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Win some, lose some

india Updated: Sep 04, 2011 01:58 IST
Karan Thapar

Now that a week has passed and the euphoria diminished it's time to ask how much did Anna Hazare's fast achieve? Could it be that the cold stark facts of reality are somewhat different to the hyperbolic cries of victory last Sunday morning?

First, however, I unreservedly accept that Anna galvanised the national conscience with an unprecedented campaign to fight corruption. Rarely has India been so aroused. And he did it in a way that forced both the government and Parliament to acknowledge the depth of public anger, bow to it and speedily enact legislation. This is a heroic achievement.

But did Anna get what he sought? Or did he scale down his demands and, even then, have to settle for less? And, when Parliament legislates, could he find his glass yet more empty?

Anna's fast began with a demand that the Jan Lokpal Bill be passed by August 30. Later, Arvind Kejriwal stretched the deadline to the end of the monsoon session. When that seemed unlikely, Anna's position metamorphosed into a demand to formally introduce his bill in Parliament. Finally, even that morphed into a demand for a resolution - not legislation - committing Parliament to his three "sticking points".

In response, Parliament agreed on a Sense of the House accepting "in principle" his three points. But it wasn't a resolution. Ask Pranab Mukherjee and he won't deny it. Nor was it a commitment. Ask Abhishek Singhvi and he'll confirm that.

Now, turn to what MPs said and you'll discover this "in principle" agreement isn't acceptance of Anna's position on the three points. MPs view them very differently.

The most MPs will do on the lokayuktas is to pass legislation with a model enabling bill for the states to adopt. But any one or all can reject it. It's not binding because Parliament can't legislate for the states without breaching the federal structure of our Constitution.

When it comes to the Citizen's Charter, Parliament can create one for all central government departments. But MPs may choose to create this grievance redressal mechanism outside the lokpal. The Sense of the House doesn't say it will be under it. And when it comes to the states, all Parliament can offer is a model law which they can ignore.

On bringing the lower bureaucracy under the lokpal, Parliament agreed to do so "through (an) appropriate mechanism". But what does that mean? Judging by the debate, it's either agreement to follow Aruna Roy's proposal that accountability will be enforced by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), which would only be administratively subordinate to the lokpal, or, as the BJP suggested, give the lokpal limited appellate authority. The latter is closer to Anna's position but still short of his full demand.

Finally, what about the rest of the Jan Lokpal Bill? Here, too, many of Anna's demands are unlikely to be accepted. The clauses that are clearly ruled out include bringing the higher judiciary and MPs under the lokpal and giving the institution disciplinary control over government employees. But even the treatment of the PM is likely to be closer to Roy's or the BJP's thinking than Anna's while the appointment mechanism will not fully adhere to his wishes. And no MP will give the lokpal power to tap phones.

So, has Anna got what he wants?

Yes and no. In terms of details, 'no'. But in terms of awakening India to the need to act, clearly 'yes'. Would anyone deny the latter is more important?

The views expressed by the author are personal