Team Anna as a big hoax

From late 2010 we have uncritically assumed that Team Anna was overwhelmingly right because it passed the litmus paper test of crowd support.

In fact, it has messed up the entire Lokpal controversy. The government Lokpal model went through a sea change in 1977 and 1990 - away from maladministration to law enforcement to seek regime revenge against politicians of the previous five years.

Shanti Bhushan as law minister authorised this model. The Lokpal's purposes became narrow.

Social activist Anna Hazare addressing a press conference at Thane, Mumbai on Thursday

Social activist Anna Hazare addressing a press conference at Thane, Mumbai on Thursday

The Jan Lokpal Bill of 2010 combined anti-corruption, grievance redressal and protection of whistleblowers. It was a magnum khichdi - even if right in directing an agenda; and bringing back 'grievance redressal' and including bureaucrats and other public bodies in its sweep.

Judges were also included. It was an 'AK-47' Bill - immature, too wide, with phrases like 'vigilance angle', drafting mistakes, with a 'selection' collegium of an infinite number including judges and others, the 'last three Magsaysay award winners' and (wait for it) 'all Nobel laureates of Indian origin'.

Sweden and Philippines were going to decide who were to be in India's collegium! The selection process was gruelling. There were to be eleven Lokpals - as unwieldy as the collegium.

Nobody really publically examined this crazy ill thought Bill. It was assumed that it was god-given. But the nation was not just taken for a ride by clumsy drafting! Around 5th April 2011, came a new version. The 'corruption–maladministration– whistle blower' model was continued.

The PM, Judges, government servants, MPs, public bodies were all targeted. This time the collegium was to include 'retired army personnel who are five star generals'.

Assuming that there were any, had Team Anna gone crazy? Each recommender would be 'expected to justify their selection of his candidate giving examples from the past achievements of the candidate'.

Who would line up for the job? The unwieldy collegium with an unwieldy 11 member Lokpal continued, with unworkable procedures. The saving grace was the citizen's charter. The khichdi of everything continued.

Mind you, this was the start of the Anna campaign. Everyone assumed that these Bills were carefully drafted by Justice Hegde and Prashant Bhushan. The cry to adopt the Jan Lokpal Bill was specious because the Bills were clumsy and ill thought out.

When discussions with government began, Team Anna overlooked that privileging their self styled group was inherently undemocratic! Alas! they were democracy itself; or, at least, its best incarnation.

Then, a new version emerged. The targets remained the same: PM, Ministers, MPs, Judges, bureaucrats, public and other bodies and those which the central government may… specify.

Vendetta targeting? The clumsy term 'vigilance angle' had a list of seven, with powers in the Lokpal to specify any other matter.

Is this conducive to civil liberties? The citizen's charter was brought in to define grievances. The term maladministration disappeared. The weird list of 'Nobel laureates', Magsaysay award winners and five star generals was replaced by a political, judicial, institutional collegium, with the two youngest Supreme Court judges and two youngest chief justices of high courts!

The functions of the Lokpal remained immense, to cover the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), complaints of misconduct (as in the rules or with a vigilance angle) and grievances (about the citizen's charter) and protecting whistleblowers. All this by an 11 member Lokpal with an imperfect procedure of investigation!

An unsuspecting public informed by its website, accepted the flawed Bill as a basis for everything. The 29th April 2011 draft's huge Preamble referred to the United Nations Convention against Corruption to enable parliament to override federalism. The 'youngest' judges' clause disappeared. The collegium was a mix-up between politicians, judges, the Election Commissioner, Comptroller General and past Lokpals.

Could a Lokpal be a 5 out of 9 appointee? The functions of the 11 member Lokpal were elaborate: not just to check corruption but a virtual takeover of aspects of administrative and constitutional machinery - including, of course, investigation, and prosecution and appointing judicial officers. This ambitious blue print was the gospel according to Anna Hazare.

In August 2011, Anna blackmailed parliament on pain of suicide for a 'sense of the house' resolution to include a citizen's charter and lower bureaucracy and defy federalism by enacting lokayuktas for the states. Anna's team had to consult nobody except inform an ad-hoc network. To the khichdi, blackmailing democracy was added.

The most thoughtful response to the Lokpal controversy came from Aruna Roy's group which pointed out: '(n)o single institution should be responsible for this mammoth task'.

Her plea for disaggregating the various strands of corruption, grievance redressal, whistleblowing, judicial accountability was crucial. In other words, Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill was the wrong approach. Anna's team had somewhat pig-headedly misdirected the nation. To blame the government for not passing the bill in the Rajya Sabha is totally misdirected.

The Rajya Sabha with 187 amendments could not have passed the Bill unless they accepted the Bill passed by the Lok Sabha. But there were serious doubts about parliament legislating for the states.

Both BJP and Anna tried to make a meal out of it. Anna's cry to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill raises the simple issue: Which Bill? The flawed Jan Lokpal Bill? The sense of house resolution? Aruna Roy's balanced approach? Parliament's apprehensions? Anna's cry of 'Pass the Jan Lokpal Bill' rested on false foundations.

Anna wants to create a political party. But who is Anna? Ramdev's friend? RSS? BJP? A plant? One thing is certain. A crowd puller is a demagogue, not a substitute for democracy. Anna is the very antithesis of democracy; as also, his bandwagon.

The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer

 


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