Politics of Lok Pal Bill


It is a pity that the corruption debate in ‘Incredible India’ has been hijacked by competitive politics in the country. We are indeed ‘incredible’. We have worked really hard to prove Sir Winston Churchill, right, about his observations, when the matter of the independence of the Indian Subcontinent came up in the British Parliament. 

Churchill as Leader of Opposition in House of Commons of the British Parliament was visibly upset about the demand for Independent India, and the reasons for that are given in this extract of his speech – “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low caliber and men of straw. They are Brahmins who mouth and patter principles of Western Liberalism. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air and water would be taxed in India”.

These words from 1947 in hindsight, are prophetic. While Indian politicians and the rich have stashed away black money, estimated anything between $500 billion to $1.5 trillion, outside the country, successive governments have been bundling to pass the Lok Pal Bill – an ombudsman organisation, an independent body similar to the Election Commission of India, envisaged 42 years back. The fact remains that the manipulative self seeking politicians and bureaucrats have not only failed to pass meaningful laws against corruption and have made the ones that are passed, virtually ineffective.

But when the plundering reached benchmark levels, we have had middle class messiahs, who declared ‘war against corruption’. Remember T N Seshan, the garrulous Chief Election Commissioner whose inspired fear among the politicians and awe among the middle classes in the mid-1990s. Seshan’s efforts did see a reduction in overt election expenses, but within a few months of retiring as CEC, he attempted to beat the netas by joining them. In 1997, he lost the Presidential Elections as a Shiv Sena candidate while in 1999; he lost by over 1.8 lakh votes as the Congress-backed candidate against L K Advani in Gandhingar. Twice hurt, Seshan eventually retired to a quieter life in Chennai, embraced by Rotary Clubs but forgotten by the vast multitude of his countrymen.

And today we have Anna Hazare, the Gandhian who has lead a lot of non violent protests against corruption in Maharastra, Padma Bhushan awardee of 1992 for his efforts in establishing Ralegan Siddhi as a model self sufficient village and now leading the movement to enact a strong anti-corruption act – the Jan Lok Pal Bill. On 5 April 2011 when Anna decided to exert pressure on the Government of India and go on a fast unto death at Jantar Mantar, it became a ‘made for television’ moment, artfully choreographed between the World Cup and IPL so as to gain maximum eyeballs. But unlike the 1990 Seshan moment, when there was no ‘round the clock television’, the Anna Hazare movement instantly had the legitimacy from the television addicted cheering middle classes.

The middle class anger had been ignited further by the sudden exposure of a rush of mega corruption scandals from the 2G spectrum to the Commonwealth Games. The nation was stunned by the realization that strutting VIPs were in fact plunderers. And perhaps murderers were not far behind if the unfolding drama of the ‘suicide’ of Bacha, Raja’s aide, is any indication.

With people’s disgust with corruption now out in the open, the well-accented television appearances by Congress leaders, was not helping. The principal opposition party, the BJP, grouping in the dark after being routed in 2009 General Elections tried to prop up Yoga guru Baba Ramdev in order to hijack the Jan Lok Pal movement.

But not drawing inspiration from the public mood or taking reformative action, the UPA Government unleashed a systematic campaign to counter the growing popularity of Anna Hazare, employing everything from high-decibel propaganda to clandestine investigations by intelligence agencies. Baba Ramdev backed out and retreated to his ashram in Haridwar. The Government also lined up the Brahmins, the suave Kapil Sibal and the cynically suave P. Chidambaram, to discredit the people’s movement.

Every well meaning Government would have taken the opportunity to take inspiration from the candlelight marches and social media networks campaigns but the UPA Government and the so called ‘Mr. Clean’ PM Manmohan Singh let that historic opportunity of engaging the middle class with public life, slip bye.

Every learned Indian citizen acknowledges that the Lok Pal Bill drafted by the Government and the Anna Hazare team has flaws. The UPA Government initially shied away from a public debate. The debate became further trivialized on inclusion of Prime Ministers Office/ Judiciary under Lok Pal or not. Then the impatience and distrust with each other ultimately turned the debate into an ‘all or nothing’ debate between the Government and the civil society group.

An omnibus Jan Lok Pal as envisaged by Anna Hazare group for sure is not going to end corruption, neither is the farcical Lok Pal Bill passed by the Union Cabinet, yesterday. The Lok Pal Bill is just a defensive feint enough to get by the public anger. The UPA Government sure will now hurry the Lok Pal Bill through in both houses of Parliament, flouting all rules of propriety and transparency, without engaging in a debate or even perhaps voted unanimously by politicians of all hues.

But by passing the Lok Pal Bill, under the compulsions of narrow party politics and to protect the mighty and powerful, the bull-headed Government may have snubbed the civil society out of the way (or so they believe) but the fact remains that in their attempt to defend against ‘outsiders’ trespassing into the law-making prerogatives of an elected Parliament, the lawmakers of the country have further alienated the middle class and ensured that they remain ‘outsiders’.

But there is still hope. Hope comes from relatively toothless Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde could do to the powerful Karnataka CM B.S. Yeddyurappa. 

Middle class activism in India is yet to mature to develop the momentum and self-belief to go beyond constantly searching for messiahs /demi-gods, who will slay the political demons of our time. The rage may be real, the desire for change may be well-intentioned, but am still not sure if it can really transform society unless it goes beyond the clever sound bite, or the ‘mera neta chor hai’ slogan. The Government of the day and the once to come, am sure will realise that hope and aspiration of youth energy, blocked by inertia and curruption, will lead to revolt. If not now, at a later date.

Video: Copyright with YouTube &

Interesting Snipets : Courtesy Wikipedia

The first Lok Pal Bill was introduced in the Indian Parliament by Shanti Bhushan in 1968 and passed in the 4th Lok Sabha in 1969 but could not get through in the Rajya Sabha. Subsequently, Lok Pal Bills were introduced in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008, yet they were never passed.

The current version is a diluted version drafted by Pranab Mukherjee (Finance Minister), P. Chidambaram (Minister of Home Affairs), Veerappa Moily (Minister of Corporate Affairs), Kapil Sibal (Minister for Communications and Information Technology) and Salman Khursid (Minister of Minority Affairs). It allows for setting up of a Lok Pal and frees it up to investigate and prosecute MPs and higher bueaucracy without being shackled by official sanctions, but it doesn’t give it complete autonomy either in selection process or its administrative and finiancial control. It excludes the PM from its purview and just hives off all the rest no protection to whistelblowers, no state Lokayuktas, no mechanism of checking corruption in judiciary and midle bureacracy, and a seriorly ill thought out grievance redressal mechanism.

The Jan Lok Pal Bill was drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde (former Supreme Court Judge and present Lokayukta of Karnataka), Prashant Bhushan (Supreme Court Lawyer) and Arvind Kejriwal (RTI activist) along with the members of the India Against Corruption Movement. The draft Bill envisages a system where a corrupt person found guilty would go to jail within 2 years of the complaint being made and his ill-gotten wealth being confiscated. It also seeks power to the Jan Lok Pal to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without government permission. It wants to protect whistleblowers. It wants to create a super-structure of high-integrity individuals to curb and prosecute corruption among MPs, highrer bureacracy, lower bureacracy, clerks, peons, police, every government department and project, the judiciary and the PM. 

Foot Note : Not that I agree with Churchill. India has produced more strong and calibered leaders than the whole Western world put together. But I just would urge every Indian to remember the statement by Churchill in the British Parliament when you go to exercise your franchise the next time. That is, if you do 🙂

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    • Bivin Lawerence
    • August 17th, 2011

    I may be a lone voice here, but I suspect he has become a tool for some forces. C’mon tell me a place on this planet earth where there is no corruption. It is a historic reality and you cannot change it overnight. This corruption did not start since yesterday and where has he been all these years and why now.

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    • Kaushik Muralidhharan
    • September 1st, 2011

    The fight against high-level corruption, requires a multi-pronged effort. There has to be an effective Lokpal authority; there has to be electoral reforms to curb money power for politics; there has to be a distinct mechanism to curb corruption in the higher judiciary through separate legislation; there has to be firm measures to unearth black money and crack down on those who have stashed away illegal money abroad in tax havens. Above all, the features of the neo-liberal regime, which encourage accumulation of capital through corrupt means and facilitate the loot of natural resources by big business, should be ended.

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