India’s “war on corruption”, which erupted in 2011 with the hunger strikes of the activist Anna Hazare in New Delhi, seems to have lost itself underneath a mountain of bureaucratic jargon and political propaganda. Over seven years ago, Anna Hazare, with his unflinching voice and grit, demanded the formulation and approval of the Jan Lokpal Bill, a citizen’s ombudsman bill, that requires the appointment of a Jan Lokpal, an independent body that would investigate corruption cases, complete the investigation within a year and ensure that the trial in the case gets over in the next one year. The Jan Lokpal Bill was passed after the protests started by Hazare spread across the country in 2013. However, the vision of an India rid of corrupt officials and leaders is still quite distant simply because the Lokpal bill was never implemented. Over the years, along with political activists and India’s Central and State governments, the judiciary has also become involved in the process of the appointment of the Jan Lokpal. Yet, national policy has come to a standstill on the issue, and no remarkable progress has been made in over five years.
The Lokpal issue has been raging in the country since 1968, when the bill was first introduced in the Indian Parliament. The need for this reform is certainly apparent. In a fast-developing economy like India, which is emerging as a powerful player of the future, accountability and transparency can no longer be compromised. And so, Anna Hazare began his revolution of a “Swachh” or “Clean” economy and polity for the country. His protests in Delhi became a historic symbol of the country’s battle against corruption. In fact, the formulation of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which constitutes the current government of Delhi, is viewed as a product of these protests. It was Mr Hazare’s protests that led to the Jan Lokpal, a committee of eight headed by a chairperson as the country’s ultimate anti-corruption watchdog. The Jan Lokpal bill provides for special protection of the whistleblower and covers all categories of public servants, including the Prime Minister, with only the armed forces being exempted.
However, the ineffective executive mechanisms that run the nation, have once again, proved themselves. Due to vested interests of significant parties and leaders, the Jan Lokpal is not even solving corruption theoretically. The first issue to spark up was related to the procedure of appointment of the Lokpal itself. According to the provisions of the Bill, The Lokpal is appointed by a five-member committee including the Prime Minister, the Parliamentary Speaker, the Chief Justice of India, the Leader of Opposition and a member appointed by the Prime Minister. The problem is India doesn’t have a Leader of Opposition as of now. By definition, the Leader of Opposition is from a party that has 10 percent seats in the Lok Sabha or Lower House and no party satisfies this criterion. Thus, an amendment was introduced that called for the leader of the largest opposition party to be on the panel for selection.
Now, in 2017, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the absence of the Leader of the Opposition should not become a hindrance to the appointment of the Jan Lokpal. But this has evidently been ineffective. And the Court was dragged into the matter again in 2018 when the government had made no notable progress. The petition was filed by an NGO called Common Cause, which was represented by senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan. The petition questioned why the Lokpal has not been appointed as yet, despite an order by the apex court in April last year.
As we now move onto January 2019, the Supreme Court has sought a response from the Centre on a plea that the leader of the single largest opposition party be treated as the Leader of the Opposition and be included in high-level committees involved in the appointment of heads of statutory bodies like CBI, CVC, CIC and Lokpal. NGO Common Cause has even suggested that the SC should appoint the Lokpal. But it only seems that with so many layers of executive, legislative and judicial interventions, India has become tangled in an all-too-familiar web of stagnation. The activist Anna Hazare, after a long period of silence, has decided to step up again and restart his hunger strike. He is expected to fast again from January 30, 2019. This can mark a crucial turning point for the Lokpal law, and the half-waged war on corruption. His aura may once again be successful in bringing people together. But can the man, who awed the public once, five years ago, repeat his own feat? Only time will tell.
Till then, Indians, like always, have to simply cope with a sad reality brought about by perennial administrative bottlenecks. The Jan Lokpal, that once became the torchbearer of India’s struggle for freedom from black money and corruption, has now become a distant issue. The media seems to have “moved on”. But what remains is the fact that the Jan Lokpal is the need of the hour. Public awareness and intervention alone can help save the cause for Lokpal and develop the economically “Swachh Bharat”.
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