A Hobson's choice

Ranabir Ray Chaudhury | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on August 17, 2011

It is a feather in the cap of those who, in recent months, have been trying to draw the nation's attention to the “cancer of corruption” that even the President of the Republic, Ms Pratibha Patil, thought it proper to focus on the scourge in her 64th Independence Day message.

Among other things, she said that corruption was “a cancer affecting the nation's political, economic, cultural and social life” and that it was “necessary to eliminate it”. Perhaps referring indirectly to the Lokpal Bill, which has been tabled in Parliament, and the ongoing controversy over it, she also said that there could not be “just one panacea or remedy to deal with corruption”. What she would prefer is a “system of transparency and accountability” to be put into place “at various levels and effectively enforced”.

Tackling a serious problem

President Patil should be complimented for adding her weighty voice to the need to control and stamp out the phenomenon of corruption which is eating into the entrails of society. If the First Citizen of the Republic considers it important enough to focus the nation's attention on this point, it clearly means that the problem is serious and needs to be tackled (to use a cliché) on a war-footing. It is also expected that if the President herself is ready to give this much of importance to the subject, the Government has no alternative but to follow suit. One is certain that the Prime Minister will aver that this is precisely what his regime is doing on the subject of corruption.

As regards the Lokpal Bill, the Government is within its rights to argue that the law will have to be framed in Parliament, meaning that the elected representatives of the people will have the last word on the shape of the Bill which will be enacted into law.

Seen from this perspective, the Anna Hazare group did well to attend last week's meeting of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, which is examining the Lokpal Bill. But this certainly in no way implies that the public at large does not have the liberty, within the confines of the Constitution, to speak out its mind on the Lokpal Bill issue outside Parliament.

What the government should do

The heart of the matter is that the issue of corruption is no ordinary issue, as the reference to it in the President's Independence Day message so amply demonstrates. This being so, Indian society, in general, has every right to utilise every legal means at its disposal (including the staging of hunger-strikes in the capital and elsewhere) to get its view across to Parliament, where the law is being framed. If the protests are powerful, then it is the duty of Parliament to take cognisance of the fact and draw up the law concerned keeping what the people want in mind.

Crucially, the Government should not lay down administrative rules affecting the size of any protest gathering. The size of such events is determined exclusively by the people who take part in it. The Government's only job here is to ensure law and order. This is the Hobson's choice facing Dr Singh's regime. After all, the issue of corruption transcends the world of political parties.

Even if the BJP gains some political advantage from Mr Hazare's protest, the nation stands to gain. In fact, this is the time for the Congress Party to wrest the initiative from its political challengers by hijacking the Hazare “show” and showing the nation that it stands up transparently for probity in public life.

Published on August 17, 2011
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