The past few weeks have seen the process of drafting the Lokpal Bill degenerate into acrimony. Leaving aside the verbal swipes between members of the drafting committee, there are substantial issues at stake. The most important is that of bringing the Prime Minister and other high officials of state under the Lokpal’s ambit.
This is not a simple “moral” issue of why the Prime Minister should be kept out of the purview of the Lokpal. At one level, there is no reason for this exclusion: The Prime Minister in the cabinet system is primus inter pares, or a first among equals. If his cabinet colleagues can be watched over by the Lokpal, there is no reason why he should not be.
At another level, matters are not as simple as Anna Hazare would have us believe: Today, the most important decisions of a strategic kind—on foreign policy, on use and control of nuclear weapons and other vital policy issues are initiated by the Prime Minister. If during the course of executing these tasks, the Prime Minister is “hobbled” (to use an expression a government minister is fond of), it would hit the country hard. This does not, of course, help if an incumbent prime minister is corrupt. Barring a few egregious exceptions, Indian prime ministers have been “clean” but one should not rule out future transgressions.
A more sensible option—a compromise—would be to fast-track the investigation and prosecution of a prime minister after he demits office. The law should ensure that there are no procedural wrangles in this task.
The problem with the non-official members of the drafting committee is that they have a peculiar worldview— one that blames corruption in India to liberalization and discretionary control by ministers. The latter is true to a great extent, but the great mass of the suffering that ordinary citizens face is at the hands of low-level officials. The Lokpal can do little about a corrupt revenue officer for there are so many of them. There is no doubt that corruption in high places must be weeded out, but the scale and perspective of the problem should not be lost sight of.
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