Wednesday, Feb 01, 2023

They,the people

Illiberal,self-righteous sound and fury isn’t quite the weapon against corruption.

Anna Hazare,the 72-year- old social activist from Maharashtra,has earned enormous respect for his work on village development,on transparency in government,and as an anti-corruption campaigner. The indefinite fast that he has started to call for his preferred draft of a Lokpal bill,constituting an ombudsman at the Central level,thus is believed to have formidable moral weight behind it. Yet the Jan Lokpal Bill,as this “civil society” draft is known,is a mishmash of unworkable and dangerous ideas which no government could seriously consider allowing in as legislation.

The Lokpal movement has considerable history to it,being suggested for the first time in the 1960s by the first Administrative Reforms Commission. Several states — 18 as of now — have state-level ombudsmen,known as Lokayuktas. They have not noticeably curbed corruption in those states. The new Jan Lokpal Bill,however,addresses few of the real problems that dog those investigations. Instead it tries to completely sideline existing administrative machinery,which it treats as irredeemably tainted. Even the Central and state vigilance commissions are to be merged into the new Lokpal,and it will have “its own investigative and prosecutorial machinery” and promises to deliver justice,summarily,within one year of a complaint being registered — or,if necessary,recognised suo motu,on its own initiative. This will,it is believed,insulate investigation from political pressure. It will,more obviously and directly,create what the lawyer Atul Nanda has called “a supercop-superprosecutor-judge,all rolled into one.” That is a fundamentally undemocratic and illiberal result,ignoring centuries of precedents suggesting such combinations do not crusade against any established centre of power,but instead become a particularly uncontrollable part of the establishment themselves.

The only tiny hope that Hazare and other supporters of the Jan Lokpal draft hold out against this overwhelmingly likely possibility is that the individual at the head will be selected by a committee that will be partly non-governmental in organisation. For example,it will include all Indian Nobel Laureates,and the two most recent winners

of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards — hardly a substitute for real electoral accountability. This sort of thinking among the privileged members of civil society,a belief that they alone can speak for “the people” and elected representatives cannot,is dangerous. Civil society is meant to engage with institutions,not supplant them. The government cannot buckle to this demand,and the Congress party,which has enabled the NGO sector’s vaulting ambition,has to stand firm behind it.

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First published on: 07-04-2011 at 03:48 IST
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