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Mainstream, VOL L, No 24, June 2, 2012

Murder of Lokpal Bill in Parliament

Friday 8 June 2012, by Kuldip Nayar

Corruption in South Asian countries has ceased to be news and people have begun living with it as if it is a normal practice. Not that they do not resent it but seem to feel that when the topmost leaders are part of it, they know there is probably no remedy.

India has been astir because one scam after another has tumbled out of the government’s cupboard. The democratic system and relatively free media in the country have instilled confidence among neighbouring nations that once the bandwagon rolls out from Delhi, they too would be able to jump into it, without losing their entity, to fight against corruption in their own states.

They were rudely shaken, as the Indians were, when they found last week that the much-vaunted Lokpal (ombudsman to tackle corruption) Bill was once again deferred. The Bill has been meeting the same fate for the last 42 years. The governments, mostly those of the Congress, have found one pretext or the other to see that there is no legislation which may force the rulers or their cohorts to face justice. Even when the Lok Sabha had passed the Bill and the Standing Committee of Parliament discussed it, the government blinked last November and had the Rajya Sabha adjourned on the pretext that it was past midnight. This time too it was the same drama but with a little more twist added to the script.

I saw it unfolding scene by scene in the Rajya Sabha myself. With bated breath I waited for Monday (May 21) when the Lokpal Bill was finally taken up for approval. One irritating point—that the Centre would appoint the State Lokayukta—had been replaced because of the States’ insistence that they alone should have the authority to deal with corrupt deeds in their territory.

Two other stickling points remained. One, the control of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by the Government of India, and two, the formation of a selection board to pick the Lokpal (at present the government nominees are in a majority). It was expected that the ruling Congress would find an amicable settlement of both the points when it had repeatedly promised the nation that it would pass a “strong Lokpal Bill” during the Budget session of Parliament. But it did not happen that way and the session ended on Tuesday (May 22).

The first scene of the gruesome drama was when a member of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party proposed that the Lokpal Bill be sent to a Select Committee for reconsideration. This came as a bolt from the blue. Apparently, the proposal was at the instance of the Congress which does not want the Bill, but still wants to convey the impression that it is all for it because the adoption of the Bill has become a litmus test for the people to judge the government’s intention on curbing corruption.

Rajya Sabha’s Opposition leader Arun Jaitley asked directly the Prime Minister, present in the House, whether the government wanted the Bill or not. Dr Manmohan Singh sat impassively. The cat was out of the bag when the government itself moved the motion for the appointment of a Select Committee. From this point, the second scene began smacking of a cloak-and-dagger conspiracy. The motion, when put to vote, had no dissenting voice.

Jaitley, who was a vociferous opponent so far, went along with the government. So did the BJP. I can understand Mulayam Singh Yadav rescuing the chestnuts from the fire for the Congress because there are several CBI cases pending against him. The government can always activate the cases if it feels Mulayam Singh going the other way. In fact, he was seated at the high table at the dinner hosted by the Prime Minister to celebrate the completion of three years of rule of UPA II, a combination of the Congress and some other like-minded parties. What was baffling was the volte-face by the BJP. Why it did not oppose the Congress motion is beyond me. I have never seen the main Opposition party taking an about-turn before the millions who were glued to the television sets to know the fate of the Lokpal.

One explanation given to me is that the BJP did not have enough members present in the House when the motion was put to vote. The question was not whether the BJP would have defeated the motion or not, but whether the party was sincere in supporting the Lokpal Bill. The BJP caved in when the test came. It hardly matters whatever noises it makes now or at what pitch. It has been exposed thoroughly.
It is now for the people to take the decision. Political parties, except for the Left, do not want the Lokpal. They are afraid lest their leaders are exposed or punished for their acts of omission and commission. I wish the Anna Hazare movement had not been stopped because then the entire Parliament would have forced to authorise the government to convey to Hazare the “sense of the House” that favoured a strong Lokpal.

I have no doubt that the movement will gain momentum when it restarts on July 25 as is the announcement. People’s resentment, which was Hazare’s strong point, has not diminished. My only worry is that so many undesirable elements have come to surround Hazare that an honest, secular front may be difficult to rebuild.
This time the government’s white paper on black money can come in handy. No official estimate is given for the black money stashed abroad. Yet the government has listed a one-time tax amnesty to recover funds. This has been tried earlier too with no concrete results. True, real estate, bullion and financial markets are most vulnerable. But the leading players in these fields have great influence on the media and political parties.

Ministers in some States are themselves involved. The government cannot take action against them for political reasons while the Lokpal can. That may well have been the reason why the Lokpal drama was enacted in the Upper House. The ruling Congress, the BJP and other parties should realise that they cannot fool all the people all the time.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is

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