It hasn't taken long for the two
sides engaged in drafting the Lokpal Bill - the government and the
social activists led by the Gandhian Anna Hazare - to start taking
potshots at each other even after agreeing to work together.
The reason for the dissonance is not far to seek. The government
did not reach an understanding with Hazare of its own accord. It
was coerced into doing so by the fast-unto-death undertaken by the
crusader from Maharashtra in support of his demand for framing the
proposed legislation in keeping with his own, somewhat draconian,
Since he considers the official version to be too tame, he wants
to invest the ombudsman with the power to investigate and even
prosecute MPs without having to secure a clearance from the Lok
Sabha speaker or the Rajya Sabha chairman, as in the existing
draft. In addition, he wants to bring the judiciary and the
bureaucracy under the Lokpal's purview.
If he has succeeded in gathering a large measure of support for
these proposals, which go well beyond what the government
conceived, it is because of the stridency with which he has
carried on a sustained campaign against the "corrupt" politicians.
Yet, it is by stigmatizing the political class that he has created
problems for himself. The politicians, not unexpectedly, have
taken umbrage at the tarring of the entire profession with a black
brush. As senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh has said, "I touch
his (Hazare's) feet when I meet him. But he should not have said
this about politicians. There are all kinds of people in all walks
What is more, the castigation of the politicians has been seen as
criticism of the entire democratic system. According to Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani, those who spread a "climate
of disdain about politics and politicians are doing a gross
disservice to democracy".
While admitting that the credibility of politicians is low, BJP
president Nitin Gadkari has said "if all politicians are
discredited, who will have belief in the system? Will civil
society run the country?"
The same view was aired from the other end of the political
spectrum when Sitaram Yechury, a politbureau member of the
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), said Hazare's "disdain
for the voter and contempt for parliamentary democracy is indeed
disturbing". According to him, "Whenever there was a challenge to
India's secular democratic character, it was this very voter that
upheld and safeguarded the vision of a modern India".
Since this opinion will be shared by a section of non-politicians
as well, it may begin to undercut Hazare's campaign. This is all
the more so because there are elements in his ranks who have
openly expressed their disenchantment with the existing system.
Among them is the well-regarded civil libertarian Swami Agnivesh,
who is on record for saying he does not believe in "parliamentary
politics or representative democracy". Since he is also known to
be a sympathizer of the Maoists, who, too, have no faith in
"parliamentary politics", his presence is likely to create
problems for Hazare.
The same goes for the newcomer in politics, yoga guru Baba Ramdev,
who wants to set up a political party of his own. His criticism of
the nomination of the father-son duo of former union law minister
Shanti Bhushan and lawyer Prashant Bhushan to the committee on the
bill drew flak from within the Hazare camp, forcing the
saffron-robed spiritual mentor to withdraw his remarks.
Misgivings about the committee have also been expressed by Finance
Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who will be one of the two chairmen of
the committee, the other being Shanti Bhushan. Even as Mukherjee
described the committee's venture as an "experiment", he was not
sure whether its outcome would be good or bad.
These initial doubts and criticism show that the path to the
enactment of the new Lokpal law will not be strewn with roses.
Instead, it is likely to prove to be quite thorny considering that
the chances of the government agreeing to the formation of an
all-powerful ombudsman, a virtual "supercop", are dim.
That Hazare is already on the defensive is evident from his
rebuttal of the suggestion that he was trying to subvert
democracy. "My fast", he has clarified, "was not a campaign
against any government or person, but it was a satyagraha (a
Gandhian term) of the people against corruption."
The government's decision to accommodate his views was due to two
reasons. One was the fear about the impact of the fast on the
septuagenarian leader's health. The other was the embarrassment
which it was already facing because of the various scams - the
spectrum financial swindle, the Commonwealth Games scandal and the
Adarsh housing society episode - which made it weak-kneed before
Hazare's moral offensive.
To make matters worse, the proposed bill is only the latest in a
long series of such measures going back to 1968. What this
four-decade-long history of official lethargy emphasised was the
government's reluctance to frame an effective law which could book
the guilty politicians.
The absence of will seemed all the more inexcusable since the
number of Lok Sabha MPs with a criminal past has gone up from 128
in a house of 543 in 2004 to 162 at present, suggesting the "honourable"
representatives of the people have become increasingly brazen
about their dubious activities, knowing that these will not stop
them from getting elected.
It is this unsavoury background which has boosted Hazare's
movement. But it is possible that he has taken on more than he can
handle by antagonizing virtually the entire political class.
Unfortunately, in the process, he is also undermining the present
system by highlighting its fatal weaknesses while ignoring its
is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)