May 31, 2020
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A Political Alternative To Alternative Politics

With the Lokpal cause stonewalled, a new political course opens up

A Political Alternative To Alternative Politics
Sanjay Rawat
A Political Alternative To Alternative Politics

Some basic research and investigation by us in India Against Corruption earlier this year revealed that at least 15 senior ministers of the Union cabinet, including the prime minister, Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram had serious charges of corruption or worse pending against them. This malaise is representative of the entire political class, underlines the need for an independent Lokpal and also explains the determined efforts by them to thwart it. It also showed not only why the country was being looted and bled dry, but also why revolts, insurgencies and ethnic conflicts were breaking out all over the country and the administration was collapsing. The country seems headed for anarchy and civil war. To highlight the alarming situation, it was decided that some of us would sit on an indefinite fast for the setting up of an independent Special Investigation Team headed by three retired Supreme Court judges to investigate these charges.

Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Gopal Rai were joined by hundreds of other fasting volunteers and, after four days, by Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar. After eight days of the fast, the government’s response was an arrogant stonewalling of the demand. Their refrain was the same as on the Jan Lokpal bill. In short they said: we are the elected representatives, and we will decide whether any investigation is to be done. Unelected members of civil society have no right to demand any investigation or any law. It became clear therefore that fasting or public demonstrations, even by large masses of people, would not yield any result.

Seeing this, 23 very eminent citizens including Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, General V.K. Singh, Admiral Tahiliani, Justice Santosh Hegde and others, issued a statement calling upon our fasting volunteers not to risk their lives at the altar of an insensitive government. They urged them to create a political alternative which could usher in a different kind of politics in the country, based on decentralisation of power and people’s direct participation in decision-making, policy-making and law-making. Anna Hazare immediately responded to the appeal saying he wanted to know what the people in the country felt about this. Several media organisations immediately started sms and online polls. We too asked the people to express their views on this.

An independent LokPal wasn’t going to happen even if over 80 per cent of the people asked for it, since those in power feared going to jail as a result.

The people’s response was quick and overwhelming. Within three hours, lakhs of people responded to us or to the sms polls, with more than 90 per cent expressing support for Team Anna working towards a political alternative. Anna therefore announced an end to the fast and said that we would now work towards providing a political alternative for the country. An alternative which would change the nature of the engagement between the people and the state and which would strive to decentralise power and vest most of it directly with the people. Anna also raised questions and underlined the challenges that lay before such an undertaking: how could such an organisation, geared towards providing a political alternative, be created without large sums of money? How would one select candidates who were honest, committed to public service and to decentralised, participatory democracy? How will one ensure that selected candidates don’t get intoxicated with power after getting elected? Does such an ambitious undertaking have any chance of success in the quagmire of electoral politics where polls are won largely on money and muscle power?

Many taunts have been thrown at us since this decision was announced at Jantar Mantar. Politicians and ministers who were earlier telling us we could not dictate terms on the Lokpal bill to the “elected representatives”, that we needed to get elected before we had the locus to demand anything, now taunted us saying they always knew we had political ambitions. Many well-wishers said this decision would destroy the anti-corruption movement, that we would lose whatever traction we had. But the fact is, so many people supported the idea of a political alternative because they felt the Lokpal campaign had hit a brick wall—for those in power felt they need not respond to public opinion, outside the mainstream political parties, without money and muscle power, they feared no challenge to them in electoral politics. Thus, an independent Lokpal was not likely to happen even if over 80 per cent people asked for it, since those in power fear going to jail as a result.

Some people say we should accept the government’s Lokpal, that it is at least an incremental step forward. Unfortunately, small incremental steps will not succeed in reversing the steep descent of the country into anarchy. Unless we can do something drastic to reverse this slide, we will soon be overtaken by conditions of civil war. The portents are there for all to see. Apart from the Maoist insurgency in adivasi areas, we see farmer unrests across the country on land acquisitions. While the Planning Commission debates on whether `28 a day makes a person well off, 2,00,000 farmers committed suicide over the last 15 years. The simmering discontent among industrial labour is visible everywhere and could erupt in the kind of violence we saw at the Maruti factory.

At the root of all this is the inequity of decisions, policies and laws being made by the government and Parliament, most of which are driven by corruption and vested commercial interests. All this is being facilitated by the centralisation of power denuding people of any role in decision-making; the devaluation of democracy to just voting for our representatives once in five years; the topdown control of institutions of governance with no accountability to the people.

Changing all this requires not merely robust institutions to check corruption, such as an independent Jan Lokpal, but also legislative changes to facilitate decentralised, participatory democracy, fundamental structural reforms in our institutions of governance, such as the police, the civil services, the judiciary, to fashion them as instruments of service to the people and accountable to them rather than as instruments of control over them.

Since those in power today are the beneficiaries of this system, they are unwilling to change this. The only non-violent way left of doing this is through an electoral revolution which sweeps away the present corrupted mainstream political parties and puts in Parliament a formation committed to this revolutionary vision of a different kind of engagement between the state and the people.

Most people’s movements or committed individuals have fared badly in their foray into electoral politics, for they have been unable to demonstrate the capacity to mobilise large sections of people across the country.  People therefore do not see them as viable and credible players, and vote for the lesser evil among the established parties. The enormous public support for the anti-corruption movement has laid the foundation for it being perceived as a credible force for ushering in such an electoral revolution.

For this to succeed, however, it will need the preparation of a vision and agenda which is truly revolutionary and yet practical. It will require the setting up of an organisation formulated differently from other political parties, where people volunteer and participate not for office or power, but because of their concern for the country. It will require a truly transparent and participatory method of selecting candidates which ensures that only those who are honest, have a record of public service and share this vision of revolutionary systemic change, get selected. For all this to happen, it would require the participation and involvement of people and movements who are concerned about the state of affairs in the country. We hope all such people will come forward and participate in this revolutionary undertaking.

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