Should the prime minister be brought under the Lokpal Bill? Does the Lokpal, by placing civilian oversight over the three arms of government, exceed the provisions of the Constitution? Will the Lokpal turn into a Frankenstein's monster? How will it impact governance? Does the Lokpal, an unelected authority, undermine the citizen's franchise which is at the heart of Indian democracy?
To answer these questions, Minister for Water Resources and Minority Affairs Salman Khursheed, who is one of the major interlocutors from the government side in the Lokpal deliberations, appeared on the Rediff Chat on Tuesday.
Here's the transcript:
Salman Khursheed says, Good Morning! It's a pleasure to have people interested in good governance. I shall try to respond to your questions as much as humanly possible.
Salman Khursheed: No clashes, just difference of opinion based on our respective experiences and sense of responsibility.
We believe in an independent investigative agency but not a parallel government. There are many other countries that give far less on this front than we have willingly offered.
Let me give you three critical points: 1. Judiciary as an independent arm of governance cannot be brought under the purview of another agency; 2. The prime minister as critical pivot of governance cannot be paralysed; 3. Lokpal as an empowered high level agency with quasi-judicial power cannot delegate such powers to ordinary officials.
'Lokpal Bill will make a considerable difference'
Salman Khursheed: It will make a considerable difference, as the autonomous high-powered body not answerable to government will check the acts of corruption.
Of course, this is very important, but not a complete solution for problems of graft and good governance.
Other legislation like teh Judicial Accountability Bill and Whistle Blowers Protection Bill are additional steps towards addressing the malice of corruption and maladministration.
'We want to preserve the separation of powers'
Salman Khursheed answers: Thank you for insightful and rewarding remark of constitutional significance.
This is our endeavour -- to preserve the separation of powers. Sadly, our colleagues on the other side consider this to be an indication that we are reluctant to impose accountability on ourselves.
'We can build the edifice as we go along'
Salman Khusheed answers: We have tried to persuade them. The excellent is often an enemy of the good. Let us begin with the foundations and we can continue to build the edifice as we go along.
As for members of the Opposition, there will be wide consultations but at that time we could not have asked Anna Hazare to continue fasting for a few more days while we settle on who else from which party should be on the negotiating team.
'Party leaders will await the outcome before speaking publicly'
Salman Khusheed answers: The government has appointed five ministers to dialogue and even we are not going to the media extensively so as not to be accused of prejudging the merits of the debate.
Similarly, party leaders will await the outcome before speaking publicly. Good manners and propriety should not be confused with irrelevant reasons for not speaking out of turn.
'We have tried to provide checks and balances within the bill'
Salman Khusheed answers: Let us all pray that every step we take towards a brighter future does not come with a stumble due to an unexpected obstruction.
Let us have faith in humanity, ourselves as Indians, but remain informed by the experiences of things going wrong and work towards better management.
We have tried to provide checks and balances within the Lokpal bill.
'Lokpal bill is indeed very tough'
Salman Khusheed answers: Please wait to see the bill, Nihar. It is indeed very tough. But keeps a balance with commitment to civil liberties.
We don't accept the unqualified right to tape phones, for instance. That would only be under the new protocol that would apply to all agencies that seek to tape telephones as directed by the Supreme Court.
'We are awaiting consultations with all political parties'
Salman Khusheed answers: Appreciate your concerns and sentiments, Srikant. One doesn't throw the baby out along with the bathwater. The Judicial Accountability Bill is already before Parliament and hopefully cases such as Justice Sen's purported impeachment will now be more effectively handled.
As for the PM, to make an exception for the period in which a person is PM but not for when he demits office has been kept in mind because of the grave implications to national security and international relations.
Even on this we are awaiting consultations with all political parties, chief ministers and members of civil society beyond the five distinguished gentlemen that we have been talking to.
'Democracy is the best form of governance'
Salman Khursheed answers: Dear Ranvir, Although I disagree with you entirely and hope that one day I will have the chance to talk to you at length about some of these issues, for the present let me just say that millions of people for 50 years cannot be wrong about the Congress because you believe these things to be correct.
Don't forget that repeatedly these have been made into election issues and repeatedly people have rejected them. So if you are complaining, you are really complaining about democracy.
We do know that democracy is not always an ideal form of governance but it is the best form known to human society.
'Who would you want to see run this country?'
Salman Khursheed answers: Dear Pradip, If you lose hope what will happen to those like us whose hope you are! Not all things are good but many good things have also happened. You may see the glass as half empty and ask why, we may see the glass half full and think of filling the rest.
Who would you want to see run this country? Those who want but haven't been able to fill the glass or those who would empty out completely?
'Please, stop hating and start loving'
Salman Khursheed answers: I assume you have asked the same question of lawyers like Mr Ram Jethamalani as well as others who appeared for people who committed heinous crimes.
You know that if you needed me as a lawyer I would neither refuse nor be entitled to refuse because you use talk of terrorism for scoring debating points. Please, don't forget that I represented you without vakalatnama when I represented you along with Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Geneva to take on the might of Pakistani diplomacy to keep the Indian flag flying high. Please, stop hating and start loving. That is the message of Lord Ram, Bhagwan Mahavira, Hazrat Mohammed and Jesus Christ.
'Your goodness will give us strength'
Jagannath asked: My dear Khurshid, do you believe in the justice of dod almighty? No one is above the law and why you are all debating on bringing the PM and judicial chief under the Lokpal bill? Even an idiot knows that almost all politicians are currupt and they are all liars to the core. You come and stand in the corridors of courts and see the lavish lifestyles even the ordinary corporator is leading. Where the hell this money comes from? You all can enjoy the most luxuries in life only when are you in politics or are politically connected. You are all smart, educated and can twist the subjects the way you like but all are in it to loot the country. Law and order are the songs of ruffians and politicians. Please do not have a hard stand and everyone is equal under law.
Salman Khursheed answers: Dear Jagannath, Thank you for the reminder. Congratulations for such a wonderful name. May your chariots of truth devastate all falsehood. Is it ironic that you should have written dod instead of God?
If all are equal, surely they are not equally bad because then we will all be bad. In which case you too would be bad. And, if you are good and all are equal, then all must truly be good like you.
Did you ever think this might be so? Please, spread your goodness even if we endeavour to contain what is bad. Your goodness will give us strength and so will we all move to the rising sun Jagannath.
'The Lokpal will be accountable to the Supreme Court'
Primeminister asked, Do you think Lokpal will be able to clear the corruption menace in the country? I believe we need much more than this for clearing corruption - including modifications in policies & procedures at the touch points between govt & citizens
Salman Khursheed answers, Lokpal equivalent world over deal with maladministration, which is a major issue as far as common citizen is concerned. However, in India for historical reasons it has gone into dealing with corruption possibly to detriment of other dimensions of good governance.
However, we accept that an autonomous self regulating high-powered body should keep check on corruption in a institutional framework.This will be done and government will have no say at any stage.
The Lokpal will be accountable to the Supreme Court if there are allegations against the Lokpal itself. That is the reason why we don't think the Supreme Court should be accountable to Lokpal and have prepared the separate Judicial Accountability Bill.
The prime minister and the only the prime minister is being excluded that too till he demits office. Any serious student of the governance will know stability of the state depedns hugley on the office of the prime minister.
'Parliament must be different from coffee shop'
We cannot base a law on mistrust of everyone and on the assumptions that India is the country of the corrupt people.
We have to trust someone and who else but the prime minister in the government and Supreme Court in the judiciary?
Anybody who disagrees with without cogent argument is either not being fair or is innocent of the real world. All other matters are largely cosmetic and at best can be described as scoring points in the intellectual debate. The chambers of Parliament must be different from coffee shop haunt of intellectuals.
Though knowledge of the mood in the coffee shops and the price of the coffee cup is useful for parliamentarians.
Salman Khursheed answers, More when we meet again. Thanks for your questions. Sorry about not being able to answer so many of them. But, duty calls and no hard feelings about anything said because that is what democracy is about -- shades of gray and not black and white only.