Struggling to stay relevant amid signs of growing popular indifference, Team Anna chose Republic Day to advocate radical ideas like putting gram sabhas above the Lok Sabha and establishing a referendum commission along the lines of Election Commission.
In a video message, activist Anna Hazare also praised the Lokayukta bill of Uttarakhand, in what may be seen as a surrogate campaign for the BJP in the state. He said the legislation drafted by the BJP government should be emulated by all states, something that endorses BJP’s claim to be sincere about fighting corruption under its chief ministerial candidate B C Khanduri.
Hazare demanded that a law be brought to give financial and decision-making powers to gram sabhas and threatened to go on a Ramlila Maidan style agitation for it. He also chose to raise the contentious issue of land acquisition, demanding that no acquisition take place without gram sabha approval.
“Lok Sabha thinks it is above everyone. This is wrong. People have made you. So they are above you… It is the sacred temple of democracy. In such a sacred place, what has happened in Rajya Sabha in the last day (of the winter session) on Lokpal bill. 550 people were giving their own suggestions. Nobody has asked people. So we need another law. Assemblies and Lok Sabha think that they are above gram sabhas. But gram sabhas are above you. We need a new law which gives such a power to gram sabhas,” he said in his 30-minute address at a seminar on ‘Rebuilding the Republic’.
Although Hazare’s romance for gram sabha is old, his pitch that the real power should be vested in lakhs of these bodies instead of Lok Sabha has been provoked by the resistance to his agenda in Parliament. The activist even acknowledged as much, criticizing the failure of Rajya Sabha to clear the Lokpal bill. “The elected members were giving their views on their own. This is not right democracy. Why this happened? Because the masters were sleeping… But this jan andolan has woken the people,” he said.
He said there should be provisions in the new law that a panchayat can be dismissed if it spends money without consulting the gram sabha. He extended this principle to land acquisition as well, saying land in a village should not be acquired without the approval of the gram sabha.
Hazare said there was no difference between the British rule and the present system if the government did not take the opinion of people while making laws. He made a fresh demand for Right to Recall and Right to Reject laws. In his election message, Hazare asked people to demand support for the Jan Lokpal from candidates before assuring their vote.
Arguing for amendment to the Constitution to ensure people’s participation in lawmaking, Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan suggested setting up of a ‘Referendum Commission’ on the lines of Election Commission to seek common man’s views in framing legislations.
Bhushan said that available technology and internet could be used for referendum. He said for laws related to a particular state, voting through internet kiosks could be held after biometric identification of a voter. “If it is at national level, the voting should be held at that level… you will have to ask people. The question is whether people wish to have (a particular) law,” he said. Bhushan claimed that holding such referendums would not be difficult.
“We need to have a Referendum Commission on the lines of Election Commission… if five per cent people approach the commission asking for a law, then there should be referendum,” he said.
Seeking to blunt criticism against the proposal, he said some people will raise concern that this will go against the minorities. “But this will not stand. It is said that majority will try to come up with some laws against the minority. That cannot happen as our Constitution guarantees certain rights,” Bhushan explained.
Activist Arvind Kejriwal added, “Parliament has become hostage to ruling party rather than ruling party being accountable to Parliament. This situation of ruling party high command becoming virtual king is dangerous,” he said. On the Lokpal bill, he said the law that went to Parliament was “useless”.
“97 amendments were introduced by opposition. Their speeches were different from the amendments they moved. The ruling party had the majority and they did what they wanted. Was it just a formality? Was it just a show? The people whom we send turn to their high command for orders,” he added.
Another Team Anna member Shanti Bhushan said the reason for the establishment of Republic was to give power to people for lawmaking. “But something has gone wrong. To bridge the gap, a people’s movement is needed and its bugle has been sounded. There will be a peaceful movement that will stretch to the nook and corner of the country,” he said.