Dirty tricks

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Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s assertion, in reply to Anna Hazare’s letter, that she “neither supports nor encourages the politics of smear campaign” by her partymen against the civil society members on the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, will not carry any conviction as long as she fails to rein in her barking dogs and hired Doberman Amar Singh.

The shrill and concerted attacks on Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan and even Anna Hazare ever since the Jan Lokpal people’s movement forced the government to begin the process of tackling the hydra-headed corruption, has left no one in doubt that powerful vested interests are working overtime to scuttle the establishment of the Lokpal and other similar bodies at different levels.

The Lokpal Bill drafting committee, comprising five ministers and five civil society representatives, has so far met only once in a ‘cordial’ atmosphere, but instead of generating a nationwide debate on how to make it an effective instrument to minimise, if not completely eliminate, corruption, the Congress busy-bodies have sought to derail the entire process by launching a vicious campaign against the Bhushans and Hazare himself.

It was Digvijay Singh, a jobless politician, and Kapil Sibal, a Machiavellian lawyer-turned-minister (both Sonia Gandhi loyalists), who began the attack by roping in a pliable electronic media. A wheeler-dealer called Amar Singh jumped onto the bandwagon with his diabolical act, producing a ‘CD’ allegedly implicating not only the Bhushans, but a supreme court judge, who is hearing crucial cases, including the 2G spectrum scam, and a damning audio tape case against Amar Singh himself.

The Bhushans have rubbished the CD as doctored, produced lab reports to support their contention and filed a defamation case against Amar Singh. Not to be left behind, the unnamed Delhi Police have claimed through media plants that the CD is ‘genuine’ and it has not been tampered with. Meanwhile, another allegation of obtaining land from the Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s ‘discretionary quota’ has been levelled against the Bhushans, with UPCC chief Reeta Bahuguna quickly demanding that Shanti Bhushan withdraw from the Lokpal Bill drafting committee.

As Soli Sorabjee has pointed out, the whole campaign is designed to derail the process which was initiated by a people’s movement. He said the Bhushans will certainly have to answer the allegations, but their presence on the committee is based on their undoubted legal competence and the two cannot be linked.

One-party panel

People have begun to wonder why only the civil society members on the committee are being targeted. Are the government nominees — Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal, P Chidambaram, Veerappa Moily and Salman Khurshid — paragons of virtue and have lily white reputation in public life? Why aren’t they under scrutiny? Why did the government pack the committee with only Congress nominees, giving no representation to any other party, including other alliance partners?

And why is heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi avoiding the media from answering questions on corruption issues and the smear campaign, while he throws barbs at the Yeddyurappa government as the most corrupt?

The plain truth is, contrary to prime minister Manmohan Singh’s lip-service to fighting corruption, the UPA government is most uncomfortable with the idea of establishing a Lokpal, whose contours are now being dictated by the civil society. The government’s draft legislation on the Lokpal, making it another toothless institution with no independent powers, is no longer acceptable to any one and it fears that with the Bhushans and Santosh Hegde on the drafting committee, the government will have little ‘manoeuvrability.’

The UPA is also afraid that once the civil society tastes success with the institution of a powerful Lokpal, the other demands for greater autonomy for the Central Bureau of Investigation, and electoral and police reforms, just to name a few, will inevitably follow. But if Sonia Gandhi and her coterie are tuned to the public sentiment and the mood of the nation, they should swim with the current and take the credit for effecting the long-delayed reforms. There is no reason to believe that Sonia Gandhi, who made the ‘supreme sacrifice’ of not taking up the prime ministership twice, will be averse to the transformation which is in the overall interest of the country.

She will also do well to immediately direct her party colleagues to stop the smear campaign against the civil society members of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee and try and bring about a national consensus on the institution of Lokpal with a meeting of opposition leaders. Parties like the BJP, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Janata Dal (U) should also feel a sense of involvement when a historic legislation is being drafted.

A disinformation campaign is already on, saying that an all-powerful Lokpal will jeopardise the democratic system and will turn out to be some sort of a ‘super government’ with dictatorial powers. It should be clearly understood that the Lokpal will only go into corruption issues, both at the political and bureaucratic levels and will have nothing to do with policy matters. The elected representatives will still run the country’s affairs, but with an element of responsibility and accountability, especially where financial issues are concerned.

Is it too much to expect even 64 years after independence?

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