G scam where the telecom minister was involved in a $2 billion corruption case. We also experienced and saw how the recent Commonwealth Games in New Delhi were handled by Suresh Kalmadi who was later alleged to have been involved in a $31 million scam. So, if the new law cannot investigate such corrupt politicians then it does no good to the Indian middle class population. Considering the seriousness of this clause, the civil society members are not ready to compromise.
3. Should civil society be involved be in law-making process? Government suggests that civil society or some of its members should not be involved in the law-making process. The government argues that the members of the parliament are the servants of the society and they were elected by the people and hence they should be the only ones involved in the law-making process. This means Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and some other social activists should not be part of this law-making process as they were not elected by the people and hence they don't represent the civil society. I don't think this is a valid argument as how would the members of parliament make and frame a strong law for themselves against their own corruption? Who can forget the episode when members of parliament were involved in cash deals to vote for or against the 123 nuclear deal with the United States or during a confidence motion to topple the current UPA government? There hasn't been an investigation on this episode against the MPs alleged to have been involved. So, considering this particular anti-corruption bill, the civil society members should be part of its framing process so that there is no conflict of interest among the elected members.
4. What if the parliament doesn't pass the strong Jan lokpal bill even though it could curb the corruption? Arvind Kejriwal, an Ashoka fellow, has made it public multiple times that "voting in favor of a strong anti-corruption bill by various members of parliament would literally mean that they are signing off their suicide notes." If this law is going to come back to haunt them or if it is going to deprive them from indulging in such corrupt activities then obviously they are not going to vote in favor of it. But, shouldn't voting in favor of it be their moral responsibility when 90% of their constituents favor it? So, this bill would also test the morality of the elected representatives in a modern India.
It's the start of a movement for a change in the way politics is played in India. I don't think this is going to end in near future considering that once a strong Lokpal is drafted and sent to the parliament it's highly unlikely that it would be passed. The civil society members consisting of Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan are aware about it and hence they are ready for another movement in case a strong Lokpal bill doesn't pass the parliament. This is the glimpse of modern and exciting India which has awakened as an India 2.0.