AAP ka lokpal

The new party needs to integrate its powerful moral message with sound public policies.

Published: December 16, 2013 1:41:13 am

Prem M. Trivedi

The new party needs to integrate its powerful moral message with sound public policies.

Anna Hazare’s fast to compel the UPA to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill has highlighted the tensions between Hazare’s team and the AAP,and re-exposed the deep flaws in the bill. Hazare’s role in inspiring the anti-corruption movement that gave birth to Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party will probably go down as a landmark contribution to political reform in India. In the run-up to the Delhi assembly polls,however,Hazare voiced his displeasure with Kejriwal’s allegedly unauthorised appropriation of Team Anna’s core symbols. Tensions between the AAP and Hazare’s team continue to simmer in Ralegan Siddhi,where the fast is being held. The AAP needs to use this opportunity to seriously reconsider — at least privately — its views on the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Team Anna’s drafting committee,which included Kejriwal,wanted the lokpal to be a super-empowered ombudsman who would bestride the government like a colossus. The 2011 Jan Lokpal Bill would create an institution with the power to investigate complaints for evidence of corruption and then convene specialty lokpal courts to speedily prosecute offending public officials. The Union government has now tabled an amended version of the bill,which Anna has declared acceptable but Kejriwal has criticised and called a “jokepal”. In fact,both versions of the bill are deeply flawed. Team Anna in 2011 — and the AAP now — have never really explained how such an agency would operate effectively within the Indian political system. The original bill is hamstrung by numerous problems of institutional design that are unaddressed by the proposed amendments.

First,the composition of the lokpal and the appointment process create a recipe for political infighting and paralysis. Chapter II of the original bill requires that the lokpal be comprised of a chairperson (a judge or former Supreme Court justice) and no more than eight members. But the committee tasked to appoint this decidedly non-political body seems strikingly political in its composition. The prime minister chairs a committee comprised of the Lok Sabha speaker and leader of the opposition,the Rajya Sabha leader of the opposition,a Union cabinet minister chosen by the PM,a sitting Supreme Court judge,a sitting chief justice of a high court,a jurist nominated by the Central government,and an expert in anti-corruption policy.

Can all of these members really achieve a speedy consensus and act in the public interest? Or will the MPs on the committee attempt to appoint lokpal members who will take it easy on their own parties and go after their opponents? New lokpal members are appointed every five years — the standard lifespan of national governments. It is difficult to see how the appointment process will be anything but a plodding,perennially politicised affair.

Second,Chapter IX of the bill promises ambitious timelines for the completion of trials before lokpal courts. How will India’s understaffed judiciary manage a swelling caseload and expedite new cases in the lokpal courts? Delays of justice or sloppily accelerated legal proceedings will frustrate anti-corruption efforts and erode public faith in lokpal courts.

Third,critical components of India’s current anti-corruption machinery oppose the creation of a lokpal that would usurp their jurisdiction. Chapters III and IV of the bill would essentially grant the lokpal all of the monitoring,investigative,and prosecutorial powers enjoyed by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the CBI. I am not suggesting that the CVC and CBI should be left unchallenged. But it is a bad idea to establish a new super-agency in a way that promotes turf wars in India’s anti-corruption apparatus. A lokpal will need the CVC’s and CBI’s cooperation in order to discharge its duties,but the Jan Lokpal Bill undercuts the prospects for collaboration.

Fourth,it seems dangerous and counterintuitive to address abuses of state power by concentrating tremendous power in yet another government agency. The lokpal’s institutional design does little to protect the agency from political attempts at manipulation.

Hazare’s reformist philosophy has proved rich in moral fibre but poor in pragmatic vision. Unfortunately,something similar can be said of the AAP’s political platform,although that does not diminish its spectacular emergence on India’s political scene. The AAP captivated Indians and went toe-to-toe with political heavyweights on the strength of its compelling moral philosophy,not its pledges to provide more electricity and water or establish a Delhi Lokpal within 15 days of coming to power.

But the AAP must now turn to the challenges of governance,whether it is part of the Delhi government or leading the opposition. It appears that Anna is using the buzz the AAP has generated to reclaim his place on a national stage. While the AAP will find it difficult to distance itself from Hazare,it needs to integrate its powerful moral philosophy with sound public policies. Its stand against corruption is laudable and urgently needed,but the party needs to consider how the lokpal’s architectural design could be improved to better achieve its anti-corruption objectives.

The writer has has studied and participated in political reform initiatives in Delhi and Hyderabad as a Fulbright scholar,Indicorps fellow,and researcher at the Centre for Policy Research.

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