Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Democracy’

Ramdev: Wronged is not Right

June 5, 2011 Leave a comment

What the government did to Baba Ramdev is wrong. But that does not make him, or his demands, right. While it is difficult to maintain a nuanced view in the middle of such high drama, I hope the civil society will remember that it is the nuances that makes a democracy.

Corrupting the movement

June 2, 2011 Leave a comment

The day opened to a very strange piece of news: the megastar yogastar Baba Ramdev has refused to call off his `fast unto death’ on the issue of black money. Ok, it’s not very strange if we simply view this as a publicity stunt. But is it only for publicity or does he have deeper reasons for this fast? Some think that he is doing this at the behest of his political masters┬áto derail the Jan Lokpal Bill. I think the bill is a bad idea, and I think Ramdev has other, more personal reasons to go on this fast. The trusts that he is associated with are enormously wealthy, and little is known about the source of their income, or the source of income of people who donate to these trusts. One politician did ask for an investigation into the source of his assets, but nothing else has been heard about it since. My feeling is that Ramdev is trying to establish himself as a leader of the anti-corruption lobby in order to avoid any serious charge of corruption for himself or his financial backers. Right now, any investigation into his amassed wealth, or even of his followers, can be projected as an underhanded scheme by the government to undermine his credibility. So all his financial dealings remain unseen by the probing eyes of the Income Tax department — and I think he is only the face of an organisation, not the brains — there are others behind the financial dealings of his organization.

Someone really should go on a fast unto death for investigating the finances of Ramdev.

Paint the town green

May 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The people have spoken. Congratulations Mamata Banerjee and her motley crew of the (All India) Trinamool Congress. The Left Front was in power for 34 years, more than a generation, always with an overwhelming majority.

Many feel disconcerted that the AITC, and in particular Mamata Banerjee, does not have a discernible political philosophy. I would say that in this election the people have rejected political philosophy as a basis for governance. But it is not difficult to argue that even the Indian National Congress has no political philosophy. Only the Left, and the ultra-right BJP, swear by political philosophies. And in general they keep getting rejected by the Indian public.

One might say that the rejection of political philosophy as a basis for governance is in fact an international phenomenon, seen both in the failure of fascist or right-wing dictatorships as well as of communist dictatorships to survive a proper election.

Government obstructing justice

April 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The Supreme Court has come down hard on the government for not disclosing the names of Indian depositors of black money in Swiss banks, and for talking about only Hassan Ali whenever the issue of black money comes up. It has further scolded the government for not taking action about black money despite having the necessary information. Clearly, the government is trying to avoid prosecuting such people, and does not want the court to take any steps either. In other words, the government is obstructing the course of justice by not disclosing information and often by misleading the court.

Is it really sufficient for the court to rap the Solicitor General? If the decision to obstruct justice has been taken at ministerial levels, shouldn’t the court try to find a way to bring those responsible to justice? Even ministers are not above the law. Really.

Thoughts on the Jan Lokpal Bill

April 16, 2011 2 comments

Everybody seems to have an opinion about the Jan Lokpal bill (draft available here) these days — after Anna Hazare threatened to starve himself to death if the government didn’t agree to put up the bill in the parliament’s next session. Thousands of people waved little flags and wore the white Gandhi caps worn by Anna Hazare and associated with followers of the Mahatma, including Nehru and almost every leader of Congress (but most probably never worn by the great soul himself). It is perhaps a bit ironic that the anti-corruption marches had so many people wearing the Gandhi caps, when those caps are associated with the picture of corrupt politicians. Shiv Visvanathan’s description of the events as a simulacrum is not without merit.

There are now several articles in the blogosphere spelling out problems with the Jan Lokpal bill, for example by Shuddhabrata Sengupta here and Mihir Sharma here. The criticisms focus on the powers of the Lokpal, which appear to be unbridled, and the mechanisms of appointing or removing the said authority. The comments on Tarunabh Khaitan’s post at Law and Other Things seem to be quite well-reasoned, although restricted to a small group of people.

I have another problem with the `movement’. The movement originates in the failure of our justice system — there would be no such movement if the courts did not allow the rich and the powerful to delay or alter the course of justice, often through official mechanisms. The police is completely controlled by the government, which translates to politicians, and the investigations against politicians are often cursory to nonexistent as a result. And this neglect of duty often extends to those in business and industry who fund politicians.

By mobilising in favour of yet another office — that of the Lokpal — the public is reaffirming its loss of faith in the judiciary, the police, the legislature, and in fact the existing laws. So why do they expect this other office to function any better? If there is no one in all these other offices who can be relied upon, or if there is so much corruption in all courts, all law-enforcement agencies and among all politicians that it smothers all efforts to bring the corrupt officials and politicians to justice, how will the office of the Lokpal remain free of it?

My feeling is that one bill or one office will not serve the purpose of preventing or removing corruption from public offices and officials. The only way that will happen is if the existing laws are enforced properly, justice is served quickly, and action is taken quickly against those who protect politicians or rich people. Some new laws may be needed as well, but those must be easily enforceable.

For example, one way of restricting the movement of cash is to prevent the withdrawal of more than Rs.25000 cash per day from any bank account. There was a proposal by the finance ministry under Chidambaram in 2005 to impose a 0.1% tax on cash withdrawals above Rs.10000. Savings bank accounts were exempted from this soon afterwards. I cannot help but think that the pressure to exempt savings accounts must have come from the beneficiaries of such withdrawals, businesses in the real estate in particular, who ask buyers to provide a significant percentage of the price in cash.

Another way of preventing `official corruption’ — i.e. the kind of corruption which grants contracts at inflated prices — is to ensure that whenever such a case comes before the court, all files concerning the government decisions should be provided to the court without delay. I find it very strange when the government asks a court for time to prepare its defense of its own decision, and even stranger that the courts allow such petitions.

Anyway, the Jan Lokpal bill may be passed, with or without modifications. Some actions will result soon after, but in the long run I think it will undermine the functioning of all other offices of law enforcement, thus creating an effect opposite to what it was supposed to.

Mines and Maoists

May 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Today’s paper carries the headlines that Maoists have asked Mittal to keep his hands off the mines of Jharkhand. I am a little surprised that this is headline news, because I thought it was obvious the tribal areas were seeing a lot of violent protests — and often Maoism — because mining activities kept displacing the tribals and destroying the means of their livelihood. There is a clear historical correlation between Maoist activity and displacement. There is no information on the MOUs signed between the state governments and the mining companies, and these are treated as secret by the governments. So it would seem that the companies and the governments have something to hide. Perhaps headlines like these will make more people want to find out exactly what is going on between the mining companies and the tribals.

Secrets of democracy

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Learned from Shamnad Basheer’s post that the new bill on copyrights will be kept secret from the public until it is tabled in the Parliament.

In other news, external affairs minister S.M.Krishna publicly rebuked minister of state Shashi Tharoor for expressing his reservations on twitter about new visa regulations. Krishna also said, “Well, these issues are not to be discussed in public … If there are any perceptions, they should be sorted out within the four walls of the two ministries.”

Both stories bring out the attitude typical of our democracy — don’t let the riffraff know what the rulers are thinking. The press has let go of both stories without further comment, which is a commentary on the press itself.