NEW DELHI - The hunger strike launched by Anna Hazare in Delhi has led to an outpouring of support from all over the country. The agitation for a Jan Lokpal (citizens' oversight) bill has found support predominantly from the urban middle classes and a substantial section of youth belonging to this strata.
There is no doubt that since the first hunger strike launched by Hazare in April, the anti-corruption movement has gained momentum.
The attitude of the United Progressive Alliance government and its failure to tackle corruption has fuelled widespread anger.
Firstly, the UPA government is seen as complicit in corruption. This has been the most corrupt government in the history of independent India. The paradox of a "clean Prime Minister" heading such a government has sunk into the consciousness of the urban middle classes. This is the very constituency that had been singing the praises of Manmohan Singh as a reformer who was clean and whose integrity was unquestioned.
The manner in which the ministers in the government defended the corrupt practices indulged in the 2G spectrum allocation, stating that there was zero loss of revenue for the government, confirmed the fears of many that this government, steeped in corruption, cannot take any meaningful action.
In all the cases - whether it be the 2G or the Commonwealth Games - it has been agencies external to the government - the Supreme Court, or, the Comptroller and Auditor General, which spurred the Central Bureau of Investigation into action to investigate and to prosecute the guilty.
The problem has been compounded by the government introducing a Lokpal (oversight) Bill, which seeks to carry on with the earlier arrangement of the vigilance and investigation agencies. The Prime Minister is excluded from the purview of the Lokpal. The method of appointment of the Lokpal will not make it an independent authority. The Lokpal set-up by this bill would be ineffective and unable to independently act against the higher echelons in the government, or, the big business-ruling politician-bureaucratic nexus.
Secondly, the Congress party leadership has been put in the dock for the manner in which Anna Hazare and his colleagues were arrested on the morning of August 16 before they began the hunger strike.
The symbolism of a corrupt government putting an anti-corruption crusader in Tihar Jail was not lost on the people. The brazen attack on the democratic rights of citizens to protest peacefully isolated the government among the people and inside Parliament.
The ruling party decries the Hazare-led movement as an attack on Parliament and democratic institutions. They claimed that since the government has introduced a bill in Parliament, any agitation against it is an attack on Parliament.
This is specious reasoning. Political parties and citizen's organizations have the right to oppose and agitate against any bill introduced in Parliament. The Left parties and trade unions have opposed many bills, which are anti-working class and organized protest actions and struggles against them. Strikes have taken place against proposed legislation, which seeks to liberalize the financial sector - the insurance, banks etc.
Even the Congress party opposed the Prevention of Terrorism (POTA) Bill, which was introduced in Parliament in 2002 by the BJP-led government. Subsequently it continued to oppose it even after it was enacted as a law and demanded its withdrawal.
Corruption has become a major issue and people are increasingly becoming conscious and determined to fight it. This is welcome.
But there is need for a proper understanding of what is the cause for this rampant corruption, which has affected all spheres of public life.
The CPI(M) has set out its understanding of the present malaise of corruption, the causes and the effects.
In the last two decades, with the advent of liberalization and the neo-liberal policies, high-level corruption has become institutionalized. The neo-liberal regime has led to an exponential rise in corruption.
Much of this corruption stems from the big business-ruling politician-bureaucratic nexus, which has been established. We have seen how, in the seven years of the UPA government and the earlier six years of the National Democratic Alliance government, policy making has been suborned to serve the interests of big business; how privatization and the loot of natural resources are facilitated by this nexus in operation; how the UPA government panders to big business - Indian and foreign - by putting in place policies and mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of resources like land, minerals, natural gas, etc., to business barons.
The neo-liberal regime has affected the political system with big capital holding sway. Increasingly, politics is being converted into a business and business is conducted through politics.
The fight against high-level corruption, therefore, requires a multi-pronged effort.
There has to be an effective Lokpal authority; there has to be electoral reforms to curb money power for politics; there has to be a separate mechanism to curb corruption in the higher judiciary through a separate legislation; there has to be firm measures to unearth black money and crack down on the persons who have stashed away illegal money abroad in tax havens.
Above all, the features of the neo-liberal regime, which encourage accumulation of capital through corrupt means, and facilitate the loot of natural resources by big business, should be ended.
The main source of support for the Hazare-led movement is the urban middle class. Many of them were supporters of the liberalization policies and reforms ushered in by the Singh government.
Now plagued with corruption, they want a messiah to get rid of corruption, which constantly affects their daily life. They would like corruption to end while maintaining the economic regime that has conferred benefits on them. Hence they are unable to see the organic link between the neo-liberal policies and the corruption that they have engendered.
The middle class propensity to be anti-political, to blame all politicians and to hold Parliament in contempt are all on display in the Anna Hazare movement. The constant harping against all political parties and the setting of unilateral deadlines for Parliament to act have raised apprehensions about their intent and commitment to democratic values. This has only detracted from the rightness of the cause and the popular support it has evoked.
There is legitimate anger against the plutocracy that has come to dominate the political system. But this plutocracy and the corrupt nexus cannot be fought by targeting political parties and concentrating fire only on the petty corruption that citizens face in their daily life.
Given the amorphous nature of the movement gathered around Anna Hazare, the rightwing forces, including the corporate media, seek to support and direct the movement away from the focus on the fountainhead of corruption. There is a constant masking of the real causes of corruption in society.
In a recent poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Development Societies published in The Hindu, to a question "Who is the most corrupt?" among those surveyed, 32 per cent said government employees were the most corrupt; 43 per cent said elected representatives were the most corrupt; and only three per cent thought businessmen and industrialists were the most corrupt. This is the dominant opinion among the middle classes.
In every major corruption scandal in the recent period, there was big business, or, corporations involved in the act of corrupting public servants - whether they are ministers, or, civil servants. In the 2G spectrum case, the Commonwealth Games, the KG gas basin contract and so on. In each of these cases the hidden hand of big business exists.
The government's Lokpal Bill does not address this issue at all. The Jan Lokpal (citizen's ombudsman) Bill at least has clauses providing for cancellation of contracts with business enterprises that are found to be illegally obtained. But the thrust of the anti-corruption movement, by and large, misses this main factor.
The CPI(M) and the Left will continue to campaign for a set of measures to combat corruption. Along with the Lokpal Bill, there has to be a judicial accountability legislation, which will cover the setting up of both a National Judicial Commission for the appointment of judges and a body to enquire into charges of corruption.
The Left parties will continue the fight against the privatization drive, which seeks to handover public assets and resources to big business.
At present, however, the fight against corruption can be taken forward only when a strong Lokpal authority is constituted. The government's Lokpal Bill has been rejected by large sections of the people; it is not acceptable to the Left parties and most of the opposition parties. In such a situation, there is no other way for the government, but to bring a modified or fresh bill, which can pave the way for an effective Lokpal.
For this, there is no other way except for the Manmohan Singh government to bow down to public pressure. The government should hold talks with the Anna Hazare group forthwith. It should bring a fresh bill for discussion and adoption by Parliament.
Photo: Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, standing front right in white, campaigns for his program, April 5, 2011. (V. Malik/CC)