CAN LOKPAL DAVID SLAY CORRUPTION GOLIATH?

anna_lokpal – V.N. Balakrishna | December 23, 2013

Ahmedabad |

Independence brought me joy

Made me think my poverty unreal

Yet 66 years of shattered dreams

With broken heart I wonder what went wrong

I give my best but I am where I am

And I know for one last cry I have tears left

These lyrics could fit any one of those poverty-stricken multitude who might never know what they lost in their lives without being given a chance to have one fling at a decent life. Poverty has umbilical links with corruption and it was therefore natural to see last week political class jump in joy over the passage of the new anti-corruption Lokpal Bill. But one wonders if India can turn into El Dorado minus corruption?

Indian political class places unassailable premium on symbolism and the hasty passing of the Lokpal Bill raises questions if it has to do with prized heads being placed on the chopping block as 2014 general elections round the corner. What better than Lokpal grandstand to woo voters?

India has never faced shortage of laws and strangely Lokpal is expected to succeed where Prevention of Corruption Act failed. Will this turn into chimera at taxpayers’ expense adding another layer to bureaucracy?

Congress High Command faced a Hobson’s choice after being rudely shaken in four major states and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) turning the Congress into a single digit apparition in its Delhi courtyard. A tidal wave of anger was rising after Anna Hazare launched his fast and his 16th fast was too much for an adamant UPA to pull out all stops to show its reign was marked not by corruption alone but also by an effort in weeding it out. Anna was pleased and said, “I accept it completely. The Bill will help the poor people of this country.”

2013 would not have been different of the past 45 years when Lokpal was coined first by Shanti Bhushan in 1968. The bill was passed in Lok Sabha in 1969 (not by Rajya Sabha as Lok Sabha was dissolved) and introduced eight times from 1971 to 2008. Last it was seen hanging fire in Rajya Sabha after Lok Sabha passed the draft in December 2011.

AAP was scathing in its attack. “It is a bad day for social activism and a welcome bill for every corrupt politician,” AAP leader Kumar Vishwas said.

There is some truth in what AAP says. UPA professing to fight corruption had brought out a deficient Lokpal Bill to befool the voters and in the process raised the hackles of the Opposition. Finally an adamant UPA had to accept the select committee’s recommendations and a better version was passed which now awaits Presidential notification.

Yet on paper common man can heave a sigh of relief as it brings the Prime Minister under Lokpal purview and so too all ministers and senior public servants. The power of superintendence over CBI rests with Lokpal when it refers cases to the agency. And the Lokpal Act will force states to set up Lokayuktas within a year. The bill also incorporates provisions for attachment and confiscation of property acquired by corrupt means, even while prosecution is pending.

Though the nub of Lokpal lies in cleansing the system yet seeing our democracy function with a logic of its own, will it fit into the noble scheme of things? For instance, the Congress is tied to the apron strings of the dynasty and dynasty does no wrong when it rules la affaire Ashok Khemka and the witch-hunt of this honest Haryana officer never seems to end. There are many more such instances.

Despite its vaunted ideals can a Lokpal which must have 50 per cent of its members from SC/ST/OBCs, minorities and women tackle the onerous task of wallowing corruption? Are we not bringing in extraneous considerations when Lokpal has to lead a high quality team? Can India really see a Lokpal with chutzpah who refrains from acting as the fifth wheel to a legal system mired in lethargy and corruption and yet address swiftly the corruption cases? Time alone can tell.

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