The Lokpal Debate
Anna Hazare's fight to save the country
Anna Hazare drank, and India celebrated. It was the culmination of a fortnight of deadlock between the people led by Team Anna and the Centre. Both sides were relentless, and talks broke down repeatedly. We all saw the drama being played out on television hungrily covered by the Indian media.
So, what was all this hue and cry about? Surprisingly, many people do not even know what the whole fuss was about. Allow me to deconstruct this for you in a clear and lucid way.
Basically, the Lokpal Committee is an organization designed to root out the menace of India – yes, you guessed it – Corruption. Lokpal basically means an ombudsman to weed out corruption from India. This idea of a Lokpal for the nation was mooted when India gained freedom (yes, so many years ago). Moreover, it was decided that a Lokayukta committee would be set up at the State level too. All these organizations at the national and state level were supposed to prevent corruption by Central Government and State Government officials. As I said in my previous post, our country has excellent policies, but we fail to implement them. Post-Independence, the Government was supposed to create such a committee, but it never happened.
In fact, Karnataka is the only state which passed the resolution and has a fully functioning Lokayukta today. Everywhere else, it is defunct. Over the years, it has been tried time and again to get such a resolution passed on the floor of the House. But nothing ever materialized.
Enter Anna Hazare. A Gandhian in belief and thought and a well-known public activist, he finally decided it was time to make it happen. After repeated appeals to the Government failed, he fasted earlier this year for about a week that a strong Lokpal should be brought into force. The Government was initially adamant but later agreed that by August 15 the bill shall be passed. It also agreed to Hazare's demand that a strong and effective Lokpal bill will be put into place. Anna took the Centre's word and called off his fast. The people were jubilant, and it was viewed as a victory for democracy.
August 15 passed and the Lokpal bill of the Government was toothless. Anna decided to go on a fast again until his demands were met for a fully charged-up Lokpal. The recent events are fresh in our mind, and we know the way Parliament tormented the Gandhian before finally relenting.
Ok, let all this be. So, what exactly is the big deal? The thing is there are two Lokpal bills - one given by the Government and the other by Team Anna. Let us analyze both and we will soon find out that both the bills have their own set of flaws.
The Government's Lokpal Committee has the PM, Vice President and other members in the Committee. It only investigates high-level corruption and can only make recommendations to the judiciary to prosecute offenders. It basically has no powers and all the high officials like the PM are out of its ambit. Moreover, there is no protection for whistleblowers. The only positive aspect I can see is that the Committee is answerable to the judiciary.
On the other hand, Team Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill is armed to the teeth. The entire bureaucracy can be investigated and the Lokpal Committee can impose sentences if the accused is found guilty. Even the PM is under the watchful eyes of the Lokpal. Initially, the judiciary was also supposed to be under the Lokpal, but Team Anna later gave up this demand after the Government promised a strong Judicial Accountability Bill (click here to know more). Whistleblowers too are given adequate protection. The only drawback as far as I know is that this committee is like the Almighty and is above the three organs of the democracy (Executive, Legislature, Judiciary). Anna also demanded a citizen charter which is a noteworthy step in the right direction.
Of course, the Jan Lokpal is far better than the Government's version but the only hitch which can be its bane is zero accountability. This can cause dictatorship. This should be addressed as soon as possible.
All said and done, there was also a major debate recently on whether a hunger strike is a good way to bend the Government and make it listen to you. If this was true, every Tom, Dick and Harry would start fasting. But no, this is not the case. Hunger strike is a last resort option. People are fighting for a Lokpal for the past 60 years. Only now after being fed up did Anna go on a fast. I think that should clear misconceptions.
With the Government accepting Anna's demands, India celebrated and it had every reason to do so. It was also a victory for democracy. But there is still a lot of work to be done. And even the citizens can help. Don't bribe that traffic constable the next time around.
You can read more about the two Lokpal bills here.