At a Mumbai rally last Sunday, BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi lashed out at Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi for claiming to be a crusader against corruption even as his party men involved in the Adarsh housing scam were given a clean chit. Modi termed it the height of “audacity”.
Granted, the claimed duplicity of the Congress leader might have gone down with the public. But Modi’ assertion was no less audacious. The BJP strongman should have remembered that the Lokpal Bill in its present avatar may have been an inspired move by the Congress but it took the BJP and other parties to steer it through Parliament with minimum fuss.Some rare acts
The anti-corruption legislation was passed with a brief debate and in near consensus. Both the Congress and the BJP claimed ownership of the landmark regulation. While the BJP claimed it was public opinion and the Anna Hazare movement that made it possible, the Congress has stolen a march by first planning its passage at this juncture. Despite the clamour, the legislation is the handwork of Parliament and the mainstream parties. And to an extent, it can be used even against those allegedly involved in the Adarsh affair.
For his part, Arvind Kejriwal played an important and unintentional role in this act; his stunning victory prompted most MPs to back the very same Bill they had rejected all this while. Had Kejriwal’s AAP not won Delhi polls, the Lokpal would not have seen the light of day this soon.
That said, Kejriwal may not figure prominently in the entire narrative of the Lokpal Bill except, say, as an afterthought. It will be the Congress, the BJP and other parties and, of course, Anna Hazare, who will be seen as the authors of this historic legislation. Which is a pity.
So, it was Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, acting with alacrity for the first time in years, who understood the opportunity thrown their way and seized it to terrific advantage.
In retrospect, AAP’s ingenuous term for Rahul Gandhi’s initiative as the Jokepal Bill was nothing short of churlish disappointment that its brainchild, a strong anti-graft legislation, should have been hijacked.
Finally, the Lokpal law has become a reality. After 50 years, Parliament members voted without much rancour and fuss, perhaps intimidated by the prospect of a new kid on the block setting new rules by which to play politics. Even thought the AAP rejected the Bill, Anna Hazare offered his support to the Bill believing that the legislation is always open to change.
He is right. No legislation — not even the Constitution — is cast in stone like the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments. Legislations and public policy emerge not from intellectual pursuits of some but from the heated clamour of the many.
In this respect, Indian democracy is different from its American counterpart. Its operational principles are constantly being renewed, redefined and re-invigorated by participative politics and more often than not by political expediency. If Section 377, which criminalises homosexuality, is ultimately scrapped, it will be done so for the fact that the public outrage against the Supreme Court ruling could become a costly matter in modern Indian politics.Born in rage
But participative democracy in India is more often than not sporadic, episodic and, worse, susceptible to the charms of passivity, especially among the articulate middle class. Participative politics is often born in rage against individual politicians or parties in power.
This is natural enough, but if anger does not turn into a comprehension of the system that encourages mis-governance, it can morph into adoration of a perceived saviour. Rage, in this case, finds release in revenge against perceived injustice or corruption by individual ministers or parties.
The Lokpal law is an important mechanism for a comprehension of the structures that allow mis-governance. It has the potential to enable this understanding because it is the first structure, after the Constitution, that will not reflect or be embedded in identities or narratives of specific or local cultures such as the reservation or food Security policies. It will be like the mechanisms that operate in the economy; regulators for the capital market and financial institutions that are meant to be non-partisan and ensure fair play.AAP’s first principle
In this context, what should be the AAP’s strategy? Having lost the initiative as a putative parent of the newborn, it can still ensure a healthy nurturing of the infant to adulthood and effective policing of the very issue that gave Kejriwal his leg-up in national politics.
Re-focussing on corruption by attacking its source would be a good start. It is the centralisation of power that encourages corruption and misallocation of resources. While using the Lokpal to engage with specific cases, the AAP must also campaign for decentralisation of power as an effective means to fighting graft and raising participative consciousness.
Reviving the spirit and content of devolution of power from the Centre and State capitals to villages and cities articulated in the 73rd and 74th amendments would constitute a second and vital stage in the evolution of a truly participative culture to oversee, evaluate and hold accountable, decision making by officials and businessmen.
Once the writ of Delhi and State capitals stops running riot in villages and towns, a sustained culture of tempered governance could follow. Then we could shout out three cheers for Indian democracy.