The efforts to draft a Lokpal bill acceptable to both the government and the civil society activists led by Anna Hazare seem to be going round and round the mulberry bush with the two sides seemingly unable to come to any agreement.
The sticking point is the category of people who will come within the ambit of the bill. The government after initially going along with the demands of the Hazare-led group seems to have had a change of heart on including the higher judiciary, the actions of MPs inside Parliament and the prime minister in the bill.
This once again raises the contentious issue of bringing the judiciary into the public domain of accountability. Then there is the issue of the prime minister. He himself has in the past signalled his willingness to have his office open to scrutiny.
The government has to think of a way of getting around the possibility of the lokpal making the Prime Minister dysfunctional and his office eing hobbled by motivated charges. The government, which is on the ropes after a series of ugly corruption scandals, should not be seen to be obstructionist in setting up a mechanism which will ensure greater transparency and accountability.
The judiciary itself should perhaps come forward and accept that it should be monitored by an external body rather than plump for the government’s proposal of self-regulation. This could be observed more in the breach than the norm and will do nothing to add to the weight and credibility of the judiciary.
If the two sides cannot come to an agreement, there is every likelihood that the June 6 meeting will result in a further hardening of positions. This could mean that the next session of Parliament will be held hostage to this issue.
However, the Lokpal has to have a clear line of command and has to be accountable. At the moment, the whole concept seems to be floating above the fray, fuelled only by the noble motive of cleaning up public life. If there is no accountability mechanism, the Lokpal could be subject to misuse and its value undermined.
However recalcitrant the government may be, Hazare and his followers would be well advised not to take to the streets as they have threatened.
Far-reaching legislations like the Lokpal can only be crafted after negotiations, gruelling though they may be, and not solely through agitational politics. Both sides have to come back to the drawing board with new suggestions on how to get around the sticking points.
The initial meeting may have been ‘disastrous’ but this should only spur both sides to stop moving on parallel tracks and work out a meeting point some way ahead.