"The government is drunk with power and corruption...it is for the people to make it sober". This simple and factual statement by Anna Hazare catapulted him to a position reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi's role in India's freedom movement.
This statement was a culmination of people's frustration with so many corruption cases and scams going on in the country. What started as a token hunger strike became a movement in a day and assumed the force of a political tsunami in the next couple of days. In two hundred cities across India, thousands of college students, young executives and housewives joined a campaign that asked the government to enact an important new law to fight corruption.
After a series of meetings of the government led by Pranab Mukherjee and the members of the civil society led by Anna Hazare, as all of us were expecting, the All-Party meet to discuss the Lokpal Bill ended with accusations, counter-accusations and no consensus.
The government came out with their own version of the Lokpal bill on Thursday.
Law Minister Salman Khursheed explained that under the Lokpal Act, there will be no procedure against the PM while he or she is in office. Also, there shall be a seven-year limitation period for complaints. So the Lokpal will not investigate a complaint over seven years after it is made. The Lokpal will have a Chairperson and eight members - 50 per cent of them will be from the judiciary. The non-judiciary members have to be "persons of impeccable integrity and outstanding ability," Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said.
At the meeting, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh insisted that his office be included in the legislation, but the Cabinet decided otherwise, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told reporters after the meeting. She said the Prime Minister was heard with "great respect" but the ministers discussed the "pitfalls" of such a proposal including its possible adverse effect on the stability of a government and creation of uncertainty. The removal of the Lokpal will be the prerogative of the President of India. While the Lokpal will have separate teams to conduct inquiries and investigations, it will not have the power to prosecute someone accused of corruption.
The government version of the bill had a lot of reactions. Some of them are:
Anna Hazare - In its present form, the government's version of the Lokpal bill is too weak and ineffective, it has a very narrow jurisdiction.
Arvind Kejriwal - The Government had totally disregarded the suggestions of the civil society. We want to ask the Government, what is there for the people who came to support Anna on the streets during his protest? Terming the Lok Pal Bill approved by the Union Cabinet as an "eyewash", rights activist Arvind Kejriwal said it will "patronise" corruption and should be withdrawn. The Bill approved by the Cabinet is to patronise corruption and an eyewash and should be withdrawn...it betrays the aspirations and expectations of people fighting against corruption, the government seemed to be in "grip of the corrupt." There is no provision in the bill to tackle scandals like mining, CWG, Adarsh Society, and the cash-for-vote scam.
Kiran Bedi '“ It is here to tell the world we have Lokpal, the fact is it is jokepal. This bill is fractured whereas the civil society draft was comprehensive. The Government bill doesn't have any provision to protect whistleblowers.
Prashant Bhushan - If the government thinks it can fool the people by pulling such a cruel joke, it is sadly mistaken.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, MP and BJP chief spokesperson - Our party does not appreciate the complete omission of the Prime Minister from the Lokpal bill.
Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister, Bihar - The Lokpal Bill approved by the Union cabinet did not conform to the common people's expectations. Prime Minister must be brought under the ambit of Lokpal. Though I have not gone through the details of the bill approved by the Union cabinet, it appears that the bill is not in conformity with people's aspirations. The PM should be brought under the ambit of Lokpal and chief ministers under Lokayukta. However, the matters related to the Prime Minister's responsibility for security and other such serious concerns of the country should be exempted from the purview of Lokpal.
The bill will be introduced in Parliament in the first two days of the Monsoon session starting on August 1.
As far as I am concerned, I totally disagree with the government version of this bill. I am of a very strong view that the office of the Prime Minister should also come under the Lokpal. It is very tragic for our country that an issue which should become a law to check the cancer of corruption has become a political football and is being kicked around in the name of meetings and negotiations. All the elected representatives should go back to their constituents and ask them about the issue of corruption and force their party to do the right thing.
I have written this in one of my previous articles that If the office of the Prime Minister does not come under the Lokpal, people like Suresh Kalmadi, A Raja and others can tell the people offering them bribes that since we come under the Lokpal, can you deliver the money to the PM's office? The party in power, whichever it is, just have to make sure that they have a PM who can also act as their receiver. All the political parties have the responsibility to support this bill and not get into theatrics and semantics. They, under no circumstances, should shirk this responsibility. Let us hope that good sense prevails in the parliament and we get a law soon which is good for the future of our country. I also feel very uncomfortable with the idea that the nine-member selection committee for the Lokpal is skewed in the government's favour. The PM will chair this committee; four other members will be selected by the government.
I feel that the entire process of formulating this bill is somewhat flawed. In addition to the career politicians and social activists, we should have scholars involved in the process who have the mindset of the framers of the constitution. They have to understand that they are making a law not keeping in mind the Congress party, BJP or any other party. There is not a soul in the country who has any doubts about the impeccable honesty and integrity of our present Prime Minister but there might be a Prime Minister in the future who is not as honest and this law at that time would become a very effective instrument. They have to make a law which is very effective and good for the country in the long term. I hope good sense prevails in the parliament and they do the right thing. There is no doubt that the legislative arm of the government is the most important arm of our country, but unfortunately, it is failing our country. Eradication of corruption should not be considered a utopian dream. People invoved in this process should shed their micro perspective and have a macro vision of the whole thing. I am not sure if Anna Hazare should go on fast on August 16 to enforce this demand and there might be other ways to mobilize public opinion but there is no doubt in my mind that the government, by not including the office of the Prime Minister to come under the Lokpal, has betrayed the country.