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Millennium Post

Here comes the Lokpal

The Lokpal Bill has finally been passed by the two Houses of Parliament after facing birth pangs for more than two years. The man who spearheaded the movement to allow the passage of the legislation for the creation of the ombudsman – Anna Hazare – has ended his fast in Ralegan with the hope that the President would give his stamp of approval in due course.

The demand for creation of Lokpal had been around since the 1960s and the first legislative attempt towards this end was made in the 1970s during the Janata Party government with Shanti Bhushan as the law minister. So it’s hardly surprising that Bhushan and his son Prashant  became integral parts of the Anna Hazare movement launched in April 2011 till they went separate ways. What provided spur to the movement was cases of corruption against the Manmohan Singh government, which prompted the crusader from Ralegan Siddhi to arrive in Delhi and demand the setting up of the ombudsman. The three members of the ‘original’ civil society team – Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Shanti Bhushan, who drafted Jan Lokpal, have dubbed the Bill passed by Parliament as ‘Jokepal’. However, the other two – Anna Hazare and Justice (retired) Santosh Hedge – have hailed it.

A lot of water has flowed in the Ganga since corruption crusader Anna Hazare started his first fast for Jan Lokpal on 5 April, 2011, which raised the expectations of Indian citizens. This resulted in the creation of a pan India movement against corruption, which also attracted Non Resident Indians (NRIs) and People of Indian Origins (PIOs) from abroad. The movement picked up pace and with time saw developments which were unexpected and shocking for everyone who attended Hazare’s fast at Ram Lila Ground. Team Anna eventually split into two factions, with Team Kejriwal seceding from the original group of anti-corruption campaigners.

While Team Anna is still trying its best to remain apolitical, Team Kejriwal took up the challenge of joining electoral politics to form Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It is another story how the nascent party surprised political pundits by making a spectacular debut in Delhi assembly elections. Kejriwal admits Hazare is his Guru (mentor) but says he is being ‘misled’ by some people who are close to the two major political parties – BJP and Congress. On the other hand, Hazare supporters are openly flaying the AAP supremo for criticising Lokpal for his own vested political interests.

‘What is important to combat corruption is autonomy of the CBI. There must be a special act to govern CBI within the ambit of Constitution. CBI must have its separate cadre with all the rights of transfers and postings,’ said Subramanian Swamy to Millennium Post. Swamy, eminent academician, politician, activist and economist, who has represented several high-profile corruption cases in the high courts and Supreme Court gives a thumb down to the very idea of Lokpal.

‘CBI is presently governed by Delhi Police Special Act, which undermines its stature as a central investigative agency,’ says Swamy. ‘There is no need of Lokpal if we have autonomous CBI as it will be enough to deal with corruption. The Lokpal is going to meet the same fate as several constitutional bodies in the country,’ he forewarns. The views of Swamy, who is also a senior BJP leader, are different from the official view of his party, which is praising the Lokpal Bill passed by Parliament.

‘Lokpal will not be able to catch the big fishes of corruption as it doesn’t have CBI under it and judiciary was not made responsible,’ says Vipin Malhan, president of Noida Entrepreneurs Association (NEA). NEA is the body which exposed land scam in Noida in 1993 involving then Noida CEO Neera Yadav. Yadav was later forced to quit by Supreme Court from the post of chief
secretary of Uttar Pradesh in 2003.

‘She enjoyed several promotions and plum postings since then and nothing happened even after 20 years,’ added Malhan. The body strongly favours Jan Lokpal drafted by Team Anna. ‘There must be time-bound trial. The guilty must be sent behind bars and honest persons must be served clean chits within six months,’ he said.

‘Lokpal will certainly curb corruption in the country. We now have an independent agency to approve investigation against bureaucracy and ministers including prime minister and chief minister,’ contended YP Singh in a panel discussion. The former IPS officer, who directed the international award winning film Kya Yahi Sach Hai in 2010 based on his experiences in police service and also wrote a novel on corruption, Carnage by Angels, in 2003 has served in various organisations including the premier investigative agency of the country, CBI. Singh said, ‘Presently, if you file a complaint against an IAS officer, it goes to a senior IAS officer for permission to initiate inquiry into the case. Now we have an independent authority to initiate inquiries,’ he contended.

‘Similarly, in the case of ministers and chief ministers, governors, who act on the advice of the Cabinet, are empowered to approve inquiry,’ he added. The provision to include even the prime minister under Lokpal will bring down corruption significantly. ‘How do these AAP leaders can say it’s a Jokepal? Have they ever filed any case against any politician or bureaucrat?’ asked Singh, who has exposed several high profile corruption cases in Mumbai and Maharashtra. Almost similar views have been expressed by former IPS officer Kiran Bedi who even went on to suggest Team Kejriwal to read the act ‘thoroughly’.

‘It’s a milestone in the history of fight against corruption. Now we have an independent platform to report high profile corruption involving senior bureaucrats, to order inquiry,’ says commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra, a RTI and anti-corruption activist in Noida. Although, the middle level corruption crusaders like Batra have a mixed reaction on the issue. Lokpal has virtually divided the anti-corruption activists into two groups – the optimists and the pessimists. The former are of the view that it’s a good beginning after a long struggle of 47 years which includes a direct fight of people with government under Anna Hazare for over three years.

Why both, Team Anna and Team Kejriwal, didn’t solicit public opinion on Lokpal before presenting their views? Kejriwal, who was too ill to accompany Anna during his last round of fast in Ralegan Siddhi, attended party meetings, press conferences and also official meeting  with Delhi Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung.

‘I am now suffering from fever and will meet Anna as soon as I am well,’  Kejriwal had said. However, as soon as Anna announced the end to his fast on Wednesday, Kejriwal appeared on television channels dubbing the Bill as Jokepal and vowing to fight for the real Jan Lokpal. On the other hand, Anna expressed satisfaction with the Bill. ‘I am satisfied with the Lokpal that was passed finally by Lok Sabha. It will bring down corruption by around 50 per cent. Those who are not satisfied should do their bit for further improvement in Lokpal,’ said Anna.

Back in the Jan Lokpal movement days, Team Anna had conducted a ‘referendum’ on government Lokpal versus Jan Lokpal. The report titled ‘Does the government still represent the people of India?’ was released on 1 August, 2011, and claimed 85 per cent respondents had voted for Jan Lokpal. ‘The verdict is out.  The so-called representatives have failed to represent their people,’ read the letter.

In the referendum conducted only in Chandni Chowk, the parliamentary constituency of Union cabinet minister Kapil Sibal, the then Team Anna had distributed four lakh referendum forms and collected only 86,000 forms, out of which results of only 72,000 referendum forms were compiled. Out of these 72,000 forms, 85 per cent had hailed the Jan Lokpal. This was accepted as the verdict for Team Anna to go ahead with their demand for Jan Lokpal.

These forms had eight questions regarding provisions in Jan Lokpal which were reportedly supported by overwhelming majority of respondents. But the question needs to be asked why nobody has dared to ask what happened to those 3.28 lakh forms? Is it because of our indifference to the larger public mood? Had they voted in favour or against the Jan Lokpal? Similar surveys were conducted by Team Anna in Amravati where 98 per cent respondents favoured Jan Lokal, Nagpur favoured by 81 per cent, Wardha 95 per cent and Mumbai 95.04 per cent.

A referendum by Team Kejriwal, now AAP, is being held to understand whether AAP should take support from Congress to run a coalition government in Delhi. This referendum, according to Kejriwal, will give him a sense of the mood of people, which he says is a must for him to then take the decision on government formation in the national capital. But neither AAP nor Team Anna have bothered to conduct a referendum on Jan Lokpal versus the revised Lokpal. What to say of a referendum when both issued their statements separately, without even consulting each other.

Anna is now happy with the revised Lokpal, along with his comrades former army chief VK Singh and Kiran Bedi. But Kejriwal has vowed again to fight for Jan Lokpal, with his group of men, including Prashant Bhushan, Shanti Bhushan, Kumar Vishwas, Yogender Yadav, Sanjay Singh, Manish Sisodia and his 28 MLAs. With the bachelor of Indian politics and Congress scion Rahul Gandhi claiming the credit for bringing this legislative baby into the world and BJP now willing to garland the father of the movement, Anna Hazare, what Kejriwal can achieve in this regard remains to be seen.
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