Thursday, December 22, 2011

BJP’s U-turn on Lok Ayuktas…..

This was totally unexpected. The BJP had been crying hoarse about the Central government violating the spirit of the Sense of the House Resolution passed by Parliament in August this year. One of the prominent points in the Resolution was that Lok Ayuktas would be set up in all states as part of a combined Lokpal-Lok Ayukta Act. Even recently, when Anna ranted againt the government for not honoring the Resolution, the BJP joined in in chorus with Anna protesting against the government. What happened suddenly? Why did the party do such a u-turn on an issue so important to Anna?

Quite significantly, no one from Anna’s team complained about this U-turn of the BJP. Why? Why is Team Anna’s behavior consistently forgiving towards the BJP?

The same question needs to be asked of the JD (U) whose leader Sharad Yadav also shared the stage recently with Anna at Jantar Mantar. I clearly remember his words: Every comma, every full stop, every word of the Sense of the House Resolution will be adhered to. Was this just a blatant lie spoken to please a restive and frenzied crowd there? By objecting to the inclusion of Lok Ayukta in the central act, is the JD (U) adhering to every comma, full stop and word of the Resolution?

Wasn’t TR Baalu of the AIADMK also on the stage with Anna? Did he mention there that his party was opposed to creating Lok Ayukta through a central act? No. That’s why I had called the entire debate that took place at Jantar Mantar as a farce (December 12th: A farce of a debate….).

Since the Congress was never in favor of creating Lok Ayuktas through a central act, should we surmise that almost no major political party wants that provision now? If the issue was removed from the Bill, wouldn’t that become a major area of political consensus – even if it was an even more obvious red flag to Anna? This is where we must ask the question: Who runs this country? Anna or Parliament? I had raised this precise question in my post on December 15th: Think of the country, not Anna, while making the Lokpal law…. If it is indeed Parliament that runs the country, let the politicians decide to drop the Lok Ayuktas clause from the Lokpal Bill.

Much noise was made about the minority quota being re-instated into the Act. No political party complained about the reservation for SC/ST and OBC though (criticism for this has come from Soli Sorabjee and other non-MPs). If the reservation policy itself is alright – and only the reference to religious minorities is a problem – where is the issue? If the courts rule this provision unconstitutional, only the minority reservation will be off. The overall Act will continue to operate. I can fully understand that the BJP is against minority reservations, but why take the lame excuse that the judiciary will reject the provision. Let it. If it does so, that provision will be off.

But then the BJP is a master at saying one thing loudly (the one suits the crowd) and the other associated by-line softly (the one that offends). When it talk of letting the Lokpal have the CBI’s investigative wing under it, it says so loudly. But it speaks softly about stripping the Lokpal of its prosecution (and judicial) powers. It speaks loudly of including the PM under the Lokpal, but it speaks softly of the conditions that should apply. In general, while it supports many clauses loudly, it speaks very softly about the clauses it doesn’t support.

There is a reason I think the government did a flip-flop on the minorities quota issue. Including minorities (even if it is later struck down by the courts) is one way of enlisting the support of crucial non-BJP opposition parties like the SP (22 MPs), BSP (21), RJD (4), LJP (2 in the Rajya Sabha) etc. Of course, the Congress would lose the support of the BJP on this point – but the Congress probably figures that the BJP will in any case not support the Bill. Under one excuse or the other, the BJP will oppose the government. If the non-BJP opposition parties could be rallied together, there is a good chance the Bill can be passed in both houses by the 29th.

From the discussions that happened yesterday (and the minute-by-minute coverage on TV), it appears that there are three points that are important at this present moment. First is the issue of minority quota which I have already discussed. Second is the issue of Lok Ayuktas which also I think was rightfully dropped to secure political unanimity. The third is the issue about “autonomy” of the CBI – whatever it means.

Like I argued yesterday, I would rather keep any police organization under the government made up of elected representatives than under an unelected body. Yes, it should be autonomous. As I understand it, the CBI director’s appointment method has been broadly accepted by all politicians (Anna doesn’t like it though). The PM, Leader of the Opposition and the CJI look like the right team to choose the Director. I have also argued yesterday that if the government were to try and influence the CBI in its investigation, a charge of corruption (since the attempt might be motivated by some form of corruption) could be brought against the DoPT. Since there is no permission needed to investigate or prosecute any minister any longer, the Minister in charge of DoPT would be in the line of investigation himself/herself in no time. As a further measure of reassurance to political opponents, the government could agree that for any corruption cases referred to by the Lokpal; the officer investigating the cases would not be transferred without the specific concurrence of the Lokpal. With respect to all other CBI officers, the government would have its own.

While politicians have been doing U-turns, Team Anna has been indulging in double-speak? On TV last night and elsewhere, different members of Team Anna (Abhinandan Sekhri; Kiran Bedi; Kejriwal) tried to build the impression that the Lokpal would not have judicial powers. Really? Then why is Team Anna complaining that the Lokpal has only been given only “recommendatory” powers against officials: Lokpal can only recommend action, not suspend or remove corrupt officials. If the Lokpal doesn’t have judicial powers, then how can it even recommend anything? That’s for the courts to decide right? And what about the very clear and specific wording in the JLP which I have highlighted several times in the past which clearly indicate that Anna does want the Lokpal to have judicial powers?

And what does Kejriwal mean when he says that 95% of all politicians and will be outside the purview of the Lokpal? And that “it doesn’t cover any political party”? As I see it, the proposed Bill covers 100% politicians; 100% MPs; 100% MLAs; 100% ex-MPs; 100% ex-MLAs; 100% Group A and B bureaucrats. Yes, it doesn’t directly cover Group C and D employees but it does so via the CVC route. So will Kejriwal please care to explain himself?

Also, on what grounds does Team Anna want MMRDA to give a discount on the venue for Anna’s fast? What about the hundreds of other protests that happen all the time in our country – should they get a discount also? What about the loss of income that MMRDA would suffer by giving out the grounds on discounted basis – after all, there is always another event waiting to happen on those grounds and willing to pay the full rates. And how come Team Anna suddenly wants the CM to exercise discretion in this matter. Aren’t we all saying that discretionary powers are what give politicians the scope to engage in corruption? But as usual, the defining characteristic of Team Anna is that whatever serves their interest is branded good governance. Whatever goes against their wishes is proof that the establishment is out to get them. We saw that in the Kejriwal case where he refused to pay Rs 9 lacs that he owed to the Government. We also saw that in the case of Kiran Bedi’s inflated travel bills case as also in Shanti Bhushan’s out-of-turn and discretionary allotment of the land in NOIDA.

I still feel that what I wrote yesterday – that the Lokpal Bill will clear the Lok Sabha and fail in the Rajya Sabha – will come true. So it won’t become law. Even a combined session of the two houses will not give the government enough strength to pass the Bill. What happens then? Anna goes on a fast. I am happy that there is a growing political consensus that if Anna wants to go on fast, it’s his call. The threat of the fast has been overplayed by far; the political class may make some polite gestures of support to him but in reality, it is unlikely to be bothered by it again. Three out of four journalists on Sagarika Ghosh’s show on CNN-IBN last night also felt that Team Anna had overplayed its hand.

The real truth is that there is a real danger that the Bill may not go through at all. If Anna is really interested in getting the Bill passed; and not just in rhetoric; then he should relent on his fast. And he should also relent on several sticky clauses that he wants. We should take this one move this time for sure – even if it is not entirely to Anna’s liking. All bills are amended – this one could be too at a later date. The alternate is gloomy – the bill doesn’t pass muster and many years later when another movement starts, we will all blame the politicians for not having enacted the law for maybe 50 years or more (right now its 42 years)…..

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