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Lokpal: the real issue

india Updated: Dec 23, 2011 02:17 IST

Hindustan Times
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At the risk of repeating ourselves, what is at stake when it comes to the Lokpal Bill that was tabled on Thursday in Parliament is not whose Bill will be made law, but whether the country will get a strong, anti-corruption law that is practical enough to be implemented. For far too long, the drama has eclipsed the actual content of the legislation sought. On Thursday, we again found a trenchant Anna Hazare threaten agitation if Parliament does not pass the lokpal in accordance to every detail he and his agitating colleagues have demanded. UPA chairperson, breaking her silence over the matter, firmly stated the government's will to 'fight for lokpal' and that there was no need to be 'defeatist'. This was a welcome statement, considering many were starting to worry whether the government's enthusiasm to push for the Lokpal Bill was indeed shared by the Congress.

The Bill, as has been tabled in Parliament on Thursday, has incorporated demands from the Opposition and Mr Hazare's team, which notably includes the prime minister coming under the purview of the ombudsman with necessary caveats. The main point over which there is a deadlock is regarding the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The government, in its Bill, has suggested the lokpal to have a supervisory role over the CBI in cases pertaining to corruption. Also, to underline the demand for autonomy of the investigative body, the CBI director would be selected not directly by the government of the day, as is the case now, but by a panel that is made of the prime minister, leader of the Opposition, the chief justice of India or his nominated judge. This does bring the CBI emphatically out of the government's loop without diluting its investigative powers - something that could be the case if a lokpal, or any other statutory body, for that matter - is constantly peering over its shoulder.

Thankfully, a consensus looks like taking shape and legislators from across partylines will meet next week to see to a firm Lokpal Bill being passed. Within Parliament - despite the stalling noises from the regional parties with their own agendas - the political drama seems to be giving way to the actual job at hand: to provide a strong law against statutory corruption. The problem, though, now lies outside it. If Mr Hazare's efforts have brought the lokpal issue where it has now, it would be unfortunate if the same Mr Hazare, out of some millennial spite that mistakes accommodation for weakness, sets off on a different agenda altogether. For at stake here is not who won and who didn't - defining which is about politics, not law-making - but whether a necessary anti-corruption law that has been at the gates for decades on end will finally be allowed to enter.