On a collision course

Published: December 26, 2011

The writer is a syndicated columnist and a former member of India’s Rajya Sabha

India’s government and civil society seem as though they are about to clash in the country. The amended Lokpal Bill brought before the extended session of parliament does not give enough powers to the institution of Lokpal (Ombudsman) to deal with corruption in the government. The government says that it has given enough powers in the bill and covered every aspect of the demand made by the Gandhian, Anna Hazare, who is leading a movement for the formation of the Lokpal. However, Hazare has rejected the bill introduced in parliament. He has warned the Congress that he will himself campaign against the party in the forthcoming state elections in five states, including the UP and Punjab.

The president of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi has picked up the gauntlet, declaring that they are ready for the fight. The key to this issue is the control over the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The government has rejected the demand for transferring its administrative control to the Lokpal or to any independent agency.

Take Manmohan Singh’s government, for example. It has used the CBI to put pressure on UP Chief Minister Mayawati and former state chief minister Mulayam Singh, to be on the same side whenever it has been threatened by the defeat in the Lok Sabha. The Congress has strength of 207 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha. The pressure works because both Mayawati and Mulayam Singh are facing CBI cases on their disproportionate assets after having ruled the state. Congress alone cannot be blamed. All governments, including the one led by BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee, have used the CBI for their own purposes.

The Chief Justice of India, JS Verma, had proposed in a hawala case to setup an independent Directorate of Prosecution to have control over the CBI. No political party — all of them were represented in the committee — wanted the CBI to be autonomous. Instead, the administrative control of the government was endorsed. So much so, the committee restored the ‘Single Directive’ which the Supreme Court had thrown out. The ‘Single Directive’ meant that the government’s permission was required before initiating an enquiry or action against joint secretaries and officers above them.

To Anna Hazare’s dismay, the government has gone back on its first bill, which gave powers of investigation to the Lokpal. The Lokpal is toothless without control of the CBI and would be helpless to probe into the misdeeds of ministers or senior officials. Even the provision that the CBI director would be chosen by the prime minister, opposition leader and chief justice of India, does not help. Two out of the three are politicians. In contrast, the nine-member Lokpal, suggested by Anna Hazare, does away with political appointments, and will itself choose the director. Perhaps, a better way would be to put the CBI under the supervision of the Supreme Court. People still have faith in the judiciary and will repose their confidence in the Lokpal machinery.

My main objection is against the 50 per cent reservations in the Lokpal machinery. Quotas are fine in jobs or educational institutions. But when we are selecting persons for top positions, we want the best talent available. What kind of India are we building when parochialism is on the agenda of political parties for the sake of placating voters of one community or the other? Unfortunately, the government has already conceded the enumeration of castes in the 2011 census. By introducing reservations into the Lokpal set-up, the government is sowing the seed of division and conflict in the fight against corruption. I hope that Anna Hazare, leading the civil society in a movement against corruption, raises his voice against reservations in the Lokpal as well.

Anna’s firm ‘no’ to the Lokpal Bill indicates that the battle may go to the streets. India’s political parties should collectively think about how to sort out the issue without agitations. The dictum that the loss of one is the gain of the other, is anti-national. Whatever the moves or countermoves of political parties, the nation should be vigilant and not play into their hands.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • sumeet
    Dec 26, 2011 - 11:20PM

    i think for the first time i am agree with u.

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  • sumeet
    Dec 26, 2011 - 11:20PM

    i think for the first time i agree with u.

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  • Dec 27, 2011 - 2:08AM

    I dont understand why Pakistan is obsessed with Anna Hazare. He is anti-pak, has fought wars against pak, is a right wing hindu fanatic. The man makes look Bal Thackery look like a school boy eating candy.

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  • wadi
    Dec 27, 2011 - 2:35AM

    the fears of lower casts are genuine and by I clouding them,the real victims of coruption and social I justice aositive step will be taken
    to presume that they are not capable is indicative of classed based Indian society and primitive thinking
    you can’t just have brehmins you should have Dalits Muslims ,backword classed and all deprived communities,.After all loak pal will be the new government and in democracy all should be included

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  • You Said It
    Dec 27, 2011 - 2:40AM

    Kuldipji,
    Finally an opinion piece written by you, that every self-respecting Indian will undoubtedly support. Your suggestion of placing the CBI under the judiciary can potentially be a great compromise. I certainly hope that it finds takers.

    I support affirmative action such as reservations. But you are dead right that affirmative action should be focused on administrative bodies, not in regulatory bodies. Regulatory bodies need to emphatically demonstrate their neutrality and merit. Discussion of caste and now religion (thanks to Sonia/Rahul’s tendency to appeal to the basest instincts of the masses) should be banished from regulatory bodies.

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  • Sajida
    Dec 27, 2011 - 6:22AM

    Getting some type of anti-corruption mechanism is a good thing;but, is an Ombudsman the right mechanism for this? An ombudsman is a British relic. It can also be found in US. here is an example fro New York City, where the same position is known as the Public Advocate. The Ombudsman could be better served as managing the grievance mechanism that should emerge from the new Citizens Charter Bill. Instead the CBI should be given more powers to go after the corruption. In addition their should be other safeguards, such as competitive bids for contracts, etc to address the backroom dealmaking that greases the wheels of graft. New mechanism should be implemented that takes away the opportunity for bribing a govt official. Govt appointment of regulatory agencies should be vetted by an independent body, as regulators can not regulate due to influence of graft. This is the lesson of the current malaise in the US. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/12/25/wall-street-has-destroyed-the-wonder-that-was-america.html?utmmedium=email&utmsource=newsletter&utmcampaign=cheatsheetmorning&cid=newsletter%3Bemail%3Bcheatsheetmorning&utmterm=Cheat%20Sheet
    The Big Lie

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  • narayana murthy
    Dec 27, 2011 - 8:01AM

    Rightly said. Every point is valid.

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  • amit
    Dec 27, 2011 - 3:49PM

    @wadi:
    same class bassed sociaty in pakistan also and i read more than india. india give them reservation in education sector what pakistan gave them .one more point indian dalit littercy rate is higher than whole pakistani muslim .same indian muslim littercy rate is way higher than pakistan. according recent gensus.and in indian half state cm is dalit muslim.so please don’t care about indian we take care ourselves.pakistn ruled by high class muslims.

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  • G. Din
    Dec 27, 2011 - 5:27PM

    The man may finally be coming around. What do you know?

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  • Hu Jintao
    Dec 27, 2011 - 5:53PM

    @TightChuddi:
    We aren’t narrow minded hating folks like your media portray us

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  • Jahanzeb Khan
    Dec 27, 2011 - 6:15PM

    @TightChuddi:
    We are not Obsessed With Anna or Manna. For God Sake, stop being weird. 95% of Pakistanis don’t even know who he is nor they have any interest. We are not interested in Anna at all. Now go and sleep peacefully.

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  • Vijay K
    Dec 27, 2011 - 6:26PM

    The corruption issue needs priority above all else. If not tackled, India will become a banana republic. Power to Anna !

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  • Cynical
    Dec 28, 2011 - 5:09AM

    @wadi

    ‘Dalit Muslims’ ?
    I thought there is no class divide in Islam, they are all equal.
    What has changed?

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  • Deb
    Dec 28, 2011 - 5:22AM

    @Vijay K

    Power to Anna !
    Thanks for not asking for ‘power to the Army’.

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