Deceiving people

The rift that has suddenly developed between the representatives of the joint drafting committee on the Lokpal bill over the scope of the bill is ominous and might undermine the plan to evolve a consensus-based legislation for the creation of an anti-corruption watchdog. The signs of agreement between the two sides in the early meetings of the committee turned unreal on Monday with the government hardening its position on almost all the contentious issues. Public postures have also hardened with the civil society representatives calling the meeting a disaster and warning of going back to the people and the government acknowledging that there is a divergence of perception between the two sides. But the reason for the disagreement is that the government has gone back on its earlier promises and now probably wants to scuttle the entire exercise.

The government’s newly-revealed opposition to the inclusion of the prime minister, the higher judiciary, lower level bureaucrats and acts of MPs inside parliament under the Lokpal’s purview does not seem well-intentioned and reasonable. Even the government’s Lokpal bill had covered the prime minister’s office. The inclusion of the higher judiciary does not hurt its status and independence. The proposed provision only strengthens the judicial standards and accountability bill which the government has itself envisaged. When many MPs have exposed themselves as corrupt, accepting bribes even for their normal parliamentary duties, why should they be immune to retributive action?
Bureaucracy is riddled with corruption and a more empowered Lokpal has been envisaged because the existing procedures have largely failed to check official corruption. The government’s argument that the new Lokpal bill provisions should conform to the principles of the Constitution is clever and invidious. It is an argument to bury the Lokpal bill with a high-sounding excuse.  It is also not impossible to amend the Constitution if it is required to put in place an effective Lokpal.

The government wants to write to states and political parties for their views on the bill’s provision. This is a delaying tactic and is meant to make it difficult to draft the bill by the mutually agreed deadline of June 30. It perhaps feels that the public pressure in the in wake of Anna Hazare’s fast has waned and it can now have its way. But by deceiving the people with a pretence it risks further loss of credibility.

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