I will return to Jantar Mantar, says Anna, but is this sensible?
The tendency of the civil society members to browbeat the government at the negotiation table could be counterproductive
The contours of the institution of Lokpal are getting curiouser by the day. The final shape of the institution is still hazy, but going by the statements of the representatives of Gandhian Anna Hazare, it could turn out to be an ultra powerful entity with a sweeping mandate to override other institutions.
Members of the government in the drafting panel have been at loggerheads with those of the civil society over several issues, many of them have to do with respecting basic arrangements in a democracy and institutional dignity. The enthusiasm of the of latter is understandable. It comes with the groundswell of public support and the innate assurance that their intention is honourable. But the government could have a valid ground for putting up resistance, too.
"The government has opposed the suggestion of civil society members to include the prime minister under Lokpal Bill," said activist Arvind Kejriwal on Monday. "It is also opposed to bringing the conduct of MPs inside Parliament under the purview of the bill."
The threat to the government has already arrived. "If the bill is not passed by August 16, I will return to Jantar Mantar. I want all of you to stand by me. Let them fill up the jails. Let's see how long they can manage to keep us there," Anna Hazare said on Sunday.
It is easy to swim with the tide and stand by him and his band of anti-corruption crusaders. Our parliamentarians have certainly not done us proud with their conduct—the scenes of the cash-filled suitcase during the no-trust motion in 2008 and the routine sight of members running to the well of the House or walking out of it are disgusting—and they deserve all the flak they get. But it is not as simple as it looks.
To bring their conduct under the Lokpal could mean making Parliament subservient to an external authority and thus undermining the paramount powers of the country’s top legislative body. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may not have any problems coming under the Lokpal's purview. But ultimately it’s not about him, it's about the dignity of the position of the prime minister and his authority as the country’s head.
Our parliamentarians need to be chastised all right. But the solution should come from within. Since arm-twisting is the order of the day, the civil society members could force the government to bring up a remedy without bringing down the dignity of institutions.
It’s still not clear what makes the Lokpal a cure-all for the troubles in the country. The civil society members are acting on the innocent presumption that the new institution would be free of all vices and the incumbents incorruptible. Even if that is allowed, there's no guarantee that the institution would not interfere with the activities of other institutions. What if prime ministers are pulled up for being corrupt on poorly substantiated charges?
"A strong Lokpal with adequate checks and balances is what we need. The government will not agree easily or pass the bill in the form that we want it. We might have to come out on the streets in protest many times," said Hazare, adding, "Our efforts must not be aimed at bringing governments down... We need an independent body to take on corruption."
Nobody suspects the good intent of the civil society members. But their over-enthusiasm is a matter of concern. The efforts to brow-beat the government and coercive ways could be counterproductive.
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