B S Raghavan

Lokpal: Now for the hardest part…

Updated on: Apr 10, 2011

The seeming capitulation of the Government to Anna Hazare's demands has given rise to the euphoric feeling that politicians will now onwards be scared stiff by upheavals similar to the tsunami-like wave of popular revulsion against corruption that his indefinite fast has generated. Maybe, the Government got unnerved by the visuals of the swelling and angry crowds in the TV channels bearing a close resemblance to the country-wide uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and did not want the ugly situation to become uncontrollable. But, it is not in its nature to be scared stiff for long on any count.

Here's something that must be said to the credit of India's political class: It is nothing if not resilient and nimble. Independent India's history is replete with instances of its craftiness and tenacity. It is an adept in neutralising people's movements. Indeed, it has innately developed marvellous capacity to take mass upsurges in its stride and even make sure that they peter out within a short time.

No shortage of ploys

In short, the character, or, if you like, the strength of Indian political class is that it never suffers from any shortage of ploys and ruses, and is ever prepared to deploy them to its maximum benefit. It finds the adoption of a diversionary tactic all the easier when a proposal which is not to its liking bristles with features on which it can play the contending parties against each other.

In the light of the above, the hardest part of Anna Hazare's struggle is now going to be to ensure that the Jan Lok Pal Bill emerges from the joint drafting committee in a form that is both appropriate and workable and in time for introduction in the monsoon session of the Lok Sabha and for having it passed in the same session.

Letme take up a few major incongruities. First, the equal number of members on both the Government's and non-official sides can be the joint committee's undoing. Whenever there is a polarisation of opinions within the committee, it will be split in equal numbers on either side and this will be an invitation to recurring stalemate, even assuming that the Chairman and the Co-Chairman will have a casting vote.

Even now it is not too late for both the Government and Anna Hazare to agree on bringing in an eminent person with no political leanings, like Justice J.S.Verma, as the chairman.

Principal function

That apart, for all my admiration for Anna Hazare's achievement, I find in the civil society's Jan Lokpal Bill a number of draft clauses which are either irrelevant or unacceptable.

A Bill of this nature should focus laser-like on corruption and corruption alone at the levels of the Prime Minister, other Central Ministers and those holding equivalent rank, MPs and Secretaries to Government. It should not include Judges for whom there should be a separate dispensation (already envisaged).

The Lokpal's principal function should be to bring to book within a prescribed timeline the corrupt in the higher reaches of the Government. He should not at all be burdened, as Anna's Bill seeks to do, with overseeing timely issue of ration cards, passports and voter identity cards, use of funds in the construction and maintenance of roads, delay in attending to people's requests and complaints in government offices and poor service-delivery.

The unwieldy composition of the committee for the selection of the Lokpal prescribed by the Jan Lokpal Bill should be replaced by a short and compact one comprising the Prime Minister, presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Leaders of both Houses and Leaders of Opposition of both House and a retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court nominated by the serving Chief Justice.

Without some such drastic pruning, the Jan Lokpal Bill will not only fail in its purpose but become a cause of demoralization and cynicism all around, leading to the loss of people's faith in any more crusades.

Published on April 14, 2011

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