Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Our tryst with destiny
So Anna Hazare has concluded that it is the elected representative, not the pressure group, which is vested with the constitutional power to make laws in this country and the way to a better Lokpal is to have better elected law makers. This is a historic moment, not because of the wisdom that has dawned on the IAC team, but because of the process of self-reflection that will be forced upon all parties - be it the one IAC will form or those already around. It is bound to trigger a mass realization that the root of poor governance was never corruption, but the lack of wider public participation in democratic processes. The Anna movement based itself on certain premises. Firstly, they claimed mass support of an overwhelming majority of the nation fed up with corruption. That IAC enjoyed mass support is beyond dispute, but just how big was this support? Their claim of majority support was becoming untenable as it could not be measured purely by the numbers participating in the anshans and lame referendums. A credible way to prove their numbers was through ballot. Secondly, IAC began with a premise that they would rather be a movement than a political movement due to our political system being murky. This attracted a large motivated mass of Indians who shared their disgust. But perhaps IAC did not realize that they undermined the way laws are made when they behaved like a "pressure group" yet demanded the collective rights of an elected parliament. Irrespective of how one rates the current crop of parliamentarians, the fact is that their job is tougher than that of a pressure group. The parliamentarian must take various opinions of different "pressure groups" into consideration. The constitutional onus of collecting feedback, debate, reconciliation and decision lies with the parliament, not the pressure group. A pressure group can demand but have little say to decide. And so these learnings left IAC glaring with two facts - First, they needed to win an election to establish credibility and prove their claims of mass support. Second, they had to be in the parliament to decide the final Lokpal Bill. There was a third subtle fact as well. It's easy to say one enjoys popular support, but fighting an election to prove it is a whole new ballgame. And perhaps there lies IAC's biggest learning so far. IAC has realized that the root of our ills is not corruption, but the difficulty of electing credible political choice to power and in this light their decision to proceed as a political option is laudable as it reflects the maturing of a public movement. But this is not the first time a public movement has become a political party. Other political parties too, be it Congress or Shiv Sena, have their origins as credible public movements. So how did credible public movements transform into reviled political parties and what caution must IAC take? IAC has enjoyed public support. Now it will have to register itself as a political party, set up local offices to communicate with voters and earn public trust that not only do they have great ideas but they can actually work on ground. They will have to manage non-related sensitivities like religion, caste, egos etc. they will slowly learn what it means to become a parliamentarian. They will realize that running a political party takes money, which needs funding. The people who stood by IAC probably never donated to a political party, so will they now? And if IAC doesn't get sufficient funding, will they continue the fight or retreat quietly into the sunset? Today's political parties are not funded by us. Depending on their vote banks, they get funded through donations from big corporates, or they extort funds from people by posing the fear of harassment, or by receiving funding from whoever is willing to give the money. Some parties just give the ticket to those who can fund their own campaigns without getting into how the money is raised by them. That opens the way for funding from criminals who want a return on investment when a person is elected. So when these people get elected, they induce corruption to generate funds for campaigning. Their own voter base expect them to fund their functions, provide support where state machinery fails. All this takes money and the corruption keeps the money coming. Inadequate internal audits and disclosures by political parties don't help either. IAC will have a tough challenge of generating funds to avoid going down this path. They will also realize that most supporters don't have the staying power of doing the hard work everyday. Maintaining protestors is very different from maintaining cadres. Today's political parties pay / gratify those people who attend their rallies because they would not come otherwise. Their cadres are supported in their professions, or gratified through money or being provided political clout for them to continue nefarious activities. IAC too has realized that their supporters cannot come in every meeting or Anshan. So how will they keep the cadres in order? Like cadres, so too also for candidates. How many people with mass public appeal would stand in elections and yet abide by the decisions of the political party? Today's repulsion of politics has left IAC's followers completely oblivious of what it takes to fight and win an election. They will start learning the difficulties of walking the correct path; figuring the importance of reconciling differences caused by ideology, points of view, ego, risk appetite and so many other factors. In reality the line between compromise and surrender is quite blurred. How many would remain clean, how many will opt out and how many will succumb to the pressures of winning the election? IAC will grapple with this reality every day and will need to find a way to attract the talent that has the will, maturity and the ability to lead masses in a strong ethical framework. But most of all they will learn, that it was never the politicians but the general public apathy that has been failing India. You and I will need to fund IAC, you and I will need to be there for meetings and question ourselves every week on ways we can continue to contribute. When they go wrong, we will need to resist the lure of giving up, and instead hold on to discover the fine line between compromise and surrender. The only solace will be that other parties know this. They know what can happen if we, the people wake up. Let us hope that they take pre-emotive action and start improving internal probity, press for cleaner and accountable funding and pick cleaner candidates. The hallmark of a mature democracy is the role you and I play, not the IAC or Congress or anyone else. IAC brings for us a new opportunity to be more responsible citizens. The time is now to decide the role we will play as individuals and as a country. This is our tryst with destiny.