Sunday, July 28, 2013

Who did what for Lokayukta and Anti Corruption – Here is the Truth Mr. Hazare

Last week or so has seen many influential people come up with interviews, references and quotes where they have taken a stand on many issues, including development economics, secularism, and most recently: Lokayukta appointment.

These are topics that are really serious and a debate from these influential and remarkable personalities is welcome , only if it would not be diluted by the quintessential advise or opinion they never failed to give at the end: "Who is preferable for the post of Prime Minister?"

To be fair to them, the media houses must’ve put this question to them and maybe more than once, at the time of the interview. Additionally also is the particular Indian quirk that we Indians have , at home or as NRI’s:- we’re always happy to advise or give opinions – solicited or not.

Therefore it is time to set the record straight, particularly for Mr. Hazare whom I regard as a man worthy of respect and someone who has genuinely tried to be apolitical. Apolitical does not mean you be balanced however. If the narrative and the evidence points to one position being predominantly true, you're doing injustice by deliberately trying to be balanced !

Annaji's Complaint

In answer to a question, Mr.Hazare said that: In the past ten years of his being the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi created hurdles in setting up Lokayukta which only goes on to stress his views that appointment of anti-graft ombudsman was not required to bring an end to corruption.

A discussion of this will be incomplete unless we understand an important aspect that has been time and again diluted, twisted and diminished in the media.

Mr. Narendra Modi is a part of BJP and BJP has Mr. Modi as a very senior and important member of it. These are not two separate entities with different ideologies who came together one fine day. Mr. Modi has been in BJP since the start of his political career and has grown from the ranks of a Karyakarta. He was not born with a silver spoon Therefore to say Narendra Modi has some separate policy in something as important and basic as Anti corruption issues, from the BJP would be a completely incorrect assumption.

Anna Hazare’s criticism of a BJP leader is somewhat surprising considering the fact that what was called “Team Anna” at that time, and in particular Anna Hazare Ji himself lauded the efforts of BJP government under BC Khanduri for bringing in a model Lokayukta act in Uttarakhand. The bill had the Chief Minister in its purview and was the first to have even have the lower judiciary under its ambit.

What happened to it?

The government changed and Mr. Vijay Bahuguna of Congress party came along and put the law on hold. Therefore a law passed in 2011 was put on hold ostensibly as Mr. Bahaguna was waiting for the centre to bring in their Lokayukta. [ See Report]  Mr. Bahuguna is currently facing serious questions in context of the Uttarkhand tragedy  as per many news report.  Would a strong Lokpal have resulted in investigations on Mr. Bahuguna's conduct is something to consider. 

Even Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh which had strong Lokayukta’s had already expressed interest and desire in Anna’s movement and were interested in listening to it with an open mind. It is equally true that Anna did not agree with BJP’s Himachal Pradesh Lokayukta act and was disappointed with it.

Some may say the above is inconclusive: in one case Anna and his team lauded the BJP for bringing an ideal bill, in another it did not agree.  But the important aspect is that these state governments tried to accommodate the views of this respected Anti corruption activist. A Chief Minister and its government is answerable to its people most of all, it cannot simply take the views of a single individual or a group above all other views.

BJP tried to get a strong Lokpal for the country 

However the most important, and perhaps the most conclusive evidence of how committed BJP was to the Lokpal movement and the pains it took to get a strong Lokpal will be evident to those who take time out to review what happened in during the winter session of 2011 in the last 2-3 working days when Lokpal bill was being debated.  It all culminated in a alleged choreographed and pre-ordained drama by the Congress, RJD and other parties where through disruptions, long winded replies, weak intervention of the chair, the parliament ended without the bill being passed. BJP tried to reconvene a special session of parliament for the Lokpal bill and even met the President Pratibha Patil for this but to no avail.  One can also have a glimpse of debate speech of Smt. Sushma Swaraj to get an idea that it is BJP who was one of the parties most in favor of Citizens Charter and including the PM under Lokpal - two things which even Anna ji considered critical for a good Lokpal bill.

The case of Gujarat Lokayukta

Coming back to Anna’s Hazare’s statement, it comes in the light of his view that Gujrat has not been able to appoint a Lokayukta in the last ten years.

At the core of this issue is the concern of the Gujarat government with the recommendations of the Gujrat Governor and how the disagreement between the two has led to such a delay. This news report gives a pretty neutral assessment of the situation. Here are the key takeaways from the report, if considered correct.  The Governor wants the Lokayukta selection process to be as per a 20 year old bill which may be quite redundant by now. The Gujarat government itself wants a more diverse selection committee which apparently is also the center’s view. The Gujarat government has even widened the scope of the Lokayukta’s power but the Governor disagreed. Now irrespective of who is right, all it seems to be is a delay for which both the Governor as well as the Government are equally to be blamed, if at all to be blamed. Then how can the onus of the delay be unilaterally shifted to one party.

A core issue in this debate is that can the actions of Gujrat CM be taken as political while that of Smt. Kamla Beniwal be taken as apolitical? Are governors really known to be apolitical? It will take a complete article if a detailed set of examples is provided on the political interference which governors have extended when the state government is different from the one in centre.

Further,  the Gujarat Governor bypassed the state government in 2011 and appointed someone as Lokayukta who has been alleged in past on many occasions as someone with apolitical and colored view. Some excerpts from this article of India Today are thought provoking and I quote: “The past actions of Mehta, a former judge with marked leftist leaning and antipathy towards the RSS and its allied organisations, certainly give enough evidence that he has been gunning for Modi government on the issue of 2002 Gujarat riots. In 2010, Mehta played the role of an informal judge at an informal court organised by an NGO in Ahmedabad to highlight the injustice by Gujarat government to the Muslim victims of 2002 riots. And in the aftermath of the Christian-Hindu clashes in Kandhamal in Odisha, Mehta was part of a fact finding mission put together by leftist organisations to "expose the role of the RSS and its sister organisations in fomenting the riots."

It is also pertinent to note that the Supreme Court actually rapped the governor for such unilateral action and interference and the only reason it upheld the appointment of Lokayukta was by considering the opinion of the Chief Justice of High Court as important and overriding. 

However the need for such opinion arose predominantly also because the opposition as well as the Governor allegedly put all sort of hurdles in the way of appointment of the Lokayukta. Before forming a opinion it is worthwhile to also read a letter by Sh. Modi to the Prime Minister in this matter giving his view of the matter.

Some questions for those who question the alleged delay in appointment of Gujarat Lokayukta 

a) Can Sh. Anna Hazare ignore the concerns of states which are non Congress ruled which have time and again accused the centre for taking steps to dilute the federalism?

b) If the appointment process of a Lokayukta is flawed or under dispute, is it still wise to go ahead and appoint a Lokayukta just for name?

c) Should a Lokayukta be appointed who is alleged to have a pre-disposed and partial view towards the government of the state?

d) What if there are corruption allegations against those who are part of the Lokayukta appointment committee itself?

e) If judges recuse themselves of their own accord at times, if they even have the smallest incidental interest or possibility of partisan view in a matter, shouldn't this norm also apply to the Lokayukta appointment?

f) Should it be ignored that  Smt. Kamla Beniwal, who is the current Gujarat governor has been accused of land grabbing charges herself when being an official in the Rajasthan government ? How can someone who is herself facing charges of corruption be allowed a free hand at appointing a Lokayukta unilaterally?

g)  Should it be ignored that  Smt. Beniwal has also been accused of being someone who despite being from the fairer sex herself stalled a bill which would have empowered women in Gujrat (providing 50% reservation for all seats of local body elections to women),  and served as a model for women empowerment across India. Incidentally this bill was passed under the leadership of Narendra Modi who has been called many names by those who claim to be activists of womens right.  Can Smt. Beniwal be considered totally apolitical by anyone ?

And last but not the least:  Lokpal and Lokayukta bill and appointment are very important factors in ensuring that corruption reduces. But corruption itself is Just ONE factor howsoever important the average Indian citizen will take in account when voting for his Prime Minister. Please do not take them to be fools. The intellectuals who have great causes whether developmental economics or anti corruption movement should also kindly consider this.

I rest my case.

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