The stage is set for another showdown between Anna Hazare and the ruling UPA alliance at the Centre. As the Gandhian began his three-day fast in Mumbai on December 27 to press for a strong Lokpal Bill, the Lok Sabha began to debate the bill with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tearing into the bill, saying it is flawed and unconstitutional. The Lokpal bill envisages setting up an independent ombudsman who would have the power to investigate and prosecute politicians and civil servants.
Major actors and the deadlock
Anna Hazare and his team:
- The CBI should be brought under the Lokpal
- The Lokpal at the Centre and the lokayuktas in the states should have the power to initiate investigations suo moto into cases of corruption
- The Lokpal should be selected by consensus and not by majority decision within the selection panel
- The Lokpal should have powers to probe Group C employees
Manmohan Singh and his government:
- Recommends exclusion of lower bureaucracy from the purview of the anti-graft ombudsman, leaving the Central Vigilance Commission and the state lokayuktas to look into complaints against Group C and D officers in the Central and state governments, respectively
- Maintains independence and autonomy of CBI by not requiring it to report to either the government or Lokpal, keeping the judiciary and MPs out of the purview of Lokpal
- A separate framework for citizens' charter and grievance redressal mechanism
- A single comprehensive federal act dealing with both the Lokpal and state lokayuktas, reservation for SCs/STs and OBCs in the search committee
- Selection of Lokpal by a five-member committee comprising the PM, Lok Sabha speaker, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India and a fifth member to be chosen by a panel comprising Comptroller and Auditor General, the Chief Election Commissioner and the Union Public Service Commission chief
- Covering NGOs receiving over 10 lakh in donation annually
- The main opposition BJP plans to move as many as 37 amendments, including an enabling a provision for setting up state Lokayuktas, because the party feels it is against federal structure of governance as provided by the Constitution
- BJP also plans to move an amendment against the reservation for minorities in the selection panel for the lokpal as they feel it is unconstitutional
- The Left's amendments include separate investigative wing for the Lokpal and a broad-based selection panel for the Lokpal
- In addition, parties like the RJD and the JD(U), are set to oppose Section 24, which allows the Speaker and Rajya Sabha chairperson to act against a member of Parliament on the basis of the Lokpal report even before a trial is over
The government maintains the Parliamentary standing committee on the Lokpal bill has struck a fine balance between the Lokpal, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Central Vigilance Commission to check corruption and that no changes are required.
BJP plans to move as many as 37 amendments, including an enabling provision for appointing state lokayuktas, because the party feels the bill is against the federal structure of the country as provided by the Constitution.
The initial friction between anti-corruption activists and the Union government over the anti-graft Lokpal Bill has metamorphosed into an all-out war between the government and non-government groups. The polarisation is getting sharper. Most political parties have joined hands with the ruling alliance to oppose the “legitimacy” of non-government groups in taking part in legislative affairs. The confrontation has raised many questions.
Does this reset the relationship between the government and non-government organizations (NGOs)? Is it a battle for space between government and NGOs? Why is the government adopting such an aggressive approach towards the other side? Or, have the NGOs strayed into the political arena?
These questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. The crisis is an outcome of the post-liberalisation churning taking place. In the past 20 years, the state has undergone changes and comfortably settled its relationship with the market. The government is reducing its role in development works, leaving space for non-government players. The private, for-profit companies are entering the health and education sectors through private-public partnerships. Non-government, not-for-profit organisations are also rediscovering their roles.
Subjects that NGOs dealt with as social contractors have now extended to the Panchayati raj institutions. That is why NGOs have started reinventing themselves into groups advocating for rights and empowering legislation. But elected representatives see this as a threat to their mandate. Read more on this transformation as India marks 20 years of liberalisation