The Lok Raj Sangathan (LRS) organized a panel discussion on the "Roots of Corruption" on the evening of August 8, 2011. The Discussion was held in the India International Center Annexe. Participating in the meeting were students and youth from Jamia, JNU and Delhi University, activists, academia, Air India workers, and political activists from different parties and groups.
The discussion opened with Sucharita welcoming the panelists. They were the President of LRS, S Ragavan, the Spokesperson of the CGPI and Secretary of LRS Prakash Rao, eminent lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan who is a leading member of the Anna Hazare Team and chief organizer of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability, leading TV journalist and documentary film maker Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Prof Bharat Seth, who takes keen interest in the issues of human rights and people’s empowerment and was at IIT Bombay, one of the main leaders of the IIT Faculty struggle, and Prof Arun Kumar of JNU, who has done a lot of work on black money and the Indian economy from a people’s point of view.
The President of LRS initiated the discussion with his opening remarks. They are reproduced below.
"I am very happy to welcome all of you to this panel discussion on Roots of Corruption.
I think everyone here has been following events around the Lokpal Bill carefully. So I will not be going into the details of various scams and the Bill.
What I would like to point out here is that there is overwhelming support from the people for an effective and accountable Lokpal. The people have great expectations. So, it is very important for us to make sure that the proposals we give for a strong Lokpal will really enable the institution to get to the roots of corruption and eliminate corruption from all walks of life. This is the reason why we have organised a panel discussion on this issue.
When looking at recent events around the Lokpal, there are certain developments that have struck me as being very positive. Number one, the prerogative of the legislature to initiate and draft legislation has been effectively challenged. The efforts that have gone into developing an alternative draft after wide consultation with the people have been a shot in the arm for the people to have the right to initiate legislation. It has opened up space for active participation of people in developing an effective legislation with teeth, which has enabling mechanisms for punishing the culprits whoever they be and where people’s organisations would have a role in implementing and reviewing the legislation.
Number two, the prerogative of the legislature to pass a Bill without consulting the people has also been challenged. The effort to conduct local referendums and take the opinion of the people, while at the same time making them aware of the provisions of the legislation, is a significant effort. This has to be continued.
Number three, the last but not the least, is the effort to widen the definition of corruption. This is very significant. It is being accepted widely that corruption is not just the small handouts given by a few unscrupulous contractors and business men to politicians and bureaucrats. It is much more than that. It happens at the highest level and involves thousands of crores of people’s money. So, the demand to include the Prime Minister and higher judiciary under the ambit of the Lokpal and powers to investigate the dubious activities of big monopolies and multinationals is a very valid demand. In fact, the widening of the definition of corruption to include privatisation of essential services and public assets, the making of windfall profits through front companies and illegal transfers of licenses, illegal acts of MPs within the Parliament and the hoarding of wealth in secret accounts abroad, all these are positive developments.
I sincerely hope that this panel discussion will throw more light on these issues and enlighten us about the next step."
These remarks set the stage for the panelists to put forth their views:
- Presentation by Prakash Rao
- Prashant Bhushan
- Prof Bharat Seth
- Prof Arun Kumar
- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
Following the presentations by the panelists, there was enthusiastic discussion. The questions and views expressed by the participants revealed a high level of awareness and concern for the fate and future of our country. They also revealed an overwhelming desire for measures to ensure the real empowerment of our people.
We reproduce below some of the views and questions expressed by the people in the meeting.
A young woman activist working amongst the urban poor in Delhi asked — How can we be sure that the same CBI, the same machinery that oppresses the people and safeguards the rich, powerful, and corrupt, can actually work for the people?
An activist involved in the struggle against the Unique Identification Scheme asked — what is the stand of panelists to the Unique Identification Scheme, which was attacking the privacy of people, and would lead to more corruption. He also raised a question — why Ms. Kiran Bedi, one of the prominent members of Team Hazare, was supporting the government on the question of UID? He also voiced the view that there so many movements of the people fighting for their rights and against their disempowerment, should they all not come together on a common platform?
A student from the Jamia raised some important questions. She asked, is the fast unto death of Anna Hazare not blackmail? She also asked, there are so many political parties organizing the people. Are we trying to form another political party? Are we opposed to political parties? What is the role we envisage for political parties? She suggested that people should make their representatives work and put pressure on them.
A young working woman spoke passionately about the issue of the rulers thinking that people are fools.She pointed out that the question is not whether people are intelligent enough to govern themselves. But that people have the right to demand accountability from those who represent them. When political parties and representatives claim that they work “for the people” then that claim should be put into action and every citizen has the right to demand that from their representatives. She also suggested that people should push for the ‘right to recall’ their representatives if they are not working in the interest of the people of their constituency. That we should support people’s candidates who stand from constituencies where they hail from as they will be more aware of the problems of that constituency and not do the bidding of this or that political party.
A student of law from Delhi University came in support of the fast unto death. He said there were different forms of struggle. He explained how Mahatma Gandhi had used this method, and Bhagat Singh, Subhash Bose, and others while clearly having political differences with Mahatma Gandhi, did not deny him the right to choose the form of struggle he wished to pursue. He also pointed out that while he was from a business family, and had the choice of making many rupees through the stock exchange, he felt that there was a difference between a business manager and a profiteer.
A young political activist raised the issue – corruption has been a fellow traveler of our system since the time of independence. He elaborated on a number of corruption scandals from Nehru’s time till now. So why is it that corruption and war against corruption had become such a burning issue at the present time?
Another political activist pointed out that people’s vote is crucial and people should be consulted on issues that concern them. If millions can vote every night for their favorite singer on a TV show, then they are very capable of voting regularly on important issues that govern their lives.
One participant pointed out that all those who “represent” us in parliament draw thousands of rupees as salary by just tapping on the table in parliament! This is all public money. We will have to rid ourselves of these so called representatives of the people!
There were more questions than answers, revealing the depth of interest, knowledge and concern for the empowerment of our people that has gripped our youth and broad working masses. A young working woman summed up the meeting well — we need to continue this discussion, as soon as possible, with less time for panelists, and more time for the audience to express their views and question the panelists.
Sucharita summed up the proceedings in her usual succinct manner, acknowledging the request that LRS must soon have further discussions on the issue.