Lokpal Bill: dead on arrival, but its weakness may save it

Every royal court needs a court jester. The Lok Sabha, the nearest thing to a royal court, has its Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Yesterday, Lalu was in mid-season form, regaling his fellow parliamentarians with his earthy humour while shredding the Lokpal Bill, which was introduced after much stalling. Every snark remark from him directed at Anna Hazare and every pointed but over-the-top criticism of the Lokpal Bill was received with exuberant thumping of desks all around, including, most visibly by Queen Sonia and Yuvraj Rahul.

But behind the laughs and the tittering was palpable nervousness – that a strong Lokpal Bill, in the shape and form that Team Anna envisages and has been pressing for, may sound the death knell to Politics As Usual. In that sense, all that high-decibel desk-thumping only echoed and amplified the nervous pitter-patter of cold hearts that sensed the existential threat from a strong anti-corruption agency.

 Lokpal Bill: dead on arrival, but its weakness may save it

The Court Jester regales his audience. PTI

Of course, the Court Jester, in his inimitable way, served to mask that fear in bombastic bravado. And since our unruly Parliament is starved for laughs, his rustic humour was seen as providing welcome relief from all the tiresome sloganeering of politics. But little did our guffawing MPs realise that by reducing Parliament to a laughing stock with their conduct, they were in effect laughing at themselves.

Politics can turn on a dime, and the politics of the Lokpal Bill too will likely twist and turn in unfathomable ways. From the collective sentiment as expressed by MPs in the Lok Sabha yesterday when it was introduced, the Lokpal Bill seems to be dead on arrival.

“The singular theme emerging from the proceedings of the house…was the unease across the political establishment in dealing with a bill that virtually all were wary of,” notes the Indian Express. “Speaker after speaker in the Lok Sabha got up to question the 'tearing hurry' in which the bill was being pushed through and the threats by Anna Hazare and his team as they prepare for yet another fast beginning the same day as the debate in the house."

The BJP too has demanded that the Bill in its present form should be withdrawn. Its leader Sushma Swaraj said it was important that the law should not be “patently unconstitutional” and later be rejected in the court of law. The BJP also has reservations about the mandataory establishment of Lokayuktas at the state level.

Other fringe parties too object to the perceived “encroachment” on the rights of States.

Even Team Anna, which had been pressing the government for early passage of the Bill, now wants to see the bill in its current form defeated - because of its inherent flaws.

No one, it appears, wants this bill to be passed in its present form.

Except, that is, the Congress. The Congress is in a curious dilemma, because it fears that it will face the brunt of the political heat from Team Anna’s campaign if the bill is not passed by the deadline it has set. After Sonia Gandhi’s commendation of the Bill in its present form as “fabulous” – despite its many failings – the Congress seems eager to get it passed, after which it can then take credit for having passed a Lokpal Bill.

The political instinct of the Congress – as manifest in its foot-dragging for much of the year and in the way it has diluted the provisions of the Bill – may go against the grain, but it is today coming across as the only party that wants to get this Bill over with. It knows more than anyone else that the Bill is weak enough not to disturb the tranquillity of career politicians. And of course, going by the tenor of the parliamentary speeches yesterday, it may be diluted some more.

So, although the Lokpal Bill in its present form may seem dead on arrival, going by the opposition to it all around, in a perverse sort of way, those very failings in the Bill – among them the failure to make the CBI autonomous, and the failure to empower the Lokpal with investigative powers – may administer it the kiss of life.

At the end of the day, we will have an enfeebled and emasculated Lokpal. And the joke will be on us.

Watch video of Lalu Prasad Yadav saying that PM should be kept out of Lokpal

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Updated Date: Dec 23, 2011 12:10:46 IST