LOKPAL: National comic-tragedy?
by Rijul Singh Uppal on 19 Aug 2011 24 Comments

[With Shri Anna Hazare beginning his fast at Ramlila Maidan today, the Government has bought time and begun diffusing the situation - Editor]



After blundering and dithering, the Manmohan Singh cabinet seems set to tide over the mini-crisis created by the inept arrest of social activist Anna Hazare. Politically, the UPA is the loser. First, it let Hazare and his associates hijack the moral high ground on the issue of formation of a Lokpal by negotiating with him; it bungled the Baba Ramdev rally on the same issue; then it alienated the middle class with Anna’s detention. As urban India rose against this ham-handed action, the old man turned the tables on the regime by staying put in Tihar Jail…

The Opposition is seeking political mileage by supporting Anna Hazare and his group of self-elected ‘Anti-Corruption watchdogs’. In a time of a deepening economic crisis all over the world, the government and opposition must utilize this Parliament session to solve problems hurting the economy, not waste time on Anna Hazare or the Lokpal. The economy is where the real solutions to the common man’s woes lie.


Civil society?


The question that hasn’t been answered all throughout this movement is regarding the matter of representation of civil society in the Lokpal panel. Can an NGO be the ultimate authority? Can this group of un-elected people force itself or its cronies upon the people of India as un-accountable judge, jury and executioner? Isn’t this role supposed to be that of retired civil servants and former judges?


Who will watch this group?


With their demand to become the highest authority on corruption, what will check possible malpractices or abuse of power by this group? Who will keep the lokpal panel under check?


The activists want the anti-corruption wing of the CBI and the lokpal will be one independent body. Thus the lokpal has effectively asked for extra-constitutional powers. They seek to watch over every constitutional body in the country, but they are out of the purview of any agency.


The present system / Alternatives


The government has in place a system to check corruption and corrupt activities. Fact is that without the reports of the CAG, neither the nation nor the government would have known about the sheer size of the 2G scam, nor would anyone be able to calculate the extent of loss to the nation. It is only due to the CAG report and the investigations that followed that Suresh Kalmadi, Andimuthu Raja, and Kanimozhi found themselves in the comforts of Tihar Jail.


The lokayukta system has also seen success in recent times with the ouster of the Karnataka chief minister. The lokayukta of Delhi has also presented his report indicting the Delhi Chief Minister and another minister, thus starting proceedings for her ouster as well. The Shunglu Committee and CAG have contributed here as well, with facts and figures.


The Right to Information Act (RTI) has been effective as a public check on the working of the central or state departments. It has led to increased efficiency and created a scare amongst the corrupt officials.


The negative side is growing instances of murder of RTI activists in states, regardless of the party in power. By a coincidence, RTI activist Shehla Masood was murdered in Bhopal on the day of Anna’s arrest. Strangely, no one in Anna’s camp thought to condole the murder and demand an enquiry and speedy punishment of the guilty. This suggests that they all have their eyes on a bigger prize.


The Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill, currently before Parliament for amendments, can ensure that the judiciary can be made effectively and appropriately accountable WITHOUT compromising its independence.


What Parliament must do without delay is to pass an effective legislation that guarantees safe-keeping and protection of whistleblowers and their families from any threats, physical or otherwise. There must be in place a system to protect the identities of the whistleblowers.


Battle for Power?


Anna’s group of self-elected representatives has turned down the government draft of the lokpal saying it is weak and only those under the rank of a joint-secretary have been placed under it. This group demands more power, which brings us to the question, ‘Is this campaign against corruption or is it a battle for power?’


The lokpal panel can wage a war against corruption with the power of the government draft if they honestly want to. The PDS scam has been on for generations and probably has caused *more monetary losses to the exchequer than any CWG or 2G could have. The government draft herein is powerful enough for the lokpal to look into it and clear the mess in the PDS. But – and here lies the rub – their focus is not on the poor at all.


Rejection of the government draft makes it clear that the primary objective of this group is to obtain powers above those granted by the constitution, while at the same time being un-elected and therefore un-accountable. They seem keener to have certain offices and institutions under their control, than to combat corruption per se. This makes their movement suspect.


Gathering support through fairy tales


The fairy tale dreams that have been doing the rounds on mobiles and emails about how a certain sum of black money hidden abroad can do wonders when bought back to the country have been predominantly responsible for the large number of supporters out on the streets of major cities to support Anna Hazare and his lokpal team.


What the people don’t realize is that it is not a child’s play to get this money back. And anyway it is Government and not the Lokpal that can get the money eventually.


The Government of India can stand head over heels but it is the laws of those foreign nations that will determine whether we get access to the money. No lokpal of any kind can do it. It must also be kept in mind that this sum of money is very small when compared to our GDP and is more or less equal to our annual defense budget, which is many times short that of China, and therefore this amount of money, if recovered, will NOT lead to any number of years of tax-less budgets or cheaper fuel, milk, or anything of that sort.


Question: Who pays?


Does Anna’s team dream of a cabinet rank or such type of remunerations or perks funded by the taxpayer?

Its leading activists, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, both Magsaysay Award winners, wanted to institutionalize certain offices for Magsaysay Award winners! Is that why the American Government took up their cause with the Government of India, though it amounted to gross interference in our internal affairs?

Their proposed bill asks for complete financial independence wherein the panel itself shall decide how much budget it needs, which Government MUST pay.

Will the Bhushan duo give up their legal practice or will they take remunerations under the cover of legal counsel?

Will Kiran Bedi shut down her NGO (funded by big ticket donors like Lehman Brothers, or so we are told)? Or will she gift the NGO to her daughter, therefore keeping open the scope for monetary flows?

What has not been clarified is whether there will be a limited term for each member of this panel or if these panel members will sit in the chair for as long as they wish. They have given the idea of a clear selection process, but who decides the timeline?


The author is a student 

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