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A relentless fight, but who are the real takers?

By Saswat Panigrahi | Last Updated: Saturday, April 16, 2011 - 21:10
Saswat Panigrahi
The 'Right' Way

I must admit I haven’t seen such a movement so far. Iconic Gandhian Anna Hazare’s <i>satygraha</i> demanding enactment of a comprehensive ‘Jan Lokpal Bill’ to check corruption in public life indeed moved the nation.

It was for the second time, independent India saw such a mass movement. In 1975, legendry Jayaprakash Narayan launched Sampoorna Kranti movement to unseat Congress government headed by Indira Gandhi. It may be premature to draw parallels between the two movements, but there is certainly a commonality between the two. Both the movements attracted right and left forces.

Hazare’s anti-corruption stir was well timed and hence assumed significance. It was launched at a time when a series of macabre scams -- 2G spectrum scam, CWG scam, CVC appointment scam, Odisha mining scam, Vedanta land grab scam in Odisha, Adarsh housing society scam, Karnataka mining scam (the list could go on) -- have hit the nation.

In a season of scams, where corruption was used as a sheet anchor for governance, nothing could be a more awful joke that instead of reining in corruption, leaders at the helm of powers are waxing eloquent on the rise of corruption. Remember those famous sound bites -- “Graft and greed are on the rise” or “The government is dead serious against corruption” or “Tackling corruption is high on the government's agenda”?

The sufferers are the ‘stupid’ common men (the <i>aam aadmi</i> as they are popularly known as). The scams hit them directly. Anna Hazare had his finger on the pulse of the common man and felt the pressing need to launch a mass movement against corruption under the aegis of ‘India against corruption’.

When the 73-year-old soldier-turned-social activist flagged down an anti-corruption campaign, as he went on to fast-onto-death at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, India rallied behind him.

Thousands came forward to join the chorus against corruption. Jantar Mantar, the central point of the agitation virtually turned into a Tahrir Square. The anti-corruption protests spread to more than a dozen cities across the country. The movement also found resonance from Indians living abroad. Similar protests were organised in Montreal, San Jose, Minneapolis and Amsterdam.

The message against corruption was spread in modern telephony with supporters sending group SMSes at random. The netizens pledged support of Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption. Hazare became the most searched on Google India page. Facebook and Twiter pages were abuzz with messages in support of Hazare.

As the pressure built up, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar -- who faces corruption charges -- had to resign from GoM on Lokpal Bill.

A panic stricken Congress-led UPA, which is battling a series of corruption allegations, could not but accept the civil society’s demand for a ‘stronger’ Lokpal Bill in order to avoid further damage. Hazare ended his 98-hour-long hunger strike after the government issued a gazette notification to set up a joint committee to draft an “effective Lok Pal Bill”.

The government has already drafted a Lokpal Bill. But the civil society says the bill in its present form is toothless and hence proposed a ‘Jan Lokpal Bill’.

So what is Lokpal, what is Lokpal Bill 2010 and how it is different from the proposed ‘Jan Lokpal Bill’? Lokpal means an ombudsman and the idea to create such institution dates back to 1963. The first Lokpal Bill was passed in Lok Sabha in 1969 but could not get through in Rajya Sabha. The bill was subsequently introduced in Parliament nine times between 1971 and 2008, but continually stymied each time by successive governments because of lack of political supports.

According to Draft Lokpal Bill 2010, the Lokpal will have jurisdiction only over MPs, ministers and Prime Minister. In contrast the draft Jan Lokpal bill says the Lokpal will have jurisdiction over politicians, bureaucrats and judges as well. The CVC and the entire vigilance machinery of the Centre will be merged into the Lokpal, it says.

Draft Lokpal Bill 2010 says Lokpal has no power to initiate <i>suo motu</i> actions or even receive complaints of corruption directly from the public. It can only probe complaints forwarded by Lok Sabha Speaker or Rajya Sabha Chairman. On the contrary, the draft Jan Lokpal Bill says Lokpal will have the powers to initiate <i>suo moto</i> action or receive complaints of corruption from the general public.

The proposal to revamp the Lokpal Bill is yet to bear fruit and the passage of the bill is long way ahead. Meanwhile, the joint committee on Lokpal is in shape. It consists of 10 members -- five each from the govt as well as the civil society. The committee is headed by senior minister Pranab Mukherjee and includes four other senior ministers as members. Besides Hazare, those representing the civil society in the joint committee are father son lawyer duo Shanti and Prasant Bhushan, Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal. Former Law minister Shanti Bhushan will co-chair the committee.

I see two problems in the selection of members for the committee. First, the committee excludes representation from the Opposition. Secondly, of the five representatives from the civil society, Bhushan father-son -- who campaign for judicial accountability and judicial reform, lack mass acceptability because of their controversial views on Kashmir, Maoists and terrorists. The inclusion of the father-son duo divided the civil society by drawing a line between the right wingers and the left wingers.

Meanwhile, co-chairman of Lokpal committee Shanti Bhushan is caught in a CD controversy, casting aspersions on his integrity. The audio CD, contains alleged conversation, apparently between Bhushan, SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and former SP leader Amar Singh about 'fixing a judge for a price'. The CD further suggests Shanti Bhushan was allegedly ‘negotiating’ with Mulayam that his son Prasant would file a PIL against UP government for a hefty sum.

The civil society is divided further with Anna Hazare asking Chief Ministers across the country to replicate the development work done by Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. The left wingers among many others have asked Hazare to explain his stand on Narendra Modi.

Anna Hazare as a social reformer is always acceptable to the masses. His lieutenants like Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal and Baba Ramdev have mass acceptability. But also associated with his movement is a <i>jholawala</i> brigade -- consisting of the likes of Swami Agnivesh, Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pandey, who love to throw their weight behind anti-nationals Maoist certainly do not impress the masses. In addition to this, amongst the cabal of NGOs supporting the movement, a large chunk is also involved in corruption across the country. Hence, to what extent the movement will succeed, only time will tell.

I must add a point here. I am sure a sizable section, who support Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption do not feel the need to exercise their right to franchise during elections. Most among them are facebook<i>walas</i> and a part of the twitterati. If the youth want a corruption free India, they should first elect leaders with integrity.

First Published: Saturday, April 16, 2011 - 21:10

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