Missing the democratic point, entirely

Prasad Bhide raises some points about the current Jan Lokpal Andolan taking the country by storm in a note on Facebook. I attempt here to answer the points he raises to the best of my ability and understanding (largely because Facebooks commenting is unsuitable for my verbose habits).

Lokpal suggested by civil society is can be dangerous. It creates a powerful authority yet not be accountable to voters! What rights do the Nobel nominees and Magsaysay award winners have to select a government authority? We are a democracy or oligarchy by the elite?

Our country is born of a civil movement. It is a fallacy to think that only voting is a means of establishing democratic leadership. In fact, I’ve got a post right here on the blog that says this whole election system is more trouble than it is democracy in action. Regardless of what it is, there are several methods to create democratic representation of interest. Also, this body is not a governance body, but an investigative/judicial one. We don’t elect the supreme court or CBI either. In fact, if we look at which of our public institutions are the least attentive to people’s needs, the elected ones seem to be those!

Nobel nominees and Magsaysay award winners currently don’t have the rights to select a government authority, which will be created once the Bill is amended and passed. For some reason, there seems to be a mushrooming of intellectuals who expect to be considered more credible thanNobel nominees and Magsaysay award winners by the only virtue of criticizing them. Without debating who is valid, I can speak for myself. I consider such award winners as people who have already made significant contribution to country. Their apolitical orientation makes them suitable and concerned leaders for designing and implementing change of benefit to the country. Their generosity of self makes me think that they will invest themselves toward the best solution they can. In other words, I’d trust them with speaking on my behalf, which I wouldn’t for elected politicians – particularly on the subject of policing rogue politicians.

Can we assume that such a body selected by Nobel laureates and Magsaysay awards winners will be less corrupt than politicians elected by people?

I would have loved to say yes, but frankly, not beyond the first, idealistic time. By then, some Sherlock will figure out how to “work” that system too. To prevent that, we need safeguards, which will have to be designed. I do believe they are planned, and I don’t imagine anyone will ignore them.

Wouldn’t it be easier to vote for non corrupt candidates and parties?

If present system has got corrupted it is because we the people have either not bothered to vote or voted for corrupt politicians.

All the people who are going crazy about this new “revolution” if had excersized their franchise and voted for all these years based on party policies or candidate credibility our country would not have been in such a sad state! The English speaking urban India is too bothered to take part in the electoral process to ensure clean government gets elected; now they want extra government dictatorial unelected authority.
Not true. An election system is essentially a setup for lobbies because of the huge investment involved to have any possibility of “winning the game”. These extra-curricular alliances may have more or less influence, but it will always be beyond the ability of a common man to challenge without a civil movement. For the simple reason that they are footing the bills. In a more corrupt government, they may call the shots, in a less corrupt government, they may have a voice that gets heard more. After being responsible for making the power of the “ruling” government possible, those people will never be the same as other citizens. Also, those people are unlikely to be throwing that kind of money without having any use for the resulting power.

Without an efficient system of oversight (and no, not the opposition party, something outside the election system completely), I don’t believe politicians will remain on the straight and narrow once the election celebrations and interviews are done.

These flood of questions, I notice come mostly from the BJP PR machine, as an attempt to grab power and some image of “anti-corruption” by making it seem outrageous that people exert their power in a democracy. I say power stunt, because they are no less corrupt than any other. They have had less opportunities, so there is less evidence, but a party that can take law into its own hands for any reason is essentially corrupt, and we have plenty of evidence of BJP playing God like that, even without being in power. Their representation of the movement as “misguided” or “undemocratic” is ridiculous. A democracy IS the people.

Are we undermining democracy by terrorizing government by street protests and subverting the constitution? No unelected people have any right to be on any committee creating laws. You want to make laws for country, get elected!

Simply put, democracy is a system of running a country where the citizen rules through representatives. The citizens have every right to revise whatever is not working. We don’t have a mechanism for it, so these andolans happen, but the fact is, the country has reached a place where theft of its wealth is daily news. This theft is happening BY the leaders. There is absolutely no way short of utter revolution and collapse of government to punish the scoundrels. Even then, we can take them out of power, to punish suitably is still another story.

We are fortunate that our wealth of thought leaders and roots in non-violence have enabled us to find a solution that doesn’t end in violent overthrows and generalized disaster, or even overthrow of government, but pinpoints the problem with what the government is doing, and takes over that part and organizes it better.

If you look at it as a normal running of a country and a group of people threatening to destabilize it, you could call it terrorizing the government. Yet, the reality is, our government has no right to remain in power after our flood of discoveries. Nor is the opposition of much moral weight or any political party of reasonable magnitude. Overthrowing the government is not an option. Waiting for the next elections isn’t going to create miracles, because the people are the same. Regardless of who is in power, none have been able to “self-regulate”. That route is guaranteed to be ineffective in the immediate future. Or, in other words, we did it like that for 64 years, now the bosses of these public servants are installing supervisors. By creating a “patch” that is as widely supported by the people as possible, we are rescuing the country from anarchy and creating systems that can allow the space for organically developing some checks and balances. It is the greatenss of India that has allowed such a solution to emerge from our vital pool of thought leaders and change agents.

This is not an undermining of democracy. That has already been done by the government. This is a rescue of the country, not through terrorism, but by confronting the corrupt government and forcing it to include effective safeguards. If you must think in election terms, think of this as a nationwide “quickly raise your hands” kind of eyeball vote. The voices for this change far outnumber those opposing it. This is democracy in action, vibrant and so enshrined in the population, that they are able to “fix” the leadership to keep from collapse. Make no mistake, if there weren’t Gandhians, it wouldn’t be long before Bhagat Singhs emerged, because the condition of utter mistrust in the government is simply too huge to continue.

The “template democracy” has been proven a farce. True democracy has no means. It is coming alive and forging its own channels like water on new terrain.

Also the question comes up, when a democracy has a people’s revolution, what does it mean?

We have so many anti-corruption agencies at central as well as state levels already. What about them?

The corruption remains. Whatever of them, they are not a fix to this problem. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is folly. The nation is right in attempting this novel intervention. Even if it fails, at least it is not repeating of the same kind of thinking that led to the problems, where a corruption harboring government is the ultimate authority to deal with corrupt politicans among it. Might as well start prisons where criminals manage security. They have proven time and again that they are not capable of being honest on their own.

Wouldn’t it be easier to reform judiciary??

If it was easier, it would have happened before things got to this extent.

I just find Jan Lokpal Bill an unnecessary risk, increased burden on tax payer’s money without any explanation why it would be better than present system.

It is a risk. Everything is a risk, particularly when stakes are high, but it is different enough from what we have done so far to be a viable solution. I disagree that it is unnecessary. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough with the scams and corruption and shame and theft. This exploitation cannot continue. I expect to live in MY country, as advertised by our claimed status as a democracy. I do not wish to bear the shame and responsibility of so much deprivation in my country and allowing through my silence theft of outrageous amounts of money outright stolen that is rightfully everyones. I don’t wish to be struggling to meet the home’s budget each month. In spite of earning what was till very recently called a good amount. I think its a fair expectation. If it is a risk, it is a necessary one.

Hiring elite selected superpowerful authority to cleanup the system for us, defeats whole purpose of democratic process and promotes oligarchy and elitism IMO.

Then you should have done a better job of keeping it clean. If you think people will just patiently wait for the government to develop a sense of ethics, its not going to happen any more. We are convinced that a conscience is an unrealistic expectation of today’s leaders.

Much can be done to improve present system without creating powerful authority outside system. e.g.
1> Fast track anti corruption courts based on anti terrorism courts. (courtesy Rakesh Suvarna )
2> Ability to Recall politicians before their term ends.
3> Reform of laws governing IAS officers making it easier for elected representatives to fire, demote punish government employees.
4> Higher punishment for corruption.
5> Electoral reforms making it compulsory for political parties to select their candidates based only on election by party members in that particular constituency(primary system) I am sure everyone can think of many more.

And it really was the government’s job to do it, which it didn’t. If it has boiled down to the masses needing to fix things, they aren’t stupid enough to build it on a failed system.

Lastly power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Jan Lokpal Bill gives almost absolute power to Lokpals, it is almost a guarantee it will get corrupted. Then we will simply have increased number of corrupt institution in our country by 1. While Lokpals are watching all of us, who is gonna watch them??

Yeah, the guys drafting the Bill will have to plan for this carefully, but it isn’t an impossible task.

I share your fear of corruption. We have been burnt too many times. Yet, we can’t afford to do nothing, so we move forward with purpose, plan safeguards carefully and trust that a movement anchored directly in the will of the people will fare better than one entrenched in political directives and exploitation.

PS does anyone else finds it funny that this “youth movement” wants a law which will allow only people above 40 to be Lokpals??

I was not aware that this was a youth movement. As far as I am aware, the leaders are all over 40. Being young is not infectious, much as we all wish it were. Anna Hazare is definitely young at heart, but really… the youth are like any of us. Frankly, most people I am interacting with are older. [Update: TOI agrees]

Joint drafting committee, that is another bad thing. It is job of legislative to drafts laws. I feel it is very bad precedent.

uh…. if the laws of a land are so esoteric that no one except lawyers understand them, no one except lawyers should be expected to abide by them. We aren’t expecting illiterate people to be on the JC. Educated intellectuals, award winners…. they should be able to frame it well enough for the four lawyers to keep them legal. You speak like no legal document was ever made by less than 10 lawyers. You need to read up on good lawyer jokes, specifically those about lightbulbs.

Basically only thing anyone has to do to subvert parliamentary procedure is to go on ‘fast on to death’ and have enough people on streets. Then you get to write laws. You don’t have to stand for elections, you don’t have to get elected, nothing.

Sure, but you might find it cheaper to run elections than to get so many people to come for so many days and face such hardship. Discounting an entire country’s energy into a formula might work on paper, and the technique has always been there, so why doesn’t it happen more? Money can’t replace inspiration, and if you can inspire the entire country, what you want done should happen anyway.

Why don’t we simply scrap the elections, parliament, judiciary anyway? No one believes in them anymore or wants to improve them. Let people selected by bharat ratna’s , nobel winners, magsaysay winners run this country.No corruption 🙂

Frankly, my vision of an ideal democracy wouldn’t have elections as the means of getting representatives because they ensure that no matter what, some or the other part of the population always feels unrepresented. I have described it to quite some extent in the one post I’ve linked to three times by now. I don’t believe in direct administration happening by anyone other than the representatives whether by selection or heavenly descent, but I am unable to explain the difference between governance and regulation in a way you will understand after trying repeatedly. Suffice it to say that representatives should govern, but the regulatory body is not about governance, but violations by the representatives. They are utterly irrelevant to the running of the country. Their role begins only after the laws are already flaunted by leaders.

Note: These are my opinions and my reason for unwavering support of the agitation. These may not necessarily be the same for all.

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Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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