From the first time I met Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare, I found myself unimpressed by the Lokpal idea. This was before Anna was arrested and before the Ramleela hunger strike that made him so famous and started an anti-corruption movement across the country. It was at a panel discussion organised by Rahul Kanwal for Headlines Today in Delhi’s Kamani auditorium. The hall was filled with the supporters of Anna’s movement who jeered and screeched abuses every time I tried to point out that a new law would make no difference to the levels of corruption. When I drew their attention to China, not having been able to control corruption despite the corrupt officials being sentenced to death, the jeering got so aggressive that we had to stop recording the program while Kejriwal tried to calm down his supporters. I mention this only to emphasise that I have been a conscientious objector from day one, and hence it is not that now, when the Lokpal Bill is about to become a law that I have realised that it is a bad idea.
Recently, I have been trolled by Twitterati for speaking up too late.
In any case, there is no room left for the conscientious objectors as we now have a situation in which Rahul Gandhi and Anna Hazare are writing letters to each other congratulating themselves on the new law while the BJP is trying its best to take some credit for itself. So why are so many political parties in agreement on the setting up of theLokpal? Why is the bill being passed in such haste just before a general election? Could it be because most politicians know that it will make no difference at all on the corruption front? I believe this is the reason and let me explain why.
India’s laws for punishing corrupt officials are already very strong as is evident from the large number of Ministers and higher officials who found themselves packed off to Tihar Jail for their involvement in the 2G licenses scam. And, let us not forget Suresh Kalmadi who went to jail for his role in the Commonwealth Games scandal. It is not that the laws are not strong enough, but there is no point in having tough laws if the justice system continues to work at the pace of a bullock cart. In countries with more efficient justice system, it does not take decades for a case to be decided. In India, it took more than twenty years for the terrorists responsible for the 1993 bombings in Mumbai to be brought to justice. In the case of Ajmal Kasab, things moved faster but the men who planned the 26/11 attacks remain free and unpunished. Why is it that India is incapable even of doing to Hafiz Saeed what the United States did to Osama bin Laden?
These are the things I bring up only to point out that a justice system that takes this long to punish terrorists will naturally be more lax when it comes to the corrupt officials. That is our real problem. When Kejriwal was asked about the need for a Lokpal in a recent television interview, he said that the Lokpal would make a difference because it would be a better institution than the institutions that currently handle corruption cases in India. How can he guarantee this? Will it not be the same petty officials that will work for the Lokpal as they work today for the CVC and the Enforcement Department of the Finance Ministry?
Having had some dealings with these enforcement officials on more than one occasion, I would like to tell you that they are so puffed up with their power that they trample on the basic fundamental rights of those whom they suspect of economic offences. They treat suspects as guilty till proven innocent. On top of this, there is the matter of their personal corruption. Cursory inquiries in business circles in Mumbai is all you need to find out how much money is paid to bribe officials of the income tax department. Nobody can do anything to stop this either because any attempt to bring these officials to book usually causes them to target you even more. So just think what is likely to happen when they transfer their duties to a new institution that gives them even more powers of search, seizure and punishment.
The Lokpal idea was thought up by a group of self-righteous individuals whose contempt for institution building was reflected in their original demand to have only Magsaysay award winners on the Lokpal board. Institutions are built by systems being put in place and not by high-minded individuals but those who have never had anything to do with governance, cannot know this. Nor can they know that democracy is not deepened by going to the people every time you want to make a decision about something. It is deepened when better people get elected to legislatures and when these elected representatives are held to account for the things they do and not do. If Arvind Kejriwal took up the responsibility of forming a Government in Delhi with support from the Congress, he would discover very soon that it is simply not possible to make laws or govern at all if he continues to go back to the people. Could he be doing this at the moment because he knows how difficult it will be to live up to his high principles once he becomes the Chief Minister of Delhi?
It is India’s misfortune that the mainstream political parties have acquired such a bad reputation for venality and corruption that they are trying to redeem themselves by passing a law, this will do no more than adding another layer of bureaucracy to a system already slowed down by red tape. It is India’s misfortune that what could be the final session of the Lok Sabha, is going to be wasted on making laws of dubious merit. Keep in mind that it is not just the Lokpal Bill that the Government is so keen to push through, but the even more dubious Communal Violence Bill. Once again, it is a completely useless new law because when there is communal violence, it is the absence of law and not the quality of law and order which is the problem. What more can be said than that the sooner we have a general election the better it will be for India.