April 15, 2021
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Lokpal: Whose Way Or The Highway?

Lokpal: Whose Way Or The Highway?

The Hindu editorial says the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 presented with much fanfare in Lok Sabha is "hopelessly ineffectual and constitutionally suspect" and "nothing less than a betrayal of national trust":

The key provisions of the new Bill relating to the selection of the nine-member Lokpal, its anti-corruption functions and powers, and administrative control over India's premier criminal investigation agency mock that purpose.

After noting that the opportunity to confer genuine independence on the Central Bureau of Investigation is being lost by keeping it out of the Lokpal's purview, the Hindu editorial points out the problems with the constitutional validity of some basic provisions of the Bill:

The inclusion of minorities among the groups given reservation in the nine-member body is bound to be challenged on the ground that it amounts to a quota being given on grounds of religion. While this issue has little bearing on tackling corruption, the deep and seemingly irreconcilable political divisions it has created, reflected in the manner in which it dominated the parliamentary debate on the Bill, is bound to have a bearing on its passage. Is this a ploy to let anti-corruption legislation fall victim to a wholly extraneous issue – reservation? Will it be allowed to degenerate, as in the case of the women's reservation bill, into a legislative exercise that everyone claims to support but few really want?

Meanwhile, Arvind Kejriwal counters the constant propaganda by Congress that Team Anna's attitude is dictatorial in an interview to NDTV:

The first Bill that we drafted was on 1st December 2010. After that this Bill, through several public consultations, several seminars, several meetings, has gone through 14 versions. And if you see the latest version and compare it to the first one, it has completely undergone change. And we are still seeking suggestions from the people. There were 3000 suggestions that we got from the website itself. We've incorporated many of these suggestions. So it will be completely wrong to say that we are saying "Either this Bill or no other bill". It is completely wrong to say that "my way or the highway". I think it is the Government that is adopting "my way or the highway". It is not we who are adopting "my way or the highway."

Comparing the debates over the Food Security Bill and the Lokpal Bill, Hartosh Singh Bal points out in Open:

Anna and members of his team have been willing to subject themselves to intense media scrutiny. Can we even begin to say the same about the Food Security Bill?

When Sonia Gandhi rides roughshod over serious objections for the sake of a few state elections looming ahead, we see an abdication of governance far more severe than in the Lokpal Bill’s case.

As for the bogey of Team Anna dictating legislation to Parliament, as Prashant Bhushan and others have often pointed out, they are only lobbying for what they believe is right -- Parliament is free to ignore them. And may we add, it is the party whips that would act as the real dictators even when it comes to voting in Parliament: individual MP's will not have the freedom to vote as per their conscience.

While both the BJP and the CPM have already announced that they intend to move a number of amendments to the bill, on the issue of reservations, there seems to be genuine concern that the controversy could derail the whole process. This is what Arvind Kejriwal told NDTV:

NDTV: Let's look at one of the things that people are worried could derail the Bill, the minority quota issue. Now, it's one thing to say that the Lokpal must be representative in nature to reflect India's pluralism, but there are many concerns that this is an aspect. It was introduced, taken out, re-introduced through the corrigendum. That this is something that could legally derail the Bill. Are you concerned?

Arvind Kejriwal: Two things are there. One is, we need a very, very strong and robust selection process. Once you have a robust selection process let there be reservations. We have absolutely no problem. If you have a robust selection process you can get an extremely good Muslim. There are so many Muslims who are very good people. You can get an extremely good Christian. You can get an extremely good person from a minority community. You can get an extremely good person from the Dalit community, if you have a good selection process. So we have absolutely no problems if there were reservation. But what is happening is that politics is being played in the name of reservation. They plan to completely scuttle the whole process in the name of reservation. You have reservation. We have absolutely no problem. But have a robust selection process. And if you had a bad selection process, then reservation or no reservation, you will get bad people.

NDTV: But Pranab Mukherjee says in Parliament that now the Courts will decide whether this is legally tenable or not. A number of other people have suggested that one way of doing it was not to formalize a minority quota, but like, for example, when you form the Cabinet, you say there should be people of all religions, communities and castes.

Arvind Kejriwal: As far as reservation is concerned, this thing is that we completely leave it on the Parliament to decide whether they want to have reservation. We are not against it at all.

NDTV: But are you concerned about the controversy will derail the Bill?

Arvind Kejriwal: That is what, the politics of this would derail the Bill. But secondly, this present bill is so bad, that in this form it should not be passed.

Santosh Desai adds in the TOI:

The difference between reserving jobs in the government or seats in the Parliament with reserving places on the Lokpal is that in the former instance, the attempt is to ensure that the aspirations of all are represented adequately, that the system has ensured that all voices have been heard so that it can take a genuinely informed decision. The final outcome however, is based on secular considerations, on the merits of the situation. At some point, only merit counts; what matters is the argument, not the identity of the person making the argument. At least some of us need to be charged with the responsibility of looking after all of us; for otherwise we could move to a situation where only a Dalit judge could preside over a case involving a Dalit, and so on. We would in the name of promoting inclusiveness, be retreating into the past, freezing existing social configurations in their current form and reducing all of us into who we are. We would be implicitly arguing that individuals can only speak on behalf of others like themselves, and not of larger ideas and ideals.

Reservations have a delicate task to perform- they need to make up for the inequalities of the past by recognising their source and reversing the imbalance while at the same time working to free us from the labels that imprison us. This balance extends to the system of governance where issues pertaining to identity need both to be acknowledged and risen above. A system which considers itself incapable of rising above narrow identity concerns at any level, will end up perpetuating the very evil it ostensibly fights against. By reserving seats on the Lokpal, a line just might have been crossed. We may just have accepted that our future cannot rise above our past.

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