A critical review of the Lokpal Debate

The Lokpal debate has been raging for quite some time now. And very clearly, it doesn’t look like that the issue will die down anytime soon. What is supposed to be a noble act (as it is aimed at eliminating corruption from the country), has, instead emerged as a major bone of contention in the political circles while also deepening the divide between the ruling class and the civil society.

The debate first began when Anna Hazare, a social activist and self-proclaimed Gandhian sat on a fast-unto-death asking for a strong Lokpal legislation, which would invest authority in an all-powerful ombudsman (Lokpal) who would fight graft in the country. Initially, the government did not take these demands very seriously. It was only after people came out in large numbers at the Ramlila Maidan (the venue of his fast) and the movement gained momentum in the social media circuit, did the government realize its intensity. A lot of political drama followed with the government asking for time to bring about the legislation, which it argued, was the prerogative of the Parliament. In the subsequent months, Hazare along with his core team adopted a stand where they believed that their version of the Bill was the best and the government was trying to put in place a weak Lokpal bill.

Soon after, the matter was referred to the Standing Committee of the Parliament which invited members of Team Anna as well to give its opinion on the issue. Very recently, the Committee submitted its report, the contents of which haven’t gone down too well with Team Anna. There are major differences between different groups over whether the office of the Prime Minister should be covered by this bill, whether the CBI should be made an independent body or merged within the institution of the Lokpal etc. Till date, the differences don’t seem to have been resolved.

This entire debate, however, raised several crucial, yet, interesting questions. First, it looked at how did the common people of India define a revolution and was this movement really one? When the agitation first started, the number of people who rallied behind Team Anna only increased every day but did large turnout necessarily mean a revolution on the lines of an Arab Spring or the Occupy Movement, was on the way? With the benefit of hindsight, one can easily see this wasn’t the case as the enthusiasm of the people has fizzled now, compared to when the agitation first began.

Another very important issue that was raised by this agitation was the notion of the right to protest and the freedom of speech and expression. To protest, organize a rally or any other unarmed congregation is a given right in democratic setups. However, many critics felt that Hazare often adopted a threatening stance and by holding a fast unto death until the Lokpal bill is passed, he was holding a democratically-elected state at ransom. It amounted to ordering a government to do something while saying that failure to comply could have dangerous repercussion. For many, this seemed a little too much and in some ways, seemed to go against the spirit of the Constitution which has very clearly trifurcated the democratic functions.

Personally, I too, at some levels found Anna’s stance too dictatorial and disrespectful of dissent.

Evidently, this debate is majorly entangled politically. Irrespective of the ends that are achieved, the means have clearly been under scrutiny and not found favour with all.

Sarah Ziah