Never underestimate the cleverness of the political class or the games it is capable of playing? All the parties are one when it comes to whatever affects, or conduces to, their self-interest as a class. They will pass unanimously and in a jiffy, without debate or any scrutiny by any Committee, select or standing, Bills heftily raising the emoluments and funds for local area development.

In all the 65 years after Independence, not one case of corruption or other kind of malfeasance against any member of the political class has been effectively pursued to the very end, resulting in conviction or a jail sentence. Every party or political combine, during election campaigns, solemnly promises to take pending corruption cases against politicians fast forward and bring the corrupt in their midst to book, but once it assumes power, lets things drift.

This make-believe every party resorts to, whether it is Bofors pay-off, Bihar fodder swindle or any other of the numerous scams the country has been witnessing.

The initial outwardly frenetic pace of the ongoing investigations on the scams soon peters out, leaving the accused to strut on the national stage with impunity and even become Cabinet Ministers. Everything finally settles down to the old motto of the entire political class regardless of party or ideology: Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

The prime example is the Lokpal Bill. For 42 years, it has been allowed to languish as if by tacit consent across political spectrum, but there has never been any lack of commitment to passing it from all the various parties in power and in opposition.

The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, himself, in September 2004, soon after the UPA-I came into power, declared that “the need for Lokpal is much more urgent at present than ever before”, and undertook to take effective action in this regard “without any further loss of time.” (Mark the words).

GREAT RELIEF

It took all of seven years and a nation-wide upheaval following a 74-year old Gandhian's two fasts bringing what The Hindu called “a sea of humanity…on the lines of (Egypt's) Tahrir Square march” to throw a jittery Government into a tizzy and force both Houses of Parliament to pass a “Sense of the House” statement by the thumping of desks which was said to denote unanimity.

That this has made Anna Hazare break his fast and he has been spared to play his role as the nation's conscience for many years to come is certainly a matter of great relief. That said, despite all the spin put on it by Team Anna, the Government spokespersons, and public-spirited persons keen to see the back of the impasse, the “Sense of the House”, is nothing more than a pious, though persuasive, call to the Standing Committee, to take into account, while considering all versions of the Lokpal Bill received by it, the agreement of both Houses “in principle” on the Citizens' Charter, inclusion of lower bureaucracy under Lokpal “through an appropriate mechanism” and establishment of Lokayuktas in the States, bearing in mind “their practicality, implementability…and constitutionality.”

If it is remembered that this is what any Parliamentary Standing Committee is, in any case, duty bound to do in respect of all legislations referred to it, the position is no great advance from what existed even before Anna went on fast, except that it has broadened and deepened the people's participation in the fight against corruption and compelled both Houses of Parliament to declare its stand on the three issues insisted upon by Team Anna; but that too, only “in principle”.

If it is also remembered that, according to the Chairman of the Standing Committee, Mr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, its report will need four months, and that there is no guarantee of its exactly conforming to the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill, I foresee trouble ahead.

Which means that once again Lokpal Bill will be in limbo. Not to worry, the political class will be saying to itself, laughing in its sleeve!

(This article was published on August 29, 2011)
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