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Friday, January 21, 2022

Whose bill is it anyway?

The fight against corruption cannot be appropriated by a clique

Written by Sandeep Dikshit |
April 21, 2011 2:54:08 am

The Lokpal bill episode has been one of the more exciting events in recent years. While there is an opinion that this is akin to an episodic change in India’s polity,with parallels with the JP movement,there are many who argue that too much is being read into this affair. Within these points of view,the two central questions are whether this is really a movement that shall significantly change the way we look at,indulge in and sustain corrupt practices in our polity,economy and even society,or whether it is just a collective manifestation of people’s disaffection with general corruption that seems to come together every now and then. And,a more serious question,whether the proposed Lokpal/ Jan Lokpal Bill is actually what it is made out to be — a way to establish an incorruptible,independent organisation that will reduce corruption by 90 per cent,by eliminating all known systems and agencies which have been created both by our Constitution and by years of administrative experience.

A serious look at the provisions of this Lokpal bill — as well as an appraisal of the institutions,system and existing laws,which may have weakened today but still have the mandate and constitutional validity to be able to do just what this bill also proposes — raises many genuine questions on its intent and content. There are genuine concerns being voiced by people who have perhaps fought against dishonesty and wrongdoings for more years and with more commitment than many of the protagonists of this version of the bill. They oppose in large measure or in part many of the provisions of this bill: lack of well-thought-out systems for accountability within the Lokpal system,the clearly evident creation of an absolute power structure,and the many,many parts in which this bill contravenes the Constitution,subverting many existing laws and further weakening our existing institutions which perform anti-corruption functions.

The premise appears to be that since everyone is corrupt,every institution is compromised,every law is defunct,every politician is evil,every bureaucrat (except those who have retired) is out to sell the nation,every judge (again except those who have no stake left in the system) is selling justice,we build a new “Animal Farm”,find such people that the government could never find from amongst its ranks,empower them in ways that our Constitution forbade for any other person in any capacity in public life,and then we shall usher in a new dawn.

This raises many questions,doubts and concerns since the bill attempts to significantly alter our way of governance,replacing the process of democracy with meritocracy. It challenges our principles of checks and balances,commitment to the balance of power and responsibilities as enshrined in our Constitution,adherence to the principles of natural justice,and open and equal accountability of every person. And it does not really provide a workable,impeccable alternative,as is being stated.

For anyone interested and concerned about India,expressing his or her opinion on this bill is important. In fact,the committee constituted to draft the bill will be able to come out with a better,more effective,more just and actually workable piece of legislation if all these concerns are taken on board and resolved. The very reason why this committee was formed was because it was argued that we need more opinions and contributions to this bill than those existing within government to really draft an effective bill.

Having accepted this once,can the protagonists then state that every opinion,every doubt,every contribution,every suggestion,every warning,every fear expressed by those outside this group is an

attempt to sabotage this bill? That an attempt is being made with a hidden agenda to promote corruption and protect the corrupt?

Over the past few weeks,especially in the last four-five days,we have seen an increasing intolerance for alternative opinions,for alternative voices. And from whom? Those who themselves claim to have been part of the alternative voice!

This week,Anna Hazare wrote to Sonia Gandhi to rein in Digvijaya Singh and Kapil Sibal for what he claimed to be their anti-Lokpal bill activities. Why is there such intolerance for those who speak otherwise? For a man of his stature and moral bearings,for a man known to stand for his beliefs,why is there such opposition to anyone else who voices his thoughts? Why is there a need to appeal to Sonia Gandhi? I find it intriguing that a movement that prima facie eliminates the politician from any role appeals to a politician to play a role.

Part of the greatness of our democracy (and I believe in it) is the opportunity it gives to each one of us to say what we want,to try and be heard,to give us a chance to pose alternative voices and opinions. Whoever we might be,however right and morally upright we may be,however powerful we may be,the day any of us can believe that only one voice has legitimate space in our world,we enter dangerous territory.

The bill is too important with too many consequences — not least of all the possibility of landing us in a quagmire — for it to be insulated from opposing voices and opinions. To try and suppress those who have different opinions or who question things is a sign of weak defence.

We need to encourage all voices,of dissent,of alternative opinions and suggestions,wherever they may come from. The issues that have been raised concern each one of us,and thus each one of us has the right to speak and be heard. The fight against corruption is not a proprietary concern,it’s a partnership that must involve each citizen. Let the rules of this fight also be configured as a true partnership.

The writer is a Congress MP in Lok Sabha

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