Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Whatever happens, don’t put the CBI under the Lokpal…..and how politicians are fooling Team Anna

Today is a crucial day for the country. Today’s all party meeting will decide whether India will remain a democracy or turn gradually towards a rule of tyranny under an all-powerful and answerable-to-none Lokpal. The opposition appears assertive – and determined to play an opportunistic and senseless anti-democracy and pro-Anna game. The UPA is weak – battered relentlessly in recent skirmishes with the opposition. Exactly the kind of conditions that could lead the country towards tyranny; and a type of dictatorship.

For if the CBI is brought under the Lokpal – while it still retains the rights to prosecute and adjudicate on corruption cases – it will lead to nothing but tyranny. No where in the world are all the three powers – of investigation, prosecution and adjudication – given to the same single body. In every democratic country in the world, the judiciary is the final arbiter of justice, the prosecution presents the evidence and the investigating bodies gather the evidence against the accused. The three are separated so that no “bias” – whether intentional or otherwise – sets in. It’s only in dictatorial regimes that the three are assigned to the same body. If the three are merged, it will make India into a kind of a dictatorship.

What makes matters worse is the way the Lokpal is proposed to be chosen – largely by a majority of non-elected members. Members who have no accountability to the citizens of the country. Members who ordinary citizens cannot throw out even at the end of five years. There is a majority of judges of the higher judiciary in the selection panel proposed – but everyone knows of the many accusations of corruption against the judges themselves. Inspite of all the corruption in the judiciary, we’ve not had even one single impeachment of a judge since independence. There is zero accountability that judges have to the people – with corrupt judges continuing to “rule” forever – and the public hoping and praying for their mercy and fair conduct. Judgments are often political in nature, and are often questionable. How can such people – over whom the citizens have no control – decide who the members of the Lokpal will be?

So we have two major problems here. One, the selection is flawed – with the Lokpal being totally unaccountable to the people. And two, the nominated Lokpal body is vested with too much power. In my mind, these two points need to be resisted by all politicians – thinking for once about the country and not their own near-term opportunities. The BJP will surely get to rule the country one day; and it would help them if such a draconian Lokpal is not brought to life now.

The other issues open for debate are really issues of efficiency of the operation of the Lokpal. But more than efficiency, it is my belief that the entire political class has gotten together to make a fool of Team Anna. Here’s how.

Take the inclusion of lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal. Hardly anyone realizes why wily politicians are supporting the inclusion of Group C workers under the Lokpal. Why do I say wily? Because as soon as Group C workers are included, 98% of the Lokpal’s area of operation will be restricted to these officials. In other words, only 2% of the time (and resources) will be available to chasing the cases of bigger corruption amongst politicians. And since Team Anna has committed to announcing verdicts within a tight timeline, they will be duty-bound to take matters on a first-come-first-served basis. Strange isn’t it that a movement that started primarily to remove corruption in the political system has been so deftly re-directed away from themselves by wily politicians? Politicians of both the ruling party and the opposition have worked unitedly to fool Team Anna. Through a well orchestrated plan, politicians of the opposition parties first supported Team Anna’s plan of including the Group C officials – and now as part of the same orchestration, the ruling Congress is going to grant the “concession” to Team Anna. In reality, politicians were always happy to put Group C under the Lokpal!

Likewise, the wily politicians are happy to include the citizen’s grievances under the Lokpal. Again, the logic is the same. Keep the Lokpal busy with minor complaints of service at the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy – thus keeping the focus away from them. How smart. It was really not that difficult to fool Team Anna – taken in as it was by the impassioned (but unstrategic) support of common people who suffered not at the hands of big politicians but petty and small officials of the government. Again, as part of a well orchestrated plan, the Congress is likely to “bow down” to the demands of Team Anna – appearing to have been “pushed into the decision” by Team Anna, but in reality always wanting to divert attention from themselves. Politicians together have made a fool out of Team Anna.

Politicians realize that elections are not won or lost on the back of one single issue – especially the corruption issue – because all political parties are equally corrupt. Just look at the election results coming from Maharashtra – where elections to 168 municipal councils (in towns with population less than 3 lacs) were held. The Cong-NCP combine has bagged 72 councils reducing the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance to just 13. All results have not been announced yet, but the trend is clear. One would have expected Anna to have had some major damaging effect on the Congress-NCP dispensation in his own home state? None whatsoever. If forecasts come true, the BJP-NCP alliance will be trounced in the country’s biggest municipal corporate of Mumbai shortly. Clearly corruption was not an issue in Maharashtra.

To end, this is a fervent appeal to all politicians not to give all powers to the Lokpal. Yes, the CBI should be made much more accountable and other ways to doing so must be thought of. Maybe the CBI also can be made into a constitutional body, so that it is out of the clutches of the ruling government but continues to report to Parliament. Maybe some other solution can be found. But putting it under the Lokpal is an invitation to a form of dictatorship.

The real truth is that the pressure tactics of Team Anna are likely to give India a very bad law. No one seems to be willing or able to be reasonable. The intelligentsia has been complaining against these provisions of the JLP. But who is listening? Media should have played an important role in building public opinion against some of the provisions of the JLP, but it has chosen not to do so – preferring to fight amongst itself for narrow interests of TRPs and readership. In such a situation, one can only hope for some divine intervention…..

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