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What is the way out of the Lokpal deadlock?

August 24, 2011 14:09 IST
Probably for the first time in the history of independent India, a struggle has been given respect due to a peaceful protest by the people, says Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey

Anna Hazare's fast has created an impasse. His team is not willing to compromise on any of the points of the Jan Lokpal draft and the government is refusing to concede its right of lawmaking. Civil society is unwilling to trust the politicians and legislators are finding it hard to believe that their prerogative is about to be breached.

Some people find Anna's methods unjustified, even if not his demands. Questions are being raised on the insistence of only the Jan Lokpal Bill to be considered for passage and the imposition of a deadline on it. The fast to pressurise the government into doing this is being described as undemocratic. But why has the situation come to such a pass?

People widely perceive the politicians to be corrupt. This is the reason why no politician is welcome in Anna Hazare's movement. Some politicians are getting offended because of this. Questions are being raised about why only politicians are being targeted whereas other sections of society are also corrupt. The people's understanding is, even if others are corrupt it is the politicians who are the root cause of it. There is also a feeling that others can be punished if caught but politicians largely go scot-free. Hence most of the anger directed this time is against them.

One of the points of contention between the government and Anna's team is about the inclusion of the conduct of members of Parliament inside Parliament. Parliamentarians will lose the immunity they have enjoyed so far over their actions inside Parliament if Anna's team is allowed to have its say. People ask, why should our parliamentarians remain unaccountable inside Parliament when there have been instances of MPs accepting money to vote or ask questions. Some put it more dramatically by saying that the MPs get the vote of people for free but sell their votes inside Parliament.

Corruption has become the bedrock of politics. The political parties are financed by corruption money. In fact, most cannot survive without it and the stalwarts are likely to lose elections if they don't overspend. If we were to ask how many of the present MPs would have won their election by spending less than the ceiling imposed by the Election Commission, chances are that almost the entire Parliament may have to be declared defunct. What is the legitimacy of such a Parliament? And that is why people have lost confidence in it.

In spite of the MPs' arrogance of considering themselves people's representatives, implying as if they enjoy some kind of superior status, people don't really think that their MPs represent them. Anna's movement has made it very clear that it is the people who are sovereign in democracy and not the people's representatives. So far, politicians and bureaucrats have treated the people as subjects and dissent has mostly been crushed or ignored. Deceit has been the instrument of administration when dealing with citizens. Probably, for the first time in the history of independent India, a struggle has been given respect due to a peaceful protest by the people.

For reasons similar to the one mentioned in the context of MPs' conduct inside Parliament, the PM should also be covered by the Lokpal. There have been instances where PMs have been suspected of being a party to corruption, directly or indirectly. So, it doesn't go down well with the people when the Cabinet decides to keep the PM out of the purview of the Lokpal. It is seen as an attempt to shield the corrupt.

Moreover, if a PM is actually corrupt, wouldn't (s)he be considered an affront to Parliament, democracy and the people? And why can't a suspect PM be removed, either temporarily or permanently? Caretaker PMs have held charge twice in this country upon the demise of the incumbents.

Judiciary is no longer a holy cow. The Bhushan duo has held more than half of the last 15 Supreme Court chief justices to be corrupt. The judiciary too needs to be made accountable. Now whether it is included under the Lokpal or brought under the Judicial Accountability Commission is a matter of technical detail. Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan are not averse to a separate body provided the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill has as strong a provision as under the Jan Lokpal and is passed simultaneously with it.

The government's version of the Lokpal is so ludicrous that it can actually award more punishment to a person making a false complaint than to an officer found guilty of corruption. This and the inclusion of all non-governmental organisations -- registered and non-registered -- within the purview of the Lokpal while leaving out private corporations, media and political parties exposes the government's intention.

If after an indepth discussion in the joint drafting committee of the government and civil society, the government has chosen to include a punitive clause for a complainant rather than provide protection for whistleblowers and included non-governmental organisations while excluding non-group A government officials, the government deserves the uncomfortable situation it has been pushed into. No doubt the people suspect it of colluding with the corrupt.

The selection of the Lokpal is another contentious issue. The government obviously wants to have more control over who gets there and the Jan Lokpal has devised a more foolproof method to ensure that persons of proven integrity become the Lokpal.

Aruna Roy has come forward with an alternative version of the Lokpal, dividing it up into five parts: elected representatives including ministers and PM and group A officers in one part: non-group A officers in the second part; judiciary in the third; and separate legislations to deal with grievance redressal and protection of whistleblowers.

Since Aruna Roy is both a member of civil society as well as a member of the National Advisory Council, she is best placed to play the role of a mediator. She must convince both sides to sit down and discuss the best possible Lokpal Bill draft. It'll have to be an amalgam of drafts prepared by Anna Hazare's colleagues and Aruna Roy's team. But for all this to happen, the government has to send out a signal that it is prepared to draft a strong Lokpal Bill by first withdrawing its own version which is a suspect.

Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey is a social activist

Sandeep Pandey