August 14, 2011



The announced plans of Anna Hazare, the social activist, to go on a fast unto death from August 15 in support of the demand of the anti-corruption movement headed by him for a stronger Jan Lok Pal Bill than the one introduced by the Government in the Parliament pose an executive and moral dilemma to the Government of Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh.

2. The executive dilemma arises from the fact that an attempt to commit a suicide for whatever purpose is a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code and the Government is legally bound to act against the threatened fast, if necessary by arresting Anna Hazare either before or during his fast in order to save his life and to prevent a public disorder. The executive dilemma is enhanced by the danger that the act of saving his life might be interpreted as a violation of his right to protest and might lead to an even greater public disorder.

3. The moral dilemma arises from the fact that afast unto death as a form of protest has been an accepted weapon since the days of Mahatma Gandhi. He used the threat of fast unto death on some occasions against the British rulers because he was left with no other way of expressing his protest over the failure of the British to concede his demands.It was a unique non-violent weapon used by Mahatma Gandhi under unique circumstances when India was under foreign rulers and did not have a democratic set-up which permitted dissenters to adopt various forms of ventilating grievances in a democratic manner without resorting to the ultimate weapon of a fast unto death.

4.AnnaHazare and his followers have been carrying on their protest in an independent and democratic India where various forms of democratic mobilisation and advocacy are available to them. They have been making use of these forms in order to educate the public on their demands and to bring moral pressure on the Government to accept the legitimacy of their demands.If the Government has not accepted the legitimacy of some of their demands, it is because it thinks that it will not be in the national interest to accept them and that those demands could be counter-productive.

5. A democratically-elected Government has the right to decide what is workable and what is not and what is in the national interest and what is not. If one is not in agreement with the views of the Government, one has the right to continue with the campaign of mobilisation and advocacy in the hope that the Government might be made to relent in its stand.

6. But one does not have the right to intimidate the Government into conceding one’s demands by threatening to use a weapon which might have been morally justifiable under the then existing circumstances during the British rule, but is no longer so under an independent and democratic dispensation. The Government has a legal obligation to prevent any attempt to commit a suicide and this obligation cannot be diluted because of the moral force of the demands of Anna Hazare and his followers for stronger action against corruption. Even a morally justifiable demand cannot be sought to be achieved through legally impermissible means.

7. Under our Constitution and our laws, every citizen has a right to protest, but not by adopting any means. While protesting, the existing laws have to be observed and any attempt at seeming intimidation avoided. The Government has to exercise its legal responsibility by preventing Anna Hazare from carrying out his threat to die through fasting.Whether that obligation should be exercised by arresting him before he starts his fast or by allowing him to fast for some time to satisfy his conscience and then arrest him is a matter for the Government to decide on the basis of its judgement regarding likely dangers to public order under different options.

8. It has to be admitted that there is considerable public support for Anna Hazare’s proposed fast because large sections of the public are not convinced of the sincerity of the Government’s proclaimed determination to end corruption. The executive responsibility of the Government to maintain law and order has not been matched by an exercise of its moral responsibility to convince the public of the sincerity of its determination to end corruption.

9.It is important for the Prime Minister even at this last moment to address the public on the issue of corruption through the electronic media and through a press conference devoted exclusively to public concerns over corruption.

10. An over-focus on the executive dimensions of the problem while neglecting the moral dimensions of it will maintain and exacerbate the existing tensions on this issue. ( 14-8-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and , presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )


kumar said...

As an additional secretary ,what have you done for mitigating corruption and personally have you ever paid or received bribe ? If you have the guts,please write and post your comment also.

Anonymous said...

It is really stupid and even irresponsible for the writer to suggest that fasting is not a proper tool in the current context. I don't see how the situation is different from what it was before independence. The current Indian government not shown a single instance of even appearing to be serious about rooting out corruption despite series of corruption charges against high and mighty.

Jitender said...

To Understand the writer point of view, one first needs to have the knowledge of the constitution & Lokpal bill and finally the procedure to introduce a bill in parliment. With all due respect to your emotion on corruption, its time to think rationally and solve the problem rather than creating something that may or may not work. I would suggest that first the bill should introduced only for small region or state to check if it is reducing the corruption and later on introduce the detail bill for entire country.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong in fasting as a form of protest. However, in this context, the protesters are forgetting that it is the people of India, who have elected the representatives for decision-making. It seems they are regretting their choice and want to jump to decision-making themselves :)

kumar said...

Twinkle,You seem to be one of those who either belongs to these 2 categories :
1) either you have relatives who are corrupt bureaucrats
2) either you have relatives who are corrupt politicians because they seem to have won your trust.

Anonymous said...

I'm not privileged enough to have bureaucrats/ politicians as my relatives. But, I know that corruption is found everywhere.

How often, we overlook the corruption which abides in ourselves. Instead, we are quick to shift the blame to others.

This comment is not directed at you. This is my opinion.

Neha said...

what happend to you mr. anna, first check the corrupt people in your own group and then look at others. A mere law cannot eradicate corruption. corrruption is in peoples mind and heart. which law can remove corruption from peoples minds.

Hindi SMS said...

I think that Anna's party should first resolve there initial internal isssues before giving any such statements as the public is still having some trust and soon they will loose if such things comes.