Originally Published 2012-01-21 00:00:00 Published on Jan 21, 2012
Now that the fate of the Lokpal Bill is hanging in balance, it may be a good time for the polity and the nation as a whole to take a fresh look at the legislation between now and the Budget session of Parliament.
Looking afresh at the Lokpal Bill
Now that the fate of the Lokpal Bill is hanging in balance, it may be a good time for the polity and the nation as a whole to take a fresh look at the legislation between now and the Budget session of Parliament. With Assembly elections announced for five States, much political heat is being generated on this issue in the poll campaigns besides the political capital of New Delhi. But what is needed now is an unemotional approach to making the moderately successful anti-graft movement of Anna Hazare into a much more successful administrative set-up, not necessarily a brand new one.

The blame game is on. Both the Government and the political Opposition have been charging each other with torpedoing the Bill in the Rajya Sabha. It is easy to talk about 'match-fixing' with regard to the Lokpal Bill. But if there was any, every section of the polity in Parliament contributed in equitable, if not equal measure, to the process. Yet, if something really came out of the entire drama, it was the new generation's exposure to competitive strategy of political allies and opponents alike, without giving in much and at the same time making some of the charges against the rival stick, as well.

It was sad that the antics of individuals restricted the focus on the proceedings. Yet, the nation has got used to them all. What the nation seldom witnessed in recent years was the relatively high quality of the debate, and the way parliamentarians showed them up as having done their homework well. The collation of facts, citation of rules and procedures and presentation of arguments all went on to show that the skill of parliamentary debate has not died down in the country, and could still be revived to the nation's admiration.

Outside of Parliament, following Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice-President Hamid Ansari adjourning the House sine die after being convinced that no solution to the ensuring deadlock was possible, the trading of charges has not ended. The Chairman did the next best thing after the possibility of the House voting on the Bill, which anyway would have been left halfway through by the time the hour fixed by the President for the conclusion of the session would have ended. It is not if the Bill would have been voted in or not, as a whole and on a clause-by-clause, amendment-by-amendment by basis. Procedures and precedents have a place in democracy, and principles and policies, rules and regulations are aimed only at conferring legitimacy to them.

Anna fast and after

By discouraging Team Anna through poor participation than in the past and as against the expectations of the organisers, the people of the nation have spoken in as much a clear voice on their methods as they had done earlier on the desire to root out corruption, across the board. It is possible that most supporters of the anti-graft movement might not have been aware of the possibilities in the Rajya Sabha, nor could have they divined the methods that the polity could adopt when they decided to stay away from the Team Anna protests in many parts of the country. By ending his fast abruptly, Anna Hazare may have avoided embarrassment to the organisers and held the waning hopes of his supporters for now.

The overall message was however clear - that the people wanted the job of legislating left to the Legislatures and legislators. They also wanted civil society organisations to act as pressure-points to make the polity and Government work, reflecting the public mood, and not seek to replace the established institutions of the State and usher in anarchy. One hopes that the civil society takes the message from the people as much as they had facilitated the process in the Government and the larger polity appreciate the larger concerns of the people in matters of corruption and good governance.

If C.E. 2011 was the year of judicial activism and of the conscientious public in terms of collective yet divided responsibility to make the political leadership to think and act accordingly, 2012 should become the year of moderation if the intent of both are to derive any meaningful legislative form, as much in spirit as in content. If the voter thought, as he has been doing in States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, among others, to rotate the ruler at every election, to hold him accountable and make him responsible, the results have been mixed, at best. In these States, or elsewhere, despite promises, alternative political parties and leaders have displayed little patience or staying capacity -- not that the existing electoral system would encourage them to attempt it.

There is now reason to believe that between two elections, the party in power and its players at the helm have been scrapping at the bottom of the till as if tomorrow did not exist. There have also been reports of deals within deals in these States and elsewhere, where the political Opposition has been taking its cut, in what has become a revolving-door politics involving two major players. The situation is no different at the national-level, though the story may not have repeated itself, as yet. As records would show, over the past two decades, if not more, the 'Big Two' at the national-level have held Parliament to ransom for most of every session, allowing normal business to be done, post haste and without debate, only in the last couple of days, each time.

Team Anna has indicated their plans to campaign in the five States where Assembly elections are due in the run-up to the Budget session. It could raise more questions than address, leave alone answering any. With that has been flagged the controversy that Team Anna was targeting the ruling Congress, and not corruption per se. Considering that other civil society organisations in the past had ended up sub-serving the electoral cause of the political Opposition of the times, similar charges have been levelled against Team Anna, with the latter taking no extra care to dispel that belief. The contrary, if anything, is true.

Limited options in real terms

In piloting the 'Jan Lokpal' or the Lokpal Bill, neither the civil society, nor the Government, nor other sections of the polity has told the nation how the new institution is going to be better than those already existing. In this background, it may be a good idea for all concerned to sit back and think of meaningful and practical ways to address the issues flagged by the civil society through the 'Jan Lokpal bill'. At the end of the day, after all, people have a choice of rulers only among those who are in fray. The way the Lokpal Bill was stalemated in the Rajya Sabha would show what those limited options mean in real terms.

The debate should continue not on who should be blamed for the deadlock, or what changes should be made to the Bill and the procedure to be adopted -- but on the need for a new and overwhelming, over-sized mechanism for fighting graft, which could be there only in form, and not in content. Instead, efforts should be made to actually strengthening the existing schemes and systems, and make them accountable and not substitute them by new institutions that are different only in terminology and form, not necessarily in content and spirit.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)

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