Fast and furious
Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption has gathered momentum. Arousing the conscience of the nation on the issue augurs well. But the spontaneous response of people to his detention and fast needs to be guided in the right direction. Peaceful protest is permissible and Mr Hazare’s motive in undertaking the fast is laudable, but compelling Parliament to enact his Jan Lokpal Bill is not constitutionally permissible.
Even the Supreme Court of India cannot dictate to Parliament. Mr Hazare should immediately defuse the mounting tension, pause and consider a few legal aspects and direct his attention and energies towards a more constructive path for achieving the object, instead of continuing with his fast.
Assuming that Mr Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill becomes a law, will it eradicate corruption? The Lokpal Act will only provide yet another mechanism to bring some corrupt public servants in high positions to book. The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947, and its successor act of 1988 have not succeeded in preventing corruption. Only one Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde in Karnataka, has shown courage of conviction and submitted a report holding a senior politician, former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, guilty of corruption. Punitive measures are necessary, but their effect is limited. The Jan Lokpal Bill will neither prevent appointment of corrupt officials to public offices nor facilitate immediate suspension or removal of public servants of doubtful integrity, essential steps for checking
Also, is the insistence on bringing the office of the Prime Minister and the senior judiciary within the purview of Lokpal proper when opinion is divided among experts on the issue? Judicial luminiaries, like former Chief Justices M.N. Venkatachaliah and J.S. Verma, have advised against inclusion of the Prime Minister and judges for sound reasons. There are reservations among leaders of political parties as well on this issue. Inclusion of judges may make the judicial process vulnerable because of interference with the independence of the judiciary, a basic feature of the Constitution.
Is it right to bring moral pressure on Parliament through a fast to enact a particular bill? Would such fast be consistent with the ethos of parliamentary democracy which is another basic feature of the Constitution? Dr B.R. Ambedkar, in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly, said, “We must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods to achieve economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the grammar of anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.” According to this view, Mr Hazare’s fast is unconstitutional.
Over the years almost all institutions of self-governance have been losing their credibility and efficacy due to a faulty electoral system that permits undesirable elements to get elected with money power, muscle power and caste and community backing. Those who invest heavily in elections tend to make hay while the sun shines. In his 13th Desraj Chaudhary Memorial Lecture, Atal Behari Vajpayee said, “The electoral system has been almost totally subverted by money power, muscle power and votebank considerations of castes and communities...” In 1922, C. Rajagopalachari predicted in his prison diary, “Elections and their corruption, injustice and the power and tyranny of wealth and inefficiency of administration will make life hell as soon as freedom is given to us. Men will look regretfully back to the old regime of comparative justice, and efficient, peaceful, more or less honest administration…”
It is, therefore, necessary to purify the system by summary removal of public servants of doubtful integrity, including judges, MPs, MLAs, MLCs and civil servants, and simultaneously bar the entry of such persons into Parliament, state legislatures, the judiciary and public services throughout the country. Mr Hazare should concentrate on this aspect.
Dark deeds are never done in broad daylight. Providing foolproof evidence in corruption cases to a court of law or for a departmental inquiry is difficult and time consuming, as the culprits try to thwart every attempt to bring them to book. Therefore, a provision needs to be inserted in the Indian Constitution for constant evaluation of the integrity of all public servants — complaints that raise doubts about the integrity of any official should be considered and if there is even prima facie suggestion that the complaint is legitimate, “shady characters” should be removed forthwith, if need be on payment of some compensation.
A political fast-unto-death amounts to an offence under the Indian Penal Code, if it reaches a stage when there is imminent danger to life. The right to life guaranteed by the Constitution does not include the right to die. A legal duty is cast on the state to protect the life of every person. The state cannot remain complacent as people’s emotions in India rise high when a leader goes on a fast for a public cause. The widespread reaction to Mr Hazare’s detention and remand to judicial custody casts on him the responsibility to ensure that his followers do not indulge in violence. Instead of allowing unsuccessful politicians to fish in troubled waters and try to destabilise the lawfully established government, Mr Hazare should demand a meeting of all leaders in Parliament for a dialogue on the issue and to decide on ways and means of tackling corruption quickly.
The government needs to respect Mr Hazare’s right to protest peacefully and, at the same time, take every step to maintain peace. The government should invite the leaders of all parliamentary parties, government representatives, Mr Hazare and his aides for a round-table meeting to review the situation and arrive at a consensus within the framework of the Constitution. A joint appeal to people by all of them to remain calm will be timely.
P.P. Rao is a noted constitutional expert and senior Supreme Court advocate