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Anna Hazare’s Initiative: People’s Movement in a Constitutional Democracy

Two developments in India during the past week convinced me of the above approach in Indian politics. American journalist Joseph Lelyveld’s book The Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India created furore in the country. The book has been banned in Gujarat and Maharashtra is considering a ban. The Central government has serious objections to the book.

Anna Hazare, a Gandhian and social activist, began his fast unto death on April 5 to pressurize the Government to legislate a rigorous anti-corruption bill.

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Two developments in India during the past week convinced me of the above approach in Indian politics. American journalist Joseph Lelyveld’s book The Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India created furore in the country. The book has been banned in Gujarat and Maharashtra is considering a ban. The Central government has serious objections to the book.

Anna Hazare, a Gandhian and social activist, began his fast unto death on April 5 to pressurize the Government to legislate a rigorous anti-corruption bill.

Protest or advocacy, Gandhi continues to occupy the centre stage in India.

Anna Hazare is fasting to ensure that the government makes an explicit commitment to the Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill). According to Anna the Government proposed Lokpal Bill is “complete eyewash”. Rather than strengthen the anti-corruption systems, it demolishes whatever system exists in the name of anti-corruption systems today. It seeks to completely insulate politicians from any kind of action against them.” Anna is convinced that a strong bulwark against corruption requires an active role by the civil society. Anna demands to continue his fast until the Government appoints a joint committee comprising fifty percent officials and the remaining citizens and intellectuals to draft the Bill. India Against Corruption is the movement’s website detailing the flaws of the current bill and making a case for the new Bill. It also tracks developments across the country in support of Anna’s fast.

Anna’s is not an arm-chair social reformer. He has launched many (successful and unsuccessful) anti-corruption campaigns. His most laudable act of ‘social reform’ was the transformation of his home village, Ralegan-Siddhi, from a den of illicit liquor trade and caste divisions to a model of environmental conversation.  Sharad Pawar’s resignation from the Group of Ministers on corruption is the latest episode in the long-standing saga of Anna-Pawar duel. In 1994 Anna had launched an indefinite hunger strike in Alandi, an important pilgrimage for the Vaishnavaite sect of Maharashtra against corruption in forest department. He withdrew his 12-day hunger strike only after extracting a firm assurance from then chief minister Sharad Pawar. BJP may now be siding with Anna but in the past two BJP ministers, Mahadev Shivankar and Shashikant Sutar, had to resign from the BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra in the late 1990s following Anna’s anti-corruption campaign.

Given Anna Hazare’s background as a soldier and social activist, it is unlikely that he will give in before his mission is accomplished.

Anna Hazare’s “unquestioned integrity and unimpeachable credentials” has deepened the moral underpinnings of his demands. B. Raman has used the catchy idiom of recent public protests in Middle East and North Africa by suggesting that “We might be faced with a Jasmine Revolution type situation with the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi from where the movement has been launched becoming India’s Tahrir Square.” The media is using phrases like ‘uprising’ ‘revolution’ ‘history in the making’ to describe Anna’s protest. Though it’s too early to fully accept the accuracy of such comparisons, the movement is gaining momentum throughout the country.

Several political parties keen to bandwagon with Anna Hazare have been disappointed by his and his supporters’ explicit attempt to distance the movement from all political outfits. Bollywood celebrities have expressed support for Anna Hazare’s fast. Anna is gathering support from some unexpected quarters as well. Pappu Yadav, facing a life term in CPI-M MLA Ajit Sarkar murder case, has been fasting along with Anna from his prison cell as a token of support for the cause! Before labelling this support as a sign of India’s ‘jasmine revolution’ a note of caution is essential. Rhetorical support is relatively easy to garner; no sane individual shall ‘oppose’ Anna’s campaign. It remains to be seen how Anna’s supporters will use of his favored Jan Lokpal Bill and other available instruments for ensuring government accountability.

Anna’s continues to guide the movement and clarify his demands after starting his fast. In a letter to Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, Anna requested the P.M. to “stop finding faults and suspecting conspiracies in our movement. Even if there were, it does not absolve you of your responsibilities to stop corruption.” Responding to the Congress offer to table the Bill during the monsoon session of Parliament, Mr. Hazare said he had no objection to it: “But then what will be the content of the Bill?” He emphasised that if a joint committee was formed to draft the Bill, it should also have UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi as a member to ensure its effectiveness. Anna has rejected the Government’s most recent offer to constitute an informal committee to consider the details of the anti-corruption bill.

Anna Hazare’s indefinite fast is not simply limited to the question of corruption but raises wider questions on the working of the Indian political system. Why are elected representative are no longer viewed as ‘representatives’ of civil society? If citizens can’t trust the politicians on one issue, how can trust develop in numerous others tasks relating to public welfare? How will this surge of protests propelled by democracy impact the constitutional structure of the country?

Several limitations of the Jan Lokpal Bill proposed by Anna have been highlighted by observers of the protest movement. (Read here, here and here). Skeptics have also raised concerns regarding the larger implications of the movement on the structure of constitutional government in the country. There are numerous references to Ambedkar’s observation that continuation of satyagraha in Independent India could create a ‘grammar of anarchy’. According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “in a functioning constitutional democracy, not having one’s preferred institutional solution to a problem accepted, does not constitute a sufficient reason for the exercise of such coercive moral power.” Intellectuals like Bhanu Mehta have raised the efficacy of candle light marches versus systemic reforms in combating problems like corruption. However, in a political system where corruption is pandemic the impetus for change can’t be expected to come from within. Politicians and public intellectuals continue to suspect the ability of mass movements to engineer change. People’s movements may not be politically refined but this does not discredit its relevance. The notion that popular elections have replaced the need for mass movements in functioning democracies is unappealing.

Anna’s movement may not provide the technically best solution to the problem of corruption in India. Gandhian intentions and strategies are not necessarily magical. But Anna’s initiative has helped to aggregate citizen dissatisfaction into a movement. This movement may or may not achieve revolutionary changes but it has realized one thing: Re-created space for a non-political people’s movement in the country. Discontent has moved out from Facebook pages and twitter timeline to Jantar Mantar. Its achievements may be limited; the ‘people’ may not understand the constitutional implications of what they are demanding, but it is nevertheless a people’s movement. Intellectuals may refer to these people as ‘naïve’ but rarely, if ever, is ‘civil society’ in the real sense of the term a conglomeration of experts.

The real test of Anna’s initiative in the short term is not what the UPA proposes but how the citizens respond. In a few days State Assembly elections will take place in Tamil Nadu. The civil society, politically referred to as voters, will have an opportunity much bigger than the one demanded by their leader Anna. The fate of the Congress-DMK coalition involved in the 2G scam shall reflect how the ‘naïve wisdom’ of civil society works when offered an opportunity. The case for public disgust with corruption will suffer a setback if voters re-elect the political parties involved in corruption. Though the alternatives may not be very promising, but dislodging an incumbent government is the best way to express citizen’s discontent.

It’s important to realize that Anna’s demands refer to creating a strong institutional check against corruption in the government. The Jan Lokpal Bill, however, is not a perfect solution. Thus Anna Hazare led anti-corruption movement will do itself great service by remaining open to discussion on the exact design of the institutional mechanism. History shall judge the Anna Hazare initiative not on the basis of the efficiency of the Jan Lokpal but by its impact on regenerating popular discontent as a potent force in India.

 

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DIALOGUE FOR CHANGE

Election by Community Consensus: Effects on Political Selection and Governance

Community consensus elections are prone to capture by the local elite, and can lead to worse governance overall.

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Abstract:

Multiple states in India incentivise village communities to elect their political representatives by community consensus, doing away with the need for state governments to organise official secret ballot elections. This article analyses the effects of these incentives in Gujarat for the period 2011-2015. It finds that such elections, like other community-based processes, are prone to capture by the local elite, and can lead to worse governance overall.


Community-driven development and local electoral reforms have become central tenets of policy across the developing country landscape (Mansuri and Rao 2013). Many states in India including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Punjab have tried to meld these two approaches together by incentivising the election of local politicians via community consensus. However, increasing community participation does not always lead to improved outcomes (Khwaja 2004), and qualitative evidence suggests that these processes are prone to capture by the local elite (Breman 2011, Ganguly 2013). My research (Arora 2018) shows that incentivising consensus-based elections reduces political competition, crowds in younger, more educated politicians, and worsens overall governance.

Financial Incentives for Consensus-Based Elections in Gujarat:

Since 2001, Gujarat has incentivised the election of local politicians via public consensus under its Samras (consensus) Panchayat scheme. Village residents are encouraged to deliberate amongst themselves and reach a consensus on who their political representatives should be. This scheme is aimed at preventing multiple candidates from standing for election, so that the sole candidate to file nomination papers can be declared as the unopposed winner. This prevents the need to organise official elections, reducing the state government’s the expenditure on the set up of polling booths and the hiring of election officers.

The policy has been fairly successful. In the 2011 elections, one out of every seven Gram Panchayats (GP) (elected village councils) in Gujarat were elected by consensus. That is, each council seat in these councils was filled by a candidate that faced no formal opposition.

The state government encourages consensus-based elections by providing untied grants to councils elected without formal opposition, that is, it directly rewards politicians who ensure that no other candidates stand for election. This financial grant increases discontinuously as GP population exceeds 5,000, from Rs. 200,000 to Rs. 300,000 for first-time samras GPs. The grant amount is even higher for the second- and third-time samras GPs, as well as GPs that elect all-women councils.

The state government does not delineate formal procedures or place any restrictions on how village residents should reach a consensus about their political representatives. Naturally, instances of creative approaches to reach a consensus abound. In 2011, the village Kumkuva in south Gujarat organised a private election to choose amongst three competing candidates and ensure the receipt of the financial grant (DeshGujarat, 2011). The village Vadavali, home to a substantial number of Hindu and Muslim families, has decided to divide the President’s five-year term equally between a Hindu and Muslim President (NDTV, 2017). However, survey evidence suggests that it is usually local elites who nominate candidates and mobilise consensus-based support to ensure receipt of the monetary benefits (Breman 2011, Bandi 2013, Ganguly 2013, Guha 2014).

Impact of Financial Incentives:

To estimate the impact of consensus-based elections, I exploit the fact that the financial incentives increase discontinuously as village population exceeds 5,000. I compare villages just below the population threshold with those just above to isolate the impact of the financial grant.

Three outcomes are examined in detail – political competition, since one of the stated objectives of the scheme was to discourage multiple candidates from running for political office; politician characteristics, to understand whether the grants crowded in individuals with different observable characteristics; council expenditure and MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act)1 beneficiary selection, to test for measurable differences in governance by the council so-elected.

Political Competition:

Did the samras grant actually incentivise village residents to choose their political representatives without official elections? The data suggest that it did. In response to a hike in the samras grant, the number of candidates per seat fell by approximately 0.7. This is a substantive decrease given that the average number of candidates per seat is around 2.5. The number of seats won without any formal opposition also increases by 2.3, which again is a large effect given that the average number of unopposed seats is just over 3.

Figure 1. A decrease in the number of candidates per seat in response to the grant increase

Political Selection:

The fact that official political competition decreased in a substantial way leads us to question who exactly was crowded into political office. It is entirely possible that those who would have been elected without the samras grant continue to be those who occupy political office. In this scenario, the eventual losers of the electoral race would be discouraged from standing for election in the first place.

However, the samras grant may affect who is elected to political office. If the grant facilitates public deliberation amongst village residents or the nomination and support of candidates by the local elite, we may very well see a difference in observable characteristics of elected politicians, such as age, education, gender, and occupation.

Figure 2. Changes in politician age and education in response to the grant increase


We can test for this change by looking at how the observable characteristics of elected politicians change when villages are faced with bigger samras grants. The grant increase crowds in politicians that are, on average, four years younger and have two more years of schooling. Despite additional incentives for female representatives, the grant increase does not usher more women into political office. I also test for effects on occupation, and find that the grant does not increase the proportion of candidates from agricultural labour, farming or business backgrounds. All of these effects are driven by seats that are not reserved for women.

Discussion:

Consensus-based elections could crowd in younger, more educated politicians for two reasons. First, the majority of rural residents may consider these characteristics to be desirable for an effective political leader, and public deliberation helps shift candidates with these characteristics into political office. Under this hypothesis, we would expect to see GPs that face higher samras grants enjoying better governance than GPs that face lower grants. Second, local elites may nominate younger, inexperienced candidates that serve as political figureheads. This explanation is consistent with survey evidence that indicates that the grant amount is only used to justify nominations by the local elite, who threaten detractors in the name of village development. Under this scenario, we would not expect to see governance improve. In order to separate between the two hypotheses and determine whether consensus-based elections have had a beneficial impact on governance, I turn to multiple measures of the performance of the elected council.

Government Performance:

To get a sense of the impact of the samras election grant on government performance, I test for changes in local expenditure and income generation close to the grant threshold. Total expenditure in the GP falls by Rs. 1,200,000, a decrease of over 50% of the average budget. This decrease is driven by a fall in expenditure categories that are directly controlled by the elected council, such as programme expenses of the agriculture, education, and health departments, as well as salaries and other administrative expenses. Expense categories that are chosen by and tied to grants received from the state and central government do not fall, which is consistent with the elected council having less control over these decisions.

Figure 3. A decrease in council expenditure in response to the grant increase

I also test for changes in the implementation of MNREGA. Existing work shows that while the Act is intended to guarantee one hundred days of employment to each rural household, in practice the amount and targeting of work provided is left up to local implementing authorities, and heavily influenced by the elected council (Gupta and Mukhopadhyay 2014).

The samras grant does not appear to affect how much employment is generated. This is consistent with most public works under MNREGA being approved at the block and district level. Targeting, however, is primarily the responsibility of the elected council. The number of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) households employed under MNREGA decreases in response to the grant hike. This extensive margin response also translates into an intensive margin response – person-days of NREGA employment for SC/STs fall. This finding is indicative of more regressive targeting of MNREGA employment, and worse governance overall.

Conclusions:

The results of this research inform policymakers about the impact of the samras consensus-election grants. The results indicate that financial incentives can induce village electorates to choose their political leaders without formal opposition. The grants also crowd in younger, more educated candidates and politicians. However, administrative and developmental expenditure in the village falls, and MNREGA employment is targeted more regressively. These findings are consistent with the fact that politicians that rely on the support of local elites, who have a greater say in elections based on community consensus, are not incentivised to appease village residents in order to get re-elected.

Note: MNREGA aims to enhance livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundred days of wage employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Published with permission from Ideas For India (www.ideasforindia.in), an economics and policy portal.

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AGENTS OF CHANGE

Ex-Congress Savio Rodrigues Slams Delhi Archbishop for Appealing to Christians to “Pray for New Govt in 2019”

While the mainstream news media keeps looking the other way, Savio Rodrigues calls out the blatant anti-Hindu call of the Delhi Archbishop.

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A file photo of Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi

NEW DELHI: In a development that disturbing but, unfortunately, not unprecedented, Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, Archdiocese of Delhi, has issued a blatantly communal letter calling for the Catholics of India to start a campaign of fasting and prayers for a new government in upcoming general elections in 2019.

One of the first ones to react to the above appeal was Savio Rodrigues, former senior Congress leader from Goa, who resigned after the last Goa election mishandling by his party’s Digvijay Singh.

He first took to Twitter to express his shock and disapproval of the call:


He later gave shape to his feelings in the form of a whole journalistic piece.

In an article titled “Open Letter to Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto – Archdiocese of Delhi” for the Goa Chronicle, he expressed his feelings well and clear: (capture of the article in the form of the image follows):

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POLITICS-GOVERNANCE

BJP Rises to 2nd in Bengal After Controversial and Violent Panchayat Elections

As expected after the circumstances surrounding the elections, the ruling Trinamool Congress crushed all opposition parties in rural West Bengal.

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KOLKATA (West Bengal): The ruling Trinamool Congress reinforced its dominant position in West Bengal politics and the state’s rural local bodies, bagging 9,270 seats in gram panchayats.

State Election Commission sources said TMC is also ahead in 2,317 Gram Panchayat seats for which counting is in progress.

According to results available, BJP emerged as the main challenger to the ruling party in most districts.

The BJP has won 2,079 seats and is leading in 200 seats, while the CPI(M) got 562 gram panchayat seats and is ahead in another 113.

Congress won 315 seats and is leading in 61 seats. Independent candidates have won 707 gram panchayat seats and are leading in 120 seats.

According to the Election Commission sources, TMC has so far won 95 panchayat samiti seats and is leading in another 65, while the other parties are yet to open their accounts. In zilla parishads, the TMC has won 10 seats and is leading in 25 seats.

BJP emerged as the main challenger to the TMC in gram panchayat in almost every districts except Murshidabad and Malda, the two Congress strongholds.

The counting of votes began at 8 am on May 17 amid tight security.

Of the 48,650 seats in gram panchayats, 16,814 went uncontested. There was no contest for 3,059 of the 9,217 panchayat samiti seats.

In all, 203 of the 825 zilla parishad seats were uncontested. The panchayat polls took place on Monday amid reports of widespread violence and clashes between rival political groups.

Re-polling was held yesterday on 573 polling booths after complaints of false voting and booth rigging.

Opposition political parties and a section of the media claimed that 21 people were killed in violence on the polling day, while five more people died on the next day.

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