Democracy, Lokpal and AFSPA: Differential Weight of People`s Movements

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     By Dr. Bijen Meetei
    Assam University, Silchar
    It won’t be wrong to say that the year 2011’s one of the most talked about man and his movement in India is Kisan Baburao Hazare, popularly known as Anna Hazare, and his crusade against corruption. The man and his movement have been attracting a large number of people and a whole lot of discussion on the issues of civil society, credibility of the government and of course, on corruption which have haunted the country for decades. In fact, enormity of the problems of Indian political and the corresponding administrative systems generated the current Anna movement, which was brought to limelight in April this year when he decided to go for fast against corruption (and subsequent government inaction against criminal offenders). This re-articulates some of the systemic problems inherent in our political system. It also reaffirms that it will take quite some time to cleanse the system and get the confidence of the people back. Some may be quite right when they claim that the credibility of government is lost and this along with many of our problems are popped up due to the failure of the very political system on which we are relying for every aspect of our lives. Hence, there should be some kind of ‘forces’ to fix the problems. And this ‘force’, in a democratic process, should be used to create appropriate corrective measures, and therefore, the idea of Lokpal comes at right time.

    The fact is that our democracy provides enough laws and statutes to meet any sort of eventualities or in other words to affront the criminal offenders. Take for example, in addition to various laws and statutes, there are institutions (such as CBI and CVC) that can investigate and even prosecute the persons found guilty in the corruption cases. But, many a times, people (especially those in power and those rich with good political connections) found guilty of crimes could not be prosecuted and punished. The single most important reason for such happenings lies in the problems with the existing system itself. The agencies established to address such issues are not independent off the influences and control of the Government of the day, and therefore, often misused. As a result, unless the autonomy of these institutions are established the problems of corruption and other offences cannot be dealt with properly and due justice cannot be delivered to the people concerned. Further, the slow process of our judicial system denies justice to the victims time and again. That is why even if we have all the system in place, there comes up the need to call for institutions like Lokpal which can provide not only speedy but also least expensive prosecution machinery. Besides attempting to provide special courts for corruption cases and its own investigative arm, the current Lokpal Bill has one more positive aspect in that it also provides for a citizen’s charter and redressal of grievances. It means that every public authority is to prepare a charter outlining its duties to the citizen. Failure to perform such duties will invite punishment, and a direction to so perform. It is not to claim that Lokpal is the panacea of our problems and need to be established at once. There are many issues around the proposed Lokpal including the issue of whether the functions and powers of the PM and MPs are to be brought under the investigative jurisdiction of the Lokpal, or will CBI be put under Lokpal or not.

    Moreover, there are many other much worrying concerns highlighted by the recent political phenomena in the country. One such concern is the uncertain political fate of smaller communities in this diverse nation. One can discuss whether this Anna movement against corruption and the big cloud which have been gathered over this movement reemphasis the fact of democracy being a save game for ‘some people’ only. There are a lot of unprecedented events involved in this movement which never happened in any other movement started by ‘some other people’ particularly those belong to the North East. There are serious questions often come out in the discussions on the existing political phenomenon in the country. While Anna Hazare’s fast could forced the government to take a lot of unprecedented moves (unprecedented speed under the ‘Anna Pressure’ to constitute a drafting committee, ‘sense’ of the house to table the draft bill in the winter session of the Parliament, forcing politicians to work overtime, and finally, the extending the session of the Parliament by three days to discuss the Lokpa Bill), how come unprecedented movement of the people of Manipur remained unheard for years?’ Many would agree that many of us are victims of corruption at various levels. However, had it been initiated by a person from the North-East would it gather enough interest and momentum to force the government to initiate so many unprecedented moves? What happened to Iche’s (Irom Sarmila) fast against so much atrocity done to the people of Manipur under the shadow of AFSPA (Arms Forces Special Power Act)? Is government giving enough attention to such movements from the periphery? Is the suffering generated by corruption more severe than the suffering produced by unquestionable power of the armed forces?

    One cannot compare these two movements by any methodological yardstick. But, the differential attention meted out to these movements of two different ‘people’ exposes weakness in the existing system of democracy that cares only number than anything else. It is often asked that in the 11 years of Iche’s fast, how many times our Parliament has discussed the issue of AFSPA or sufferings that have been experienced by people in the North East day in and day out. There is a fear that in a diverse country like ours this system of democracy, which emphasizes on quantity rather than quality, certainly puts the fate of minority communities in incertitude. It is in this context that the so called ‘the people’ seems to be divided into two: ‘first people’ who have electoral significance in national politics, and the ‘other people’ which carries negligible connotation in terms of electoral politics. Therefore, when the ‘first people’ raises a socio-political issue, this must be certainly heard and attended to at any cost.

    If it happens to be the voice of the ‘other people’, there is no need for any urgency and may remain unheard too. In terms of electoral politics in India it’s the majority which is taken into account. And unequivocally, it is the electoral politics that makes the Executive, and thus, in order to remain as Executive utmost importance should be given to the voice of the ‘First people’ no matter what comes on the way. Consequently, it is high time that we think of reforming our electoral system in such a way that the unheard voices of the ‘other people’ get equal concern in national politics.

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