The irony was too glaring to be missed. On a day when it should have been going all guns blazing against the Naveen Patnaik government for having rushed through the Assembly perhaps the weakest Lokayukta Bill imaginable, the Odisha unit of the AAP was busy sending out requests to civil society members and sundry do-gooders to join a protest rally at 9 pm against 'the conspiracy of Congress/BJP to force Arvind Kejriwal's resignation' earlier that evening.
Forget organising a protest, it did not even bother issuing a customary statement condemning the 'toothless' Bill.
The party did release a perfunctory statement the next day, 15 February, completely rejecting 'this fraud' on the people. But even this statement dwelt, for the better part, on the 'pre-planned and organised conspiracy between Congress and BJP in resisting the tabling of the Jan Lokpal bill in Delhi' rather than the Odisha Bill.
Even a cursory look through the provisions of the Bill passed 'unanimously' in the Odisha Assembly on Friday would convince anyone why this Lokayukta Bill is unlikely to give sleepless nights to corrupt public servants. In a significant departure from the Lokpal Bill passed by the Parliament (which, by the way, is the model Bill that the states are expected to follow while enacting their own Lokayukta Bills) a few weeks ago, the Odisha Bill denies the Lokayukta control over the Directorate of Vigilance, the equivalent of the CBI in cases of corruption at the state level, and keeps it firmly and completely under the control of the government as before. It means the Directorate of Vigilance would be under no obligation to honestly investigate any case of corruption against a minister, an MLA of the ruling party or an officer close to it even if the case has been referred to it by the Lokayukta.
"The Director of Vigilance would continue to be appointed solely on the whim and discretion of the government of the day rather than by a three-member committee comprising the Chief Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of the High Court as in the case of the CBI Director at the central level," points out prominent RTI activist and convenor of the Odisha Lokayukta Abhijan.
As a party born out of the Jan Lokpal movement, it was only natural to expect AAP to be at the forefront of efforts to pressurise the Naveen Patnaik government to lend some teeth to the Lokayukta Bill. But forget leading such a movement, the AAP did not even bother lending its moral support to the Abhijan. It was so busy protesting the denial of an opportunity to Arvind Kejriwal to present the Bill that never was (the Jan Lokpal Bill) in the Delhi Assembly that it did not even contest the Naveen Patnaik government's blatant and boastful lie that it was the first state government to pass the Lokayukta Bill. In the event, it was left to the Abhijan to point out the glaring infirmities in the Bill.
Asked by Firstpost about the party's intriguing indifference to what has been its pet cause and indeed its very raison d' etre, senior AAP leader Dhanada Mishra sought to tamely explain it away thus; "We have been caught up with the series of events in Delhi to pay proper attention, particularly as the draft was never available."
"Given that the BJD government, by its own admission, is now accused in the Rs 60,000 crore mining scam, very little was expected from it by way of the Lokayukta act and hence we didn't pay much attention to it," he said pointing to the press release issued on Saturday.
Peeved at this 'persistent indifference' of the party, Pradip Pradhan of the Abhijan shot off a letter to senior AAP leader Yogendra Yadav on Saturday accusing his party of being 'afraid of exposing and fighting corruption in Odisha.'
"The same persons of AAP Odisha, who turned a deaf ear to the Odisha Lokayukta Abhijan, are now found appealing to us to join hands with them to protest against the BJP and Congress for blocking the passage of Jan Lokpal Bill in Delhi. What a great irony, indeed!" said Pradhan in his letter.
Revealingly, during a public meeting in Bhubaneswar on Thursday, Yadav himself did not utter a word against the attempt by the Naveen government to rush through the Lokayukta Bill, which was being debated in the Assembly barely a few hundred metres away from the place where he was speaking.
With the opposition - the Congress and the BJP - in complete disarray, AAP had the potential to occupy the entire Opposition space in the state. But in choosing to downplay - even ignore - the one issue that could have given it some traction in the run up to the election, it has squandered the chance to cash in on it. It has proved that the state unit of AAP, just as in the case of the two national parties, is there essentially to do the bidding of the central 'high command' and further its interests rather than chart an independent course for itself.
While those who had pinned their hopes on the AAP to launch in Odisha the equivalent of the 'crusade' it supposedly started in the national capital feel badly let down, Naveen Patnaik is certainly not complaining.
Updated Date: Feb 18, 2014 09:58:14 IST