Ashima Goyal

Triumph of democracy

ASHIMA GOYAL | Updated on November 12, 2017 Published on September 14, 2011

Anna Hazare’s goals and means may not be perfect, but wide support for a clean India makes change possible.   -  PTI

There were fears the Anna Hazare movement would vitiate the stature of Parliament. Instead, the Government and Team Anna gave up their extreme positions on the Lokpal Bill. And Parliament acted with dignity in bending to people's demands.

The dramatic events surrounding the Jan Lokpal Bill have been widely interpreted as a victory for the people and for Anna Hazare. This is a very limited view. Actually there were four victories.

The first victory was that of widespread people's participation in the political process, the second was the resounding support for values in the public sphere, the third was Parliament rising to the occasion and delivering a clear result in a short time, and the fourth was the creative democratic adjustment that took into account popular demands, yet preserved parliamentary precedence and procedures.


A wide cross-section of people came out on the streets to support the Bill. But the presence of a large number of youth and educated professionals was new for an Indian political mobilisation.

This section was so apathetic about politics they would not even vote; now they were willing to give quality time and effort.

The change implies politicians have to perform better. It is part of the movement from a vertical to a thicker, horizontal democracy. The latter normally happens as per capita incomes rise.

Before that politicians tend to concentrate on the rich, from whom they get donations, and the poor, from whom they buy votes. It also reflects the proliferation of NGOs and other activists and the ease of mobilisation using electronic media.

Also new was the peaceful nature of the protests — or rather, it was very old, a reversion to Gandhian values. It revealed their continuing resonance and the deep need for values in personal and public life. How did a country that won independence on the cry of ‘satyameva jayate' or ‘only truth wins' generate so much corruption?

Controls breed corruption, and the fear that ‘if I do not do it the other will and get ahead' makes more and more adopt such practices. It then becomes a pervasive social norm because of the high cost of getting things done without it. Someone of Anna's credibility was needed to make it possible to believe the other person will abstain and therefore so can I.

The latent disgust with the system could surface. When public action and private beliefs differ, change can be triggered quickly.


A Parliament that had so often disrupted proceedings and had the ‘distinction' of passing the least number of Bills was able to pass a unanimous resolution after a day's debate. The quality of debate was also high, without the acrimonious finger-pointing one has come to expect from politicians. The Opposition and the Government worked together in the national interest, showing what is possible as political accountability rises with credible people pressure.

There were fears that Parliamentary supremacy was being challenged, that concession could encourage future pressure groups, with their own agendas, vitiating the full diversity that Parliament represents. But, at the Prime Minister's initiative, a creative solution emerged. Both sides gave up extreme positions in a triumph for democracy. It was bending to accommodate people's demands that gave Parliament real dignity.

There is a case for strengthening people's pressure on the Government, through systemic changes, since the constitutional checks and balances have proved insufficient to deliver good governance. With strengthening horizontal democracy, Panchayats and urban resident associations can hold their MPs accountable and push them in the right direction.

The Jan Lokpal seeks to remove corruption through the fear of punishment. But, like the average Indian, the average bureaucrat or politician also probably prefers to avoid corruption. Better system design would give him a chance to demonstrate this.

Remove the motive

Although controls were removed, discretionary powers over resources remained. Liberalisation made these much more valuable. In the absence of transparent political funding, the logic for political parties is also ‘if I do not enrich the party (and myself) the other will do so and gain a competitive edge'.

Therefore the answer is to remove the motive and reduce the opportunity for corruption. For the first, party accounts must be made transparent, with all donors identified. For the second, discretionary powers have to be further reduced; and contracts and public procurement made totally transparent.

The government has more than a million unfilled vacancies — the (black) price of any service in short supply rises. Reorganisation of government offices and better job descriptions would help.

As contact with officials reduces though e-governance initiatives, so will corruption. These ideas have been around long — vocal public opinion could push through the missing implementation. Escaping entrenched social norms requires wide-ranging systemic changes. Parties have to become pro-active against corruption to regain lost initiative. The events of the past few weeks should make even cynics who believe ‘the system' will continue, to rethink. Anna Hazare's goals and means may not be perfect, but wide support for a clean India makes change possible.

(The author is Professor of Economics, IGIDR, Mumbai. >

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Published on September 14, 2011
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