Naturally, the movement had us all excited. The media had a wonderful time, and there was little dissent (most of which consisted of anger about Kiran Bedi’s travel bills.) The movement was consistently called “anti-graft”, which it is; but that leads us to think that anyone who does not support the movement is “pro-graft.” And I’ve been called pro-graft. I’ve even been accused of being on Manmohan Singh’s payroll. Such passions, have, however, cooled now; and it is time to coldly examine the the very idea of a Lokpal.
There are three problems with the Lokpal in general and the Jan Lokpal bill in particular.
Firstly, the Lokpal won’t consist of two people sitting and reviewing corruption cases. It will have to be an enormous organization. The creation of thousands of bureaucratic posts to regulate an already bloated bureaucracy is not workable, and is rather populist. Further the Jan Lokpal bill states:
Complaints against Lokpal staff will be handled by independent boards set-up in each state, composed of retired bureaucrats, judges, and civil society members.
This makes Jug Suraiya’s fears about ‘a Lokpal, then a Super-Lokpal, then a Super-super-Lokpal’, very real.
Secondly, the inclusion of the judiciary within the Lokpal’s ambit is a regressive step. How difficult do you think it is going to be, in a case where you stand to lose, to wail at the Lokpal’s door? You accuse the judge of corruption and out comes Lokpal like a ninja to the rescue - and before you know it, your case is delayed. In a country where justice takes years and years to be delivered, is that really practical?
Thirdly, the Lokpal is unelected. Giving it powers of prosecution over virtually everyone in the country is a bad idea. The Jan Lokpal bill includes, among others, all Nobel Laureates of Indian origin and the last two Magsaysay Award winners in the selection committee. Must a person not be accountable to anyone simply because she has won the Nobel? How are we to know she isn’t corruptible? Lie detector tests? (You know, they might do that. There is talk of Team Anna participating in Sach Ka Saamna. Sigh.)
Are we, then, to have an all-powerful Lokpal just because a lot of people are asking for it? Does democracy permit that? It might appear so; but the first thing we learn about democracy is that it is not rule of the masses: it is rule of representation. Is the Jan Lokpal bill representative enough? Are dissenting voices being heard?
Perhaps, due to overwhelming public support, confidence and involvement, the Lokpal might function well for a few years. But after some decades, with such immense legal powers, could a Lokpal not prove an irritant? Are we not staring into a future where influence with the Lokpal could make or break governments?
I may be paranoid, but the ‘anti-corruption’ crusaders have not answered any of these questions satisfactorily yet.