LOKPAL: THE ‘COMPROMISED’ BILL IS LOGICAL ENOUGH TO BEGIN WITH

We are always free to demand for more and we will..

There have been debates and there will be debates on effectiveness of the just passed Lokpal Bill, to create an anti-corruption ombudsman. Some would dismiss. Some would extol. Some would remain skeptical and would prefer to wait and watch.

What was being demanded by the civil society was not a practical one. What was being given by the government was not an acceptable one.

But, the Bill passed ‘finally’ by the Indian Parliament on December 18, can be seen, more or less as an acceptable one to begin with. Broadly, it paves the way for an ombudsman that if implemented in time, with proper infrastructure and with supportive legislations like the Citizen Charter Bill, the Judicial Accountability Bill and the Whistleblowers Protection Bill can prove really effective in spite of the reservations over many of its provisions.

The need is to develop a good ecosystem with all these constituents. Yes, we all know it’s easier said than done. And given the prevalence of political opportunism in India, we know it’s not going to be easy.

But, at least, we have a point to begin now.

The fight has been a long and circuitous one and this outcome should not be seen as a washout and should not be rejected outright. The Bill was to be passed and was to be enacted if we had to move ahead, from planning to implementations stage.

And if it could happen so, finally, after 45 or 50 years, any which way we want to look at it, it owes much to the hugely successful anti-corruption movement of 2011, especially its April and August legs that bolsters the feeling the Indians are learning to express their displeasure more and more expressively, more and more aggressively.

And that is a point to reflect on, to hope positively that an anti-corruption ecology around the Lokpal, with some other corresponding laws, can be created.

The basic requirement is the pressure from the public and its manifestation. It is good that public is increasingly expressing itself, more and more, and spontaneously, with or without a leader, as happened during the 2011 anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare, as happened during the huge leaderless public protests in the aftermath of December 16 Delhi gangrape and recently in the unprecedented electoral mandate to the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi assembly polls, a party that fought on the issue of corruption and successfully exploited the public sentiments mobilized after the 2011 anti-corruption movement.

So, there is an ecology of pressure being built up. And on its target are the present ways of administration and governance by the mainstream political parties of India.

On the face of it, there are many good points in the Lokpal Bill/Act cleared. It has power to prosecute. It can check every government official including the prime minister. The process of Lokpal’s appointment and dismissal is fairly logical.

These basic rules to establish and govern the institution of the anti-corruption ombudsman are broad enough to give it a good enough space to breath, to make others suffocate.

See the good precedent set by the Election Commission of India and the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, both chosen by the Indian government. The regularly increasing voter turn-out election after election and clean and violence-free elections or consistent reports putting the government on back-foot on corruption and scams like 2G, different land and defense deals have become benchmarks of the Indian Democracy.

So, there is no reason to dismiss the Lokpal even before it starts working, when it has good enough autonomy to begin with.

It is true it is a ‘compromised’ bill with politicians putting their ‘sincere’ efforts to dilute it as much as they could in the prevailing sociopolitical scenario. So, there is some tough fighting ahead to iron out the difficulties once the institution gets operational. Even in that case, it would be much easier to bring amendments to introduce the required element of reform than not having the Lokpal at all.

One of the most talked about omissions is excluding the lower bureaucracy from Lokpal’s purview areas. That is a concern area but it is not something that can not be added later provided there is intent or there is pressure to do so.

If public pressure can panic the politicians to the extent that they can pass the Bill in just 10 days after Congress routing in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and AAP’s grand entry in Delhi in the election results announced on December 8, it can certainly push them to do so.

While a government of an outfit like AAP should happily, on its own, weed out the weaker elements, even a government of any of the mainstream political party would not be able to skirt the demand then, in an environment of a more aware electorate and more alert activists amid an increasing presence of alternative political parties and politicians like AAP or Arvind Kejriwal. AAP’s success in Delhi is bound to give India more of honest, young and unorthodox politicians in the days to come.

Alternatively, there can be this relevant afterthought. Corruption has made every part of the Indian administrative and governance machinery largely sluggish and docile.

As it affects every sphere of Indian life, its social, political and commercial activities, it has exported corruption to almost every section of Indian society, free of caste, class, religion and regional divides. It has made corruption interdependent and interrelated.

So, in a way, if we say, if we can check the corruption in the government at top level, setting some tough precedents, it can set in motion a ripple effect, that, though will take time, will trickle down to other participants, the NGO people, the lower-ranked bureaucracy and the corporate people, who are not covered under the Lokpal Act.

If there can be a check at the top level corruption, and if there can be some tough and landmark punitive action taken, some examples on this line, it will send down a clear message.

Also, when the government corruption at top level would see its avenues to earn easy money being squeezed out, it would certainly feel unhappy to see others still milking the cow.

Nothing like rocket science in thinking so – if they cannot eat, they will not let others eat – if they cannot earn easy money – they will not let others do so – the forced honesty!

So, in checking them, they would be more and more impartial, would be increasingly objective and detached.

Just an afterthought!

But I am not daydreaming folks! The Lokpal is here and that is a good sign; that is a logical reason to prepare for the next stage of the fight – to let it evolve into an effective institution.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

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