Is the world’s largest democracy yielding to politicians before its citizens?

By Reuters Staff
August 2, 2011

By Annie Banerji

One would think India would be able to have a parliament worthy of its name to represent the world’s largest democracy.

But for many civil society activists, who have championed an anti-corruption campaign for months in the wake of government scandals, the Congress party’s ruling coalition is doing its best to water down a potentially game-changing anti-corruption bill which is slated to be brought to parliament during the ongoing monsoon session.

The Jan Lokpal Bill (citizens’ ombudsman bill), propagated by septuagenarian Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare, aims to form an independent, powerful institution to prevent corruption by prosecuting top officials.

However, the draft of the bill which the cabinet approved last week has, in line with the government’s wishes, omitted the prime minister, the judiciary and bureaucrats from prosecution while they are serving in office.

This is especially galling for anti-graft campaigners, given that the prime minister and several sitting ministers are under scrutiny in a string of corruption scandals worth billions of dollars (all have denied wrongdoing). Even the former Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, has been accused in a few graft cases of his own.

“This bill (Jan Lokpal bill) which included protection for whistleblowers, grievance redressing, judicial corruption and vigilance — they have broken it all up and have said that they will make separate bills for all these matters. They’ve taken four years to bring about this bill, now they will take 400 years to make these other bills,” said Kiran Bedi, a social activist.

Hazare and his team are fighting back, carrying out a poll referendum in a prominent minister’s constituency, which canvassed 72,000 people. The result concluded that 85 percent of people in the telecoms minister’s turf in New Delhi voted against the government version of the bill.

Sibal immediately shot down the results of the poll, accusing Hazare of cooking the books and commenting he was surprised the poll hadn’t found 100 percent in Hazare’s favour, instead of just 85 percent.

For civil society activists, Sibal, a pugnacious member of the government’s anti-corruption drafting committee, was putting party line before the will of the people who elected him.

A meaty anti-corruption agency could emulate what many see as the success of the Lokayukta of Karnataka, an independent ombudsman in the southern state that implicated Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa in a $3.6 billion illegal iron ore mining scandal last week leading to his resignation.

Given that Indian politicians tend to retire very late in their lives, Karnataka would have had a long wait to put its chief minister under scrutiny if it had excluded top ministers and bureaucrats in the way the central government is proposing.

Hazare has pledged to start another fast on August 16 in protest of the cabinet-approved bill. But the Delhi police has denied permission for the Gandhian to protest at Jantar Mantar, a common location for demonstrations in New Delhi, further infuriating civil society activists.

“This is all a sham,” concluded Hazare in a recent press conference.

5 comments

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Are you kidding? You censor my legitimate comments.

…and I am Sid Harth

Posted by SiDevilIam | Report as abusive

As a protester from Ahmedabad(the land of Mahatma Gandhi), I strongly believe that this coalition government is trying to compromise with corruption and not passing Jan lokpal Bill. this government’s ministers believes that they would not been asked by people during their 5 years tenure of parliament and entitled to pass the law as they want. In absence of strong opposition parties, people like Anna Hazare, a strong ex-army-man, a successful leader to bring Right To Information Law that empowered the citizens to crack down the scams of corrupted ministers come in front of this government who failed to tackle corruption, inflation and terrorism. Jan lokpal bill can charge, investigate, prosecute, punish and recover all money that grabbed through corruption. Parliamentarians have right to pass anything, but when majority citizens demand particular draft to be tabled on parliament floor, the government can not neglect. Overall the people is superior than constitution because we made that to serve the people of India.

Posted by ashuvora | Report as abusive

It’s ethical problem. Politics has become a profession more so being dynastic rules. It has become a practice in India. Ironically, we boast of the largest democracy where freebies have made the day!
Any rule will hardly do anything unless politicians being successful in professional life come to serve people for few years and just retire at maximum 65. Now, looks unsuccessful anywhere means a qualification for politics!
Process is to be redefined! Not just the patchy work with this bill and that bill.

Posted by Pagala | Report as abusive

Its a national Shame to have big political Names inside Tihar Jail on charges of corruption and their friends in the parliament defending them and we helplessly watching the fiasco

Posted by damle | Report as abusive

INDIA LACKS POLITICAL WILL TO DO….THE SO CALLED 8%GDP AND INDIAN CONSUMER STORY…IS BECAUSE OF THIS BLACK MONEY AND BRIBE MONEY…IF THIS GOES HOW WILL THE BIG MALLS WORK? HOW WILL REAL ESTATE PRICES RISE? THERE R NO INDUSTRIAL HUBS IN INDIA LIKE CHINA TO SUPPORT ITS HUGE PO PULATION ..AND THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT HAS GUTS TO SAY THIS

Posted by khanbykhan | Report as abusive