The politics of Lokpal

December 17th, 2013 Posted in India, Politics

The Congress party, after having been walloped in the recent assembly elections, is desperate for a victory of any sort. Rahul Gandhi, whose leadership has been questioned by one and all, is desperate to look leader-like. At a minimum, he needs at least a legislative victory to strengthen his leadership credentials. Not surprisingly, after having made one rather inconsequential speech in the Lok Sabha on the Lokpal issue, he has now jumped on the Lokpal bandwagon.

The BJP, on the other hand, while thrilled about its success in MP and Rajasthan, and happy at having scraped through in Chattisgarh, is shaken by the rise of the AAP in Delhi. The AAP, riding on its stupendous success in the Delhi assembly elections, is starting to look like a formidable wild card for the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress and the BJP appear to be shaken by the new brand of politics unleashed by AAP and the unprecedented traction it appears to have garnered among the people. Since the AAP’s origins can be traced back to the Lokpal agitation, the Congress and the BJP have realized that a Lokpal bill is an issue that still weighs on voters’ minds. Not surprisingly, both the BJP and the Congress are desperate to resurrect the Lokpal bill, which has been lying as legislative roadkill for the last couple of years.

What makes the Lokpal revival even more interesting is Anna Hazare’s transformed role in it. It’s hard to not to feel sorry for Anna. He went from being everywhere to nowhere in a little over a year. After Arvind Kejriwal and his team formed the AAP, IAC (India Against Corruption) was virtually dead. A retired police chief and a former army chief, both of whose loyalties to the BJP are India’s worst kept political secrets, together could not muster the energy and ground forces required to revive the IAC campaign. Meanwhile, the AAP has made a mark in Indian politics and is here to stay.

In an attempt to remain relevant, Anna embarked on a fast saying he wanted the Lokpal bill to be passed. Unlike in the past, where he had the astute assistance of the likes of Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, and his fasts were launched with very clear demands, this fast had no specifics of which version of the Lokpal he was fasting for. In hindsight, it was perhaps a strategic move so he could claim victory no matter which version was passed. With Anna losing his significance, he and his associates badly needed to claim victory too. But instead of openly admitting that they have buckled down on their earlier demands dating back to the height of the Lokpal agitation, Anna and his associates are now singing the praises of the Government-sponsored diluted Lokpal bill!

The Bill does not address the three issues that were accepted in an unanimous resolution by Parliament when Anna called off his fast at the height of the Lokpal agitation. These issues were: all public servants, high or low would be included in the investigative ambit of the Lokpal; the Lokpal would also monitor the Citizen’s charters and have the power to penalize public authorities and servants who violate it; and the Lokpal bill would contain provisions for Lokayuktas on the same lines as the Lokpal for the States, which would take up corruption among State public servants. Most importantly, the current version of the Bill will not make the CBI truly independent, which was the key issue of the Lokpal agitation. Besides, the transfer, postings and post-retirement jobs of CBI officers would still be very much under the control of the government, thus compromising the independence of the CBI.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

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