The public support for the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare for establishing a strong Lokpal is growing wider and deeper across the country with every passing minute. At the same time, there also have been a number of criticisms against Team Anna. Most of these criticisms are way simplistic, like saying Anna has to stand for an election if he wants his bill to be passed etc. So let us not discuss them here again. Let us concentrate on the most valid ones now.
The most vocal of the criticisms against Team Anna is that their stance is rigid and adamant. There have been people claiming that Anna Hazare is having a “My Way is the highway” approach towards the entire issue. That Anna Hazare is black mailing the parliament saying it HAS to pass HIS version of the Bill. That Team Anna is not prepared to have ANY discussions on their bill, etc. How valid are these criticisms of Anna Hazare and his movement?
Janlokpal Bill is Anna Hazare’s Bill
First and foremost Janlokpal bill is NOT Anna Hazare’s Bill. The very claim that Anna Hazare is saying “My Bill” in the context of “I created this bill” is completely baseless. Anna Hazare is a social activist NOT a legal expert. You or I cannot go and draft a bill, no matter how good our intentions are, without understanding the legalities of the wordings involved, and the complexities of clauses involved in it. Only legal experts can do that.
The Jan Lokpal Bill was created by legal experts in the India Against Corruption Movement after taking inputs from across the country. Yes, I repeat from across the Country. The government standing committee on lokpal only recently announced, that it wants to take into consideration public opinion from across the country on lokpal bill. But Team Anna has been doing this from day one.
For those who are not aware, way back in April 2011 Team Anna started accepting public opinion as input in creating a strong lokpal bill. They had even created a dedicated website for this at lokpalbillconsultation.org which has received till to date hundreds of inputs. The first inputs received are way back in the month of April. Below are some examples of the received inputs from the general public.
I appreciate the endeavour, I would like to say that even judges must be included in the Lokpal bill in order to make judiciary transparent and decide the matter on merits. – Vinay Pannu
A Member of Legislative Assembly(MLA) and Panchayat authority such as sarpanch etc have not been included in the defination of a “PUBLIC SERVANT”. Please make this addition so that we can weed out corruption at a grass root level.. All the best in your endeavour for a beautiful india. - Blasco J Fernandes
The Draft should include a clause which explictly makes it mandatory for the electronic and print media to daily highlight the cases being probed by the Lokpal together with the progress on them on a weekly basis. The cases pertaining to a State can be highlighted by the media of that State as a start. This would effectively keep “corruption” alive in the minds of the the people and ensure no derailment of the process. - K. Madhusudan
Team Anna has also in the mean time toured across the country gathering public input on the issue. It is only after repeated debates and discussions that the legal experts in Anna’s Team created the Jan Lokpal Bill Draft. Look at the list of some of the eminent personalities in the team which drafted the Jan Lokpal Bill.
- Shanti Bhushan – Senior Advocate and former Union Law Minister in the government of Morarji Desai.
- Kiran Bedi – Former IPS officer, Magsaysay award winner, former United Nations police advisor.
- Justice N. Santhosh Hegde – Former justice of the Supreme Court Of India, former Solicitor General of India and the former Lokayukta (ombudsman) of Karnataka whose report on “illegal mining” in the state made the Chief Minister of the state and his cabinet resign.
- J M Lyngdoh – Former Chief Election Commissioner and Ramon Magsaysay Award winner.
So it is not “My Bill” by Anna in the literal sense. It is “Our Bill” for all those who have been a part of it, including the eminent personalities from public life and the general public who have given their inputs and opinions. And this is how legal drafts should be prepared in a democracy.
Team Anna is NOT prepared for discussions and debates on Janlokpal Bill
True, public memory is very short. But can it be so short? Does anybody even remember about the “Joint Drafting Committee” that was formed by including members from both the civil society (Team Anna) and the government?
- Wasn’t there an opportunity for the government to debate and discuss the issues and differences of opinion in detail with the members of Team Anna and get them resolved then and there?
- Why did the government refuse to video record and televise the proceedings of the joint drafting committee meetings? What was there to hide?
- Why did it at all create an opportunity to send Team Anna back into a position where they had to start from the scratch all over again?
How many times does one expect Team Anna to be footballed between protests and discussions?
- The Team Anna first asked for discussions on Lokpal and the government refused them a place.
- Then Anna Hazare went on a fast on April 5 2011
- Then the government gave up and formed a “Joint Drafting Committee” on Lokpal comprising of members of civil society and government.
- Then again the government went ahead and presented its own version of the Lokpal bill to the parliament.
- Then Team Anna approached the Delhi police seeking permission to organize protests again, which was denied.
- Then the Delhi Police arrested Anna Hazare for going ahead with the protest and later released him giving permission for the same protest on the issue of which they had arrested him earlier.
- Now they want Team Anna to get back to the discussion table again!
Come on, there is a limit to this. How many times do we want to keep holding discussions and fasts? For heaven’s sake, this bill has been making the rounds of the parliament for the past 40 years without being agreed upon and passed, and we still want to continue holding discussions and debates? With every passing minute crores more of tax payer’s money gets looted and routed to swiss accounts, and back in the black markets within the country.
All those who are now saying that Janlokpal bill should be discussed, what were they doing for all these years? How many of them have in the past four decades pressed the government to debate on its lokpal draft and get it passed? Why all the fuss now? Just because the movement has grown in size and proportions?
In spite of this if one accuses Team Anna of being rigid – well then fine, lets get back to the table of discussions as and when the government and the critics finds some free time – and keep repeating this till the times of our great grand children and hope that another Anna will take up the cause again then.
The way out towards a logical conclusion of the Lokpal confrontation
The government should first climb down from its arrogant behavior. Stop using terms like “Parliament is Supreme”, “We create laws, not the civil society”, “Anna Hazare should stand for elections” etc. Those who don’t know, don’t know about it. Those who know, very well know that it is the civil society group in the NAC (National Advisory Council) which creates the draft bills for the parliament to discuss and pass, that in India Constitution in Supreme, not the Parliament, and in the Constitution (as pointed out by the top jurist Fali Nariman) WE THE PEOPLE comes before Parliament or President or Prime Minister.
The ploy of government’s attempt to project the anti-corruption movement as a confrontation between civil society and parliament of India is not going to work either. Ever since the midnight attack on Baba Ramdev’s movement the government has been committing blunder after blunder. The Arrest of Anna Hazare, the statements by Congress spokespersons, the flip flops – are all only going to project an even more increasingly negative image of the government to the general public.
The government had a golden opportunity of being seen on the side fighting against corruption when it created the joint drafting committee with Team Anna. It should have sorted all its differences then and there on the draft Lokpal Bill and could have easily emerged as the first government in Independent India which was serious about fighting corruption and introduced a strong anti-corruption lokpal institution in the country. Now, after all these unfortunate twists and turns that took place later – the government is seen on the opposite side of the fight against corruption. Definitely not a good PR for a government if it is serious about coming back to power the third time.
Hence, sense would prevail now if government stops wasting time (every passing by minute is precious as the crowd keeps growing in number and Sri Anna Hazare is losing weight), and
- Step 1: Withdraw the government’s version of the Lokpal Bill. Be humble and accept the fact that it simply has no substance in it.
- Step 2: The top decision makers in the government (PM included) should forget all their egos and start discussing with Team Anna with all seriousness.
- Step 3: Debate all the pending contentious issues. Either convince the other side or get convinced on all these outstanding differences. Get the opposition leaders of the parliament involved in the process. In a democracy it is a blunder to ignore the opposition on crucial issues like these.
- Step 4: Present the mutually agreed Lokpal Bill draft to the parliament. From here on wards it becomes the responsibility of the parliament (opposition included) to pass the bill into a law. Government wins Round 1 if it reaches till here.
- Step 5: Have a healthy debate in the parliament with members and any parties opposing the bill. If the government had involved opposition members actively in Step 3, then there will be little chances of requiring major amendments to the draft at this stage.
- Step 6: If all the earlier steps are taken care of, then in all probability the parliament will pass the bill during the vote. If not, the entire blame for not passing the bill would go on those opposing it and not on the government, for the government has already done its part.
This is how you convert a difficulty into an opportunity. And if you don’t, you are to blame yourself. Remember, Anna Hazare has called for a Jail Bharo Andolan from August 30. Time is seriously running out and so will be options.