There is once again an unpleasant debate on the Lokpal bill. The opposition seems to be running scared — there is a sense of desperation about it. In the run-up to the assembly elections, the AAP had promised it would bring a Lokpal. The bill has now been introduced in the Delhi Assembly, and the opposition knows it is no longer in a position to stop it. So it is trying to create confusion among the people. Unfortunately, our former colleagues are helping them in this endeavour, perhaps to get out of the political wilderness. They have surprisingly resorted to abuse to win the Lokpal debate. It was painful for me to see Prashant Bhushan abuse our young and very able colleague, Raghav Chadha, during a TV debate. I have always had great respect for Bhushan but that day, I was aghast. Apart from the language, I was perplexed by his logic.
The central point of his argument is that the Delhi Lokpal should not investigate the corruption of Union ministers and employees. May I ask why? I remember when Bhushan one day walked into Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s room, beaming and holding some papers. He said, “Arvind, you must file an FIR against Reliance chief Mukesh Ambani, Veerappa Moily and Murli Deora, ministers in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet, on the Krishna-Godavari Basin issue.” Kejriwal studied the papers and agreed. Later, Kejriwal announced this to the world and an FIR was filed against Union ministers by the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) of the Delhi government. The ACB has had the power to investigate the corruption of Central ministers and employees since the 1960s — until the Narendra Modi government wilfully wrested it away in 2014.
The question is, if it was legally right and morally tenable for the ACB to investigate cases of corruption involving Central ministers, why should the same powers not be given to the Delhi Lokpal? It was because the ACB and other government agencies failed to curb corruption that a strong Lokpal was needed. Without this power, the Lokpal will be weaker than the ACB. Why does Bhushan want it this way? May I not assume that he is trying to shield the ministers of the Modi cabinet? Why should I not infer that he has a pathological hatred of the Congress and some kind of alignment with the Modi government? Why should I not say that his argument is not as innocent as he is trying to project?
The BJP and he also have a problem with the number of the selection committee members being reduced from seven to four, saying it will compromise the independence of the Lokpal. I am surprised. The four members of the committee are the CM, the chief justice of the Delhi High Court, the speaker and the leader of the opposition. One can say that the speaker and CM will have the same political colour, but to say that the other two members will also take instructions from the CM is incomprehensible. This debate should end as the government has agreed to Anna Hazare’s suggestion of keeping seven members.
Even provisions for the removal of the Lokpal have been questioned. The bill has the same provision as for the removal of high court and Supreme Court judges — that is, impeachment by the legislature. The impeachment procedure was widely discussed by the founding fathers of the Constitution and it was thought it best amalgamated the two fundamental features of the Constitution — the independence of the judiciary and the supremacy of Parliament. Why should it be dubbed an aberration when the same provisions are added to this bill?
Then there is argument as to why the original 2014 bill has not been presented. The answer is simple. Our Constitution and jurisprudence is dyna-mic and evolves every minute. This bill has been drafted in the light of the Supreme Court verdict on the appointment of judges. The court raised questions about the neutrality and independence of the eminent members of civil society to be appointed to the proposed committee.
The fact is that neither the BJP nor the Congress has any moral right to speak on the Lokpal. They together did not allow the 2014 Lokpal bill to be passed in the Delhi Assembly and not surprisingly, all but one of the 40 MLAs of the BJP-Congress who blocked the bill have been punished by the people. This is the same Congress that did not honour its parliamentary promise to the Anna Hazare agitation in 2011 and the same Modi who has not appointed a Lokpal in the 18 months he has been in power.
This is also the same political class that did not let the idea of the Lokpal become law, despite nine bills being introduced in Parliament since 1966. When finally, under tremendous public pressure, the law was passed, it ensured that it was just a piece of paper without any teeth. It is evident that the BJP and Congress don’t want a Delhi Lokpal. But the bigger question is, why are our old colleagues helping them?