Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thanks for showing some spine on the Lokpal…..

As details of the government’s proposal for the Lokpal emerged, I heaved a sigh of relief. Standing against severe – though fast depleting – public pressure, and far divided – though fast reducing – political opposition, the government has shown the guts to tread a middle path. In the true spirit of democracy, many points were conceded to Anna. Some dangerous ones withheld. The political fall-out and yet another round of fasting must no doubt have been factored in by the government.

Look at the ground conceded by the government (and the larger political establishment) to Anna. The PM and his office are now under the Lokpal. Of course with riders. The entire lower bureaucracy is in – including Group D. I had already predicted the government will concede to this demand – not because they particularly care for this demand of Anna’s – but because it helps them! With Group D also under the Lokpal, the ombudsman will spend 99.9% of its time investigating petty corruption – a scenario entirely suitable to the big corrupt daddies of politics! I am a little surprised the government didn’t agree to put the citizen’s grievances mechanism under the Lokpal but preferred to have a separate bill to handle the issue. If Anna’s interest was really in servicing the citizens, then why would he not be happy with a set-up like the one proposed – irrespective of whether it was within or outside the Lokpal? Or am I missing the point here? Is this a case of power play? That the Lokpal is sought to be set up as a power center and the more it controls, the better it is. If that is the case, then it’s an admittance of the fact that the Lokpal will be an undemocratic institution filled with self-annointed protectors of corruption. Even on this subject, I feel the politicians will eventually agree to put it under the Lokpal. If that happens, make that number I mentioned earlier in this passage as 99.99999% or more!

The government has already agreed to set up Lok Ayuktas as part of this law itself, conceding yet another demand of Anna. With this, all the three points mentioned in the Sense of the House resolution have been fulfilled. At least the politicians have not cheated Parliament. Now let’s look at what Anna does.

I have dealt with the CBI issue in several of my posts in the last few days. I am surprised by the extent of political unity on this subject. Different parties are saying different versions of what I have been saying for several days. The Congress is saying that the Lokpal cannot have its own investigative agency – but it can continue with the prosecution and penal powers. The BJP is saying that the Lokpal must have its own investigative powers, but prosecution must be separated out. That also implicitly means that penal powers must be taken out of the Lokpal. The JD (U) appears to be going with the BJP’s viewpoint (or at least that’s what it looks like). I haven’t heard the Left’s views on this yet. But with both the BJP and the Congress saying that all powers cannot be with the Lokpal, it’s a solid sign of political unity. And maturity.

At the same time, the government has agreed to make the CBI “autonomous” – a catch phrase everyone has been mouthing of late. What does autonomous mean? For starters, the selection of the CBI director has been made fairly representative with three people – the PM, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the CJI or his/her nominee – choosing the CBI Director as against the power lying entirely with the government at present. I have been saying this for long. We are a democracy and the only way to run a democracy is by electing the leaders who will rule us. Once elected, we have to vest these leaders with all the requisite powers. There is absolutely no sense in saying on the one hand that 75 crore people vote for these leaders – and then we emasculate their powers. Who do we give these powers to? To unelected members of the Lokpal? This is a devious plan of a brainless team that Anna has gathered around him. He should shed this team and become more practical.

Politicians have picked up a terrible reputation over the years. And we need to make sure they are taken to task for this. Going forward, they had better not abuse their powers. We need electoral reforms so that the scum doesn’t get to rule us. We need to clean up electoral funding so that the need to indulge in corruption reduces (of course, the greedy will still cheat). We need to improve salaries in government so that we can get better people into administration and also reduce the urge to be corrupt. And very very importantly, we need to shed this attitude – that Anna himself has promoted – of brandishing all politicians and bureaucrats as corrupt. If this is the prevailing mood, why will any politician or bureaucrat remain clean – if he knows that people anyways think of them as being corrupt?

Even as we set out to clean the political system, it’s important we don’t create a monster of an institution to do so. The Lokpal – as an unelected body – should have only limited powers. It cannot and should not usurp power from elected bodies. It is totally unaccountable to the people and giving it untramelled powers would be inviting dictatorship and tyranny into democratic India.

Anna should be given the option I have been suggesting for long. The Lokpal can either have investigation powers or prosecution powers or judicial powers – but not all three.

Before ending, I must comment on Anna’s repeated threats to our elected reps. I have always maintained that threats are a violent form of protest and it’s simply not allowed in a democracy. I am already seeing a huge drop in Anna’s popularity. An old man is expected to have certain decency in conduct and language and Anna has personally violated that. His supporting the attack on Pawar was like a slap across most people in this country. It’s ok for the youth of the country to rally behind anything anti-establishment, but many of the more seasoned citizens are starting to find fault with Anna’s style. If Anna wants to go on a fast, he should. But why make such a big deal out of it.

One last word on Anna’s team. The way Arvind Kejriwal speaks, it wouldn’t be tolerated in even the most liberal democracies. We saw how the US quietly stopped the Wall Street protests. Exactly who is Kejriwal to comment on the Food Security Bill? Is he India’s most talented, most honest and most intelligent crusader? He took years in paying the government (and therefore the people of this country) the Rs 9 lacs he owed it. And when he paid up, he made it look like he was doing us all a favor? He has the gall to dictate to much more senior and accomplished public servants? He has the audacity to question the credentials of other activists? Let him put his threat to test. Let him put Anna through another round of fasting. If anything happens to Anna, his followers will bay for Kejriwal’s blood.

The real truth is that the accumulated guilt of the past has made the government and the political establishment bend over too much to satisfy Anna. This is now a case of activists behaving like dictators. There is a limit to protests; and to indiscipline. My strong recommendation to the government is to do the needful on Lokpal and go back to work. There are enough and more Annas in this country. They have to earn their place in the sun. This is no way to do so…..

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