Another round of sulking awaits us as the draft of the lokpal bill moves from the Cabinet and proceeds towards Parliament. Anna Hazare and his team of ‘civil society’ members are upset that the draft has ignored key demands. This is understandable, but does Mr Hazare’s decision to go on a fast serve any real purpose beyond showcasing a sulk? The issue that has turned into a monolithic ‘our way or the highway’ battle between the government and the civil society members of the drafting committee is actually more nuanced than it’s being made out to be. One is still unconvinced about the Cabinet’s argument regarding keeping a sitting Prime Minister out of the lokpal’s purview. To provide the Prime Minister immunity because of the ‘fear’ of instability of a government pulls the rug from under the very concept of accountability from the top. It is quite astonishing that despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly keen on his office coming under the lokpal’s scrutiny, the Cabinet overruled what would have been a genuinely legitimate and reassuring demand.
The exclusion of the conduct of Members of Parliament is less of a dilution, considering the lokpal can take up corruption cases against MPs and ministers. The writ of the lokpal is to tackle corruption, so to have this specific feature is good enough. As for the judiciary being exempt from the lokpal’s probe, the conflict of interest argument is strong and the matter of the pending Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill should be considered — and debated on — in Parliament. The fact that most cases of corruption start rolling from the lower levels of the bureaucracy was a strong case for all central government employees — and not only officials of under-secretary rank and above — to come under the lokpal’s purview. This, too, has been rejected by the Cabinet in the name of caution.
In any negotiation, both parties need to ‘give’ for the matter to move forward. Mr Hazare’s call for an indefinite fast does little to break the proverbial paradox of the meeting of an irresistible force with an immovable object. There is no doubt that Mr Hazare and his colleagues have pushed the government from presenting an anodyne lokpal bill in Parliament to a less toothless one. But it would serve his purpose — and the nation’s requirement for having a genuinely strong anti-corruption body — much more if Mr Hazare refrains from what can be perceived as plain table-banging and take more mature steps for action after Parliament has debated the bill. For, in the end, it’s not a battle of egos that the nation needs but a solid, functional anti-corruption watchdog.