Lokpal bill: Anna Hazare giving in to remain relevant?

After initially settling for polite slights against one another, former guru and protege, Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal, are now sitting firmly in opposite camps over the passage of the Lokpal bill that is still pending in the Rajya Sabha.

While united under the aegis of India Against Corruption, the two activists were firmly against the Lokpal Bill that had been tabled by the government in the Lok Sabha. The bill subsequently was cleared by the lower house of Parliament and was sent to a Parliamentary  Select Committee that has made recommendations ahead of it being tabled before the Rajya Sabha.

PRS Legislative has an interesting analysis on the evolution of the Lokpal bill in the Lok Sabha itself. The Lok Sabha made it non-mandatory for states to implement it, grants unlimited extensions to carry out investigations into a complaint and made it non-mandatory for bodies to report the action taken on the complaint.

In the Rajya Sabha, after the bill went to the select committee, further amendments were suggested, many of which have been agreed to by the Cabinet. So what has changed? 

PTI

PTI

For one states now have the option to decide how to create the Lokayuktas and only have to follow the Lokpal model that is passed by Parliament. Members of Lokpal were not supposed to be connected to any political party, which has now been modified slightly to say that they shouldn't be directly affiliated to them.

However, it is when it comes to the prosecution of public servants that the biggest changes took place. The cabinet decided that the Lokpal should begin investigations into allegations against a public servant only after hearing his version of the event.

The select committee also suggested a number changes to the manner in which the CBI operates. All of these changes were accepted barring one which said that the Lokpal could control the transfer of CBI officials investigating cases transferred by it.

While the India Against Corruption group had always been opposed to the government draft of the Lokpal Bill, the volte face by Anna Hazare and group on the bill is perhaps the biggest surprise. As of last year, the anti-corruption activist said that unless the Jan Lokpal Bill, incorporating all the group's suggestions, was not passed by Parliament he would start fasting again.

There are many differences that have been highlighted between the bill introduced by the government in Parliament and the Jan Lokpal Bill that was originally suggested by the India Against Corruption movement. They include how Lokpal members are chosen and dismissed, the role of the CBI under the anti-corruption ombudsman

The discussion over the Lokpal only resurfaced again ahead of the Delhi elections when Anna Hazare decided to take on Kejriwal, a move that raised questions over his fading relevance and whether he was attempting to revive his image on the national stage. The timing of his support for the modified bill has obviously resulted in insinuations of a political conspiracy to sway the septuagenarian. Despite the Congress' new found support for the Lokpal Bill, its unlikely that it really has any real interest in the legislation beyond adding it to its mantle where other legislation like the Food Security Bill and others rest.

Thanks to his week-long fast, Hazare, despite initial scepticism, is firmly back in the national spotlight but unlike his former protege, who has firmly refused any kind of political support despite a stellar showing in the Delhi elections, the activist seems rather willing to accept a political compromise of the kind he wouldn't have even thought of accepting a year ago.

This bill undeniably misses the mark when it comes to the Lokpal Bill demanded in 2011.  But for Anna Hazare, his relevance on the national stage now hinges on an issue that risks being hijacked by a political party, or horror, by his former lieutenant at arms.

The acceptance of the Lokpal Bill, that Parliament might unite to pass, is a cop out by the new Team Anna. The explanation offered is that this bill is the closest to what the agitators had demanded and amendments can later be brought about through Parliament to set it right.

Team Anna evidently has burnt all its bridges with its former protege this time round. And unfortunately in doing so has ended up looking much like the very politicians it vilified throughout its campaign. Curiously enough the veneer of pragmatism it attempts to give its decision is very similar to those used by those who are expected to pass the Lokpal Bill. 

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