The controversy over the selection — or non-selection, to be accurate — of the Lokayukta in Uttar Pradesh, reported in this paper, serves as a reminder that anti-corruption institutions are not magic wands that can be waved at will. They are no better than their processes and procedures, and they will falter unless the nuts and bolts are of good quality and kept in good repair. This is an important realisation, since the Lokpal movement, which most recently foregrounded the issue of corruption in the national imagination, had a pronounced moralistic streak that, among other things, caused it to distrust and skirt systems and structures. The entire system was corrupt, it suggested, and therefore, the anti-corruption authority had to exist outside it. The episode in UP illustrates the vital principle that while projects for sweeping change are indeed the way out of problems that bedevil Indian democracy, the devil is always in the details. Insufficient clarity about the institutions, systems and protocols that are expected to drive the change is bound to derail it.
In UP, in the absence of the chief justice, the chief minister and the leader of opposition fixed upon a candidate for the post of Lokayukta. The chief justice sent back the recommendation, citing the proximity of the candidate to the chief minister. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s objection is astonishing — he wrote that the UP Lokayukta Act did not prescribe a specific selection procedure and therefore it would not be correct for the selectors to limit themselves to such a thing. A miasma of ad hoc-ness and arbitrariness seems to have suffocated the process, and it could flourish only because the nuts and bolts of the selection procedure of the Lokayukta — the first step towards building the institution — were insufficiently considered.
While the controversy has not yet caused an alternative process to be evolved, at least it has highlighted the dysfunction. A reasonable democratic process is built on the premise of multiple candidates for almost all posts. A government insisting on a single Lokayukta candidate recalls old fears of the office becoming an autocratic authority, which may itself become a centre of corruption. The office of the Lokayukta is a progressive development in Indian politics and the selection process cannot exhibit arbitrariness of the sort seen in UP.