There’s a tragi-comic debate being played out on Television channels – the debate is between National political parties about who is more corrupt. It’s a sign of our times when corruption and malgovernance is reduced to one of relative standards, instead of an absolute standard of probity and integrity.
It’s a very useless debate and an unfortunate reflection of how fast the standards of our Governance, and indeed politics, are plummeting. What would be more appropriate and indeed what people want to know is what the Parties will do in future to create a sharp break from the old style politics and governance and embark on a new style transparent and responsive form of Government.
Some weeks ago, I wrote that Jantar Mantar and Anna Hazare’s movement represents a unique inflection point in the direction we are taking as a nation and people. Politics and politicians who were meant to represent hope for the people have long since morphed into a source of despair and pain for most Indians. The season of scams and tumbling skeletons have only added to the already rock bottom confidence and faith in our Government institutions and Government. The cry for a Lokpal Bill is a clear and visible desire of the people to initiate some change in the way their Government conducts itself.
Predictably, there has been a closing of ranks amongst political parties – against this perceived threat and invasion of their turf. After a series of engagements with civil society representatives – which now seem to have been a farcical play to the gallery – there is a draft Lokpal Bill that has been approved by the Cabinet of the Government of India – to be introduced in Parliament this session.
For a government that is now characterized by the now legendary spin of Kapil Sibal’s “No loss” statement, this Lokpal Bill will be perceived as yet another insincere effort to pursue the real issue of malgovernance. That the Government is relying on spin and not substantive efforts is probably confirmed by its recent list of ‘administrative discretions’ available to Ministers that are now being removed – They seem like a joke! Are people concerned about whether the Posts Minister has the discretion to issue a stamp; or Urban Development minister for out-of-turn allotment of an official home; or Minority Affairs Minister for nominating members to the Central Wakf Council; or Railways Minister for granting concession on requests for attaching additional coaches to trains, awarding complimentary passes, membership of passenger amenities committee, services committee; or Fertilizer Minister for appointment of two representatives in Fertilizer Advisory Forum; or Coal Minister for appointment of non-official member in National Coal Consumer Council and Coking Coal Limited; or Telecom Minister for appointing telephone advisory committee members, giving out-of-turn telephone connections, out-of-turn decision to release stamps.
Corruption in Government is a far more entrenched malaise than what Governments either want to acknowledge or seek to address. The Lokpal Bill in its current form or this timid effort at trimming discretions will not even make a little dent in the trajectory and vibrant growth of vested interests in Government, Malgovernance and corruption. The test of this is simple – Take the Lokpal Bill or any of these administrative discretion changes and apply it to any of the recent scams - Would this Lokpal Bill deter the 2G scamsters – would the PM have prevented the Minister and his group from giving away spectrum? Would this Lokpal Bill have prevented the Finance Minister from ignoring this loss to the exchequer? Would this Bill have prevented the CWG scam, the NTRO scam, the CVC appointment or any of the recent embarrassments – the prevention of these scams is as important – because the deterrent effect of such a legislation and institution is as important as post-facto prosecution! The answer is a resounding NO!
So I can’t help but agree with Prashant Bhushan when he calls this a ‘jokepal’ bill and with Anna Hazare when he says this is a joke on the people of India. So let the second revolution begin on August 16th!