Appointment of Lokpal a farce

Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose, the first Lokpal or anti-corruption ombudsman of India, with his wife at their residence, in Kolkata. PTI

The appointment of former Supreme Court Justice PC Ghose as the country’s first Lokpal has not produced the excitement such a long-awaited appointment should have caused. The idea of the Lokpal as an institutional mechanism to deal with corruption has been around for over 50 years, and the Anna Hazare agitation of 2011 had produced great expectations about it. But when the idea has finally become a reality, the response is sober, guarded and even cynical. The Narendra Modi government delayed and obstructed the appointment of the Lokpal for almost five years, though the BJP had actively supported the Hazare movement, and the government claims the fight against corruption tops its priorities. The appointment would not have happened even now if the Supreme Court had not given an ultimatum to the government. 

In the last five years, only the government stood in the way of the appointment of the Lokpal, raising the most technical and untenable grounds for its non-action. The Lokpal Act provides that the selection committee should include the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. The government blocked the process as there was no recognised leader of the opposition, and did not amend the law as it did other laws pertaining to the appointment of the CBI director, etc. The fact is that the government did not want to appoint a Lokpal. Narendra Modi’s government in Gujarat had refused to appoint a Lok Ayukta for 10 years and waged a long legal battle, in effect, not to appoint one. He had to cave in ultimately in the face of a Supreme Court directive, but the office was practically undermined. Modi has repeated that history with the Lokpal appointment. 

The appointment raises some uncomfortable questions. It lacks the endorsement of the opposition. High constitutional offices gain legitimacy and acceptability when the opposition is involved in the selection process. The selection procedure was opaque, too. The impropriety of a government in its last few days of office making an appointment for the next five years has been pointed out. All this could have been avoided if the government had been sincere and committed. From the way the government has gone about the appointment, it is more a farce than a sincere move to fight corruption. Apart from Justice Ghose, other members of the Lokpal have also been appointed, but the enquiry and prosecution wings are yet to be set up. The office has the constraint that it has no independent investigative machinery and has to depend on agencies like the CBI. The Lokpal will have to struggle against some negative perceptions and many limitations to make an impact. 

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