So for the last four months, the country has been continuously debating over the Lokpal Bill thanks to veteran crusader Anna Hazare. Let’s set the precedent by clarifying that the Lokpal bill is the government proposed law, while the Jan Lokpal bill is the “Team Anna” proposed law. Earlier this year, I had the fortune of meeting Anna ji and witnessing his first campaign at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. From a handful of people, there were tens of thousdands of people who turned up for the protest fast. We are all aware of the sequence of events post that, where in the government agreed to a joint drafting committee, which did several iterations over the bill but did not even come close to a consensus. This resulted in the second agitation that started on Aug 16, of which too we are all aware.
Let me talk about something a little different. The issue. The issue is very simple. For the last 60 years, the government in India has made no sincere attempt to tackle corruption. In my relatively short lifetime, I don’t remember any political party saying that tackling corruption is its top or one of the top priorities. I fail to understand how can it not be a priority (unless your priority is population!). The government has been acting like a carpenter trying to build new furniture each time termites decimate the old creation, rather than getting rid of the termites. Lokpal or corruption are not new issues. Lokpal bills were introduced in 1968, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, and 2001. Before the present version, it had been referred three times to joint select committees of both the houses and as many times to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs. Five of those committees had submitted reports.
The government today says that it is with the country and Anna ji on fighting corruption. However, till Anna ji brought this issue up, the government had not felt the need to introduce the bill during its 7 year regime. A social activist from Maharashtra had to go on a hunger strike to even remind the parliament that for the last 42 years, there is this supposed law that you have been supposedly enacting all this while, and that the law is actually toothless (as the government had it). To me, even without reading the bill proposed by the government, the bill is a sham. The government or rather a series of governments have not been able to pass a an anti-corruption bill for 42 years; this very fact renders their ‘version’ of the bill useless for me. When there is no intention, what holy text would the bill contain, and now that the Lokpal bill is out in public domain, one can very well see government’s intentions. As soon as Anna ji started his campaign, the government deployed the CBI and other governmental touts to try and find some sort of irregularity in his conduct. For the last 40 years that Anna ji has been active, the government never felt the need to check his background and integrity, but as soon as the gun pointed on their chests, they panic. Also, the use of the CBI and other agencies for this purpose highlights the point that the current investigative agencies are puppets of the government, an issue that the Jan Lokpal bill seeks to address. The same thing happened with Baba Ramdev; because he too chose to protest, suddenly there are investigations against his trusts.
Corruption is rampant beyond imagination in this country. We have money to give aid to Pakistan for flood relief (Rs.50 million) but no money to build a good road in Pune. A Jan Lokpal law cannot eradicate corruption. The distinguished Jan Lokpal campaigners are very well aware of this fact. I call them distinguished for a reason. Apart from Anna ji, who has no family and lives in a temple in Maharashtra, Prashant Bhushan is a supreme court lawyer who has been fighting for public welfare for the last 15 years. His father Shanti Bhushan, a former law minister, is actually one of the people to have introduced the bill in parliament three decades ago. Arvind Kejriwal is an IIT Kharagpur alumni, IRS (UPSC) officer, who was former Joint Commissioner of Income Tax in Delhi, and quit that job to start an NGO for better transparency in governance. Arvind Kejriwal has also been instrumental in having the Right to Information Act implemented as a law, for which he was conferred the prestigious Magsaysay award. The RTI act has already empowered general public, and made government machinery far more transparent and within reach of the common man. The power of RTI and government’s inhibitions are clear from the fact that a number of RTI activists have been murdered. It is important that I at least list a few of these victims:
This partial list clearly indicated the success of the RTI Act and the failure of the government to protect people unearthing corruption. The other renowned person in the team, Kiran Bedi, is a lady who does not require my introduction. Swami Agnivesh has been working for the last 40 years as a social servant, especially for the betterment of bonded labourers. Lastly, the bill has been drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde, former Supreme court judge and Lokayukta of Karnataka. All these people have made all their assets, incomes, expenses, liabilities public on the internet long ago. They have been consistently seeking public opinion on improving their version of the bill, through the internet and through other means. The intentions of these people cannot be doubted. None of them have sought any sort of role in the Jan Lokpal. To refute the government’s claim that the movement is opposition triggered, BJP and some other political workers were literally driven away from the protests recently. The anger that people have is against all political parties, not just the government.
What matters is the intent. Political will as Arun Jaitley pointed out in the Rajya Sabha. Till the CAG report was out, the government did not know that we had paid millions of dollars to Australian firms for fixing bathroom tiles in the Commonwealth Games Village. This just reiterates that the government does not have any intent of taking any serious action against corruption. Whatever little ‘action’ that we have seen on the government’s part is due to public anger, opposition pressure and the Supreme Court. The Jan Lokpal bill differs from the Lokpal bill in several ways. I recommend that you view the comparison chart of the differences between the two bills. The main issue with the Lokpal bill is that it is another advisory body to the government that can recommend action against the corrupt. Sounds ok? Figure this. So the Lokpal points out to the government that Suresh Kalmadi should be investigated and prosecuted for corruption. Just like the CAG indicated. Suresh Kalmadi is a part of the government. The government chooses to ignore. Or just give a lame excuse of coalition politics. End of story. What if there was a Jan Lokpal instead? The Jan Lokpal after investigation will have the power to remove Suresh Kalmadi and directly present the investigation to the court for criminal prosecution. The investigation and the prosecution too must be completed in a time bound manner (2 years max for prosecution). This not only (at least on paper) sounds like the better option, but also does not route everything through existing investigative agencies (like the CBI), which are government puppets. Only the courts will have the power to convict someone and imprison them.
There has also been a considerable cry raised by doubters that how can the Jan Lokpal be all encompassing. How can it be above the CBI etc. Well CBI isn’t a divine agency. The current system hasn’t been performing as we would have wanted and thus the need for a new powerful agency has come into being. If properly and thoroughly implemented, the Jan Lokpal is nothing but an independent and powerful CBI. What name one calls it by is irrelevant. There is no harm as such in integrating all investigative agencies like the CBI or the ED under the larger umbrella of the Jan Lokpal. Today, CBI has to report to the government, so even if it wants to, it cannot do its job (especially when government servants are involved) effectively. The Jan Lokpal also wants to have top offices, of the judiciary and even the PM, under its purview. The recent impeachment of Justice Sen of the Calcutta High Court has proven that even the judiciary is not free from corruption. The Judicial Accountability Bill (governments’s proposed solution to tackle judicial corruption) is another sham and extremely ineffective even on paper! The role of the parliament is to legislate. To legislate the most effective laws, not laws that most effectively retain power with the government (since they control the parliament). Also, in the 1989, 1996, 1998, and 2001 Lokpal bills, the Prime Minister has been covered by the proposed law. So what is the debate about the PM now? Former PM AB Vajpayee had clearly stated that he wants the office of the PM to be covered by the Lokpal bill.
Another argument has been that the government is the elected representative of the people, and so it will decide what is done. Well honestly the government is elected, but isn’t elected on merit. It is elected on elimination. So, an Indian today votes for the best amongst a group of thieves. The politicians deliberately try and challenge team Anna to fight them in the political arena, because they know that without the massive funds and network that the politicians posses (of looting the nation), anyone else has no chance. This is proven by the fact that in 64 years, for more than 50 years, one party has ruled the country. So either they are just brilliant (in which case millions wouldn’t be on the streets), or they are too powerful to be defeated by way of the current electoral system.
For me though, the biggest concern is that if the Jan Lokpal bill is implemented, the machinery that it will require is massive. It cannot be a small commission sitting in Delhi. But when the country has 1.2 billion people, you will definitely face problems with mobilizing a machinery that is capable of implementing a law at a national level. Though this is a serious hindrance, it is not an excuse. The Jan Lokpal bill isn’t the PM’s magic wand either. There will need to be other supplementary laws and agencies that will need to be formulated. The question again is that It is a model in the right direction. Some say Anna’s way isn’t the only way. Neither does he or his team. Please come forward and show us the alternate way if you will. And show us one person (or a small group) who are even close to mobilizing such large numbers in national interest.
There is a scam and a sham in everything that happens in India. From PDS to coffins, from CWG to buildings, from spectrum allocation to mining; they’re all over. No political party is clean. No political party (mainstream) wishes to clean the system by cleaning itself first. It is important to point out that the Jan Lokpal and anti-corruption movement IS NOT to destabilize the government. That will not help. Elections cost huge money. The opposition isn’t a spotless party either, and one can have no assurance from them over their intent on corruption. It is in public interest to MAKE the government do its job properly, and that is what this campaign is doing. This is very much democratic, constitutional, moral, ethical etc. Also, if, at any point, an effective campaign to root out corruption faces constitutional barriers, the country must unite and amend the constitution. The constitution isn’t the word of god, and must also evolve to face the 21st century challenges. People are sick of a useless system where more than 80% of the country doesn’t have access to a toilet after 64 years of independence.
This campaign is a culmination of the collective frustration that has built up over the years. Political rallies (espcially rural) are bought using money and sops, and the crowds are even told when to clap! Never before have we witnessed young, educated Indians out on the streets. In fact till recently, these very people (demographically) were least interested in politics or national issues. This sort of a spirit cannot be bought by money and cannot be fed by the opposition. After many many years, there is a selfless man who has no vested interests; only national interest, and people relate to him. People welcome his sincere attempt regardless of whether one law can change the country or not. But that is besides the point. The country has a huge opportunity to use the synergy in national interest, by hook or by crook.