War on corruption

The anti-corruption crusade in India is on the verge of turning into a circus. Both the UPA government and civil society groups leading the movement against graft perhaps should share the blame for this state of affairs. Their daily and hourly slugfest under the constant media glare accusing each other of all sorts of conspiracies, chicanery and treachery even as they hold endless talks has left a billion plus nation all baffled and bewildered. It doesn’t know what is going on any more and who really is responsible for the lack of progress on the question of creating an effective watchdog and ombudsman to deal with the growing scourge of corruption.There is no question that it was the campaigning and activism of civil society groups that sparked the current movement and public outrage against corruption. It’s their constant pressure including Anna Hazare’s fast unto death in the capital that forced the government of Manmohan Singh to initiate the process for the creation of the graft watchdog Lokpal, an old demand that has remained unfulfilled largely because of a lack of political will and consensus. So the decision to form the Lokpal was a clear victory of people power.

Those gains must not be squandered with cheap theatrics like those recently staged by yoga guru Baba Ramdev. The team led by the septuagenarian activist, Anna Hazare, deserves credit for its persistence on the issue of Lokpal. It’s their resolve and commitment that has forced the UPA government to come up with a draft bill that offers effective and sweeping powers to the institution of Lokpal. It may not be the most ideal law as it does not include the authority to probe and try prime minister, higher judiciary and lower ranks of bureaucracy, as demanded by Anna Hazare and his team. It also rejects the absurd idea of death sentence for those found guilty of corruption, as Team Anna had suggested.

However, as many other leading activists like Swami Agnivesh agree, the Lokpal, according to the draft unveiled by the government on Tuesday, will still be powerful enough to do its job. More important, the government side argues, perhaps justifiably, that this was the pragmatic best it could have come up with. It asserts that having an ombudsman above prime minister is not pragmatic and would end up creating a parallel government outside government. Which actually makes sense. Prime minister is the lynchpin in parliamentary democracy and bringing him under the purview of Lokpal may not really be possible. Many other features of civil society’s alternative Jan Lokpal Bill are also seen as being unworkable.

So it’s not as bad as it is being made out by some. The talk of yet another fast until government falls in line and accedes to all their demands on Lokpal is unreasonable and unnecessary at this stage. Besides, all said and done, it is up to Parliament and elected representatives of people — no matter how hopeless they are — to take a final call on this issue. Lawmaking or legislation is the job and prerogative of lawmakers. Civil society can only persuade or pressure them to do so. Ultimately, the Lokpal, or any law for that matter, is only a means to an end. It’s not a magic wand that will rid India of all its demons. All the laws in the world cannot help if there’s no political will to enforce them. – Arabnews