Anna Hazare misses the point

Activism has a limited role in what is essentially a political project.

The task of tackling corruption is best left to Parliament, and not to extra-constitutional watchdogs.

Anna Hazare's crusade may seem like the right approach, but it is actually an inadequate, if not disturbing, response to colossal corruption in the face of a perceptibly weak national leadership.

It is obvious that the system — whether it is the Executive or Legislature — is inexorably corrupt. But Parliamentary democracies do resort to ambiguous means to capture and maintain influence over their electorates. The exceptions are Scandinavian nations, where campaigns can now be conducted at virtually no cost.


Indian voters avoid inconvenient questions on electoral funding, allowing even established parties to use unaccounted funds to purchase popular support. But they are incensed by corruption of the 2G variety, their anger only fuelled by the fact that they pay bribes for basic amenities such as getting a ration card, gas connection, driving licence, passport or an attestation in any certificate. This anger is channelised when an activist like Anna Hazare enters the picture.

Anna Hazare's struggle focuses on the need to create an oversight mechanism for anti-corruption agencies and has the Prime Minister in its ambit. But as long as we refuse to cleanse electoral funding, have a transparent electoral funding law and check Parliamentary malfunction, even the most credible investigation agency with freedom of the Supreme Court will not be able to do the needful.

The trouble with the activists is that they are trying to address the problem of corruption ex-post, while what we need is removal of the root causes.

In a democracy, there can't be a higher investigation than that conducted by a bipartisan Parliamentary committee, since the House is and has to be supreme.


Our experience with the Supreme Court and Election Commission and even the Central Vigilance Commission suggests that once you create an extraordinarily powerful counterweight to the House to check political corruption or regulate political practice, the political establishment closes ranks and inserts its compradors into its leadership.

Worse, Indian institutions, even the Supreme Court, have not been able to handle autonomy well when less than deserving men presided. So, creating an omnipotent and fully autonomous Lokpal suffers from two attendant weaknesses. One, it cannot be more powerful than Parliament, however imperfect the latter is and, two, if it were, it is likely to be captured and subverted. Creating authority after authority to be extra-constitutional watchdogs will not help.

The experiments of the numerous accountability commissions — ranging from information to human rights — stand testimony to the fact that once Parliament slips in a Parliamentary democracy, there are few countervailing alternatives available.

Pop-celebrity activism bypasses several inconvenient questions on the need to politically reform parties and the Parliamentary system. The fight against corruption is essentially a political project. The huge task at hand is to reform parties and restore the primacy of Parliament. It must be remembered that tribunalism and kangaroo courts have a history of hanging the innocent and tarnishing all.

(The author, a civil servant, is currently Vice-Chancellor of Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Kerala. The views are personal.)

Published on April 13, 2011


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