Team Anna’s selective indignation
The year 2012 will be the year of the Lokpal and a slew of other legislations to combat corruption. Politicos may not want it. But they’re destined to have it.
I say this because I am not a cynic. Yet, the fight against graft wouldn’t succeed the way people want without the civil society being a little more flexible and the political class a lot more accommodative. There are limits to adversity; cooperation without standing on prestige could be boundless.
Much has been made of the Rajya Sabha logjam over the Lokpal Bill. Critics including those on Anna’s team would have one believe that all’s lost. But that isn’t true. The Bill continues to be the property of the House and the debate on it is inclusive. The government has no option but to have the unfinished business transacted when the Council of States reassembles for the Budget Session starting February.
I found for this reason a longish article Prashant Bhushan wrote in The Hindu on Monday a trifle short on facts and objective inferences. The activist-lawyer wrote the Rajya Sabha was prorogued on December 29 while it actually was adjourned sine die by Chairman Hamid Ansari.
The point needs to be clarified for an informed public discourse. Presidential summons are needed to convene a prorogued House. The Chairman can bring it into session if it’s adjourned sine die.
Like Bhushan, many in the Opposition have been critical of what transpired that night. But a vote in the House where the Government stood hugely outnumbered would have endorsed the Opposition’s truncated version of the law.
Would Anna’s advisors have been okay with a law that set up a Lokpal at the Centre but struck down the chapter relating to State Lokayuktas?
Prashant’s silence on this is a puzzle because Mamata Banerjee’s revolt was against what anti-graft campaigners are seeking — ombudsmen in provinces vide a central legislation under Article 253 of the Constitution.
I’ve heard Kiran Bedi say umpteen times in TV debates that the government was duty bound to follow the route as a signatory to the UN convention against corruption. Why then are civil society leaders not talking about this major flaw in the Bill the Upper House could have passed and sent for reconsideration to the Lok Sabha that earlier voted for a different version.
That the amended Bill would also have found favor in the Lower House was obvious from the BSP-SP-TMC lineup witnessed in the Rajya Sabha along with the Left and the BJP.
The government’s version passed in the first instance in the Lok Sabha was essentially on account of the TMC voting in support and the BSP-SP abstaining. That wouldn’t have happened in the repeat vote. Parties would have stuck to the Rajya Sabha pattern to defeat the government.
The result: a draconian Lokpal at the Centre and no Lokayuktas in States where they don’t exit and timid copies where they do. It was a trap the Opposition laid for the UPA and the civil society while swearing by federalism and pretending to back a strong Lokpal.
It’s this contradiction that leaves one wonderstruck by Bhushan’s silence on the issue and his partisan dissection of the December 29 events. Democracy wasn’t murdered in the House that night. It was mob-lynched by parties paying lip-sympathy to Team Anna.
One presumes the good lawyer and the doughty ex-cop are aware also of the amendment— carried earlier in the Lok Sabha at the Opposition’s bidding— exempting presiding officers’ (Speaker and Chairman) from reporting to the Lokpal on action-taken against MPs’ probed for their conduct outside the House. About time Team Anna did some plain speak on these points.