Originally Published 2011-06-28 00:00:00 Published on Jun 28, 2011
Some observers believe after closely watching the activities of Anna Hazare and his civil society team that it is nothing short of the beginning of a political movement for changing the Government. Only time will tell whether such thinking is right or wrong.
Unending Lokpal debate: Is there a hidden agenda?
The Lok Pal Bill debate has led to the emergence of an amorphous group called civil society after Anna Hazare came on the scene and sat at Jantar Mantar announcing satyagraha in April this year. Anna Hazare's main demand was the enactment of a Jan Lokpal Bill. The moral pressure was such that the government agreed to discuss with Anna and his team members the modalities of enactment of the proposed Bill. A 10-member committee presided over by Mr Pranab Mukherjee with an equal number of representatives from the government and civil society was constituted. Apart from Mr Mukherjee, the government representatives included Mr P. Chidambaram, Mr Kapil Sibal, Mr Salman Khurshid and Mr Veerappa Moily. The civil society representatives consisted of the well-known father and son duo, Mr Shanti Bhushan and Mr Prashant Bhushan, RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, Lok Ayukta of Karnataka Justice Santosh Hegde and Anna Hazare himself.

After nine meetings, beginning on April 8, the joint committee of the government representatives and civil society members concluded the deliberations on June 21. They were unable to arrive at a unanimous draft Lokpal Bill. The differences were basic since there was no agreement on critical issues such as the inclusion of the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary within the ambit of the Lokpal.

The government representatives announced on June 21 that the joint committee succeeded in writing a stronger and better version of the Lokpal Bill and that they had agreed on about 34 of the 40 basic principles set out. Some of the important issues agreed upon were that the investigation and prosecution measure would be independent under the Bill.

The next stage would be when the draft Lokpal Bill with separate versions of both groups would go to an all-party meeting on July 3, if at all this happens. After taking into account the views expressed by the all-party meeting, a single draft would go to the Cabinet and then, after due deliberations and changes or amendments, it would reach Parliament in the first week of August.

The monsoon session of Parliament begins on August 1 and it has been announced that it may continue up to mid-September. During the debate in Parliament, political parties are likely to suggest amendments to the draft Lokpal Bill. There is also the possibility of the entire Bill, after such amendments as may be suggested, may go before the Select Committee which would take its own time. Only when the Select Committee returns the Bill to Parliament would it be further discussed and voted upon before it could be passed into an Act. Hopefully, it would be passed in the monsoon session before it concludes sometime in September-October.

Anna Hazare had stated that if the Jan Lokpal Bill, as he prefers to call it, is not passed by August 15, he would go on a fast on August 16 "to teach the government a lesson". Anna's colleague and team member Santosh Hegde had asked Anna to reconsider his announcement of going on fast on August 16. He had suggested that Anna should instead go on a national tour, apparently to tell the people about his movement.

Anna Hazare had, at one stage, asked for video-taping of the proceedings of the committee and apparently broadcasting the same on the national TV channel to keep the people informed. This was not agreed to by the government which suggested keeping a complete record through audio-tapes. Anna also wants to take into account the views expressed by a large number of people by e-mail and letters. He would perhaps even opt for a referendum on the various provisions of the Bill if only government would agree.

During his deliberations with the joint committee, Anna team member Shanti Bhushan, who had been a Law Minister himself and a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court, reportedly said that the committee was redrafting the Constitution. He was told that this was not the function of the joint committee and that the prerogative rested with Parliament. In fact, the utterances of the team members on various issues indicate that they would like nothing short of redrafting the Constitution if permitted.

In an article under the headline, "Is the government serious about dealing with corruption?", team member Prashant Bhushan, writing under the name of Team Anna, on June 20 had stated that the Lokpal was designed to be a comprehensive anti-corruption institution independent of the government, empowered to effectively investigate corruption cases involving all public servants, but most of the critical elements in this vision have been rejected. The article states that high-level corruption is plundering the public exchequer, distorting government policies and creating a criminal mafia which has come to dominate all institutions of power. It goes on to say that a major reason for this rampant, widespread corruption is the lack of an independent, empowered and accountable anti-corruption institution that can be trusted to credibly investigate complaints of corruption and prosecute the guilty. The CBI is controlled by the very people who are the fountainheads of this corruption and is required to seek the permission of those who need to be investigated and prosecuted.

The Central Vigilance Commissioner of India is selected by the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and the Leader of Opposition who have a vested interest in ensuring that a weak bureaucrat gets selected. Moreover, the CVC has only recommendatory powers and most of his or her recommendations are disregarded by the government, which wants to protect corrupt public servants. The courts take years to conclude trials and there is also considerable corruption in the judiciary because of the lack of accountability of the higher judiciary. That is why we have been demanding the constitution of an independent Lokpal, completely independent of the government, empowered to effectively investigate corruption charges against all public servants of the Central Government, including the Prime Minister, the judiciary and the Lok Ayuktas from the states.

At the conclusion of the last meeting of the joint panel on June 21, Anna and two of his colleagues, Mr Arvind Kejriwal and Ms Kiran Bedi, were forthright in condemning the Union Government and accusing it of indulging in a misinformation campaign and playing hoax in the name of the Lokpal Bill.

Anna has spoken about resuming his 'Andolan' on August 16 at Jantar Mantar.

After having dealt with Anna's Jantar Mantar "andolan" earlier in April and having witnessed the Baba Ramdeo episode, the Central Government may take a serious view of the proposed "andolan" and go in for preventive measures to ensure that Anna's August "andolan" does not materialise.

This reinforces the view that Anna would be unwilling to accept the Lokpal Act after it is passed in Parliament unless some of the crucial features such as the inclusion of the Prime Minister and the senior judiciary are brought under the ambit of the Act. This will be known only around September/October 2011 when the Act might emerge from Parliament.

Some observers believe after closely watching the activities of Anna Hazare and his civil society team that it is nothing short of the beginning of a political movement for changing the government at the Centre. Only time will tell whether such thinking is right or wrong.

(The writer is a former Governor of UP and West Bengal and presently an Advisor to Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Tribune
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