Anna Wins So Does The Government
The five-day-long high drama at New Delhi’s iconic Jantar Mantar is over. Anna Hazare has won the first round of his crusade against corruption. But significantly the government has not been defeated either. On the other hand, the UPA government in general and the Congress party in particular have scored an equally resounding victory. The masterstroke came on April 9 morning when the Union Law Ministry issued a notification, announcing the setting-up of a 10-member Joint Drafting Committee to redraft the Lokpal Bill—the first time in the parliamentary history of India when the government will be enacting a law in consultation with the civil society.
The UPA government, which till April 8 night, had been sticking to its guns that issuance of an official notification as a precondition for Anna to end his fast-unto-death was both unreasonable and constitutionally not possible, quietly did a somersault and issued the match-winning notification. Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who himself is a noted lawyer, had so eloquently dwelt on the constitutional problems in issuing a government notification. Moreover Hazare’s representatives Swami Agnivesh, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi had in their third round of negotiations with HRD Minister Kapil Sibal on April 8 had settled for a government press note.
Then why did the government come up with the notification? There is more to it than meets the eye. It is a political masterstroke for several reasons. First, it creates a feel-good situation for the Anna Hazare-led civil society that had been agitating in a Gandhian manner for five days. It conveys that the civil society versus government tussle was not a zero sum game; that there was no victor and no vanquished. This ‘all’s well that ends well’ kind of feeling was an essential denouement from the government’s perspective as it not only wanted to lose face but, more importantly, it also did not want to be seen to have lost face.
Secondly, at a time when the nation is in the middle of assembly elections in four states (Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam) and the Union Territory of Puducherry, where the Congress has tremendous stakes, the magnanimity of the government would go down well with the voters. In this context, the comment of Swami Agnivesh to the media on April 9 morning as he emerged from the residence of government interlocutor HRD Minister Kapil Sibal after collecting a copy of the government notification is telling. He said: “The government has agreed beyond our demands. I am thankful to the Prime Minister, Sonia and Kapil Sibal. UPA government cares about the concerns of the people.” The last sentence of this statement is a certificate from the civil society that the ‘caring’ UPA government has not lost the Jantar Mantar battle.
Thirdly, the UPA II government and the Congress party must be painfully aware that corruption has reached unprecedented proportions and the remedy required too had to be unprecedented. And there can be no better way of doing this than floating a perception that has kow-towed to the civil society in the latter’s battle against corruption and win a political war by sending a signal that the government, labeled by the Opposition as most ineffective, weak and corrupt, has come up with an unprecedentedly strong move to combat corruption. No political party worth its salt can afford to criticise the government for the move in and outside the Parliament. No political party can afford to be a nay-sayer when the government pilots the Lokpal Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament.
FOLLOWING ARE THE MAIN FEATURES OF THE JAN LOKPAL BILL
- An institution called Lokpal at the centre and Lokayukta in each state will be set up.
- Like Supreme Court and Election Commission, they will be completely independent of the governments. No minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations.
- Cases against corrupt people will not linger on for years anymore: Investigations in any case will have to be completed in one year. Trial should be completed in next one year so that the corrupt politician, officer or judge is sent to jail within two years.
- The loss that a corrupt person caused to the government will be recovered at the time of conviction.
- How will it help a common citizen: If any work of any citizen is not done in prescribed time in any government office, Lokpal will impose financial penalty on guilty officers, which will be given as compensation to the complainant.
- So, you could approach Lokpal if your ration card or passport or voter card is not being made or if police is not registering your case or any other work is not being done in prescribed time. Lokpal will have to get it done in a month’s time. You could also report any case of corruption to Lokpal like ration being siphoned off, poor quality roads been constructed or panchayat funds being siphoned off. Lokpal will have to complete its investigations in a year, trial will be over in next one year and the guilty will go to jail within two years.
- But won’t the government appoint corrupt and weak people as Lokpal members? That won’t be possible because its members will be selected by judges, citizens and constitutional authorities and not by politicians, through a completely transparent and participatory process.
- What if some officer in Lokpal becomes corrupt? The entire functioning of Lokpal/ Lokayukta will be completely transparent. Any complaint against any officer of Lokpal shall be investigated and the officer dismissed within two months.
- What will happen to existing anti-corruption agencies? CVC, departmental vigilance and anti-corruption branch of CBI will be merged into Lokpal. Lokpal will have complete powers and machinery to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician.
Jan lokpal bill
Now the main task of the Joint Drafting Committee would be to hammer out a draft bill that is acceptable to both the government and the civil society and can pass muster with the Parliament. The Committee has been given time to complete this task by June 30 so that the bill can be introduced in the monsoon session and passed. The civil society would leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the Lokpal Bill draws the maximum from the Jan Lokpal bill, drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde, Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal. This bill has been refined on the basis of feedback received from public on website and after series of public consultations. It has also been vetted by and is supported by Shanti Bhushan, J M Lyngdoh, Kiran Bedi, Anna Hazare etc. It was sent to the PM and all CMs on December 1, 2010.
The flip side
However, the just-concluded jamboree at Jantar Mantar has also brought forth some negative sides of the crusade of Anna Hazare, now billed as “Aaj ka asli Gandhi” (Today’s real Gandhi). The strong arm-twisting methods used by Gandhian Hazare to a corruption-riddled government that is already cornered from all sides may have brought the government to a crawl when it was asked merely to bend. But it has also created a wrong precedent. It has demonstrated that a people’s movement can ride roughshod over parliamentary procedures of law-making. It has proved that Constitution of India can be toyed with. It has shown that legislations may not be necessarily made in Parliament by Parliamentarians and venues like Jantar Mantar can be as good for enacting a law.
This is a dangerous trend and the UPA government has been shortsighted in buckling under pressure and failing to protect the honour and the dignity of institutions like Parliament. Nobody can put a gun on the head of the government and hijack the functions of Parliament even if it is for as noble a cause as firewalling anti-corruption mechanisms and such exalted public figures like Anna Hazare are spearheading a people’s movement for fight against corruption.
Significantly, the Jantar Mantar hub of the people’s movement degenerated into a political platform, though Hazare himself declared that his campaign was apolitical. A person like saffron-clad Baba Ramdev, whose political ambitions are no secret and whose business empire in the name of traditional Indian medicine system has expanded exponentially over the last few years, shared dais with Hazare. Things did not stop here. Ramdev also indulged in a politically-loaded speech that had nothing to with the cause he had come to Jantar Mantar for. He launched broadsides against Congress President Sonia Gandhi by raking up once again her foreign origin issue. Unfortunately, Hazare neither intervened nor reminded Ramdev to stick to the point.
FOR A LOKPAL WITH TEETH
Anna’s blackmail pays off, with timely help from Sonia
The political establishment might have dilly dallied a lot longer but its hand was forced this time by Congress party president Sonia Gandhi who openly came out with support for Anna when she said: “There can be no two views on the urgent necessity of combating graft and corruption in public life. I believe that the laws in these matters must be effective and must deliver the desired results. I am sure that Mr Anna Hazare’s views will receive the government’s full attention as we must move forward to fight this menace. I appeal to Annaji to give up his fast.” And he heeded her appeal.
The agreement on the composition of the panel to draft the Bill is just the beginning of the process and has still over 100 days’ deadline of 15th August to be ready for introduction in the monsoon session of Parliament. The deadline has been set by Anna almost as a warning to the bureaucracy and political establishment which has stalled eight previous versions of the Lokpal Bill over 42 years. This time Anna’s civil society brigade is going to brook no dilly dally talks and tactics. That is what the nation is asking for and means it. Otherwise, as Anna says, there will be fresh battles in this “second war of independence”.
To a question if some government in future amends and loosens the watertight provisions of the Bill, Anna’s answer is unequivocal. More of the same campaign and protest till the government listens to the voice of the people and obeys it. After all the civil society, which has elected the legislators and ministers, is their master and has every right to pull up the servants it has appointed.
Asked at a press conference if he was blackmailing the elected representatives of people in Parliament and government to accept his conditions, he admitted point blank: “If this is blackmail as some people are saying, then I will continue to do this blackmail till my last breath as it is for the good of the people and the nation.”
The charge of dictatorship of the mob bordering fascism is rather farfetched for a number of reasons. First, rarely does a mob have the legitimacy of the order of Anna’s campaign. The legitimacy has to be earned, especially when it is based on the pre-condition of non-violence. Fascism and mob rule are based on the violent use of power, captured legitimately or otherwise. Anna cannot be compared with the likes of Hitler who used systematic violence against minorities. Observance of non-violence rules out fears of fascism.
Equally important to bear in mind is the inbuilt safety in the composition of the Lokpal Bill panel. The civil society and the government sides have equal numerical strength. Not just in numbers. Intellectually too the civil society representatives are pretty formidable, equipped with formidable legal acumen. There is a virtual guarantee of tough negotiations at every stage of the drafting process. And if the process comes to a halt for some unacceptable, stubborn insistence on either side, the risk to both sides will be equally daunting. The Anna brigade may never get such an overwhelming support next time. People might laugh it away as de ja vu in its second edition, while the ministers face the risk of not being elected next time. The stakes are far too high for both sides to throw up any tantrums or flaunt unnecessary muscle power.
As it looks, there is a fair chance of drafting a reasonable Lokpal Bill. Let us hope that the coming 15th August is celebrated as the start of the second freedom movement and the promise of a reborn democracy as free from corruption as possible. Total eradication of corruption is not possible anywhere but must remain an ideal . The thought of President Obama of the US raising one billion dollars for his second-term election campaign must be sobering for democracy lovers the world over. The Lokpal Bill, as Anna told a questioner on a television channel, is only a brake on corruption, not an all-time solution. Democracy is an ideal and a process that needs eternal vigilance.
By Subhash Chopra
Finally, Hazare is guilty of allowing Jantar Mantar to become a hub for publicity-hungry Page 3 celebs that trooped in for collecting their own badge of honour in this crusade against corruption. For five days Jantar Mantar was agog with these celebrities from Bollywood, politics, corporate and spiritualism. People like film actors Anupam Kher, Farah Khan, Tom Alter, Vijay Mallya and Sunanda Pushkar shared the stage, and the spotlight, with Hazare.
Lastly, there is the security consideration that has gone unnoticed and unremarked so far. For past five days Jantar Mantar could have achieved for terrorists and their masters busily plotting against India what Mumbai’s Taj and Oberoi hotels could not during 26/11. Just think of what mileage terrorists would have got with their commando-style operation at Jantar Mantar! The government needs to wake up to this threat. Jantar Mantar may have been vacated now but it can again be thickly populated and be a hub for another high-decibel, high-octane people’s tug of war with the government.
The terrorists may not have availed of this opportunity. But they are not known to miss many especially when a democracy like India will throw up many such opportunities. Is the government listening?
By Rajeev Sharma