This is a long post. I’ll admit upfront that I have no legal background and I have little stake in what’s happening in India at this moment. But I’m bothered by the tone and intent of arguments brought to the Lok Pal Bill debate. A friend who is the best person to write these points down is busy. You’ll have to do with me.

If it helps you, great!

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I’ve read a dozen critiques of the Jan Lok Pal Bill since yesterday. I didn’t find a single one to be earnest; most are downright condescending. Intellectual masturbation, being different and all that. (If they were earnest, they’re bad writers. Nothing wrong with that. I’m one too.)

Gautam Patel has the best technical critique of the Jan Lok Pal Bill yet which you ought to read. Simply put: The bill has flaws. But here’s the kicker: I think the Jan Lok Pal Bill is a deliberate sham and for good reason. Read the bill for yourself and compare it with the Lok Pal Bill being proposed.

Each one of the public faces of Anna Hazare’s People Against Corruption has more experience dealing with the government than each critic and their few generations ahead will ever have. And that’s not even an exaggeration. If I had to negotiate with a government which has been holding off on passing a bill for 40 years across 8 attempts, I would do good to start with something so insane that a compromise is still what I want.

As I see it, that is what is happening.

The the more I listen to Kiran Bedi — a part of People Against Corruption — on yesterday’s debate, the more I’m convinced of this. She almost yells that PAC doesn’t want the Jan Lok Pal Bill implemented but merely wants to be a part of the drafting process. Whoever says that PAC wants the Jan Lok Pal Bill implemented is spreading FUD.

(If indeed a draconian bill is passed, we’ll change it. India is a thriving democracy. I don’t see the worst case scenario holding for too long.)

The main demand is representation of civil society members in the committee drafting the Lok Pal Bill. What use are elected members if outsiders can walk in to draft bills, you may ask. To that, I praise the fine textbook education you received. In principle, only elected members should draft bills (that’s not a law to my best knowledge). There is principle and there is sensible. Sensible is decided by context. On principle, I think more people ought to commit suicide. It’s not sensible though. On principle, I think everyone should have a choice to abort an unborn girl child; again, not sensible in an Indian context. Folks ought to be comfortable with abandoning principle when it’s sensible. For that, a lack of ego helps. Yep, ad hominem.

Next argument: Fasting is blackmail. That’s obvious but again, there’s logic and there’s sense. Blackmail is decided by context, by who is the blackmailer and who is being blackmailed. For instance, if you are kidnapped and the ransom money is conditional on your being returned alive, then you threatening to kill yourself is not blackmail. In this context, I don’t see the fast as blackmail. If you do, I guess we disagree.

Next: Youth supporters of Anna Hazare who are mocked for being gullible and making silly gestures like fasting for a day, three hours or even just a meal. The gesture matters because it creates noise and thereby, visibility. It makes a protest visible. Anyone who doesn’t see this is either too cynical, stupid or finds happiness in being different — like we all do.

(In fact, go ahead and announce that you’re fasting but don’t observe it, although only if you are certain no one will call your bluff. If someone does, it just undermines the credibility of all protestors. Noise matters, not facts.)

On technicality, yes, many supporters are gullible and ill-informed. In this case, it helps. When it doesn’t help, we’ll point it out. Saying that supporters are gullible is information, not an argument. Further, I think every mass movement needs a level of blind support. It is a special power that few people get to have. Anna Hazare has it today.

If anyone disagrees with Anna Hazare, his methods or principle, I respect their opinion. I also think it is unfair to ask for alternate solutions from those who disagree.

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I’ve been back and forth on voting, but I’m increasingly seeing how pointless voting is. It is an illusion of power (and choice) given to voters — very rarely is it otherwise.

One solution, I’m told, is that everyone must follow rules and be good citizens. This doesn’t solve corruption at high levels, at best it deals with traffic cops. Even then, I think the problem with corruption is that it is the easier way (similar to software piracy). Unless that changes, it is irrational to expect citizens to not take the easier way. Even if they take the easier way, they have every right to complain about corruption. Not being corrupt is the duty of a traffic cop; not giving him a bribe is not your duty. To borrow from the analogy of positive and negative rights, the cop has a positive duty because he is a paid employee, but you don’t have a negative duty.

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The only good critique based on principle is Sauvik’s. Then again, he’s too extreme for all of us.

Links via Siddharth Gore, who is fasting because it’s also fun.

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