Monday, January 2, 2012

No mean feat, this - By Seema Mustafa - The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, India


No mean feat, this
  • By Seema Mustafa
  • Jan 02, 2012

It was because of Hazare and the support he had got from the people that the government had been forced to strengthen its earlier Lokpal Bill

The politicians from the ruling party and its allies in government consoled themselves by ridiculing the ageing Gandhian Anna Hazare sitting on fast in Mumbai; the media that has long ago stopped thinking for itself joined the finger pointing, writing and talking about the 'fading glory'of the Hazare movement as the crowds had not turned out in expected numbers. But in the process both forgot that it was because of Anna Hazare and the support he had got from the people that the government had been forced to somewhat strengthen its earlier Lokpal Bill and extend the winter session of Parliament to table the legislation, discuss and pass it if possible.
This was no mean feat, and has to be factored into any analysis of the high voltage drama the country has been experiencing over the last few days in particular.

There can be no two opinions that the Lokpal Bill needs to be strengthened.

And that in its present form it will not serve the purpose of setting up a high powered, independent authority that can impartially and fearlessly probe cases of corruption till the logical end. For this it is imperative that the government hold on the appointment and removal of the Lokpal under the present Bill is relinquished to a representative body comprising renowned persons from the judiciary, Parliament and perhaps even other walks of life that can be expected to act impartially, without fear or favour. It is also necessary to bring the cases falling under the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act to the Lokpal for investigation and adjudication, which basically means that the independence of the Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI) has to become subordinate to the Lokpal Authority on these matters. It is no secret that the CBI is used by the party in power to take revenge and control political foes with the proverbial carrot and stick policy helping run coalition governments. The governments unwillingness to bring the CBI under the Lokpal Authority is an indication of its unwillingness to give up its control, and stop using the CBI as a weapon to settle political scores.

The Congress party lost power in several states across the country in the 1980s because of an inherent authoritarianism that undermined the federal structure of the Indian Constitution.

Unfortunately, it has not learnt from the past experience and rarely misses an occasion to diminish the independence of the Indian states that make up the Union of India. An interesting aspect of the debate in Parliament has been the strong opposition from the regional parties to the provisions of the bill directing them to set up Lokayuktas, according to set guidelines. This, representatives of the regional parties pointed out one after the other, cut into the Constitutional provisions allowing the states full jurisdiction on such and related matters.

The CPM moved a good amendment to resolve this issue, whereby through an additional clause the bill would re- establish the autonomy of the states on this issue, without taking away from the Centres desire ( as expressed through the bill) for similar bodies to be set up in the states. MP Sitaram Yechury explaining this pointed out that with just an additional clause of a couple of lines, the government could ensure that the states were able to take their own decision on this issue within a span of six months.

But while the debate continues under the watchful eye of Anna Hazare and his supporters across the country - it is important to keep the background against which the Lokpal Bill is being discussed in and outside Parliament.

Corruption has never been so rampant, and can be directly traced to Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs economic reforms that have given the space for crores of rupees to exchange hands illegally, and in the process generate a parallel economy based entirely on black unaccounted money. Bribes that the corporates like to call commissions determine government decisions today, with ministers ( some in jail but most still outside) greasing their palms as they bring in policies to enable 'reforms'and furbish corporate coffer through lucrative deals.

Hundreds and thousands of farmers have committed suicide, and even today the levels of desperation in affected states have not abated. Poverty continues to take a heavy toll on lives, with the gap between the rich and the poor widening as levels of poverty deepen. 

It is true that a strong and effective Lokpal Bill will not be the panacea for all ills, and will not erase corruption but in a country where governments balk at any kind of action on this issue, it is at least a beginning. And a good beginning if some of the excellent amendments are pushed through, and the legislation becomes stronger and far reaching in its scope.

The debate in the Rajya Sabha has been largely on substance, and less on the kind of absurd issues raised by Lalu and his ilk in the Lower House.

The issue of reservations for Muslims for instance was just a ruse to derail the bill by hyping emotions and bringing the minorities into conflict with the rest. Fortunately the start of the debate in the Rajya Sabha moved away from such absurdities, with the political stalwarts making it clear that they wanted a good, sound piece of legislation that helped the country address the issue of corruption.

In its present form the political leaders outside the Congress were agreed, the bill was merely giving more powers to the perpetrators of corruption and not to the Lokpal Authority.

Anna Hazare has finally decided to save his energy for a political campaign across the country. He called off the fast partly because of failing health and partly because of the poorer than expected response in Mumbai. But even if the journalists do not know, he should know that the support has not diluted and people do want action against corruption.

The media and sections of the ruling party have been ridiculing his decision to campaign during the Assembly elections in five states, almost as if he does not have the right to do so, and that by being political he is somehow compromising himself. Strange reasoning as he, and everyone else in this country, is free to campaign for or against candidates and political parties. And if he can make a difference in the manner he hopes, well more power to him and his team. Meanwhile, let us wait for the government and Parliament to prove itself.

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