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Strong Lokpal Bill:ENOUGH OF GOVT HOTCHPOTCH, by P.K. Vasudeva, 20 August, 2011 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 20 August 2011

Strong Lokpal Bill


By Col. (Dr.) P. K. Vasudeva (Retd)


It is unfortunate that the UPA Government led by the Congress has mishandled the Anna Hazare movement at every step of the way. The tragic-comedy of Anna’s arrest and the subsequent release by the Delhi Police is one such step that is unpardonable. The Government has miscalculated the force of the Janata (public) behind Anna, who dared to take on the Government on corruption since April 2011. It is time now to proceed to an informed and nuanced public discussion on the Lokpal Bill, if the proposed protest sit-in is not to acquire intimidator tones.


Undoubtedly, Anna has caught the nation’s imagination. For the first time India’s educated English-speaking middle class, a little less than one third of the population, has taken to the streets. No doubt the unprecedented coverage and exhortation by TV channels played a crucial role in spreading the movement not only across the nation but also the world over.


It is evident that the Government has run out of options, having tried every trick it knew which has come a cropper each time. It firstly tried to run down the movement by the simple tactic of painting it in communal colours saying that the right wing forces are behind the movement. Secondly, when that did not work, it tried outflanking the move of divide and rule. It propped up a parallel movement through yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who mistakenly uttered that the Prime Minister should not fall under the Jan Lokpal Bill. However, later he decided to take a U-turn and stated that it would need to be analysed separately. We all know what happened to Ramdev subsequently.


Thirdly, the Government attempted to stall the process through sham consultations between it and the civil society without involving the Opposition parties resulting in tabling a weak Lokpal Bill in Parliament as had been done for the past 42 years. And finally, the Congress’ started accusing Anna to be the most corrupt civil society member until AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi issued a gag order on the spokesperson. It nevertheless reflects how insensitive the Congress can be to people’s movement. .


What is further disappointing is that despite such overwhelming evidence of governmental failure, during his speech in both the Houses of Parliament Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose to merely recount the sequence of events on Anna’s arrest, other than trotting some well-worn clichés about mysterious forces (perhaps the US who urged New Delhi to allow Anna’s peaceful protest) out to destabilise the country.  The foreign hand strategy of the PM recoiled and brought shame to the Government.


Referring to a remark by the US State Department Spokesperson that India would exercise “appropriate democratic restraint” in dealing with peaceful protests, Rashid Alvi Congress spokesman had alleged that "it is for the first time that the US has said something like this and put pressure on the Government to allow Anna to run his movement...This has never happened earlier. This is a big question on which we have to think and discuss seriously."


Amid such allegations that the US was behind Anna Hazare's agitation, US Senator John McCain promptly clarified at a news conference that "The US does not involve itself in what is taking place in the world's largest democracy and neither has any such intention..," He described Indian democracy as being "strong and successful", which will be able to address the current domestic "disputes and conflicts”, adding that the current protests were "expression" of a democratic system, which may not be one of the most "pleasant experiences." However, there is speculation as to why he cancelled his political appointments following Alvi’s comments. 


Perhaps, Manmohan Singh should have given the debate a political context by conceding the point that his Government would be guided by the collective wisdom of members of both Houses of Parliament and the wishes of the people. It is not as though the Government did not have a prima facie case on whether it is desirable to include the office of the Prime Minister or judiciary within the ambit of the Jan Lokpal Bill as also on certain other provisions that Team Anna proposed.


It could, for instance, have easily argued for a clause-by-clause reading of the Bill proposed by the Anna team and left it to the collective judgement of the Members. Additionally, it could have suggested that the key features of the Bill be discussed in public seminars and the views of experts be taken before finalising the draft. These two steps would have refurbished its credentials as fighting corruption in public life while also seeking public opinion in the drafting of the legislation. Recall, that the path-breaking Right to Information Act had taken these small but important steps.


However, the problem is that the Government is unabashedly arrogant and still heady with its success in the 2009 electoral battle. Sadly, it has mistakenly assumed that such success confers on it a political legitimacy for governance, irrespective of what the public opinion expresses. It is taking the shelter of the Parliament, forgetting that according to the Constitution it is “We the People” who are supreme.


Hence, the UPA II sees nothing that the civil society proposes as having either political or moral authority going for it. The problem with this approach is that the Government has completely forgotten but set aside the legitimate demands of the people, who are actually more powerful than Parliament or its representatives..


The UPA Government headed by Manmohan Singh may have succeeded spectacularly in 2008, by refusing to budge on the question of the nuclear deal with the US, but it had to get rally around everyone and concede to certain changes sought by the then reluctant BJP. It could not afford to be stubborn. Likewise, the Government must listen to the will of the people. It should seek once again to reach out to team Anna and invite it for further negotiations. Only then should it place the Lok Pal Bill, compromised but strong. Anything short of this would negate the sentiments of a billion people. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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