While we can all celebrate the huge outpouring of the otherwise indifferent youth of India onto the streets triggered by Anna Hazare Movement, and become happy that this movement has singlehandedly woken up the apathetic Government of India to take up the battle against corruption quite seriously, let’s not go overboard and accept Janlokpal Bill. The draft bill from these activists, the self-appointed guardians of Indian society, whose elitist speeches and attitudes find their way into the provisions of the bill, is as dangerous to India as the corruption itself, if not more. In trying to fight one disease, let’s not install it with another. If we adopt the bill imposed by these activists, we may be introducing a deadly cancer while attempting to fight the common cold.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, became de facto leader of the nation after the death of Patel, and his ideas have permeated down into almost all institutions of India. While we can be happy that Nehru did not become dictatorial, when he could have easily become one, his attitude that the central government is the biggest benefactor of the common man has created many a malaise in this country. Freedom from British came tagged with a price of the bloody Partition of the subcontinent where nearly half a million people were murdered in the riots. Patel, the Iron Man of India, aided by V P Menon, secured allegiance of nearly 550 princely kingdoms, mostly through negotiations and sometimes through force. Though the country was eventually forged into one Union, it looked fragile, about to break into small pieces anytime. Added to this problem was the vociferous demand from various regions seeking statehood on the basis of the language, which posed a threat of balkanization of the newly formed country. Meanwhile the Tamils fought aggressively against the imposition of Hindi as the national language and warned of secession from India forever removing the hope that this country could be united on one language.
Battling these seemingly disintegrating struggles within and getting impressed by the Russian experiment of a strong state administration, Nehru started to put faith in the benevolence of a strong central government, partly because he was heading it, and mostly because he mistrusted the state governments and private institutions who he thought were more keen on securing their selfish interests rather than work towards unity of the country. Nehru saw the central government as the caring mother, a protector and champion of freedoms and opportunities of the common man, while the states looked like quibbling kids. This led to monopolizing most of the power in few central institutions which did not get checked and balanced the way they should have been. Indira Gandhi rode on top of this established path and went further down to create an autocratic central government dismissing state governments at will. She believed she was right while everyone was wrong. She believed she imposed all those coercive methods in the greater interests of the nation and its people. She did not suspect herself and her own institutions while she put everyone else behind bars. These are the lessons we should not ignore in the current anti-corruption movement.
Janlokpal Bill mistrusts almost every organ of the Government of India and treats almost every elected leader and government official as a suspect while it exempts itself of any wrongdoing. With this attitude, it arrogates itself many rights and powers which tend to undermine Indian democracy. In an attempt to provide teeth to the new ombudsman, it ends up creating a Tyrannosaurus Rex, equipping it with fast legs, razor sharp teeth, fierce claws and a big appetite.
All-in-one body with no master
In their eagerness to solve all the problems of this nation in one stroke, the activists have come up with a childish dream with an elitist agenda. Right out of the children’s comic books, they create a super sleuth, super cop, super judge with a license to take away your basic rights with zero accountability, all rolled into one. That super character is called Lokpal - as promoted by Janlokpal Bill(s).
Lokpal will be the investigation agency:
“…anti-corruption branch of CBI… shall form part of the Investigation Wing of Lokpal.
Lokpal will be the police force:
“…Officers of Lokpal… shall have all the powers which are vested in a Police Officer…”
The investigative arm of “Delhi Special Police Establishment… shall stand transferred, along with its employees, assets and liabilities to Lokpal… The Central Government shall cease to have any control over the transferred part and its personnel…”
Lokpal can tap your phone or read your e-mail without taking any permission:
“…empowered to approve interception and monitoring of messages of data or voice transmitted through telephones, internet or any other medium…”
Lokpal can invade your home based on suspicion and break open your door or any safe:
“(i) enter and search any building or place where he has reason to suspect…”
“(ii) search any person who is reasonably suspected of concealing…”
“(iii) break open the lock of any door, box, locker safe, almirah or other receptacle… where the keys thereof are not available.”
“Seize any such property, document, money, bullion, jewellery…”
Lokpal will be the court:
The members of Lokpal or any officer under the Lokpal… shall have the powers of a civil court trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908…”
“…punish a public servant with imprisonment up to 6 months…”
Lokpal will be free from any accountability or prosecution:
“No suit, prosecution, or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Chairperson or members or against any officer, employee, agency or person” of Lokpal.
“… no proceedings or decision of the Lokpal shall be liable to be challenged, reviewed, quashed or called in question in any court of ordinary Civil Jurisdiction.’
While the Lokpal will hold no accountability to any office or agency in this country, and will remain unanswerable and un-prosecutable by any court in India, it will have all the rights to investigate and tap the communications of anyone, break open your door to enter your home, break open your safe, arrest you without taking permission from any other body, and prosecute you in their kangaroo courts to imprison you. The newly created Lokpal will be an investigating agency, plus it will be a police station, plus it will be a court, plus it will not be answerable to anyone.
We should strongly suspect any move which tries to centralize all the institutions into one giving it so many absolute powers. A democracy runs effectively only when we create independent institutions that keep a check on each other. That’s why we have executive, legislature and judiciary as three separate arms. At no time shall we encourage all the three coming together under person – that’s when we create dictatorships. The current institutions of CAG, CVC, and CBI have a role to play and if ever we need to fight corruption, we should strive to make these bodies more independent, giving them more power and autonomy. Let’s realize this - Raja, Kanimozhi and Kalmadi are all in jail in spite of a Lokpal.
In an attempt to overcome the weakness in the current institutions, Janlokpal Bill wants to replace them all with a new body that is assumed to be perfect and free from any corruption. Such thinking is fundamentally flawed. No single institution can be trusted completely with so much power. That’s why we have separate democratic institutions with distributed powers working independently checking each other. Moving all these institutions under one body is the most foolhardy thing we can do at this point of time.
There is a reason why the police force and judiciary is not under one body. If a police officer arrests you on false evidence, you can challenge it in the court. Imagine this - the police officer who arrested you turns out to be the judge deciding your case. Janlokpal believes that it will be able to dole out justice efficiently this way. If efficiency is the primary objective, then dictatorships happen to be the most effective.
If you think that was the end of this comic book, the fairy tale does not end there.
Lokpal can transfer a government servant based on a suspicion of wrongdoing:
“…issue appropriate directions including transfer of that government servant from that position.”
Lokpal can stop the decision of a government from implementation based on a suspicion:
“…may make any recommendation to the public authority concerned to stay the implementation or enforcement of any decision...”
And if the government authority rejects the recommendation of Lokpal, it can prosecute the officials:
“…approach the appropriate High Court for seeking appropriate directions to be given to the public authority.”
Imagine this - you can be prosecuted if even you fail to comply with a recommendation that might come out of mere suspicion.
I couldn’t help but put a smiley there because the bill only gets interesting and funnier, something that I could read out to my kids as a comic story. The tragedy is that it is not a funny story, but is being pushed by millions of young and innocent Indians to be passed in the Indian Parliament to be made into a law.
Lokpal can confiscate private property just because the owner lied about it:
“If it is found that the public servant owns some property which was not disclosed in his statement of assets, that property would be liable to be confiscated by the Lokpal.”
Lokpal does not allow bail to a suspect:
“Section 389(3) of CrPC shall not apply to offences under Prevention of Corruption Act.
Lokpal can confiscate private property just because the owner has failed to disclose it. Lokpal denies bail to a suspect. Even some dictatorships are more respectful of individual rights than this bill. Or is it that these activists don't think that politicians and government officials are individuals with rights?
Anyone in the right frame of mind would reject the Janlokpal Bill. It may be wiser to tolerate corruption in this country than have this Janlokpal. Using an innocent man who reminds us of Mahatma Gandhi as the mascot, these activists are pushing an autocratic bill into Indian democracy which portends to demolish all its cherished institutions.
It is clear that these activists do not have respect for the legal procedures; they do not believe that a suspect has certain rights; and they do not have the patience to go through the rigor of a judicial system. They want to bypass all the prescribed procedures to convict a corrupt official immediately, without giving the suspect the due legal recourse - looks like they are out to take some kind of revenge by punishing all the office holders in country. They want to create a utopia where ‘perfect justice’ is doled out in five minutes like in a fast-food restaurant.
We must realize that all such endeavors to create perfect systems have failed in the history of mankind. Communists thought they had a utopia written in a hand book, and so did Nazis. After many failed experiments, we realize now that there is no such a thing called perfect institution, perfect form of government or perfect solution to any complex social or political problem. The bill proposed by these activists is beset by the same underlying attitude which created this gargantuan and heavily bureaucratic government in the first place- that there is a set of people or institutions who can be entrusted with absolute power, because they happen to be benevolent, most kind, perfectly honest and free from any kind of corruption, for all times of time.
We understand now that the only form of institution that works is the one which requires constant work- something which has checks and balances, something that does not have absolute powers, something that allows change, something that mistrusts itself. A modern nation based on a constitutional and parliamentary democracy does not believe in creating a perfect society; it only strives to reduce the imperfections of the human societies, never attempting to completely eliminate them, because that is impossible. Any attempt to root out corruption completely and permanently will be beset with the same problems it tries to combat. We can only strive to reduce corruption so that a common man does not get affected by it, so that this nation chugs forward to create equal opportunity and prosperity to all its citizens unhindered by bad policies or complex bureaucracy.
We should not be eager or earnest to create a body that is not answerable to anyone and yet has absolute powers to break open anyone’s door, investigate anyone, prosecute anyone and then convict anyone. We will then create a Frankenstein monster that will eat up this democracy in one gobble. Unbridled power corrupts, eventually. Janlokpal bill comes with that power. We should exercise caution, not get carried away by our patriotism, nationalism or jingoism. Let’s make sure we create a Lokpal that incorporates the necessary checks and balances.
As a step one, let’s debate.
As a step one, let’s debate.