Sunday, July 3, 2011

All want a “strong” Lokpal bill.....but no party willing to spell out its stand

The all-party meeting to discuss the Lokpal bill provided few surprises. The parties stuck to their stands.....or rather continued to refuse to spell out their stand. The BJP continued its devious politics of trying to take the high moral ground but not bothering to express its views openly. Laloo continued to play the joker. CPM was the only party to spell out its stand clearly. In short, the meeting helped in achieving nothing.....except proving that this is not a UPA-civil society battle but a larger political parties-civil society one.

There are three points that I want to make here:

First, that the BJP continues to behave irresponsibly. Its behavior is out of line with what is expected of the main opposition party in a democracy. It took the most strident line on corruption in media. Its spokespeople appeared fully conversant with the issues when they came into the TV studios. They put out political rhetoric by the tons when questioned by media on the party’s views. But when formally asked by Pranab Mukherjee to spell out their views, the party suddenly claimed that it had no idea what the government was it couldn’t respond. Why couldn’t the party just give its views suo-motu? When the PM called the all-party meeting to discuss the government’s version of the bill, the party initially was opposed to attending the meeting......saying instead that they would give their views to the Parliament when the bill was introduced. After all, the party claimed, this was only the “minister’s draft” and not the “government’s”. Why did it have to resort to such technicalities, if not for political reasons? And finally, when they did decide to attend the meeting, they still refused to give their views on anything substantive. They will now give their views to the Standing Committee of Parliament which will review the draft bill after it is introduced in the Lok Sabha. Well....the BJP should know.....they can delay the inevitable, but they will eventually have to publicly give their views. Till they do so, they continue to lose favor with the people. Most people I speak to – even BJP sympathizers – complain that their party is starting to appear fake on this issue.

Second, the issue is not a UPA-civil society one. It’s about all political parties wanting to protect their turf. And why not? Everyone does it. The judiciary has kept quiet all throughout on whether it should be included or not....but has let loose former CJIs to do their talking. On other matters, the SC is keen to make its views known even when no one seeks their views. Obviously, they don’t want to be included under the Lokpal. Most political parties also don’t want the judiciary to be included.....goes on to show how much the weight of the judiciary is going to count if the bill does get passed by Parliament. It is not difficult to imagine that the SC may throw out the law as being against the Constitution. If everything else fails, the SC can be counted on to deliver the blow. I doubt if Anna’s team would like to run the risk of protesting against the judiciary. No wonder no one wants the judiciary included (I also don’t want it included.....but for a different reason). On including the PM, the views are divided. The CPM is clearly in favor of including the PM. Surprisingly, the DMK is in favor – now that’s a joke considering that it was they alone who have wreaked havoc on the UPA. Their view is not related to any understanding they have of the bill, but a compulsion to take a stand adversarial to what the Congress is saying. After all, they hold the Congress responsible for the plight of Kanimozhi and others. The BJP has as usual played an opportunistic role. It’s muttered some mumbo jumbo on the PM’s inclusion in all affairs except national security, foreign relations and the like. Maybe it’s coming from its experience of Vajpayee facing many charges of corruption the one related to the coffin scam and others. Surely, that would be passed off as relating to national security?! On including the judiciary, it’s kept quiet. After all, a party made up of so many lawyers must be feeling the pressure.....surely it owes it to the judiciary to protect its back side at this point in time.

Third, while the media and lay people may feel that the political class is out to protect its turf, the truth is that Anna’s bill is flawed. What it seeks for itself should not be granted. Already, most segments of the media are commenting on some of these provisions. The unrestricted powers that the Lokpal seeks cannot be allowed. The Lokpal itself is bound to become corrupt – after all, there will be many thousands who will work in the Lokpal institution. The issues that lead to corruption in the first place will also plague the employees of the Lokpal. If the Lokpal, as proposed, is the law unto itself, then a corrupt Lokpal is the equivalent of a Saddam Hussein. India can live with infirm laws on corruption; it cannot live with a dictatorial set up in its democratic polity. It has been my considered view that while the PM must be included, there must be a filtering committee comprising many different classes of people who must weed out motivated and arbitrary complaints. The judiciary must be excluded so that the Lokpal’s powers can be checked. And yes, the selection committee must be made up largely of politicians.....after all, in a democracy, I would rather see a strong political set-up rather than one that is weak. In today’s surcharged times, people do not realize the problems the country would face if the political establishment was weakened.....but the truth remains the truth.

I am keen to see what stand Anna’s team will now take. Will they openly challenge all the politicians? Including the BJP to which they all belong either directly or indirectly and whose game they are playing out? Will Anna still go on a fast on August 16th and challenge the entire Parliamentary system? Or will the BJP whisper to Anna to desist until the monsoon session has ended? My own view is that the tide is already against team Anna. If Anna goes on a hunger strike, he won’t find the support he did a few months back. If he doesn’t go on strike, he would appear to have chickened out. The screws are tightening on him.

The real truth is that the Lokpal bill has already run into rough weather. There will be so many changes proposed to the Standing committee that the bill will look totally different from what it now looks like. And all political parties will stand exposed. And everyone will try and put the blame on everyone else. Frankly, I don’t care too much about the finer points of the bill. The bill’s already in pretty decent shape. Just get the bill passed in its current form....and move on. There are many other pressing items facing the country.  Economic reforms is the first on that list. Not moving on those will hurt the government and the country more than not bringing out a stronger Lokpal bill than the one in discussion.....

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