A corruption-free South Asia?

corporate governance     By Charitha Ratwatte

A new thunderbolt has hit the political scene in South Asia. The South Asian voter after decades of being lied to and cheated by a class of self-serving professional politicians, a political class which has given a new meaning to the word parasite, since South Asia emerged from colonial bondage many moons ago, has today seen new hope in the Aam Admi Party (AAP) [the Common Man Party] of India led by Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi, who swept the polls held recently.

They won 28 of the 70 seats, pushing the ruling Congress down to eight seats and the BJP to 32. The AAP was launched on 26 November 2012. The party made its debut in the Delhi Legislative Assembly elections of December 2013 with the broom as its election symbol and stunned Delhi’s political class by emerging as the second largest political party.

The ruling Congress was pushed down to third place, with Kejriwal himself contesting and defeating resoundingly three-term Congress Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit. The BJP did not want to form a minority government in Delhi. The Congress wanted to keep the BJP out and offered AAP support. After extensive consultations with its stakeholders, the AAP decided to form a minority government.

AAP roots

The AAP sprang out of a campaign launched by Anna Hazare to have the anti corruption agency the Lok Pal law enacted after four decades of inaction and intransigence by India’s political class. They were supremely reluctant to have any sort of powerful agency, out of their immediate control, which would investigate allegations of corruption against themselves, the political class and the bureaucracy.

In true South Asian political class style, India’s political class had been promising, lying, cheating, double crossing and bribing their way through a grossly and inhumanly corrupt system for 40 long years. Anna Hazare undertook a fast unto death, starting Tuesday 5 April, at New Delhi’s centrally located historic Jantar Mantar site, later shifted to the Ram Lila Maidan, demanding that the Lok Pal law be enacted. Thousands of India’s educated youth, social activists, business persons and urban middle classes, gathered to support Anna.

Kishor Chaukar, Executive Director of the famous Indian multinational conglomerate Tata Sons, seemed to express the consensus of the business community, when he said: “The dimensions of this corruption scandal are so large. The wrong doing is being brought into focus in such a large manner, a large number of youths are saying: ‘This is enough’. To crony capitalism, they are saying: ‘Let’s get rid of it’. It will lead to something that is big for India’s economic and political system… the people are saying if we can demonstrate and network and we are unified then things can change.” The amount of public support for Hazare was such that the Indian Government capitulated even before he got hungry!

Anna Hazare of India

Anna Hazare was born Kisan Baburao Hazare in 1940 in a small village in India’s Maharashtra state, Anna studied up to the 7th standard in school. He was sent to stay with his aunt in Bombay when his father died, and due to economic hardship, started selling flowers to make a living.

Having an entrepreneurial flair, he soon expanded the business into a flower shop. But he later fell into bad company and the business went bankrupt. In 1960 he joined the Indian Army as a driver. In his spare time he read books on Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave, which inspired him to become a social reformer.

He went back to his village of Ralegan Siddhi, in Ahamednagar district and carried out a successful campaign to rid of the scourge of alcoholism. He also mobilised the villagers to improve their education level, develop agriculture and the dairy industry. He even convinced the villages to eradicate the concept of caste based untouchability. The Government of India recognised his good work and in 1992 he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, a high civilian national award.

Mohammed Bouazizi of Tunisia

Meanwhile in West Asia Mohammed Bouazizi of Tunisia was the deceased hero who self-immolated in Tunisia at his frustration of being unable to find a job consonant with his educational qualifications, and being humiliated and assaulted while operating his fruit sales cart self-employment venture, through which he supported his widowed mother and sisters, by Tunisia’s rent seeking police and municipal officials and being unable to obtain fair relief for the harassment.

Bouazizi was publicly spat upon and slapped by a woman officer, the ultimate humiliation in that culture. He was unable to get any redress from the authorities and sought a symbolic way out of his humiliation and economic repression. Bouazizi’s suicide caused an eruption of anti dictator dissent and protests throughout the Maghreb, West Asia and North Africa.

Ben Ali of Tunisia cracked and bolted to refuge in Saudi Arabia, the Army in Egypt eased Mubarak out of power to give into the protestors in Tahrir Square and later took power itself, and the Emir of Bahrain with the support of Saudi Arabia troops still has a tenuous hold over Bahrain.

Qadaffi of Libya fought a war against his own people with the help of foreign mercenaries to survive. NATO threw its weight behind the Libyan dissenters in further of the UN Security Council’s resolution number 1973 of 2011 to support the international human rights law doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), where a ruler wages war against his own people and abuses their human rights, giving the international community the authority to protect the people and wage war against the ruler.

Syria, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Kuwait, Iran, the Emirates of the Gulf all saw and are seeing protests of one sort or the other against corrupt, autocratic, rulers. But in West Asia this struggle the ‘Arab Spring’ has been sadly ensnared in sectarian strife.

Mobilising public opinion

What Anna Hazare in India and the late Mohammed Bouazizi in North Africa, successfully did was to marshal the growing public disenchantment with rulers who make a habit of abusing their own people, through autocratic rule as well as unbridled corruption, into a huge force which the rulers have had to take notice of.

Rulers and the political class are always reluctant to give way to social activists who mobilise public opinion. But Hazare with his moral authority and Bouazizi with his one desperate act have shown that rulers and politicians can be brought to their knees by mobilised public opinion.

Arvind Kejriwal

The Indian political class attempted another round of cheating, and wanted to side track Anna Hazare through all sorts of legislative process tricks, as they had been doing for 40 long years. This is when there was a divergence of views between Hazare and some of his supporters led by Kejriwal. While Hazare preferred that the movement should be politically unaligned, Kejriwal and his followers felt that the failure of the agitation route favoured by Anna Hazare and his cohorts necessitated a direct political movement, if the Lok Pal law was ever to see the light of day.

In September 2012, Hazare and Kejriwal agreed that their differences in the approach of how to ensure the enactment of the Lok Pal Law were irreconcilable. Kejriwal announced that he was forming a political party; he was supported by several activists, and other Hazare supporters opposed the political route. Kejriwal and associates launched the AAP on 26 November, to coincide with the anniversary of the adoption of Indian Republican Constitution drafted by the revered Dr. Ambedkar in 1949. A party Constitution was adopted on 24 November 2012, when a National Council of 320 people and a national executive of 23 were also formed. In March 2013, AAP was registered as a political party by the Election Commission of India.

Arvind Kejriwal, born on 16 August 1968, is the Chief Minister of Delhi. Born in Haryana state, he is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, where he studied Mechanical Engineering. He worked for the Indian Revenue Service as a Joint Commissioner in the Income Tax Department. In 2006 Kejriwal was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership for his contribution to the enactment of the Right to Information Act and for his efforts to empower the poorest citizens of India.

Swaraj concept

The AAP led by Kejriwal states that the promise of equality and justice that forms a part of the Constitution of India and its Preamble has not been fulfilled and that the independence of India has replaced enslavement to an oppressive foreign power only with the enslavement to domestic criminal political elite. The AAP claims that the common people of India remain unheard and unseen except when it suits the politicians to consider them as a token, during elections.

The AAP wants to reverse the way accountability of government operates and has taken an interpretation of the Ghandian concept of Swaraj as a tenet. It believes that through Swaraj, the government will be directly accountable to the people. The Swaraj model lays stress on self governance, community building and decentralisation.

The AAP refuses to be guided by ideologies; they say that they are entering politics to change the system. For the Delhi election, the AAP announced four major policies – enactment of Jan Lokpal legislation, giving the voter the right to reject a candidate, giving the voter a right to recall an elected candidate, and political decentralisation. The AAP also promised 700 litres of water free of charge for each family and that electricity bills would be halved.

In December 2013, after the ruling congress party was defeated by the opposition BJP in four major State elections, in addition to being outpolled by the AAP in Delhi. The Indian political class was finally pushed panic stricken into action on the Lok Pal law after these election results. This was after four decades of inconclusive debate on how to curb bribery.

Although Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal had through their public protests electrified the country on the need for enactment of the Lok Pal law, the bill had been stalled in the Upper House of Parliament for two years. The defeat of Congress and the rise of the AAP in Delhi finally pushed the political class to move to set up an agency which investigates their own corruption.

The AAP initially said they would not request support either from the Congress or BJP to form the Delhi Government. But after the BJP with the largest number of MLAs but no clear majority refused to assume power, saying that they had no mandate and the Congress offered conditional support to the AAP, the AAP was taunted that they would not take the responsibility of implementing the policies which they had placed before the people. Kejriwal did an about-turn after extensive consultations with voters and decided to assume power in Delhi.

The Lok Pal law

The Lok Pal law enacted by the Indian Parliament creates an anti corruption watchdog, with a chairperson and eight other members. It has the power to probe corruption charges levelled against public officers. It can also look into allegations against any person if it concludes that the suspect gave or took a bribe or conspired or abetted in relation to any offence that falls under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The Chairmanship of the Lok Pal is limited to former Chief Justices of India, Judges of the Supreme Court of India or an eminent person. There are eight other members of which 50% should be from the Judiciary. The other four should be persons of impeccable integrity and have a special knowledge and expertise of not less than 25 years in matters relating to anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance and finance.

Half of all the members shall be drawn from the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Communities and women. Members of Parliament, members of State Legislative Assemblies, members of local Authorities and Panchchayats are not eligible for holding office in the Lok Pal. Also ineligible are persons convicted of any offence, including moral turpitude, a person who has been removed or dismissed from the service of the government or a State. They must be above 45 years of age.

The President of India appoints the Chairperson and members of Lok Pal on the recommendation of a selection committee. The selection committee consists of the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Chief Justice and an eminent Jurist recommended by the other four and nominated by the President of the India.

The Lok Pal has a prosecution wing headed by a director and there is a special court created to try Lok Pal cases. The Lok Pal can refer cases to the Central Bureau of Investigation and has the power to supervise such investigations. The potential target of the Lok Pal is wide-ranging, virtually all persons paid from taxpayers’ money and anyone else if there are charges levelled that they violated the Prevention of Corruption Act. The inquiry must be completed within six months, with an extension of another six months possible.

The AAP alternative

The AAP Government of Delhi provides the possibility of showing the people of India that there is an alternative to the Congress and the BJP. Yogendra Yadav, respected Indian Psephologist and senior AAP member, has said that the AAP administration in Delhi “can demonstrate what an AAP administration can look like to the rest of the country” in the context of the 2014 Parliamentary elections in India.

On Saturday 28 December, Arvind Kejriwal took oaths before the Lt. Governor of Delhi, Shri Najeeb Jung at the Ramlila Maidan. He is the youngest-ever Chief Minister of Delhi. The Ram Lila Maidan is closely connected to Anna Hazare’s Lok Pal campaign.

Analysts have described the AAP win as a revolt of the ordinary voter of Delhi against the criminal political class, who, once in five years, lie to the voter, promising undeliverable things, cheat them into voting, and after a win, retreat to their spacious Luyten bungalows in Delhi and treat their fraudulent victory as blank check to abuse power for another five years, in the absence of a system to hold them accountable for their corrupt acts while in power.

The resounding defeat of the Congress Party, ruling in the centre, in three populous states and the AAP win in Delhi, pushing Congress to third place, depriving the BJP of an absolute majority, panicked the criminal political class to enact the Lok Pal law, which they has been successfully blocking for 40 long years.

Kejriwal sets a very high benchmark – refusing Police escorts/body guards, refusing an official Luytens’ bungalow, refusing to use Government limousines with flashing red and blue lights to move swiftly rough the chaotic Delhi traffic – for the behaviour of politicians in India, who never give up a privilege but if at all usually add on to their existing privileges to the detriment of the taxpayer.

New awakening of the Indian voter

The AAP is an example of a social movement, deciding decisively to challenge the political class on their own turf, on the AAP’s terms and conditions of anti corruption. Social activists in all South Asia are watching the AAP and the new awakening of the Indian voter with great interest. All South Asian countries, ranging from the Maldives, to Pakistan, to Nepal, to Afghanistan, to Bhutan, to Myanmar, to Bangladesh, to Sri Lanka, have since independence been mismanaged, more often than not, by a corrupt, criminally aligned, murderous political class and their acolytes, who have been more interested in feathering their own nests rather than developing a nation.

All these South Asian countries have vibrant social movements, who have, hitherto taken the line that Anna Hazare has taken: ‘Keep out of politics,’ try to pressurise politicians to reform from outside the system. But Kejriwal and the AAP took a decisive step – they decided to take the fight to the criminal political class, to the electoral domain. Kejriwal famously said: “Politics is muck, but now we have to get our hands dirty and clean up the muck.”

The ekel broom, AAP’s symbol, used by the marginalised sweeper Valmiki community, symbolised that Indian politics had to be cleansed. By doing this, the AAP has shown that the voters of Delhi, indeed like all voters of South Asia, have within them the latent fire and the will to elect people who will do what is right, the right way, at the right time – as against a bunch of decrepit, criminal, politically-aligned goons. In other words, impose good governance.

Latent potential in all voters

Without doubt there is this latent potential in all the voters in South Asian countries. That is why we are willing the AAP and Kejriwal to succeed in Delhi and India in the 2014 elections, to embolden our own homegrown social activists to come out of the shadows and lead the long-suffering common man voter out of this criminally corrupt political morass we are sunk in up to the gills and liberate the democratic process to the level of good governance.

Like Kejriwal and his men and women, we need only a few, good, committed people. The AAP and Kejriwal must not and cannot be allowed to fail in this anti-corruption crusade, if South Asia is to be saved from turning into a corrupt hellish banana republic, ruled by a criminally avaricious, unaccountable political class.

Hazare’s counterpart Bouazizi’s Arab Spring has got bogged down in sectarian strife. For the sake of the democratic liberation of South Asia, the AAP has to succeed.

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