Column : Candle in the wind

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | Updated: Apr 20 2011, 07:05am hrs
It hasnt even been a week since India Gate was awash in candle light, the wax on the candles hadnt even sputtered to stubs before the joint committee on the drafting of the Lokpal Bill was caught in several controversies.

First came the news that the co-chair of the committee, former Union law minister Shanti Bhushan and his son, also a member of the joint committee and a lawyer himself, could be embroiled in fixing judges for the Samajwadi Party. The debate on whether or not a CD that proves this allegation is authentic or not was a postscript to the first meeting of the joint committee.

Deep political opposition to the proposed Jan Lokpal version of the Bill, as articulated by Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit and echoed across party lines, came next. But perhaps the biggest challenge to a Lokpal Bill seeing the light of day is the lack of consensus among civil society activists on the shape of the Bill.

On the face of it, it is a no-brainer. If, for the last 40 years, consensus has not been built around a common draft for the Bill, it isnt likely to now. The opportunity for pushing through the legislation, in the face of a popular demand, however, is like no other at this time. It is, therefore, tragic that a liberal consensus on the shape of the Bill is non-existent.

The Jan Lokpal Bill, as put forward by the civil society representatives, envisages a sort of a super structure administered by a Lokayukta, which would have a parallel power of investigation, prosecution and punishing cases of graft, over and above the system currently in place. Actually, an 11-member group whose authority will derive not only from the state but also from the fact that their appointment would be transparent and, therefore, afford them a moral authority in taking on cases dealing with graft.

This idea of a super structure has been opposed rather vehemently, not so much by the political class but by civil society activists like Aruna Roy, who are also members of the National Advisory Councils working group on an anti-graft law. Roys opposition principally relates to this super structure. Parallel consultation held by the National Campaign for Peoples Right to Information (NCPRI) has come to the conclusion that a more comprehensive system of checks and balances is required rather than a super structure of this sort. The NCPRI draft and knowing its influence on members of the NACthe draft which would be put forward by that bodywill, in fact, argue for a judicial accountability and standards bill to also be tabled.

The consultation held by it came to the conclusion that strengthening the CVC by removing the single directive and providing investigative capacity to the office is important, as is the legislation of a whistle-blowers act. The NAC, very gamely, has decided to put on hold its draft and wait for the joint committee to finalise its views on the issue. The NCPRI, which has many NAC members as constituents, does not have the same qualms.

As these voices, never the kinds to whisper, are making themselves heard, the political class could be considering itself safe from yet another attempt to curb it. There had been a banding together of a ramshackle liberal consensus on several other issues before (the anti-emergency movement being a more germane example), which was blown away by differences between opposing view points and strong personality clashes. A lot of the cynicism displayed by the media on Anna Hazares fast, in fact, stemmed from this baggage from the past. Of hopes belied by differences of opinion.

It would be a pity, therefore, if a lack of a consensus would fritter away the opportunity provided by Indias middle class for a genuine set of measures to combat graft.