An anti-corruption bill stalled and disputed for 48 years in India’s parliament was passed by the upper and lower houses in a speedy two days. Passed on December 18, 2013, the Lokpal (Citizen's Ombudsman Bill) now waits on President Pranab Mukherjee’s table for final formalities.
However, the passage of this bill is viewed as astute political move, and not a genuine effort to eradicate corruption.
According to some political analysts in India, for parties such as Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC), passing this bill is also a ploy to correct their sullied image before India gears up for 15th General Elections in 2014. Many in the BJP and the INC have serious allegations of corruption in India.
The Lokpal Bill is not to be confused with the Janlokpal Bill introduced by activists on April 7, 2011, and for which there was a massive uprising in India. This bill is considered to be a weak and disadvantageous bill because it does not give protection to whistle-blowers, i.e, those who alert authorities about corruption trails of politicians or bureaucrats; it does not make the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India's top investigating authority, independent; it does not have the power to prosecute anyone from lower bureaucracy (India's lower bureaucracy is believed to be a nest for corruption, and with whom the public has to interact in a day-to-day basis); and it is incapable of taking direct punitive actions on those involved in corruption, such as confiscating assets of those who may have benefited from corruption.
More differences between the Lokpal Bill and the activists proposed Janlokpal Bill is outlined here.
Many continue to support the Janlokpal Bill introduced in 2011 as it has provisions to make the CBI independent, has the power to prosecute anyone in bureaucracy (upper or lower), and offers complete protection to whistle-blowers.
The possible political motivations behind the passage of the current bill is already a part of public discourse. Retired army officer Lt. Col Banwari from Jaipur tweeted:
Anna Hazare- did not understand the BJP & congress game plan for passing a lokpal which can not walk bcz it no legs
— Lt. Col Banwari Lal (@colbanwari) December 17, 2013
Anna Hazare is the Gandhian crusader from India's Maharashtra state who received immense praise from across the world for leading the Janlokpal Bill protests in 2011 and 2012. A former Indian army driver, 76-year-old Anna Hazare dedicated his life social service and fighting corruption. However, following the passage of this bill on 18 December, 2013 (apparently, after his approval) a fair share of criticism was directed at him for agreeing to break his fast of nine days in return of what is now being called a weak version of the Janlokpal Bill.
Anurag Tyagi, who claimed to have gone to jail during the Janlokpal Bill protests in 2012, tweeted:
“Ye anna ka aandolan hai to wo hi decide karenge.” Bahot dhaga hua mahshooa kar raha hoon. Pahli baar jail gaya tha is aandolan ke liye :-(
— Anurag Tyagi (@an_tyagi) December 14, 2013
“This are Anna [Hazare's] protests, and he will only decide.” I feel betrayed, I had gone to jail for the first time in my life for this movement :(
Hazare's confidante Arvind Kejriwal in a recent interview with a television channel did not rule out the possibility that Hazare may have been influenced by political forces to change his stance. Or, he may simply have been misinformed – considering when Kejriwal worked with him during the Janlokpal Protests in 2011 and 2012, Kejriwal spent a considerable amount of time explaining to Hazare the nitty-gritty of the then-proposed Janlokpal Bill, which faced a lot of resistance from the political parties.Kejriwal is now the convener of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was born out of the Janlokpal protests in 2012, and which debuted with 28 seats in 2013 Delhi Assembly Elections. The AAP is viewed as a serious threat in the coming general elections by the Indian National Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party. The AAP's entry in India's political discourse is believed be a reason why this anti-corruption bill was passed.
As cited earlier, a major contention is that the government passed Lokpal Bill does not make India's top criminal investigation authority, the Criminal Bureau of Investigation (CBI), independent. CBI is accused of being used by political parties in India to settle personal scores or influence political discourse, and this was one of the reasons why activists who proposed the Janlokpal Bill in 2011 insisted on making the CBI independent.
Speaking about other clauses in the current bill, Navbharat Democratic Party member and Right to Information (RTI) activist Vinita Deshmukh tweeted:
While Anna, Cong,BJP take credit fo Lokpal Bill,if a citizen is makes false complaint against a govt officer he/she will go to jail for 1 yr
— Vinita Deshmukh (@VinitaDeshmukh) December 17, 2013
IndianChirp argued with Deshmukh:
@VinitaDeshmukh This means that before making a complaint against a govt officer, a citizen should make sure that the complaint is Genuine?
— IndianChirps (@IndianChirp) December 17, 2013
SP Kalra asked the following question:
@jdhanani2000 @VinitaDeshmukh if the allegations are not proven will the complaint be treated as frivolous???
— sps kalra (@spskalra) December 18, 2013
To this, Mukund tweeted:
@VinitaDeshmukh why would anyone make a complaint then?
— Mukund Rajamannar (@mukundmr) December 18, 2013
A news report, however, suggested that the present law was a “baby step” towards curtailing corruption. However, fewer voices on social media reflected this stance.
Some acknowledged the bill, and offered that it can be amended later.
I am soooo happy that Lokpal bill is passed. Good step forward …. if there are shortcomings, they can always be addressed by amendments…
— kamlesh sahu (@kamleshsemail) December 18, 2013
All said, the enthusiasm of the passage of the bill was not to be seen on ground.
Kapil tweeted this image and added:
Not even 1% of this crowd celebrating #Lokpal today? Why? pic.twitter.com/U2YqhuxdZ3
— Kapil (@kapsology) December 18, 2013