For India, 2013 will be marked as a year that saw the rise of civil society movements, culminating in the electoral victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi assembly elections and the passage of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, on Wednesday.
Though social activists like Anna Hazare can take a large chunk of the credit for starting the anti-corruption movement and reviving the Bill that was hanging fire for 40 years and was put up for parliamentary approval eight times earlier, a large part of that glory should also go to the Damocles’ sword that is hanging over the heads of the political parties: the general elections in 2014.
Civil society pressure, public disappointment with political corruption and the impact the Bill could have in 2014, all these galvanised parliamentarians to come together despite initial differences to cobble together the Bill, which will now go to President Pranab Mukherjee for the final stamp of approval.
Such was the electoral pressure on the government that it was toying with the idea of even extending this session of the House to ensure the passage of the Bill. The only voice of opposition was the Samajwadi Party that walked out when the Rajya Sabha debated the Bill and passed it on Tuesday night. It was opposed to setting up an all-powerful institution in the country to investigate corruption in government.
The BJP came around only after the government accepted many of its recommendations. This raises the question as to why the UPA government dilly-dallied on them when in the end it accepted the proposals. The answer is, of course, it would have been too dangerous to go to the hustings without showing that it too, like other parties, is against corruption.
Many activists feel that only the Lokpal cannot ensure an effective accountability framework for citizens. To have a solid framework, it is critical that pending accountability legislations like the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2010, Whistleblowers Protection Bill and Judicial Accountability Bill be passed along with the Lokpal Bill.
In fact, while opening one door, political parties joined hands to close another by not agreeing to put themselves under the Right to Information Act's scanner. On Tuesday, the department-related standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice disagreed with a June 2013 order of the Central Information Commissioner’s ruling that political parties as “public authorities” ought to be brought within ambit of the RTI Act.
It recommended passage of the RTI (Amendment) Act, 2013, to nullify the CIC’s order. In many ways, this sums up the attitude towards corruption of the political parties that are vying for our votes: no inward gaze, please!