Saturday, December 10, 2011

A debate on Lokpal outside Parliament…..when will we have one inside???

The soap (or saga) of Anna’s fasts is back on TVs today, though this one is more in the shape of a one-day “promo” – the real action being two weeks away. Interestingly this time around, the script has been tweaked a bit much like GECs (General Entertainment Channels like Star Plus) tweak the script of their shows every time a new season starts. This time, politicians from all parties have been invited as “special guests” – a la Swami Agnivesh to the house of the Big Boss! The politicians have been asked to debate the Lokpal Bill – something they should be doing inside Parliament. But what the heck – let the debate happen somewhere at least!

The presence of politicians on the same stage as Anna makes the entire anti-corruption movement into a full-blown political exercise. None of the UPA members have agreed to participate suggesting instead – and rightly I may add – to debate the matter inside Parliament. If a public debate is what was wanted, there was one already done by Times Now on the salubrious grounds of the Calcutta Club. At least there, the audience was made up of neutral members who came in with an open mind – giving debaters a chance to express their views freely. The same crowd was present there. There was Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP, Sitaram Yechury of the CPM, Salman Khurshid of the Congress, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal of Team Anna and Shekhar Singh of the NCPRI. That was a good debate – with the crowd divided on the means being adopted by Team Anna in the pursuit of an anti-corruption law. Out here, the crowds are made up of frenzied mobs – those who believe that the Jan Lokpal Bill (and nothing but that) must be passed – even though they may have absolutely no idea what the specific contentious clauses in the bill are all about.

In many ways, the one-day token fast is a political farce. A bunch of political parties are expected to “discuss” (effectively “support”) Anna in front of thousands of TV cameras and for the benefit of hundreds of millions of TV viewers. Why farcical? Well because, like I mentioned earlier, the crowds will be so frenzied that debaters will have to tow a particular line. All that they say will be essentially for the TV audiences - with the truth of their beliefs being very different. A debate inside Parliament would have been much better.

Take the BJP for instance. Arun Jaitley will be out there campaigning for support for Anna. In reality, he will be campaigning against the Congress. Arun Jaitley may want to check a few facts out before he goes onto the stage to debate the subject matter:

1)      Does the BJP support inclusion of the judiciary under the Lokpal?
2)      Does the BJP support the inclusion of the PM under the Lokpal; with no conditions attached (the “no conditions” is a key demand of Anna).
3)      Does the BJP support putting the conduct of MPs inside Parliament under the purview of the Lokpal?
4)      Does the BJP support the demand made by Team Anna that the Lokpal be given the powers to tap phones if required?

The answer to all of the above of course is “No”. Arun Jaitley may also want to check out some other facts about his party:

a)      When the NDA government was in power between 1998 and 2004, why did the NDA fail to pass the Lokpal Bill? It was introduced twice by Vajpayee in 1998 and 2001. Why could the BJP not ensure that Parliament passed the bill?
b)      Since the BJP is now siding with Anna in his demand to make the selection of the CBI Director an independent process, did it do anything on this in the six years that it was in power?
c)      In Gujarat, why is there no Lok Ayukta for the last seven years? When the Act specifically says that the CM has no role to play in the selection of the Lok Ayukta, why is Modi trying to foist his chosen one on us?
d)      Why has the BJP’s ally in Bihar – Nitish Kumar – promulgated an Act that Anna has dubbed as being “like the one proposed by the Congress at the Center”?
e)      Why has the BJP blocked Parliament for so many days on one issue or the other? Will it allow Parliament to work next week to discuss the Lokpal Bill? Is the BJP ready for a debate within Parliament just as much as it is on Anna’s podium?
f)        Have BJP’s reps in the Standing Committee dissented on all points of the report, or only on a few? Because my information is that they have agreed to almost 75% of the points that were discussed and included in the report. Can the BJP tell us what those 75% points are?

Of course, many of the same questions should be posed to several of the other political parties that are going to take to the stage today. What are the CPM’s views on including the judiciary under the Lokpal for instance? What do they feel about covering the conduct of MPs inside Parliament and so on and so forth?

Many of the points made by Team Anna are a farce. For eg., Team Anna keeps brandishing reports that indicate that 95% of people in a certain leader’s constituency support the Jan Lokpal Bill. That’s correct and that’s wrong. There are so many questions that need to be asked to understand the findings. Who did the research? What types of questions were asked? Do people even understand what the specific clauses of the Jan Lokpal Bill are? Or are they just expressing support for a strong generic Lokpal bill (which may be very different from the JLP)? How many people understand the implications of including or not including certain demands of Team Anna? The 95% number only indicates that people are fed up with corruption; it does not indicate that they want Anna’s JLP.

The one good outcome of this fast of course is that it will spur our MPs into allowing Parliament to function. My view now is that Parliament should devote the next 10-12 working days to the Lokpal bill. In any case, none of the other bills are going to be discussed; the time might be better utilized getting this one bill out of the way. But will the BJP (in particular) allow that to happen? If the bill is made into law, will it help the BJP? I doubt it. That’s the reason why the debate is being held in public; and not inside Parliament. A debate held in a frenzied environment outside Parliament helps the BJP project itself as the savior of the people. The same debate inside Parliament would force it to accept its reservations against the bill.

The real truth is that the public debate today is bound to be a farcical one. No political party will have the guts to say what it really thinks on the issues. The real debate should happen inside Parliament. Let’s hope that happens…..

1 comment:

  1. Jan lokpal has to be passed..else it will be a cause of concern