It took 45 years for the political class to decide that an anti-corruption ombudsman was not detrimental to its self-interests. In this period, former prime ministers were convicted, one even went to jail briefly, and corruption allegations have hit every public office in the country. The political establishment laboured under the assumption that the laws of the land were adequate to punish the guilty. With police and investigation agencies under the thumb of the government, corruption found a favourable environment to flourish in. The conviction rate in corruption cases in the past five years — at 21 per cent — is lower than the conviction rate in rape cases. In such a scenario, it was natural for public anger to erupt.
The trigger was provided by the 2G spectrum and the Commonwealth Games scams. Activists like Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal tapped into the public anger and gained a level of legitimacy that was unimaginable a few years ago. The realisation that further dithering would only hasten the political class’ waning credibility has been catalysed by the appearance of political alternatives like the Aam Aadmi Party. Regardless of the compulsions, the passage of the Lokpal legislation, is an achievement that the mainstream political parties can be proud of.
The Lokpal has many things going for and against it. It can investigate even the Prime Minister and all levels of central government employees. It can conduct its own inquiry before handing over the matter to an external agency for investigation. A welcome change is the empowerment of the Lokpal to sanction prosecution and the appointment of the CBI director by a committee comprising the PM, leader of the opposition, and Chief Justice of India. But with Parliament delegating the responsibility of creating Lokayuktas to state legislatures it remains to be seen what form the ombudsman will take in states.
Organs of the state presently tackling corruption like the Central Vigilance Commission, CBI and the judiciary are crippled by a woeful shortage of staff and resources. A citizen’s charter for each institution to ensure timely delivery of goods and services, simplifying procedures, the right to information, whistleblower protection, curtailing black money circulation, timely investigation and prosecution of offences also need the attention of the political class. In this context, Rahul Gandhi’s claim that the Congress aims to create a comprehensive anti-corruption framework by passing six other bills including the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, Whistleblower Protection Bill and the Timely Delivery of Goods and Services Bill is an encouraging sign.
But the gains from the winter session, apart from the Lokpal Bill, have been minimal. Parliament could transact little other business. Bills pegged as high-priority by the Congress at the start of the session including Telangana statehood, women’s reservation and communal violence have yet again fallen back. The inability to enact legislations, in a timely manner, so evident in the Lokpal Bill, has left this government clutching to nearly 120 legislations in various stage of drafting and consideration. The Rajya Sabha functioned two full days on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Lok Sabha only on Wednesday. Every other day of this truncated 10-day session was marred by adjournments and disruptions. To Parliament’s credit, it functioned long enough to end a 45-year-wait; and that’s saying something.