A lot has happened over the past few weeks and government has actually issued a notification and formed a lokpal drafting committee with 50% representation from the civil society. But this has led to a lot of other events too. This entire crusade started to be called as another freedom struggle; struggle to free the country from corruption. However, in the midst of all this many raised several doubts and some even questioned Anna’s credibility by calling him a fake or someone with hidden agendas or someone who might be just a token face of an organisation which is behind all this. Wow!!! Sounds like the script of the Hindi political drama Rajneeti Part 2.
But let’s take the concerns one by one. I have tried to list down all the possible questions and concerns that people raised and have tried to analyse them to the best of my sensibility. If you have any point to make please do feel free to leave a comment.
- Many people especially media claimed that in the wake of Egypt’s Tahrir square, aam junta started to feel that we can also do an Egypt and that is why this event picked up so much momentum. I want to agree to this to some extent but I will mostly disagree. There could be many people in the crowd who were too agitated and adrenalin driven that they almost thought they would create an Egypt like situation. But when Anna started the crusade he made it very clear that the crusade is not against the government not does he intend to create any instability in the government. In fact politicians were not even entertained to come and express their solidarity.
This movement gained so much momentum because it touched upon an open sore which effected poor and rich alike; corruption. It was the first time that middle class and the youth who are generally considered apathetic towards the functioning of the country, participated in large numbers. The reason was, in the wake of so many scams where public money was being looted and no one being punished, there was a latent anger inside everyone and Anna could tap that. For the first time the middle class, who no politician cares for, felt important.
In a state where almost every investigation agency was almost powerless, where every politician became synonym with corruption, there came a man with impeccable integrity. Anna was the man behind forcing Maharashtra government to pass the RTI ordinance. Later, when the government wanted to amend the RTI act, Anna again started fasting to stop it from being amended. People believed in him and put their faith in him. Agreed, that most of them did not even know or care what exactly was there or going to be there in the lokpal bill. But they were mostly expressing their solidarity. The public just wanted the goal (corruption free India) to be achieved and I don’t think really cared or thought about the means to achieve the goal. Anna looked like the man who could do this for them.
- The crusade being anti-democratic and a blackmail: – Well, any protest is a blackmail of sorts. You want something in return to stop your protest. That is blackmail. It might be termed anti-democratic because the draft of the lokpal bill has given the lokpal a lot of powers. It says that every public servant will be under its realm including the Supreme Court judge. Many people are thinking that lokpal will become so powerful that it will be able to prosecute and punish anyone and thereby shake the very foundation of how India works. What is the final bill which gets introduced is still needs to be seen.
I however, do think that we need a powerful lokpal. Simply because, though we do have anti-corruption bodies like the CVC, which is powerless and the CBI which is not independent, a lokpal will merge all these bodies into its realm making investigation fair and effective. Whistle-blower and witness protection rights is also something that lokpal will deal with. The cases will move fast and if found guilty, the verdict will be quick. In a country like India, where justice is always delayed, we need a very strong lokpal and the participation of people in the lokpal is very important because, in a democracy the government is for the people, by the people. So if the public servant or the elected member is not doing his duties properly, the master meaning the public who voted them to power will have a role in the form of lokpal to question them. I think in any healthy democracy people’s participation should not be limited to just voting. Their participation should be more active.
I don’t think lokpal is anti-democracy. I feel it could become one the pillars of democracy. However, the government version of lokpal and the public version of lokpal are very different. The main obstacle now is to reach a consensus to create a powerful lokpal and not a toothless tiger. What is presented in the monsoon session of the parliament is to be seen. Let’s wait till then.
- People don’t participate when there is a tribal movement or when there is a person like Irom Sharmilla fasting for almost 10 years against AFSPA:- What we keep forgetting here is, the reason why so many people came together was because we all have a common enemy i.e. corruption. When there is a tribal atrocities agitation or an agitation against human rights violation in Kashmir or the north east, we empathise with them but we generally do not go out of our way to even find out what is happening there. So many of us do not even know the names of the states and their capitals in the north-east. That’s the bitter truth. The reason is simple. Their plight does not affect us directly.
Irom’s fasting against AFSPA did attract the Manmohan Singh government’s attention and she was told that the act will be reviewed but nothing has been done so far. It is going through the fate of the lokpal bill which was being brushed under the carpet for the last 42 years. The government needed a jolt like what Anna could do to have them start acting on it. Irom also needs to give a jolt to the government for her issue to be addressed. In fact, AFSPA is a more complex issue because the government claims the need for it is to maintain peace and internal security of the country. Where internal security is an issue (as the government puts it) in that situation Irom has a tougher role to play to convince the aam junta to play by her side.
Here is (from Wiki) why according to the Indian government AFSPA is important.
In 2004, in the wake of intense agitation that was launched by several civil society groups following the death of Thangjam Manorama, while in the custody of the Assam Rifles and the indefinite fast undertaken by Irom Sharmila, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil visited Manipur and reviewed the situation with the concerned state authorities. In the same year, Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh assured activists that the central government would consider their demand sympathetically.
The central government accordingly set up a five-member committee under the Chairmanship of Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, former judge of the Supreme Court. The panel was given the mandate of “reviewing the provisions of AFSPA and advising the Government of India whether (a) to amend the provisions of the Act to bring them in consonance with the obligations of the government towards protection of human rights; or (b) to replace the Act by a more humane Act.”
The Reddy committee submitted its recommendations on June 6, 2005. However, the government failed to take any concrete action on the recommendations even after almost a year and a half. The then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee had rejected the withdrawal or significant dilution of the Act on the grounds that “it is not possible for the armed forces to function” in “disturbed areas” without such powers.
The 147-page report recommends, “The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, should be repealed.” During the course of its work, the committee members met several individuals, organisations, parties, institutions and NGOs, which resulted in the report stating that “the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness.” The report clearly stated that “It is highly desirable and advisable to repeal the Act altogether, without of course, losing sight of the overwhelming desire of an overwhelming majority of the [North East] region that the Army should remain (though the Act should go).”
But activists say the Reddy panel despite its recommendation for the ‘repeal of the Act’ has nothing substantial for the people. The report recommends the incorporation of AFSPA in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, which will be operable all over India.
United Nations view
When India presented its second periodic report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1991, members of the UNHRC asked numerous questions about the validity of the AFSPA. They questioned the constitutionality of the AFSPA under Indian law and asked how it could be justified in light of Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR. On 23 March 2009, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay asked India to repeal the AFSPA. She termed the law as “dated and colonial-era law that breach contemporary international human rights standards.”
The Attorney General of India responded that the AFSPA is a necessary measure to prevent the secession of the North Eastern states. He said that a response to this agitation for secession in the North East had to be done on a “war footing.” He argued that the Indian Constitution, in Article 355, made it the duty of the Central Government to protect the states from internal disturbance and that there is no duty under international law to allow secession.
Non-governmental organizations’ analysis
The act has been criticized by Human Rights Watch as a “tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination”.
The South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre argues that the governments’ call for increased force is part of the problem.
“This reasoning exemplifies the vicious cycle which has been instituted in the North East due to the AFSPA. The use of the AFSPA pushes the demand for more autonomy, giving the people of the North East more reason to want to secede from a state which enacts such powers and the agitation which ensues continues to justify the use of the AFSPA from the point of view of the Indian Government.” – The South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre
A report by the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis points to multiple occurrences of violence by security forces against civilians in Manipur since the passage of the Act. The report states that residents believe that the provision for immunity of security forces urge them to act more brutally the article, however, goes on to say that repeal or withering away of the act will encourage insurgency.
In addition to this, there have been claims of disappearances by the police or the army in Kashmir by several human rights organizations.
Many human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) have condemned human rights abuses in Kashmir by Indians such as “extra-judicial executions”, “disappearances”, and torture; the “Armed Forces Special Powers Act”, which “provides impunity for human rights abuses and fuels cycles of violence. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) grants the military wide powers of arrest, the right to shoot to kill, and to occupy or destroy property in counterinsurgency operations. Indian officials claim that troops need such powers because the army is only deployed when national security is at serious risk from armed combatants. Such circumstances, they say, call for extraordinary measures.” Human rights organizations have also asked Indian government to repeal the Public Safety Act, since “a detainee may be held in administrative detention for a maximum of two years without a court order.”
United States leaked diplomatic cables
The Wikileaks diplomatic cables have recently disclosed that Indian government employees agree to acts of human rights violations on part of the Indian armed forces and various paramilitary forces deployed in the north east parts of India especially Manipur. The violations have been carried out under the cover of this very act. Governor S.S. Sidhu admitted to the American Consul General in Kolkata, Henry Jardine, that the Assam Rifles in particular are perpetrators of violations in Manipur which the very same cables described as a state that appeared more of a colony and less of an Indian state.
Earlier leaks had also stated that International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had reported to the United States diplomats in Delhi about the grave human rights situation in Kashmir which included the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees. Kashmir is currently administered under this very act.
This above case is a very good example as to why such Anna like protest is required for the government to act. People who feel sad about why Irom’s case is not being heard but Anna’s 4 days fast was more effective sound like as if they are sad not because of the issues but because Anna did not have to set a personal fasting record to win a title. Disgusting!!!
Like I mentioned before, what Anna started was something we all could relate to and are victims of it.
- There are some bloggers who go about saying we all are corrupt so corruption should stop at its root. Duh!!! Tell me something new. We all agree that most of us are corrupt. We grease palms when we jump signals, whenever we want to get our files noticed, when we want our work done. We also agree that to stop corruption we must not practice it too. I mean for God’ sake, Anna was not sitting there to give us moral education classes. He was there to compel the government to have civil society’s participation in the drafting committee. His job is not to start moral education classes. We all can use our judgments. We bribe people not because we love doing it. I mean c’mon, it’s our hard earned money why would I want to give it away to a corrupt person. We do it because, we want to get our work done and quickly. In India red tapism is rampant; files do not move or go missing for years if money is not paid. Letters are not answered, calls are not returned, no one is really interested in helping the aam junta or justify their salaries by coming to work or doing the job they are getting paid for. In a situation like this, the aam junta prefers to bribe and gets his work done rather than run pillar to post. This is yet another reason why the lokpal bill is important, because it will also take cases against public servants and departments for not doing their job.
- Lastly, there are many people speculating huge funds have been used, there could be some hidden agendas of the organization who are behind it. The people who are behind the lokpal are much respected people of the society and their credibility is more important for them than any hidden agenda. There could be funds which might have been used to get badges made, NGO’s which must have spent their money to get pamphlets printed and advertisements published etc. but what is wrong in that. If the cause is noble then I don’t see anything wrong. If at all there were funds being used. at least these were not public money being misused. Talking about hidden agendas, well, I suppose the writers are speculating activists or that “certain” organisation’s entry into politics. Even if that happens, I still do not see anything wrong. Where we have so many criminals as politicians if we get someone who is not a criminal and is sincere about his job as a politician then I am happy with so called “hidden agenda”
Our role does not end with an agitation. We need to be more active in the country’s politics. We need to be seen at the polling station and not just at agitation venues. We need to exercise our right to vote and not just our right to freedom of speech and expression. We must not vote politicians who are not worthy of it. We must rise above petty politics of caste, creed, community and language.
What we have achieved is a milestone. We need to wait for the draft to be introduced. We need to see what exactly is there in the final version and if it actually gets passed. Till then this noble cause must be supported by each and every Indian and as responsible citizens we must not believe in any bad press without checking the facts because for whatever petty gains there will be people who would be undermining and maligning the whole cause and the people behind it.