A choice between lok and parlok
The Congress will do well not to walk into “Parliament’s supremacy” trap on the timing and passage of the Lokpal bill it had promised to introduce and have passed in the legislature’s winter session that ends on December 22. Regardless of the complexities involved in making the proposed ombudsman a reality, any delay, howsoever legitimate, will cost the ruling coalition dear in terms of popular perception, impacting at once its fortunes in the impending polls in three states: Punjab, UP and Uttaranchal.
At the all-party meeting to discuss the parliamentary standing committee’s report on the Lokpal, a few opposition parties had cautioned the government against rushing into the passage of the Bill that required deep consideration and debate. The advice looked well meaning. But it is ill-timed; the UPA having run out of time, options and the required credibility to face up to the civil society’s challenge. Anna Hazare has threatened a jail bharo campaign if the Bill isn’t passed in the winter session in line with the Sense of the House resolution that saw him calling off his indefinite fast at the Ramlila Maidan.
Nothing prevents the government from extending the ongoing winter session beyond December 22, the trick being that the House can be adjourned sine die (and not prorogued) before Christmas and reconvened thereafter to take up the draft Lokpal legislation for debate and passage.
In Parliament’s institutional memory, the Lokpal Bill would then be deemed as being passed within the deadline promised to Hazare. In that eventuality, one would expect the anti-graft activist to defer or call off his protest to permit Parliament the time it needs to ensure an acceptable and robust Lokpal.
The sticking points — namely the CBI’s accountability to the ombudsman and the “appropriate mechanism” for bringing the lower bureaucracy under it— can then be seriously discussed in the House with the government open to changes that are sustainable, effective and permissible under the Constitution in its present or amended form.
The responsibility for ensuring an early closure of the issue devolves as much on anti-graft activists, who must distinguish between the “sense of the House’ and the considered view Parliament takes upon going into the nuts and bolts of the Lokpal legislation. That’s important because Laws passed by Parliament can be adjudicated and thrown out by Courts if found out of synch with the Constitution. Equally daunting are the prospects of creating an Ombudsman that’s a liability in governance terms.
Be that as it may, the sooner the UPA has the issue out of its way, the better it will be for its image and creditworthiness. This is not to suggest that the opposition wouldn’t be under “popular watch” for their sincerity in helping the government perform its duty. Maintaining Parliament’s supremacy isn’t just the responsibility of the ruling combine. The onus is on the entire political class; a choice kind of between lok and parlok.