Wednesday, July 06, 2011

P.Sainath is wrong on Jan Lokpal

(Edited to fix link to Sainath's article, on Debojyoti's comment below)
This post addresses a few wrong arguments against the Lokpal process. Many of these are talking points I found circulating in the web. Some of these are also opinions of P.Sainath - the Magsaysay award winner and The Hindu rural affairs editor - who has criticised the Jan Lokpal process in speeches and in an article in The Hindu.

My first article on Lokpal and the IAC movement is here. It has some commentary on Sainath's video speech.

Have Anna Hazare and others worked outside the legislative process?
Argument:Anna Hazare, by his tactics such as fasting, have worked against the electoral process. They have blackmailed the government to include themselves in the legislative process

My response: Nobody has taken away the role of Parliament in passing legislation. The IAC movement or Mr.Hazare himself have not said that they will pass a bill and that should be the law of the land.
Parliament should pass a bill on Lokpal - what Mr.Hazare and others have argued is that Parliament should not pass the draft bill submitted in 2010. Instead they have suggested a different set of provisions for a Jan Lokpal bill.
Is this entirely unnatural or unprecedented? In other words, is it unprecedented for Parliament to consider a law that takes input from non-elected people?
The answer is no. It is neither unprecedented nor unnatural. The much-celebrated Right To Information (RTI) bill was actually lobbied and pushed for by activists. Just last year, the government shelved the plans for GM (Genetically Modified) crops based on feedback from "self-appointed" activists and lobby groups.
This is why the hue and cry about Anna Hazare and others "bypassing" the process is surprising. Do people seriously believe that the laws passed by Parliament on regulating healthcare, education or mining are exclusively created by legislators - without major input from industry leaders or activists? Every law that deals with industry regulation IS being written in consultation with industry leaders.
Thus, the controversy about Anna and IAC creating their own process is ill-founded.

Are Anna Hazare and others self-appointed?
Argument: Who said civil society can be represented by Anna Hazare and the India Against Corruption movement? Who decides that these people are representatives of the common people? Only the elected legislators in Parliament are representatives of the people - not self-appointed leaders such as Anna Hazare.
My Response: This question is a very critical one. It is not an attack on Anna or IAC. The general idea seems to be that the electorate has chosen their legislators. Given that, what authority do Anna and others have to "represent the people"?
The answer is, of course, that feedback on legislation in a Parliamentary democracy can come throughout the law making process. Anna and others need not represent everyone, or even a majority in the nation - all that matters is that they have the right to organize a protest and make their voices heard. Nobody can deny them that right. They have the right to lobby for their cause.
Secondly, they actually did have an alternative bill; and legitimate criticism of the
government bill. Therefore, their "interference" in the law-making process was a pretty serious, legitimate effort.
Thirdly, let us not forget that Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., or Aan Suu Kyi are all "self-appointed" representatives. It is not as if they were elected figures.

Why have a law when people can vote out corrupt administrations
Argument: Sainath says that people have now voted in the recent state elections. That is the real way to influence policy
My Response:
In any society there needs to be a way to influence (non-violently) the course of laws towards justice. Voting in elections is just ONE way of such influence.
Sainath, in his Hindu article, says that the people in different states voted in the recent elections, and that is how people can influence policy or take action against corruption. This is a profoundly misguided way of thinking about a democracy, both theoretically and practically.
Even in theory, a democracy allows free speech and free association precisely to encourage political activity at all times. People have different non-violent tools to choose and to engage in political activity. Should we all vote once in 5 years and then forget about whatever our representatives do in those 5 years? That is a pretty useless view of democracy. I would say this even if our representatives are all doing their jobs well.
Practically, of course, what Sainath says is laughable. He has been spending the past 10 years challenging the government on farmers' suicides. His whole point was that
governments in the state and center were actively adopting policies that CAUSED the suicides. How did these policies happen when people continued to vote in elections?
The answer is that no country in the world has the kind of perfect political system where we can leave our elected representatives without vigilance. Definitely not India.
The Indian Parliament gave us TADA; POTA; the constitutional amendment that has now lead to forcing everyone to be fingerprinted(Aadhaar or UID scheme). The Parliament gave us the very regressive Information Technology Act of 2010.
People should pay more attention to what the legislators are upto; and protest in case they try to pass a regressive law. That is a vital role - in fact, it is a much more vital role than voting. Voting is over-hyped.

Why should the Prime Minister be brought under Lokpal? He will get subjected to frivolous charges
Argument: The IAC movement and the government now differ on bringing the PM under the Lokpal. Bringing the PM under Lokpal will lead to filing frivolous charges against him/her. It will also lead to influencing foreign policy and national security issues
My Response: I frankly do not understand this argument. We are a British-style parliamentary democracy, with a Prime Minister. We are not an American style democracy. The Prime Minister does not have any special powers that other ministers lack. In other words, if we are ok with having a cabinet rank minister being investigated by Lokpal, then how is the PM any different?
The above argument may make sense in the United States, where the President is the Head of State. In India, the PM is not the Head of State. There is no special theoretical reason why a PM should be excluded, while a central cabinet minster is included.
If people said that ALL cabinet ministers should be excluded, then that we can argue about. But that is not what people are saying. They seem to think the PM has some special status.

By the way, I just want to remind people reading this blog - Around 2003, a young PWD engineer named Sathyendra Dubey was killed when he wrote about corruption to higher authorities. Sathyendra was afraid of getting killed, so he sent the letter directly to which office?
Yes, he sent it ONLY to the PM's Office (PMO). Vajpayee was PM at that time. That single letter to the PMO pinpointed Sathyendra for murder. In other words, the letter was leaked from the PMO and made its way to Bihar; and led to Sathyendra's murder.

Existing laws are enough to tackle corruption
Argument: The Prevention of Corruption Act and other such acts are adequate to prosecute corrupt public officials. Why do we need new laws? We need existing laws to be implemented well
My Response:This argument is very well addressed in the IAC website.
First, the Lokpal is about a process; not just punishment details.
Secondly, existing laws ARE inadequate. There are several reasons for this - one is that CBI's anti-corruption wing actually reports to the Prime Minister. Therefore it has no way to investigate corruption against the ruling party's wishes.
What the Lokpal bill does is, it sets up an independently funded co-equal branch of government. It makes political influence much more unlikely.

The government, its interlocutors and even some well-meaning citizens have muddied the waters about the Jan Lokpal bill. I urge everyone to go through the IAC website and read the actual draft law. It is a critical first move to control corruption.


Debojyoti said...

You bash Sainath in the post, yet the readers don't get to see the very article/link to article you seem to addressing.

Most of the questions put here, were not asked by Sainath, and some pertinent ones are conveniently omitted.
1)Your first question and answer:

The original mention in the article is: "There is nothing wrong in having advisory groups. Not a thing wrong in governments consulting them and also listening to people, particularly those affected by its decisions. There is a problem when groups not constituted legally cross the line of demands, advice and rights-based, democratic agitation. When they seek to run the government and legislation — no matter how well-intentioned they are. Pushing a coherent vision is a good thing to do. So is demanding that the government do its job. Beyond that lies trouble."

For most part he seems to be applauding. He only protested the obstinacy. I accept that all this is for good, but what happens if a group sits on similar strike demanding, say, benefits for a particular class? Isn't this a precedent?
As for your argument about policies being framed by various lobbies, I think Mr. Sainath has been the most vocal critic of that.

On being representative of people, he had put things in many different ways. He also analysed the different pictures of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare, given Ramdev's more supporters

2) Why have a law when people can vote out corrupt administrations?
3) Existing laws are enough to tackle corruption.
He never said or wrote the above two, you are putting words to his mouth.

The debate about PM under Lokpal is still going, and it is quite possible that IAC might accept a Lokpal without PM under its ambit.

What happens to his question about a paper on legalising bribes?

All said, I also support IAC and the movement, but clarification on Lokpal needn't be based on bashing of an eminent individual with half facts.

Atul said...

Great Comment. What Sainath forgets is that he himself is a self-appointed commentator on anything and everything. Did he get elected by anyone. No. He is paid and appointed by Hindu (the newspaper). Now do we know if his agenda is not to serve his paymasters. They often don't have our national interest as priority. So why are you trying to raise questions on IAC or Anna. In fact you should because that is democracy and don't have to an election for everything. So you your right and let us have our rights, Mr Sainath.

rajiv ranjan said...

Its an eye opening.Its clear so many doubt abt The Janlokpal Bill.

rajiv ranjan said...

Its an eye opener.It clears so many doubts abt the Janlokpal Bill.

Samyek Dutta said...

The congress won in Assam recently with the vote of lakhs of illegal bangladeshi migrants which they harbour in the state.They even enacted a law to protect them & also stop locals from taking action against them.
Again only the people who actually dont serve the people, r put before people to be voted!

P Sainath being an editor of a national newspaper should have aware of these or is trying to hid facts or simply ignore these?

Mannu said...

wonderful writing , bro.

Mannu said...

wonderful writing, bro.

Jeet Singh Arya said...

Well Written and argument is perfect...

Ramiah Ariya said...

Please read the first line in the post. I have clearly said that my post covers both arguments floating in the web AND Sainath's article. My post is not exclusive to Sainath's article. I only mention Sainath's name in two arguments.
Therefore, I would appreciate if you address just the arguments; and not about me putting words into Sainath's mouth.

Ramiah Ariya said...

Also, Debojyoti, "bashing up" is a pretty strong word, don't you think? The post merely addresses arguments and never steps beyond that. I have great respect for Sainath, but he has made an important mistake in that article - he has directed his scorn for the media at the Jan Lokpal process. That is unfair.
I also direct you to his speech in Delhi University - that is linked in a comment in my previous article on Lokpal.
In short, he is making (implicitly) an accusation of elitism on the IAC team, which I don't think is borne out by reality.

Prakhar Garg said...

Kapil sibbal and company is crying each and evry time that the 'anna' (anna & team) is challanging the elected they represent whole india???

The same question is on them ...I mean on Mr PM.
from where he is elected?
does he represent all india?

Anyone?? plz answer straight and dont try to do diplomcy here.

confucius said...

hats off man!!!

very well written article.

Debojyoti said...

Ramiah Ariya,

Your headline starts with Sainath, there was no link to the original article referred. Also, I feel more than one question mentioned here can be attributed to Sainath's article. Yet, only ONE question has his name mentioned explicitly. So,it is easy to presume all questions arose from Sainath, and you don't mention him to avoid redundancy.

You wrote, "Sainath says that people have now voted in the recent state elections. That is the real way to influence policy"

I feel he meant it is biggest way to influence policy; not the sole and real way to influence policy.

Otherwise, your arguments are well written, especially the reminder on Satyendra Dubey.

Debojyoti said...

@Ramiah Ariya: I agree that word the 'bashing up' is pretty strong, but your article too contains things like : "what Sainath says is laughable"

If we juxtapose his work with such comments, it too appears harsh.

Sainath had praised the intent, the need for Lokpal and the need for Lokpal bill. In the video his main objection was to the appointment of collegium.

Ramiah Ariya said...

Thanks for your response.
The line ending with "in an article in The Hindu" was supposed to be a link. I have fixed it now.
I do not think voting is even the biggest way to fix policy issues. I still think Sainath's comment gives a false picture of the whole situation.
But we have to agree to disagree there.

Kapil Paraji More said...

Thanks for this article...your effort is commendable and so is your study on the issues..nice to see that what happened to satyendra dubey is not yet forgotten

Kapil Paraji More said...

Thanks for this article...your effort is commendable and so is your study on the issues..nice to see that what happened to satyendra dubey is not yet forgotten

Tintu said...

Lokpal is a media hype, media barons dictate , they make and break ruling class in this country. Lokpal is not made up of angels, they are the people of this country, corrupt like any other people of this country. Those who support lokpal should take the opportunity to come to power in the next election and do what they want.No body is there to stop them. Lokpal should also be responsible as a fifth estate as envisaged now.