Lokpal Bill: Justice for all

The ultimate winner of the Lokpal battle is the common man.

Ritesh K Srivastava

With Anna Hazare ending his 12-day long indefinite fast on August 28, a major battle against corruption has been won, and if things move in the right direction, the country will hopefully get a strong and effective anti-graft legislation soon.

Parliament’s unanimous decision to refer key elements of Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill to the Standing Committee for consideration has cleared the first major hurdle and set the stage for our parliamentarians to enact a strong Lokpal Bill in the Winter Session.

Obviously, the foundation for such a law turning into a reality in future has been laid by Parliament, which rose to the occasion, maintaining its supremacy and sovereignty that can’t be challenged.

The parliamentarians, the civil society and the country as a whole achieved what could not have been achieved in the past 43 years as eight attempts to pass a Lokpal Bill were made since 1968, but all in vain.
Anna’s agitation, the nationwide frenzy, which it created, and Parliament’s landmark resolution on the Lokpal issue has certainly opened a new chapter in the history of Indian democracy. The country had not seen such a massive movement in the post-Independence era after the JP movement that was launched against the then prime minister Indira Gandhi’s regime.

All this was made possible by a 74-year-old frail man, who came from a nondescript Maharashtra village and rose to the national scene through his relentless crusade against corruption, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence and civil disobedience movement.

Although, Anna’s movement has united the country as never before, awakened them about their fundamental rights and strengthened roots of democracy, the agitation opened new vistas for debate, established new benchmarks and also brought out some important lessons for major stake holders.
People’s Power: The best part of Anna Hazare’s movement had been the triumph of the common man and the maturity of parliamentary democracy. Anna Hazare`s agitation has undoubtedly awakened the non-political class and established that such movements have a place in democracy and can enforce a ‘change’ in the society. The overwhelming support by the common man in Anna’s movement has strengthened the age-old saying that democracy is for the people, by the people and of the people. The success of Anna’s agitation has also set a precedent before the world, which is currently witnessing a violent revolution against several dictatorial regimes that even in these turbulent times, noble objectives could be achieved through peaceful means.

Corruption: Thanks to Anna’s agitation, corruption has now become a national issue. Given the anger and rising frustration in common public, which has been a victim of rampant corruption for long, it is evident that India will no longer tolerate corrupt anymore. The corruption issue may even make or break a government. People of India could no longer be fooled by mere announcements of commissions or probe panels in cases of corruption. All successive governments will have to ensure transparency, accountability and decisive action in their functioning.

Anna Hazare: This septuagenarian activist might have led and won several battles against corrupt officials in the past 40 years, but he never hogged national limelight as he did this time. The massive success of his agitation has catapulted him to a cult status, with people even comparing him to Father of Nation, or revering him as Mahatma Gandhi’s reincarnation to say so. Although, a section of our society seems to be divided over the method employed by Anna to fight corruption, no one disagrees that the issue which he projected needs urgent attention.
This has happened with every great leader and every big movement has had its own strengths and weaknesses, which may or may not appeal to all sections of the society.
Civil Society: This is probably the first time that the role of civil society has been accepted so vigorously. However, Anna’s criticism for taking his agitation to an extent where it threatened the authority of Parliament and undermined the Constitution should also come as a lesson for the civil society. The civil society must understand that it is a part of the same society, which finds representation in Parliament through its elected representatives, so it should refrain from any act, which usurps the right of our parliamentarians.

Congress: Anna’s movement for a strong Jan Lokpal Bill caused huge embarrassment to the ruling UPA government right from the beginning to the end. The Congress-led UPA government had to face intense criticism from a united Opposition and the common public over its inept handling of the issue. Right from arresting Anna and his associates and lodging them into Tihar Jail, the government committed mistake after mistake, issued irresponsible statements, behaved in an autocratic manner and attacked the personal integrity of Anna Hazare, which infuriated the aam admi and strengthened his movement. The Centre’s dilly-dallying over the issue and the error of judgement put its credibility at stake and damaged its reputation. However, the Prime Minister finally took up the cudgels and assured the nation that his government was ready to reconsider the merits of the Jan Lokpal Bill, which was later endorsed by Parliament. Congress prince Rahul Gandhi’s speech suggesting a constitutional status for Lokpal also gave a new impetus to the debate over its structure.

Opposition: As usual, the Opposition led by the BJP failed to take up the issue aggressively and remained largely divided over the government version of the Lokpal and the draft prepared by the civil society. It continued to attack the ruling government over price rise and corruption, but did not voice its opinion in favour or against the Jan Lokpal Bill. It slammed the government for suppressing the people’s voice and compared the political situation with that of Emergency. The accusations and counter accusations made Lokpal a prestige issue between the UPA and the NDA, and demands from other parties for including minorities and Dalits into Lokpal Bill further complicated it.
Lokpal Bill: The fight against corruption has achieved a major breakthrough with Parliament passing a historic resolution in this regard. However, people should not expect miracles overnight as enacting the anti-corruption legislation will "take its own time". In all probability, a redrafted Lokpal Bill may be brought in Parliament during its Winter Session that usually starts mid-November. This will happen after the Parliamentary Standing Committee on law and justice deliberates over various drafts of the proposed anti-graft law. At that stage, amendments or changes in the legislation would be possible with the approval of both Houses of Parliament. After being passed by both the Houses, it would go to President Pratibha Patil for approval before becoming a law.

Conclusion: As the situation stands, the UPA government has successfully passed the ordeal by taking all stakeholders onboard and getting the Parliament’s nod for a competent Lokpal Bill, but, it’s still a battle half won. Team Anna feels elated that they have forced the government to bend, and is preparing itself for new challenges and roadblocks facing the Lokpal Bill. However, objectively viewing, it’s a win-win situation for all sides, as the ultimate winner of this battle is the common man, who is pleased that his voice has been heard at last. Even as the euphoria over Anna’s victory settles down in the days to come, the common man will remain optimistic that the government, civil society and Parliament will work together for quick enactment of anti-graft law, which is imperative to curb the menace.

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