A beginning

In the surreal political scenario that rules Karnataka, the government conceding some of the demands of the Lokayukta is a silver lining that calls for some cheer. Given the times that we live in, the glass should be viewed as half full rather than half empty. The requirements of the Lokayukta thus met are not wholly or in full measure, but as the Lokayukta says, half of what he wanted. The ombudsman will be vested with curtailed suo motu powers to investigate government servants. This certainly is a step forward. The door has been prised open and there is a sliver of light. The bureaucracy is the bedrock on which the venality of the politicians rests. The fear of attracting the Lokayukta’s attention might lead many officers to refuse to collude with politicians’ plans to milk the exchequer and partake in the state’s natural resources with impunity. Some of them may follow the Latin dictum Veritas Vos Liberabit (the truth shall set you free) and turn whistleblowers in personal, if not public, interest. This is probably what Justice Santosh Hegde was indicating when he stated that even with the truncated powers he could do much.

The government has been criticised for keeping the elected representatives and the governing class out of the reach of the Lokayukta. This was but to be expected. Given the level of corruption in which Karnataka’s political establishment is mired, it would have been completely unrealistic to expect the government to allow the office of the chief minister, members of the council of ministers or legislators to be brought under the scrutiny of the ombudsman. Reports suggest that representatives of the opposition parties who attended the meeting convened by the chief minister were in agreement with the government’s views. This again should surprise none. Statements of faux indignation emanating from opposition leaders at the immunity given to the political class reek of hypocrisy. The office of Lokayukta in Karnataka is a quarter-century old, and no government in the state thence, regardless of the party in power, has so far taken proactive steps to strengthen the institution.

Justice Hegde’s action in withdrawing his resignation has drawn some criticism. His resignation forced a national debate on the institution, forced the BJP government on the backfoot and embarrassed deeply the central BJP leadership which feared a nationwide exposure on the mining scam in Karnataka. For that alone, Justice Hegde deserves kudos.

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