19 December 2011
Last word on Lokpal
Collective Insanity Of Our Political Class
By Rajinder Puri
Hopefully, this will be my last comment on the Anna Hazare movement and the Lokpal Bill. I have already written fourteen articles on the subject. I have questioned its wisdom, debunked its efficacy, and suggested amendments to its proposed structure to make it practicable. If the Lokpal institution as being envisaged sees the light of day it will compound confusion to create total chaos of the system and governance. It will drive the last nail in the coffin of Indian democracy. Consider the genesis and evolution of the Lokpal movement.
Corruption had become rampant and brazen in India. Protests against it grew in public discourse and in the media. The establishment was forced to take action. The courts responded handsomely to expedite investigations undertaken by the CBI on major scandals involving the government. The Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam, the 2G Spectrum scam, the Hasan Ali money laundering scam, the black money in foreign bank accounts scam, the Adarsh housing scam ~ indeed a host of scams and exposures hit the government simultaneously to rock the establishment.
At the height of the public frenzy aroused against corruption the Baba Ramdev movement and the Anna Hazare movement against corruption erupted. Both leaders successively held public demonstrations and fasts. All public attention got diverted to the huge rallies and fasts conducted by these leaders. Eventually Anna Hazare's movement overtook the Ramdev movement in public perception. Anna Hazare's demand for a Jan Lokpal became the central focus of public attention and debate. Its shape, structure and scope became the subject of fierce debate involving Team Hazare, the government, the opposition and mainstream media. Attention from the ongoing major corruption scams was diverted to virtually fade away.
This public inattention seems to have infected the judiciary. The progress of the court cases related to these scams became markedly tardy. Whatever happened to the 2G case, the CWG case, the Hasan Ali case, the Shungloo Commission's report and other issues that had gripped public attention? These all seem to be forgotten. Instead, there continues to rage a fierce debate in Parliament and outside it about the provisions of the proposed Lokpal Bill. In other words, either by design or through accident the entire Lokpal controversy has proved to be a huge diversion of national attention from concrete corruption cases that were progressing with admirable speed before the movements started but are now limping to a halt.
Whatever its public posture and alarm expressed over the threats leveled against it by Anna Hazare, the government secretly must be gleeful. Its shameful corruption record is being obfuscated by the meaningless arguments related to a proposed new institution which is in its concept silly to the point of being idiotic. India has the world's longest Constitution. It has a plethora of laws to address corruption and institutions to pursue it. The Comptroller Auditor-General (CAG) overlooks all public spending to ensure public money is not misspent. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) is empowered to order investigation in any transaction that appears questionable. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been created to investigate all such cases of suspected corruption. If corruption continues to thrive it must be ascertained why these institutions fail to deliver.
The answer to that is simple. The CBI is administered by the government. This renders all CBI investigation against government's corruption suspect. The accused is directing the probe against itself. The solution is equally simple. Make the CBI a constitutional body like the Central Election Commission that may function autonomously and is accountable to the President. The snag that worries politicians is that this would give the President's office real responsibility beyond its titular role as practiced. That would open a can of worms because in fact the Constitution invests the President with real responsibilities and powers that have been ignored since the days of India's first Prime Minister who distorted the character of our written Constitution beyond recognition.
The President already has a much wider electoral mandate than the Prime Minister. The President is not directly elected by the people. Nor at present is the current PM directly elected by the people to Parliament. By introducing a minor change that would not disturb the basic structure of the Constitution the President can be directly elected by the people. I shall not reiterate the two small minor amendments that would achieve this because I have written about them earlier. By rectifying the implementation of the Constitution to conform to the aims of its founding fathers Indian governance would improve. Cohesion and order in our federal polity would revive.
Instead of this simple reform that would reclaim the true spirit of our written Constitution and effectively curb corruption, and indeed other violations of law, the government and Parliament are blundering towards enacting a Lokpal that would wreck democracy. Mr Arvind Kejriwal on behalf of Team Anna said that an autonomous CBI would be worse than CBI under the government. "To whom would it be accountable?" he asked. He did not pose the question about the proposed Lokpal's accountability. In Karnataka the findings of the latest Lokayukta have rubbished those of the preceding Lokayukta. So which Lokayukta should we believe is correct? What do Team Anna members have to say about this? It is being contemplated that the Lokpal would be appointed by the PM, leader of the Opposition, Supreme Court judge and eminent citizen much in the manner of the CVC's appointment. The Lokpal would be removed through indictment by at least 100 MPs after which the Supreme Court would consider the allegations.
For addressing corruption cases the CVC, the Lokpal and the CBI would all intercede at different phases of investigation to deal with these. This would immensely complicate if not altogether paralyse effective investigation of all corruption cases. There is a demand that all laws should be approved by gram sabhas across the nation. There are over 500,000 villages in the country. Will they all have a say in the enactment of law? It is not necessary to delve further into the structure and shape of the Lokpal as it is evolving. Suffice it to say that the debate seems to exhibit collective insanity of our political class. Like frightened chickens the politicians of all parties are endorsing an unworkable Lokpal Bill for fear of losing votes.
Team Hazare has yet to provide a shred of evidence that it will sway voters. In the Maharashtra civic polls close to Anna Hazare's habitat Mr Sharad Pawar's party and the Congress both fared well. In the Hissar by-election the expected winner was victorious. Politicians need to muster courage and confront the ill-conceived and destructive Anna Hazare movement. It seems there are no real politicians left in the country. They cannot think for themselves. They are led by mainstream media. Perhaps it will require a section of civil society to see through this hollow, spurious anti-corruption movement to successfully counter it by launching a genuine political reform movement.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist