We are once again standing at a crossroad of confrontation. Just as the Union Cabinet revealed the version of the Lokpal Bill that it will be tabling in Parliament, Civil society members led by Anna Hazare lost no time to announce a second stint of agitation.
Going by the legacy of the impasse, it may be a long drawn autumn on the issue.
While we cannot be outright dismissive of the baby steps being taken by the government on tackling corruption, a meeting ground has to be found with the civil society. Both sides need to accept some points of view that they are unwilling to compromise on at the moment.
1. PM under Lokpal: The civil society must respect the fact that clamp down on corruption should not mean challenging the democratic structures of the country. If the Prime Minister in power can be targeted, how can we vouch for the credibility of the Lok Pal and his intentions? The fact that a former PM comes under the purview should be enough.
2. Higher Judiciary: There have been far too many instances of judicial fraud to guarantee their incorruptibility. From Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal to Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan to Justice Dinakaran, the hallowed black robes have been stained. Then, where does the problem arise in bringing judges under the Lokpal umbrella? As the Lokpal can be removed on the recommendation of the President to the Chief Justice of India, a curious conflict can arise if the Chief Justice in turn can be taken to task by the Lokpal. In such a scenario, it is important that the government does not drag its feet of the separate Judicial Accountability Bill that is pending in Parliament.
3. Bureaucracy: As per the government draft, only senior bureaucracy comes under the ambit of the Lokpal i.e. of Under Secretary level and above. Considering that corruption is most prevalent in the lower level cadre, I cannot fathom the reason for the reluctance of the government to hold all babus accountable. If the government can voluntarily bring NGOs and other organizations that receive aid under the Lokpal, then it should also concede this point.
4. MPs’ action in Parliament: With brisk horse trading that India has repeatedly witnessed in the central and state legislatures, one can well understand why the government does not want to bring deeds in Parliament under the magnifying glass. In a way, it would not be able to buy support in crunch votes if it sanctioned investigation of the ‘under the table’ transactions. If we truly want to efface corruption, we need to bring maximum transparency on dealings in the Houses.
5. Protection for the Whistleblower: We have had a history of muffling the voice of the one who rings the alarm bells. The deaths of Satyendra Dubey and Yaswant Sonawane are still fresh in our memory. If the UPA is willing to bring a separate bill for the whistleblower, then what harm will a clause do in the Lokpal bill? The whistleblowers, in many ways, are the custodians of our well being. They have the strength of the character to speak out against injustice and malice at a time when we silently accept the transgressions by others as a part of our everyday existence.